Late medieval England was the most centralised and unified monarchy in Europe. This was partly the result of accident, and partly of design. It had been the accident of conquest in 1066 which had enabled William I to create a feudal structure in England which had largely avoided the problems of seigneurial jurisdictions. Similarly it was accident, or at least impersonal circumstances, which dictated that there should be only one great urban centre. On the other hand it was the design of Henry II and his successors which created the great unifying force of common law, and which harnessed it to the king’s purposes. The basic jurisdictional units of shire and hundred were already old when William secured the throne, and that enabled him to avoid basing his government upon the tenants-in-chief. At the same time, since England was relatively small and free from impassable wildernesses, internal communications were easy, and swift by comparison with France or the Holy Roman Empire. For all these and other reasons, Edward III and Henry V had been able to mobilise their comparatively modest resources with a speed and completeness which had made them more than a match for the much larger and more populous kingdom of France, and to hold large parts of that country in subjection for generations.
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