As the poverty and chaos of the tenth century gave way to increasing wealth and security, trade expanded and towns grew. A new type of urban life developed, which was more concentrated in the Low Countries than anywhere else north of the Alps. This period saw the emergence of the counts, dukes and bishops of the Low Countries as independent rulers of separate principalities. The main sources of revenue of the territorial princes were feudal dues, judicial fines and tolls on trade. Their power rested on control of farmland, woodland, jurisdictional rights, roads and waterways. Seemingly paradoxically, the growth in the power of princes went hand in hand with the towns gaining large measures of internal self-government.The first of the principalities of the Low Countries to take clear shape was the county of Flanders. This was one of the most successful feudal principalities, with barons and knights proliferating but the count’s administration keeping a tight hold on his rights and revenues. Control was maintained through the workings of the count’s feudal court, the systematic organization of the territory into castellanies held directly from the count, and the count’s position as ‘advocate’ or ‘guardian’ of almost every important church and monastery in Flanders. Around 1100, the count of Flanders could field an army of 1,000 knights, comparing very favourably with the count of Hainaut’s host of 700, the king of France’s 500, or the 300 that the bishop of Liège could raise. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Flemish counts, lords and knights played significant roles in the affairs of France, England and the Empire, as well as in the Holy Land.
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