Under the early members of the Capetian dynasty the effective power of the king was greatly limited by powerful feudal lords. The beginning of the 11th century saw the kings power confined to Ile de France, the counts controlled the rest of France.  The counts wielded governmental powers; they minted coins, raised troops and built castles, the last a powerful expression of autonomy.  The counts did not seek to replace the King, they scarcely needed to do so.  Some of the counts, such as the count of Champagne were as powerful as the king.  Further more, Gascony and Toulouse, both south of the Loire, were a sufficient distance from Paris to be little concerned about its Capetian rulers.  North of the Loirs, however, rivalry between the powerful local feudatories and the crown was most important.  The Dukes of Normandy, meanwhile, competed with the Capetains for control of the Vexin in the northwest of Paris.  The idea of a powerful monarchy was kept alive by the Church, but there was little basis to it in the 11th Century.

In 911 Charles the simple had conceded Rouen and the lower Seine valley to a viking group led by Rollo, who extended their authority to the west and took over the entire area now as Normandy; They would be later now as the Normans.  In 1066, William Duke of Normandy conquered England with a small force.  The conquest of England was just one of a series of successful military adventures which brought them large territories in southern Italy and Sicily.

The French kings Henry I (1031-60) and Philip I (1060-1108) sought to increase royal power in France, a goal challenged by the power of their vassals, the Dukes. No where more, than in Normandy, where the conquest of England had strengthened the Normans.  Louis VI (1108-37) and Louis VII (1137-80) struggles to expand the power of the Capetians in France, but a major setback occured in 1152 when Louis VII allowed his divorced wife Eleanor of Aquitaine to marry Henry, Count of Anjou, soon to be Henry II of England, thereby losing effective control of a large portion of southern France. Henry was now the most powerful ruler in France, as he had also inherited Normandy.  Henry used his power  to resolve inheritance disputes in his favour, gaining control of Brittany and more land in southern France.

The later part of the 12th century saw great expansion in the royal domain in France.  this growth was particularly at the expense of the Angevin monarchy.  The determination and military success of Philip Augustus (1180-1223) led to King John of England’s loss of his fathers vast continental possessions, including Normandy and Anjou, in 1203-4. Johns attempt to recover ended in failure when his allies were defeated at Bouvine (1214). Johns domestic opponents then offered the English thrown to Philips son Louis.  His attempted invasion of England in 1271 was defeated by supporters of John’s infant son, Henry III.  French intervention in England was a logical consequence of the post Conquest cross-channel nature of the English monarchy. It was now plausible to attack England, or to support its rivals within the British Isles, in order to undermine the policy of the English monarch’s, specifically their defense of their continental interests.

In southern France the crusades against the Cather Christian heresy led eventually to an increase in royal power. Expeditions in 1219 and 1226 by Louis, first prince and then Louis VIII, helped to strengthen royal influence in the region and the defeat of Aragon decisively weakened a long-lasting link between southern France and Catalonia.

In 1224 war with England resumed and Louis VIII successfully invaded Poitou and Gascony, though Bordeaux remained faithful to England, in part because of its commercial links.  By the treaty of Paris (1259), Henry III, of England, renounced his rights to Normandy, Anjou and Poitou. France continued to expand its power in the Rhone valley, and in 1349 purchased the Dauphine, a major gain to the east of the river.  Further north, however, the Duchy of Burgundy, in theory a French fief, became more independent and powerful under Duke Philip the Bold.

1337 saw the beginning of the hundred year war between England and France.  The tide of the war was firmly with the English until the death of Henry V of England. (England had regained most of her former territory including Gascony). The balance of power had crucially shifted back to the French and in 1435, Englands allies Burgundy abandoned them, England were outmanoeured by France, and in 1453 an English riposte in Gascony was crushed at castillon.  The English were left holding only Calais.