Saturday, June 04, 2005

Feudal Beginnings

In the years before the Crusades, much of Europe was encased in the yolk of feudalism. Basically defined, it puts power in the hands of the land-owning nobility who swear loyalty to a monarch and assist during wars, but who is allowed to have much control over his estate. The noble allowed others to use the estate, usually for farming; in return they had to give a portion of their crop or something else. These people also would have to make up the majority of the foot soldiers in an army. The monarch had little power, much depended on the consent of the landowners.

Feudalism is generally believed to have started in northern France and then spreading out. In my opinion, it really became dominant in a time when the previous Germano-Latin political and social structure was turning into a more modern European one. The constant expansion of the kingdoms was slowing down as people were rushing to get some political stability. However, the practice of rewarding long-term service continued. Since there were no new conquests, the monarchs had to give out existing land. Since towns were of diminished and agriculture was key, land was power. This practice was common in the Frankish kingdom, the main power in Europe after Rome fell. It was spread into England by Norman conquests. What really pushed it further were the Viking raids. Because they were so numerous and local, and seemed to be happening all over the place, the monarchs could not move fast enough to meet them. Thus they decided to leave it in the hands of local lords to take care of. In return for this the nobility gained even more power.

The monarchy could see this growing strength and tried to curb it. Charlemagne of France attempted to make Nobility a rotating position instead of permanent. But the efforts were not enough. Incursions by the Vikings to the north, Magyars to the east, and Saracens to the south increased political instability during a time when Europe was still recovering. In this time semi-independent local feudal governments seemed to be best off. Gradually the land-ownership positions turned from lifetime to inherited. A permanent aristocracy had developed.


Daldianus said...

Interesting site! Keep up the good work. History really IS important.

The Sovereign Editor said...

Hey, Scriptor, thanks for the post... I've been extremely busy and haven't been blogging as often as I like (though I like to post something once a week... didn't meet the deadline this time).

Here's a little nugget for you:

You said "Feudalism is generally believed to have started in northern France and then spreading out."

This is misleading. The system we know of as feudalism began in the Byzantine Empire. Since there were still contacts between the western powers and the Eastern Empire, it is likely the Franks borrowed the feudal political structure from the Byzantines. If I have time, I'll try to get a reference for you... or if someone else familiar with Byzantine history, or the Early Middle Ages would like to take a crack at it, be my guest. Or, if I misremembered that entire lecture, please let me know.


The Sovereign Editor said...

Here you are, the term I was trying to remember was 'coloni'. They are described in Justinian's Codex some 2-300 years prior to Charlemagne. I don't remember if they have to render military assistance to their lord (but I don't know where their lord would get the forces to defend the coloni otherwise).

Codex Justinianus: Coloni Bound to the Soil, c. 530 [Xl.51.i]

David Schantz said...

Thanks for stopping by. I'm happy to see that someone your age is interested in something other than music and movies. When I was in school I hated history. Now I wish I'd have paid attention. We should never stop studying and learning. Keep up the good work on your site.

God Bless America, God Save The Republic.

GeoBandy said...

More nice work, Scriptor. As you continue your studies of history, and your blog gains wider exposure, I think you'll notice that your readers' and coomenters' understanding of historical events and trends will differ according to their ages. What is taught as "history" changes with the times. Hence, you should get a good deal of "this started here and now" and the next reader believes it started "there and then". It is one of the things that keeps history interesting, as theories and viewpoints change, and new discoveries and research become known.