Feudalism Essay Research Paper FEUDALISM is a

Feudalism Essay, Research Paper FEUDALISM is a disputed term. Not used at the time. It was invented by jurists in the Renaissance to describe the property laws and customs of the middle ages. A fief, or feudum, was land held by a man from his lord, in return for which he was to provide him with knight services and/or financial payments.

Feudalism Essay, Research Paper

FEUDALISM is a disputed term.

Not used at the time. It was invented by jurists in the Renaissance to describe the property laws and customs of the middle ages. A fief, or feudum, was land held by a man from his lord, in return for which he was to provide him with knight services and/or financial payments.

Marx contrasted it to capitalism in the widest sense of that word so he inflated the term to mean the political, social, economic, and cultural system of Medieval Europe.

A economic system governed not by market relationships but by custom and force.

Marx and Smith both saw it as an economy and society marked by poverty, exploitation, and inequality. Squashes manorialism, feudalism, Christianity all together.

What historians usually mean when the talk about FEUDALISM is a

SET OF POLITICAL AND MILITARY RELATIONSHIPS that dominated most of Medieval Europe in the absence of a strong central power, either the Roman Empire or a European kingdom.

Two big stages in the Political history of Europe during the Middle Ages


1. Decentralization c. 476, brief respite in 800, biggest around 1000.

This is where the real power over anything lay in the hands of the lords of the manor.

The influence of any power in the hierarchy over the other was minimal, and getting less.

There were some kings, such as in France, but they were simply one lord among many, the guy at the top.

2. Centralization c. 1000-1200

Things will change.


At its heart, feudalism is about one simple relationship.


This was a mutual relationship between honorable, free men.

It was not a position of servitude, but more like a contract.

When a Freeman shall do Homage to his Lord of whom he holds in Chief, he shall hold his hands together between the hands of his Lord, and shall say thus: “I become your Man from this day forth, for life, for member, and for worldly honor, and shall [owe] you Faith for the Lands that I hold of you; saving the Faith that I owe unto our Lord the King, and to [mine other Lords.]

The Lord provided for the maintenance and protection of the Vassal, usually including a chuch of land.

In return, the Vassal provided the lord with certain services, the most important being military service.

Faithfulness in service to the lord was a matter of life and death, literally. It was a deeply personal and binding contract that few would have dared to break.

Your word is all that you have, protect it.

It started as a form of defense against all the invaders.

No protection from invaders (Huns, Magyars, Vikings).

They need protection: Where? Go to biggest landowners in the area?or vice versa.

He needs soldiers to defend him, too, but soldiers are very expensive.

Only other landowners (nobility) can afford to equip themselves for medieval warfare.


Table: Hierarchy/Titles

If there is something threatening this noble, for example, the king can call on the others to provide men to fight.

The sons of nobles are raised to be great warriors. If they perform well, the lord grants them pieces of land. They are now nobles in their own right, and can get married. (Remember Testosterone theory?same time period).

Borders are rather fluid. Your vassals can leave, you can take away their land, they can conquer or lose more land. The lands belonging to a lord may not be touching or ven very near each other.

The king gives land to those who please him, so favorites can add more land while unfavorites can even lost it. (remember no money-land is basic form of wealth)

With warfare all around, in many places the basic units of government get even smaller.

Get rid of the guy at the top-even smaller and smaller units.

With this increase in decentralization, or weakening of central power in Europe?

For a while, the Eastern emperor was the only person that even looked like a ruler to many members of Latin Christendom, and they did exercise some power over the folks in the west. But even that was on the wane.

In 660, Constantine II visited Rome with a sizable army and an assembly of nobles. Everyone came out to greet him, big parade. A diplomatic mission?

No, the Byzantine empire was on the verge of bankruptcy. They had tried to reclaim the west and lost. They had to pay off the Persians to keep them from attacking and they were beset on all sides by Muslims. They came to Rome to rob it blind. They took whatever was left in the treasury (not much), and he had his men strip every bit of lead and bronze off every fixture that they could find. They used it to make fitting for shields, armor, horse rigging, etc. And the lead was for pellets that were slung at armies.

Most of the stonework of Rome was held together with lead clamps. The Byzantines took these, so everything in Rome began to fall apart. From figuratively to literally.

And the lead? Most of the building were made out of wood, but were protected with sheets of lead and all of the gutters and downspouts were made out of lead, as were all the pipes that distributed water through the city.

The slabs that held back the Tiber river were made out of stone. During the next flood, the entire bank collapsed, taking with it most of the nearby merchant district and all of the warehouses. Houses, now unprotected, began to rot and roofs caved in.

Without water coming in through the pipes, the sewers began quickly to become clogged.

The main sewer of the entire city, the Cloaca Maxima, ran beneath the form. When it finally stopped up, all of the sewage in the city began flowing into the forum, filling it up with excrement, garbage, dead animals, and so forth.

The gift of the last emperor to visit Rome.

It?s gross, but it?s the reason why we can still go look at the forum today. Most of the ancient building of Rome were torn down by the Romans because without the fittings, they were dangerous. They used the stone to make new buildings. Someone once said that ?the temples of Rome were the quarries for the cathedrals of the Middle Ages?, and this isn?t too far from the truth.

Anyway, if the Europeans were going to get their act together, they would have to content with the Byzantine emperor and the threat of Islamic kingdoms.

Fortunately, around 751 independent developments distracted both of them.

Islam split into two big rival parties (now called Shi?ite and Sunni branches). The Sunni?s got the upper hand and established their capital in Babylon/Baghdad. They are the main branch today. They were not as interested in conquering the west as their predecessors and were content, more or less, with what they had.

The Byzantines saw Europe as a losing proposition and now had another threat-Slavic people were bearing down on them-so they lost interest in meddling in western Europe.

This left a vacuum of power for a European ruler to fill up.

One did, if only for a short while.

The Germanic tribe called the Franks had come down into Gaul after the battle of Adrianople and settled in central Europe.

The Frankish leaders and their followers continued to fight, in the Germanic custom they were united like warbands. Devoted followers, sealed by a bond.

They bond used to be sealed by blood relations, but that was becoming less possible.

The population of the Frankish territory, thanks to their conquests, was not homogeneous. There were Romans, Visigoths, Burgundians, Lombards, Franks?..and so on. They spoke different languages, had different traditions, and so on.

Also, the threats they were dealing with bigger and required more men than a typical warband could muster.

The leaders of the Franks were the first to really use the feudal system to their advantage.

Charles Martel started granting estates for military service in the 8th century, when he was trying to defend Europe from the Muslims.

One man will try to rise above all these difficulties. His name was CHARLEMAGNE, or Karl die Grosse, or Karel der Groot, or?.

He decided that he wanted to actually rule the Frankish territory as a kingdom, with a central government. 768-814

Charles was about 6 feet tall, with a thick neck and deep chest. He had red hair, blue eyes, and had the stamina of a bull. He wasn?t a great general, but he made up for that with his sheer persistence and ability to just wear his enemy down.

Charles was ambitious, aggressive, and ruthless and possessed of enormous energy.

He was quite an insomniac and frequently plotted his next moves in the dead of night.

He was married at least 5 times, had a large family, and liked them to be around him at all times. He never allowed his daughters to be married. Some say it was because he didn?t want the political headaches, but others think he genuinely wanted them to be nearby.


1. Lombardy

In the 500?s, the Lombards moved into Italy. They were known for being the most vicious of all the Germanic tribes. They destroyed what was left of Roman culture and took everything they could. They settled there for about the next 200 years, until Charles came to town.

Charles was married to the sister of a Lombard king, but he didn?t like her so he sent her back. The King was pretty hot, and swore to get back at Charles however he could. He tried to conspire with some of the Frankish nobility. Charles now had all the excuse he needed. He invaded Italy in 773. Defeated and captured the King, who he sent off to a monastery for safe keeping. Charles then proclaimed himself King of the area, and history speaks of the Lombards no more.

The Germans will continue to have claims to territory in Italy until World War I because of this.

2. Saxony

Saxony, today NW Germany and pieces of the Netherlands, was ruled by the Saxons, who had not converted to Christianity. They were semi-nomadic, but also were not adverse to the occasional raid on manors under Charles? control. Charles didn?t like this.

So, he decided that it was in his best interests and, oh yeah, the church, too, to do something about it.

He invaded the area and pushed his way through, defeating every army that came against him. The local chieftains swore their allegiance to Charles and promised to send regular tributes to the Christian church.

Then, Charles got distracted in Lombardy and they sort of forgot about those promises.

Charles invades again, this time making his point more clear, making sure that there were no chiefs left undefeated, and forcing them to convert to Christianity or die.

Then he leaves. They forget again and start killing Christian priests, rebuilding their temples, and refusing to pay tribute money.

Charles comes back AGAIN. He devastates the land, defeats the armies, converts the chiefs AGAIN. Because they had converted, all of those who left the faith were guilty of apostasy, which justified any force that Charles might use against them. Thousands of Saxons were killed and entire villages destroyed.

This gets tiresome. He leaves again. They rebel again. Charles is determined to stamp out these annoying people.

He decides to fill up the land with Franks. He founds a whole bunch of monasteries and puts Franks in them. He founds new villages and fills them up, too. He carved up Saxony into little administrative units and gave them to his chief warriors to rule.

He also took the Saxons out. He made the resettle in other parts of his kingdom. They were destroyed as a culture and never could rebel again.

3. Bavaria

Bavaria, big chunk of southern Germany, is technically part of Charles? kingdom. In reality, this was one branch of the hierarchy that had been allowed to go their own way for a very long time. Charles decided to come and reassert his authority.

Duke of Bavaria objected, quick war, Charles wins and divides Bavaria among his nobility.

The Bavarians were in the middle of fighting some wars against new invaders from the East and now Charles has to try to stop them, which he did pretty handily.

He defeated them so utterly, that there was not one person left. Charles eliminated three entire peoples with hundreds and maybe thousands of years of history behind them.

4. Spain

But nobody?s perfect.

The Muslims, called the Moors, held Spain. The remaining Christians in the Spain asked Charles to help them.

Charles led a great army over the Pyrennes and won back a couple of cities, but he never won any big battles, couldn?t really negotiate with the Moors, and finally had to return home. He didn?t really lose, but he didn?t really gain anything either.

The whole thing was pretty minor, except for one fairly trivial incident that occurred during the retreat.

During his retreat into the mountains, Charles had accumulated a fair amount of booty. The mountains were a good place for an ambush, not least because they were infested with Muslims and Basques, neither of whom liked Franks.

So Charles set up a rear guard to cover his retreat. Their job was to make sure that no one snuck up on Charles. Once they were safely over the mountains, this rear guard could then catch up with everyone else.

The captain of these defenders was a young Breton prince named Roland.

And, as surmised, this rearguard was ambushed and all were killed, while the rest of the Franks made it home safely.

Such things probably happened quite often, but his one had a poet.

No one knows who the original author is, but the SONG OF ROLAND, is still around.

Roland is to the French what King Arthur is to the Britains, but perhaps with a little bit more basis in history.

The poem is however about an insignificant action during a retreat after an expedition whose success was mixed at best. Hardly the stuff of legends, but there you have it.

Charlemagne fought continuously for over 20 years. A whole generation of Europeans great up with him as their commander and king.

They gave him great prestige, lots of land, and huge amounts of plunder.

After 20 years of fighting, Charlemagne wanted to cash in his chips and try to find a way to hold his empire together without fighting. Something that would work in peace as well as war. He had to kind of make things up as he went.


He created new offices, adapted old ones, squashed duties together, whatever worked.

He was trying to rule more territory than any Frankish king ever had and do it in new ways.

Some people call what his predecessors had put together an empire, but even that?s stretching it. They had no set of common laws, not currency, no bureaucracy, no tax system.

Transportation was even more difficult now as the Roman roads fell into more and more disrepair. Regular communication was darn near impossible.

Within the Frankish kingdom itself, he relied on his COUNTS from the French word for Companion. A count was appointed by him to rule a particular region in France called a COUNTY. These were areas where the king could pretty much rely on their loyalty.

Above the counts were the provincial governors, who duty it became to govern the largest parts of the kingdom. The took the ancient Roman title of DUKE, from the Latin for leader. They were members of Charles? immediate family, or darn close. Examples: Duke of Saxony, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Burgundy, etc.

In newly-conquered territories, on the other hand, the rulers had to be a warrior whose principal duties were military. Such a territory was called a MARCH.

He set up a March, for example, in northern Spain, although most of them were in the east. The German word for count is GRAF, so these lords were called MARGRAVES (Marquis in French).

The system was not rigid or consistent. Not all counts reported to a duke, some regions were ruled directly by a duke, with no counts under him. Some were ruled by Charles directly and some were held by the Church. Jurisdictions overlapped?

It was not efficient, but it survived and gave shape to the political geography of medieval Europe. When Charlemagne dies and the power of the Frankish kings diminishes, these guys will become largely independent rulers.

Charles knew that the system was inefficient. And he also knew that his dukes and counts might be inclined to act against him. So he created some other officers, called MISSI DOMINICI, or servants of the lord.

They were like the Persian eyes and ears. They acted like inspector generals, investigating the behavior of royal officials and reporting back to the court.

They were appointed in pairs, with one being from the church and one being regular. They were always posted to places outside of their native lands so they would have no local ties or loyalties. And if they should start to get some, the king would just move them somewhere else. They were to serve Charles.

But it really only worked under Charles, because only Charles had the prestige and implied threat of power to really back it up.


So, by the end of the century he had an empire, but he was not an emperor.

But he became one and for a strange reason.

The Byzantine emperor, Constantine VI, was murdered by his own mother and she took over the empire after his death. [Charles? proposal was rejected]

Something came up in which an emperor of some sort was required.

The Church court had put the Pope, Leo III, on trial for many abuses of his power, most notably adultery. The Pope asked Charles to help him, since he knew Charles had been a big friend to the Church in the past. (Why didn?t they ask Irene?)

Charles presided over the trial and the Pope was acquitted.

Two days later, Charles rose from prayer at Christmas Mass and Leo placed a crown on his head and proclaimed him Holy Roman Emperor.

Here we have all three threads together: Roman, German, Christian.

Historians debate how much Charles was complicit with this little ceremony.


Some say that Charles arranged the whole thing. His advisors had been looking into ways to gain him an imperial title. They also frequently said that he should treat the Byzantine emperor as an equal, not a superior.

Charles was very ambitious after all.

Others think that Charles was genuinely surprised.

Leo needed a permanent protector against a growing number of enemies. He also needed someone to help him retain control over the Papal States, which had been under Byzantine control. By crowning the emperor himself, he set a precedent for Popes to be involved in the business of making kings, which might just come in handy.

Charles was, however, not pleased. He probably didn?t mind being an emperor, but he never used the title given to him by the Pope. He called himself ?Emperor, King of the Franks and Lombards.? He did not like the Pope?s direct involvement at all.

He even told one of his advisors that had he known it was going to happen, he would not have attended Mass that day.

From then on, there was an increase in tension between the high officials in the church and the emperor.


Charles did some good things. He kept the Vikings, Magyars, and Muslims at bay and out of central Europe.

He did establish a rudimentary system of administration.

He set up administrative offices that a lot to do with how Europe looks even now.

He tried to establish central coinage, it didn?t last long put the British system (pounds, shilling, pence) is based on it.

He also was responsible for bringing a little culture into the Dark Ages.

He was not an intellectual, but he liked literature and appreciated scholarship.

His biographer said that when he couldn?t sleep at night, he would pull out a notebook from under his bed and practice writing.

He never did quite learn to write well, so he signed his name using a stencil.

CYNICAL VIEW: He knew that Christianity was the only thing a lot of the people in his empire had in common. He had to try to promote it in order to promote loyalty to him.

Sympathetic monks and bishops could provide key personnel in watching over the affairs of the empire. It would be good to boost their ranks, prestige, and importance.

He saw that culture and education were dying in Europe and thought that part of his legacy as a ruler would be to stem the tide of deterioration.

He spearheaded a movement now referred to as the CAROLINGIAN RENAISSANCE in an effort to preserve older culture and to create a common bond of Christian culture among the people under his rule.

-He had all of the greatest scholars in the kingdom come to court and he sponsored their research and writing efforts. This is why we know so much about Charlemagne-one of them became his biographer.

-He thought that learning was important, especially for priests, his cultural ambassadors. He issued a decree saying that every cathedral and monastery had to establish a school and to provide a free education to every boy who had the perseverance and intelligence to follow it. It was not fully carried out, but the ones that were established continued through the hard times that followed Charlemagne?s death. These church schools emphasized [medieval] Latin grammar, rhetoric, and logic.

-Reformed handwriting. CAROLINGIAN MINISCULE.

He wanted to increase legibility and also words per page.

Basis of our modern lower-case letters.

-Standardized the language. Many people in his kingdom spoke different local dialects. He wanted a common scholarly language that could also be used by govt officials.

Medieval Latin. Same grammatical rules as classical Latin, but more flexible and open, and very different from spoken Latin.

Spoken Latin becomes Romance languages: French, It, Port, Rom, Sp

-Not so many new ideas. He tried to boost monasteries and support them in their efforts to recopy ancient texts. As many as 90% of the Roman works?over 8000? still in existence today are preserved in the form of 8th and 9th century manuscripts copied in a Carolingian monastery.

They switched from papyrus to parchment or sheepskin. They lasted longer, but were considerably more expensive.

But very little of any of his accomplishments outlasted his death.

He was a bright light in a sea of darkness.

Charlemagnes? efforts don?t last long. Things get divided even worse after his death.

The Franks believed in dividing land among their heirs, instead of giving it all to the oldest son. This split the realm up into smaller chunks.

Loyalty waned because offices became hereditary instead of appointed.

Checks and balances waned, no more Missi Domini, no more assemblies.

Very little to tie anyone to the central government.

A brief bit of centralization, but can?t outlast the Greatness of the leader.