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The epic unfolding of the Great Events of World History continues with Volume 5! Featuring: FEUDALISM: ITS FRANKISH BIRTH AND ENGLISH DEVELOPMENT, by William Stubbs DECAY OF THE FRANKISH EMPIRE & THE DIVISION INTO MODERN FRANCE, GERMANY, AND ITALY, by Francois Guizot CAREER OF ALFRED THE GREAT, by Hughes & Green HENRY THE FOWLER FOUNDS THE SAXON LINE OF GERMAN KINGS & THE ORIGIN OF THE GERMAN BURGHERS OR MIDDLE CLASSES, by Wolfgang Menzel CONQUEST OF EGYPT BY THE FATIMITES, by Stanley Lane-Poole GROWTH AND DECADENCE OF CHIVALRY, by Leon Gautier CONVERSION OF VLADIMIR THE GREAT & THE INTRODUCTION OF CHRISTIANITY INTO RUSSIA, by A.N. Mouravieff LEIF ERICSON DISCOVERS AMERICA, by Charles Rafn MAHOMETANS IN INDIA & THE BLOODY INVASIONS UNDER MAHMUD CANUTE BECOMES KING OF ENGLAND, BY David Hume HENRY III DEPOSES THE POPES & THE THE GERMAN EMPIRE CONTROLS THE PAPACY, by Ferdinand Gregorovius & Joseph Darras DISSENSION AND SEPARATION OF THE GREEK AND ROMAN CHURCHES, by Henry Tozer & Joseph Deharbe NORMAN CONQUEST OF ENGLAND & THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS, by Edward Creasy TRIUMPHS OF HILDEBRAND & HENRY IV BEGS FOR MERCY AT CANOSSA, by Arthur Pennington & Artaud de Montor COMPLETION OF THE DOMESDAY BOOK, by Charles Knight DECLINE OF THE MOORISH POWER IN SPAIN, by S.A. Dunham THE FIRST CRUSADE, by George Cox FOUNDATION OF THE ORDER OF KNIGHTS TEMPLARS, by Charles Addison STEPHEN USURPS THE ENGLISH CROWN, by Charles Knight ANTIPAPAL DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT: ARNOLD OF BRESCIA & ST. BERNARD AND THE SECOND CRUSADE, by Johann Neander DECLINE OF THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE: RAVAGES OF ROGER OF SICILY, by George Finlay
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FEUDALISM: ITS FRANKISH BIRTH AND ENGLISH DEVELOPMENT, by William Stubbs
DECAY OF THE FRANKISH EMPIRE & THE DIVISION INTO MODERN FRANCE, GERMANY, AND ITALY, by Francois Guizot
CAREER OF ALFRED THE GREAT, by Hughes & Green
HENRY THE FOWLER FOUNDS THE SAXON LINE OF GERMAN KINGS & THE ORIGIN OF THE GERMAN BURGHERS OR MIDDLE CLASSES, by Wolfgang Menzel
CONQUEST OF EGYPT BY THE FATIMITES, by Stanley Lane-Poole
GROWTH AND DECADENCE OF CHIVALRY, by Leon Gautier
CONVERSION OF VLADIMIR THE GREAT & THE INTRODUCTION OF CHRISTIANITY INTO RUSSIA, by A.N. Mouravieff
LEIF ERICSON DISCOVERS AMERICA, by Charles Rafn
MAHOMETANS IN INDIA & THE BLOODY INVASIONS UNDER MAHMUD
CANUTE BECOMES KING OF ENGLAND, BY David Hume
HENRY III DEPOSES THE POPES & THE THE GERMAN EMPIRE CONTROLS THE PAPACY, by Ferdinand Gregorovius & Joseph Darras
DISSENSION AND SEPARATION OF THE GREEK AND ROMAN CHURCHES, by Henry Tozer & Joseph Deharbe
NORMAN CONQUEST OF ENGLAND & THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS, by Edward Creasy
TRIUMPHS OF HILDEBRAND & HENRY IV BEGS FOR MERCY AT CANOSSA, by Arthur Pennington & Artaud de Montor
COMPLETION OF THE DOMESDAY BOOK, by Charles Knight
DECLINE OF THE MOORISH POWER IN SPAIN, by S.A. Dunham
THE FIRST CRUSADE, by George Cox
FOUNDATION OF THE ORDER OF KNIGHTS TEMPLARS, by Charles Addison
STEPHEN USURPS THE ENGLISH CROWN, by Charles Knight
ANTIPAPAL DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT: ARNOLD OF BRESCIA & ST. BERNARD AND THE SECOND CRUSADE, by Johann Neander
DECLINE OF THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE: RAVAGES OF ROGER OF SICILY, by George Finlay
NINTH TO TWELFTH CENTURY
THAT SOCIAL SYSTEM—HOWEVER VARYING IN different times and places—in which ownership of land is the basis of authority is known in history as feudalism. From the time of Clovis, the Frankish King, who died in A.D. 511, the progress of the Franks in civilization was slow, and for more than two centuries they spent their energies mainly in useless wars. But Charles Martel and his son, Pépin the Short—the latter dying in 768—built up a kingdom which Charlemagne erected into a powerful empire. Under the predecessors of Charlemagne the beginnings of feudalism, which are very obscure, may be said vaguely to appear. Charles Martel had to buy the services of his nobles by granting them lands, and although he and Pépin strengthened the royal power, which Charlemagne still further increased, under the weak rulers who followed them the forces of the incipient feudalism again became active, and the State was divided into petty countships and dukedoms almost independent of the king.
The gift of land by the king in return for feudal services was called a feudal grant, and the land so given was termed a “feud” or “fief.” In the course of time fiefs became hereditary. Lands were also sometimes usurped or otherwise obtained by subjects, who thereby became feudal lords. By a process called “subinfeudation,” lands were granted in parcels to other men by those who received them from the king or otherwise, and by these lower landholders to others again; and as the first recipient became the vassal of the king and the suzerain of the man who held next below him, there was created a regular descending scale of such vassalage and suzerainty, in which each man’s allegiance was directly due to his feudal lord, and not to the king himself. From the king down to the lowest landholder all were bound together by obligation of service and defence; the lord to protect his vassal, the vassal to do service to his lord.
These are the essential features of the social system which, from its early growth under the later Carlovingians in the ninth century, spread over Europe and reached its highest development in the twelfth century. At a time midway between these periods it was carried by the Norman Conquest into England. The history of this system of distinctly Frankish origin—a knowledge of which is absolutely essential to a proper understanding of history and the evolution of our present social system—is told by Stubbs with that discernment and thoroughness of analysis which have given him his rank as one of the few masterly writers in this field.
Feudalism had grown up from two great sources—the beneficium, and the practice of commendation—and had been specially fostered on Gallic soil by the existence of a subject population which admitted of any amount of extension in the methods of dependence.
The beneficiary system originated partly in gifts of land made by the kings out of their own estates to their kinsmen and servants, with a special undertaking to be faithful; partly in the surrender by land-owners of their estates to churches or powerful men, to be received back again and held by them as tenants for rent or service. By the latter arrangement the weaker man obtained the protection of the stronger, and he who felt himself insecure placed his title under the defence of the church.
By the practice of commendation, on the other hand, the inferior put himself under the personal care of a lord, but without altering his title or divesting himself of his right to his estate; he became a vassal and did homage. The placing of his hands between those of his lord was the typical act by which the connection was formed; and the oath of fealty was taken at the same time. The union of the beneficiary tie with that of commendation completed the idea of feudal obligation—the twofold engagement: that of the lord, to defend; and that of the vassal, to be faithful. A third ingredient was supplied by the grants of immunity by which in the Frank empire, as in England, the possession of land was united with the right of judicature; the dwellers on a feudal property were placed under the tribunal of the lord, and the rights which had belonged to the nation or to its chosen head were devolved upon the receiver of a fief. The rapid spread of the system thus originated, and the assimilation of all other tenures to it, may be regarded as the work of the tenth century; but as early as A.D. 877 Charles the Bald recognized the hereditary character of all benefices; and from that year the growth of strictly feudal jurisprudence may be held to date.
The system testifies to the country and causes of its birth. The beneficium is partly of Roman, partly of German origin; in the Roman system the usufruct—the occupation of land belonging to another person—involved no diminution of status; in the Germanic system he who tilled land that was not his own was imperfectly free; the reduction of a large Roman population to dependence placed the two classes on a level, and conduced to the wide extension of the institution.
Commendation, on the other hand, may have had a Gallic or Celtic origin, and an analogy only with the Roman clientship. The German comitatus, which seems to have ultimately merged its existence in one or other of these developments, is of course to be carefully distinguished in its origin from them. The tie of the benefice or of commendation could be formed between any two persons whatever; none but the king could have antrustions. But the comitatus of Anglo-Saxon history preserved a more distinct existence, and this perhaps was one of the causes that distinguished the later Anglo-Saxon system most definitely from the feudalism of the Frank empire.
The process by which the machinery of government became feudalized, although rapid, was gradual.
The weakness of the Carlovingian kings and emperors gave room for the speedy development of disruptive tendencies in a territory so extensive and so little consolidated. The duchies and counties of the eighth and ninth centuries were still official magistracies, the holders of which discharged the functions of imperial judges or generals. Such officers were of course men whom the kings could trust, in most cases Franks, courtiers or kinsmen, who at an earlier date would have been comites or antrustions, and who were provided for by feudal benefices. The official magistracy had in itself the tendency to become hereditary, and when the benefice was recognized as heritable, the provincial governorship became so too. But the provincial governor had many opportunities of improving his position, especially if he could identify himself with the manners and aspirations of the people he ruled. By marriage or inheritance he might accumulate in his family not only the old allodial estates which, especially on German soil, still continued to subsist, but the traditions and local loyalties which were connected with the possession of them. So in a few years the Frank magistrate could unite in his own person the beneficiary endowment, the imperial deputation, and the headship of the nation over which he presided. And then it was only necessary for the central power to be a little weakened, and the independence of duke or count was limited by his homage and fealty alone, that is, by obligations that depended on conscience only for their fulfilment.
It is in Germany that the disruptive tendency most distinctly takes the political form; Saxony and Bavaria assert their national independence under Swabian and Saxon dukes who have identified the interests of their subjects with their own. In France, where the ancient tribal divisions had been long obsolete, and where the existence of the allod involved little or no feeling of loyalty, the process was simpler still; the provincial rulers aimed at practical rather than political sovereignty; the people were too weak to have any aspirations at all. The disruption was due more to the abeyance of central attraction than to any centrifugal force existing in the provinces. But the result was the same; feudal government, a graduated system of jurisdiction based on land tenure, in which every lord judged, taxed, and commanded the class next below him, of which abject slavery formed the lowest, and irresponsible tyranny the highest grade, and private war, private coinage, private prisons, took the place of the imperial institutions of government.
This was the social system which William the Conqueror and his barons had been accustomed to see at work in France. One part of it—the feudal tenure of land—was perhaps the only kind of tenure which they could understand; the king was the original lord, and every title issued mediately or immediately from him. The other part, the governmental system of feudalism, was the point on which sooner or later the duke and his barons were sure to differ. Already the incompatibility of the system with the existence of the strong central power had been exemplified in Normandy, where the strength of the dukes had been tasked to maintain their hold on the castles and to enforce their own high justice. Much more difficult would England be to retain in Norman hands if the new king allowed himself to be fettered by the French system.
On the other hand the Norman barons would fain rise a step in the social scale answering to that by which their duke had become a king; and they aspired to the same independence which they had seen enjoyed by the counts of Southern and Eastern France. Nor was the aspiration on their part altogether unreasonable; they had joined in the Conquest rather as sharers in the great adventure than as mere vassals of the duke, whose birth they despised as much as they feared his strength. William, however, was wise and wary as well as strong. While, by the insensible process of custom, or rather by the mere assumption that feudal tenure of land was the only lawful and reasonable one, the Frankish system of tenure was substituted for the Anglo-Saxon, the organization of government on the same basis was not equally a matter of course.
The Conqueror himself was too strong to suffer that organization to become formidable in his reign, but neither the brutal force of William Rufus nor the heavy and equal pressure of the government of Henry I could extinguish the tendency toward it. It was only after it had, under Stephen, broken out into anarchy and plunged the whole nation in misery; when the great houses founded by the barons of the Conquest had suffered forfeiture or extinction; when the Normans had become Englishmen under the legal and constitutional reforms of Henry II—that the royal authority, in close alliance with the nation, was enabled to put an end to the evil.
William the Conqueror claimed the crown of England as the chosen heir of Edward the Confessor. It was a claim which the English did not admit, and of which the Normans saw the fallacy, but which he himself consistently maintained and did his best to justify. In that claim he saw not only the justification of the Conquest in the eyes of the church, but his great safeguard against the jealous and aggressive host by whose aid he had realized it; therefore, immediately after the battle of Hastings he proceeded to seek the national recognition of its validity. He obtained it from the divided and dismayed witan with no great trouble, and was crowned by the archbishop of York—the most influential and patriotic among them—binding himself by the constitutional promises of justice and good laws. Standing before the altar at Westminster, “in the presence of the clergy and people he promised with an oath that he would defend God’s holy churches and their rulers; that he would, moreover, rule the whole people subject to him with righteousness and royal providence; would enact and hold fast right law and utterly forbid rapine and unrighteous judgments.” The form of election and acceptance was regularly observed and the legal position of the new King completed before he went forth to finish the Conquest.
Had it not been for this the Norman host might have fairly claimed a division of the land such as the Danes had made in the ninth century. But to the people who had recognized William it was but just that the chance should be given them of retaining what was their own. Accordingly, when the lands of all those who had fought for Harold were confiscated, those who were willing to acknowledge William were allowed to redeem theirs, either paying money at once or giving hostages for the payment. That under this redemption lay the idea of a new title to the lands redeemed may be regarded as questionable. The feudal lawyer might take one view, and the plundered proprietor another. But if charters of confirmation or regrant were generally issued on the occasion to those who were willing to redeem, there can be no doubt that, as soon as the feudal law gained general acceptance, these would be regarded as conveying a feudal title. What to the English might be a mere payment of fyrdwite, or composition for a recognized offence, might to the Normans seem equivalent to forfeiture and restoration.
But however this was, the process of confiscation and redistribution of lands under the new title began from the moment of the coronation. The next few years, occupied in the reduction of Western and Northern England, added largely to the stock of divisible estates. The tyranny of Odo of Bayeux and William Fitzosbern, which provoked attempts at rebellion in 1067; the stand made by the house of Godwin in Devonshire in 1068; the attempts of Mercia and Northumbria to shake off the Normans in 1069 and 1070; the last struggle for independence in 1071, in which Edwin and Morcar finally fell; the conspiracy of the Norman earls in 1074, in consequence of which Waltheof perished—all tended to the same result.
After each effort the royal hand was laid on more heavily; more and more land changed owners, and with the change of owners the title changed. The complicated and unintelligible irregularities of the Anglo-Saxon tenures were exchanged for the simple and uniform feudal theory. The fifteen hundred tenants-in-chief of Domesday Book take the place of the countless land-owners of King Edward’s time, and the loose, unsystematic arrangements which had grown up in the confusion of title, tenure, and jurisdiction were replaced by systematic custom. The change was effected without any legislative act, simply by the process of transfer under circumstances in which simplicity and uniformity were an absolute necessity. It was not the change from allodial to feudal so much as from confusion to order. The actual amount of dispossession was no doubt greatest in the higher ranks; the smaller owners may to a large extent have remained in a mediatized position on their estates; but even Domesday, with all its fulness and accuracy, cannot be supposed to enumerate all the changes of the twenty eventful years that followed the battle of Hastings. It is enough for our purpose to ascertain that a universal assimilation of title followed the general changes of ownership. The king of Domesday is the supreme landlord; all the land of the nation, the old folkland, has become the king’s; and all private land is held mediately or immediately of him; all holders are bound to their lords by homage and fealty, either actually demanded or understood to be demandable, in every case of transfer by inheritance or otherwise.
The result of this process is partly legal and partly constitutional or political. The legal result is the introduction of an elaborate system of customs, tenures, rights, duties, profits, and jurisdictions. The constitutional result is the creation of several intermediate links between the body of the nation and the king, in the place of or side by side with the duty of allegiance.
On the former of these points we have very insufficient data; for we are quite in the dark as to the development of feudal law in Normandy before the invasion, and may be reasonably inclined to refer some at least of the peculiarities of English feudal law to the leaven of the system which it superseded. Nor is it easy to reduce the organization described in Domesday to strict conformity with feudal law as it appears later, especially with the general prevalence of military tenure.
The growth of knighthood is a subject on which the greatest obscurity prevails, and the most probable explanation of its existence in England—the theory that it is a translation into Norman forms of the thegnage of the Anglo-Saxon law—can only be stated as probable.
Between the picture drawn in Domesday and the state of affairs which the charter of Henry I was designed to remedy, there is a difference which the short interval of time will not account for, and which testifies to the action of some skilful organizing hand working with neither justice nor mercy, hardening and sharpening all lines and points to the perfecting of a strong government.
It is unnecessary to recapitulate here all the points in which the Anglo-Saxon institutions were already approaching the feudal model; it may be assumed that the actual obligation of military service was much the same in both systems, and that even the amount of land which was bound to furnish a mounted warrior was the same however the conformity may have been produced. The heriot of the English earl or thegn was in close resemblance with the relief of the Norman count or knight. But however close the resemblance, something was now added that made the two identical. The change of the heriot to the relief implies a suspension of ownership, and carries with it the custom of “livery of seisin.” The heriot was the payment of a debt from the dead man to his lord; his son succeeded him by allodial right. The relief was paid by the heir before he could obtain his father’s lands; between the death of the father and livery of seisin to the son the right of the “overlord” had entered; the ownership was to a certain extent resumed, and the succession of the heir took somewhat of the character of a new grant. The right of wardship also became in the same way a reëntry, by the lord, on the profits of the estate of the minor, instead of being, as before, a protection, by the head of the kin, of the indefeasible rights of the heir, which it was the duty of the whole community to maintain.
There can be no doubt that the military tenure—the most prominent feature of historical feudalism—was itself introduced by the same gradual process which we have assumed in the case of the feudal usages in general. We have no light on the point from any original grant made by the Conqueror to a lay follower, but judging by the grants made to the churches we cannot suppose it probable that such gifts were made on any expressed condition, or accepted with a distinct pledge to provide a certain contingent of knights for the king’s service. The obligation of national defence was incumbent, as of old, on all land-owners, and the customary service of one fully armed man for each five hides of land was probably the rate at which the newly endowed follower of the king would be expected to discharge his duty. The wording of the Domesday survey does not imply that in this respect the new military service differed from the old; the land is marked out, not into knights’ fees, but into hides, and the number of knights to be furnished by a particular feudatory would be ascertained by inquiring the number of hides that he held, without apportioning the particular acres that were to support the particular knight.
It would undoubtedly be on the estates of the lay vassals that a more definite usage would first be adopted, and knights bound by feudal obligations to their lords receive a definite estate from them. Our earliest information, however, on this as on most points of tenure, is derived from the notices of ecclesiastical practice. Lanfranc, we are told, turned the drengs, the rent-paying tenants of his archiepiscopal estates, into knights for the defence of the country; he enfeoffed a certain number of knights who performed the military service due from the archiepiscopal barony. This had been done before the Domesday survey, and almost necessarily implies that a like measure had been taken by the lay vassals. Lanfranc likewise maintained ten knights to answer for the military service due from the convent of Christ Church, which made over to him, in consideration of the relief, land worth two hundred pounds annually. The value of the knight’s fee must already have been fixed at twenty pounds a year.
In the reign of William Rufus the abbot of Ramsey obtained a charter which exempted his monastery from the service of ten knights due from it on festivals, substituting the obligation to furnish three knights to perform service on the north of the Thames—a proof that the lands of that house had not yet been divided into knights’ fees. In the next reign, we may infer—from the favor granted by the King to the knights who defended their lands per loricas (that is, by the hauberk) that their demesne lands shall be exempt from pecuniary taxation—that the process of definite military infeudation had largely advanced. But it was not even yet forced on the clerical or monastic estates. When, in 1167, the abbot of Milton, in Dorset, was questioned as to the number of knights’ fees for which he had to account, he replied that all the services due from his monastery were discharged out of the demesne; but he added that in the reign of Henry I, during a vacancy in the abbacy, Bishop Roger, of Salisbury, had enfeoffed two knights out of the abbey lands. He had, however, subsequently reversed the act and had restored the lands, whose tenure had been thus altered, to their original condition of rent-paying estate or “socage.”
The very term “the new feoffment,” which was applied to the knights’ fees created between the death of Henry I and the year in which the account preserved in the Black Book of the exchequer was taken, proves that the process was going on for nearly a hundred years, and that the form in which the knights’ fees appear when called on by Henry II for “scutage” was most probably the result of a series of compositions by which the great vassals relieved their lands from a general burden by carving out particular estates, the holders of which performed the services due from the whole; it was a matter of convenience and not of tyrannical pressure. The statement of Ordericus Vitalis that the Conqueror “distributed lands to his knights in such fashion that the kingdom of England should have forever sixty thousand knights, and furnish them at the king’s command according to the occasion,” must be regarded as one of the many numerical exaggerations of the early historians. The officers of the exchequer in the twelfth century were quite unable to fix the number of existing knights’ fees.
It cannot even be granted that a definite area of land was necessary to constitute a knight’s fee; for although at a later period and in local computations we may find four or five hides adopted as a basis of calculation, where the extent of the particular knight’s fee is given exactly, it affords no ground for such a conclusion. In the Liber Niger we find knights’ fees of two hides and a half, of two hides, of four, five, and six hides. Geoffrey Ridel states that his father held one hundred and eighty-four carucates and a virgate, for which the service of fifteen knights was due, but that no knights’ fees had been carved out of it, the obligation lying equally on every carucate. The archbishop of York had far more knights than his tenure required. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the extent of a knight’s fee was determined by rent or valuation rather than acreage, and that the common quantity was really expressed in the twenty librates, the twenty pounds’ worth of annual value which until the reign of Edward I was the qualification for knighthood.
It is most probable that no regular account of the knights’ fees was ever taken until they became liable to taxation, either in the form of auxilium militum under Henry I, or in that of scutage under his grandson. The facts, however, which are here adduced, preclude the possibility of referring this portion of the feudal innovations to the direct legislation of the Conqueror. It may be regarded as a secondary question whether the knighthood here referred to was completed by the investiture with knightly arms and the honorable accolade. The ceremonial of knighthood was practised by the Normans, whereas the evidence that the English had retained the primitive practice of investing the youthful warrior is insufficient; yet it would be rash to infer that so early as this, if indeed it ever was the case, every possessor of a knight’s fee received formal initiation before he assumed his spurs. But every such analogy would make the process of transition easier and prevent the necessity of any general legislative act of change.
It has been maintained that a formal and definitive act, forming the initial point of the feudalization of England, is to be found in a clause of the laws, as they are called, of the Conqueror; which directs that every freeman shall affirm, by covenant and oath, that “he will be faithful to King William within England and without, will join him in preserving his lands and honor with all fidelity, and defend him against his enemies.” But this injunction is little more than the demand of the oath of allegiance which had been taken to the Anglo-Saxon kings and is here required not of every feudal dependent of the King, but of every freeman or freeholder whatsoever.
In that famous council of Salisbury of 1086, which was summoned immediately after the making of the Domesday survey, we learn from the Chronicle that there came to the King “all his witan, and all the landholders of substance in England whose vassals soever they were, and they all submitted to him, and became his men and swore oaths of allegiance that they would be faithful to him against all others.” In this act have been seen the formal acceptance and date of the introduction of feudalism, but it has a very different meaning. The oath described is the oath of allegiance, combined with the act of homage, and obtained from all land-owners, whoever their feudal lord might be. It is a measure of precaution taken against the disintegrating power of feudalism, providing a direct tie between the sovereign and all freeholders which no inferior relation existing between them and the mesne lords would justify them in breaking. The real importance of the passage as bearing on the date of the introduction of feudal tenure is merely that it shows the system to have already become consolidated; all the land-owners of the kingdom had already become, somehow or other, vassals, either of the king or of some tenant under him. The lesson may be learned from the fact of the Domesday survey.
The introduction of such a system would necessarily have effects far wider than the mere modification of the law of tenure; it might be regarded as a means of consolidating and concentrating the whole machinery of government; legislation, taxation, judicature, and military defence were all capable of being organized on the feudal principle, and might have been so had the moral and political results been in harmony with the legal. But its tendency when applied to governmental machinery is disruptive. The great feature of the Conqueror’s policy is his defeat of that tendency. Guarding against it he obtained recognition as the King of the nation and, so far as he could understand them and the attitude of the nation allowed, he maintained the usages of the nation. He kept up the popular institutions of the hundred court and the shire court. He confirmed the laws which had been in use in King Edward’s days, with the additions which he himself made for the benefit, as he especially tells us, of the English.
We are told, on what seems to be the highest legal authority of the next century, that he issued in his fourth year a commission of inquiry into the national customs, and obtained from sworn representatives of each county a declaration of the laws under which they wished to live. The compilation that bears his name is very little more than a reissue of the code of Canute; and this proceeding helped greatly to reconcile the English people to his rule. Although the oppressions of his later years were far heavier than the measures taken to secure the immediate success of the Conquest, all the troubles of the kingdom after 1075, in his sons’ reigns as well as in his own, proceeded from the insubordination of the Normans, not from the attempts of the English to dethrone the king. Very early they learned that, if their interest was not the king’s, at least their enemies were his enemies; hence they are invariably found on the royal side against the feudatories.
This accounts for the maintenance of the national force of defence, over and above the feudal army. The fyrd of the English, the general armament of the men of the counties and hundreds, was not abolished at the Conquest, but subsisted even through the reigns of William Rufus and Henry I, to be reformed and reconstituted under Henry II; and in each reign it gave proof of its strength and faithfulness. The witenagemot itself retained the ancient form, the bishops and abbots formed a chief part of it, instead of being, as in Normandy, so insignificant an element that their very participation in deliberation has been doubted. The king sat crowned three times in the year in the old royal towns of Westminster, Winchester, and Gloucester, hearing the complaints of his people, and executing such justice as his knowledge of their law and language and his own imperious will allowed. In all this there is no violent innovation, only such gradual essential changes as twenty eventful years of new actors and new principles must bring, however insensibly the people themselves—passing away and being replaced by their children—may be educated to endurance.
It would be wrong to impute to the Conqueror any intention of deceiving the nation by maintaining its official forms while introducing new principles and a new race of administrators. What he saw required change he changed with a high hand. But not the less surely did the change of administrators involve a change of custom, both in the church and in the state. The bishops, ealdormen, and sheriffs of English birth were replaced by Normans; not unreasonably, perhaps, considering the necessity of preserving the balance of the state. With the change of officials came a sort of amalgamation or duplication of titles; the ealdorman or earl became the comes or count; the sheriff became the vicecomes; the office in each case receiving the name of that which corresponded most closely with it in Normandy itself. With the amalgamation of titles came an importation of new principles and possibly new functions; for the Norman count and viscount had not exactly the same customs as the earls and sheriffs. And this ran up into the highest grades of organization; the King’s court of counsellors was composed of his feudal tenants; the ownership of land was now the qualification for the witenagemot, instead of wisdom; the earldoms became fiefs instead of magistracies, and even the bishops had to accept the status of barons. There was a very certain danger that the mere change of persons might bring in the whole machinery of hereditary magistracies, and that king and people might be edged out of the administration of justice, taxation, and other functions of supreme or local independence.
Against this it was most important to guard; as the Conqueror learned from the events of the first year of his reign, when the severe rule of Odo and William Fitzosbern had provoked Herefordshire. Ralph Guader, Roger Montgomery, and Hugh of Avranches filled the places of Edwin and Morcar and the brothers of Harold. But the conspiracy of the earls in 1074 opened William’s eyes to the danger of this proceeding, and from that time onward he governed the provinces through sheriffs immediately dependent on himself, avoiding the foreign plan of appointing hereditary counts, as well as the English custom of ruling by viceregal ealdormen. He was, however, very sparing in giving earldoms at all, and inclined to confine the title to those who were already counts in Normandy or in France.
To this plan there were some marked exceptions, which may be accounted for either on the ground that the arrangements had been completed before the need of watchfulness was impressed on the King by the treachery of the Normans, or on that of the exigencies of national defence. In these cases he created, or suffered the continuance of, great palatine jurisdictions; earldoms in which the earls were endowed with the superiority of whole counties, so that all the land-owners held feudally of them, in which they received the whole profits of the courts and exercised all the “regalia” or royal rights, nominated the sheriffs, held their own councils, and acted as independent princes except in the owing of homage and fealty to the King. Two of these palatinates, the earldom of Chester and the bishopric of Durham, retained much of their character to our own days. A third, the palatinate of Bishop Odo in Kent, if it were really a jurisdiction of the same sort, came to an end when Odo forfeited the confidence of his brother and nephew. A fourth, the earldom of Shropshire, which is not commonly counted among the palatine jurisdictions, but which possessed under the Montgomery earls all the characteristics of such a dignity, was confiscated after the treason of Robert of Belesme by Henry I. These had been all founded before the conspiracy of 1074; they were also, like the later lordships of the marches, a part of the national defence; Chester and Shropshire kept the Welsh marches in order, Kent was the frontier exposed to attacks from Picardy, and Durham, the patrimony of St. Cuthbert, lay as a sacred boundary between England and Scotland; Northumberland and Cumberland were still a debatable ground between the two kingdoms. Chester was held by its earls as freely by the sword as the King held England by the crown; no lay vassal in the county held of the King, all of the earl. In Shropshire there were only five lay tenants in capite besides Roger Montgomery; in Kent, Bishop Odo held an enormous proportion of the manors, but the nature of his jurisdiction is not very clear, and its duration is too short to make it of much importance. If William founded any earldoms at all after 1074 (which may be doubted), he did it on a very different scale.
The hereditary sheriffdoms he did not guard against with equal care. The Norman viscounties were hereditary, and there was some risk that the English ones would become so too; and with the worst consequences, for the English counties were much larger than the bailiwicks of the Norman viscount, and the authority of the sheriff, when he was relieved from the company of the ealdorman, and was soon to lose that of the bishop, would have no check except the direct control of the King. If William perceived this, it was too late to prevent it entirely; some of the sheriffdoms became hereditary, and continued to be so long after the abuse had become constitutionally dangerous.
The independence of the greater feudatories was still further limited by the principle, which the Conqueror seems to have observed, of avoiding the accumulation in any one hand of a great number of contiguous estates. The rule is not without some important exceptions, and it may have been suggested by the diversity of occasions on which the fiefs were bestowed, but the result is one which William must have foreseen. An insubordinate baron whose strength lay in twelve different counties would have to rouse the suspicions and perhaps to defy the arms of twelve powerful sheriffs, before he could draw his forces to a head. In his manorial courts, scattered and unconnected, he could set up no central tribunal, nor even force a new custom upon his tenants, nor could he attempt oppression on any extensive scale. By such limitation the people were protected and the central power secured.
Yet the changes of ownership, even thus guarded, wrought other changes. It is not to be supposed that the Norman baron, when he had received his fief, proceeded to carve it out into demesne and tenants’ land as if he were making a new settlement in an uninhabited country. He might indeed build his castle and enclose his chase with very little respect to the rights of his weaker neighbors, but he did not attempt any such radical change as the legal theory of the creation of manors seems to presume. The name “manor” is of Norman origin: but the estate to which it was given existed, in its essential character, long before the Conquest; it received a new name as the shire also did, but neither the one nor the other was created by this change. The local jurisdictions of the thegns who had grants of sac and soc, or who exercised judicial functions among their free neighbors, were identical with the manorial jurisdictions of the new owners.
It may be conjectured with great probability that in many cases the weaker freemen, who had either willingly or under constraint attended the courts of their great neighbors, were now, under the general infusion of feudal principle, regarded as holding their lands of them as lords; it is not less probable that in a great number of grants the right to suit and service from small land-owners passed from the king to the receiver of the fief as a matter of course; but it is certain that even before the Conquest such a proceeding was not uncommon; Edward the Confessor had transferred to St. Augustine’s monastery a number of allodiaries in Kent, and every such measure in the case of a church must have had its parallel in similar grants to laymen. The manorial system brought in a number of new names; and perhaps a duplication of offices. The gerefa of the old thegn, or of the ancient township, was replaced, as president of the courts, by a Norman steward or seneschal; and the bydel of the old system by the bailiff of the new; but the gerefa and bydel still continued to exist in a subordinate capacity as the grave or reeve and the bedell; and when the lord’s steward takes his place in the county court, the reeve and four men of the township are there also. The common of the township may be treated as the lord’s waste, but the townsmen do not lose their customary share.
The changes that take place in the state have their resulting analogies in every village, but no new England is created; new forms displace but do not destroy the old, and old rights remain, although changed in title and forced into symmetry with a new legal and pseudo-historical theory. The changes may not seem at first sight very oppressive, but they opened the way for oppression; the forms they had introduced tended, under the spirit of Norman legality and feudal selfishness, to become hard realities, and in the profound miseries of Stephen’s reign the people learned how completely the new theory left them at the mercy of their lords; nor were all the reforms of his successor more stringent or the struggles of the century that followed a whit more impassioned than were necessary to protect the English yeoman from the men who lived upon his strength.
In attempting thus to estimate the real amount of change introduced by the feudalism of the Conquest, many points of further interest have been touched upon, to which it is necessary to recur only so far as to give them their proper place in a more general view of the reformed organization. The Norman king is still the king of the nation. He has become the supreme landlord; all estates are held of him mediately or immediately, but he still demands the allegiance of all his subjects. The oath which he exacted at Salisbury in 1086, and which is embodied in the semi-legal form already quoted, was a modification of the oath taken to Edmund, and was intended to set the general obligation of obedience to the king in its proper relation to the new tie of homage and fealty by which the tenant was bound to his lord.
All men continued to be primarily the king’s men, and the public peace to be his peace. Their lords might demand their service to fulfil their own obligations, but the king could call them to the fyrd, summon them to his courts, and tax them without the intervention of their lords; and to the king they could look for protection against all foes. Accordingly the king could rely on the help of the bulk of the free people in all struggles with his feudatories, and the people, finding that their connection with their lords would be no excuse for unfaithfulness to the king, had a further inducement to adhere to the more permanent institutions.
In the department of law the direct changes introduced by the Conquest were not great. Much that is regarded as peculiarly Norman was developed upon English soil, and although originated and systematized by Norman lawyers, contained elements which would have worked in a very different way in Normandy. Even the vestiges of Carlovingian practice which appear in the inquests of the Norman reigns are modified by English usage. The great inquest of all, the Domesday survey, may owe its principle to a foreign source; the oath of the reporters may be Norman, but the machinery that furnishes the jurors is native; “the king’s barons inquire by the oath of the sheriff of the shire, and of all the barons and their Frenchmen, and of the whole hundred, the priest, the reeve, and six ceorls of every township.”
The institution of the collective Frank pledge, which recent writers incline to treat as a Norman innovation, is so distinctly colored by English custom that it has been generally regarded as purely indigenous. If it were indeed a precaution taken by the new rulers against the avoidance of justice by the absconding or harboring of criminals, it fell with ease into the usages and even the legal terms which had been common for other similar purposes since the reign of Athelstan. The trial by battle, which on clearer evidence seems to have been brought in by the Normans, is a relic of old Teutonic jurisprudence, the absence of which from the Anglo-Saxon courts is far more curious than its introduction from abroad.
The organization of jurisdiction required and underwent no great change in these respects. The Norman lord who undertook the office of sheriff had, as we have seen, more unrestricted power than the sheriffs of old. He was the king’s representative in all matters judicial, military, and financial in his shire, and had many opportunities of tyrannizing in each of those departments: but he introduced no new machinery. From him, or from the courts of which he was the presiding officer, appeal lay to the king alone; but the king was often absent from England and did not understand the language of his subjects. In his absence the administration was intrusted to a judiciar, a regent, or lieutenant, of the kingdom; and the convenience being once ascertained of having a minister who could in the whole kingdom represent the king, as the sheriff did in the shire, the judiciar became a permanent functionary. This, however, cannot be certainly affirmed of the reign of the Conqueror, who, when present at Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide, held great courts of justice as well as for other purposes of state; and the legal importance of the office belongs to a later stage. The royal court, containing the tenants-in-chief of the crown, both lay and clerical, and entering into all the functions of the witenagemot, was the supreme council of the nation, with the advice and consent of which the King legislated, taxed, and judged.
In the one authentic monument of William’s jurisprudence, the act which removed the bishops from the secular courts and recognized their spiritual jurisdictions, he tells us that he acts “with the common council and counsel of the archbishops, bishops, abbots, and all the princes of the kingdom.” The ancient summary of his laws contained in the Textus Roffensis is entitled “What William, King of the English, with his Princes enacted after the Conquest of England“; and the same form is preserved in the tradition of his confirming the ancient laws reported to him by the representatives of the shires. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle enumerates the classes of men who attended his great courts: “There were with him all the great men over all England, archbishops and bishops, abbots and earls, thegns and knights.”
The great suit between Lanfranc as Archbishop of Canterbury and Odo as Earl of Kent, which is perhaps the best reported trial of the reign, was tried in the county court of Kent before the King’s representative, Gosfrid, bishop of Coutances; whose presence and that of most of the great men of the kingdom seem to have made it a witenagemot. The archbishop pleaded the cause of his Church in a session of three days on Pennenden Heath; the aged South-Saxon bishop, Ethelric, was brought by the King’s command to declare the ancient customs of the laws; and with him several other Englishmen skilled in ancient laws and customs. All these good and wise men supported the archbishop’s claim, and the decision was agreed on and determined by the whole county. The sentence was laid before the King, and confirmed by him. Here we have probably a good instance of the principle universally adopted; all the lower machinery of the court was retained entire, but the presence of the Norman justiciar and barons gave it an additional authority, a more direct connection with the king, and the appearance at least of a joint tribunal.
The principle of amalgamating the two laws and nationalities by superimposing the better consolidated Norman superstructure on the better consolidated English substructure, runs through the whole policy.
The English system was strong in the cohesion of its lower organism, the association of individuals in the township, in the hundred, and in the shire; the Norman system was strong in its higher ranges, in the close relation to the Crown of the tenants-in-chief whom the King had enriched. On the other hand, the English system was weak in the higher organization, and the Normans in England had hardly any subordinate organization at all. The strongest elements of both were brought together.
THE PERIOD WITH WHICH THE following article deals may be said to mark the end of distinctively Frankish history. A striking mixture of races entered into the formation of this people, and the beginnings of the great modern nations into which the Frankish empire was divided brought to them varied elements of strength and a diversity of constituents that were to be commingled in new national characters and careers.
In 840 Charles the Bald became King of France, and his reign, both as king and afterward as emperor, continued for thirty-seven years, during which he proved himself to be lacking in those qualities which his responsibilities and the wants of his people demanded. He had great obstacles to contend against; for besides the ambitions of various districts for separate nationality, which led to insurrections in many quarters, Greek pirates ravaged the South, where the Saracens also wrought havoc, while in the North and West the Northmen burned and pillaged, laying waste a wide region and leaving many towns in ruins.
It was an age of turbulence in Europe, and the violence of predatory invaders brought woes upon many peoples. On the east of Charles’ empire the Hungarians, successors of the Huns, began to threaten. In the midst of all these distractions and dangers, assailed by enemies without and within, Charles found it a task far beyond his abilities to construct a state upon foundations of unity. He bore many titles and held several crowns, but his actual dominion was narrowly restricted, and his nominal subjects were in a state of political subdivision almost amounting to dismemberment. After various futile efforts during his later years to unify his empire, Charles died from an illness which seized him in 877, on his return to France from a fruitless campaign of subjugation and pillage in Italy. In the subsequent division of the empire, according to the terms of the treaty of Verdun, the several portions included Italy, the nucleus of France, and that of the present Germany.
Already suffering from the devastating expeditions of the Norse or Northmen, the Carlovingian empire, now weakened by division, became an easier prey for the invaders. Emboldened by success, the Northmen at length commenced to settle in the regions they invaded, no longer returning, as formerly, to their northern homes in winter. Among chieftains of the early Norman invaders who settled in France was Hastings, who became Count of Chartres; later came Rou, Rolf, or Rollo the Rover, to whom Charles the Simple of France gave Normandy, whence sprang the conquerors and rulers of England, who laid the foundation of the English-speaking nations of today.
The first of Charlemagne’s grand designs, the territorial security of the Gallo-Frankish and Christian dominion, was accomplished. In the East and the North, the Germanic and Asiatic populations, which had so long upset it, were partly arrested at its frontiers, partly incorporated regularly in its midst. In the South, the Mussulman populations which, in the eighth century, had appeared so near overwhelming it, were powerless to deal it any heavy blow. Substantially France was founded. But what had become of Charlemagne’s second grand design, the resuscitation of the Roman Empire at the hands of the barbarians that had conquered it and become Christians?
Let us leave Louis the Debonair his traditional name, although it is not an exact rendering of that which was given him by his contemporaries. They called him Louis the Pious. And so, indeed, he was, sincerely and even scrupulously pious; but he was still more weak than pious, as weak in heart and character as in mind; as destitute of ruling ideas as of strength of will, fluctuating at the mercy of transitory impressions or surrounding influences or positional embarrassments. The name of Débonnaire is suited to him; it expresses his moral worth and his political incapacity both at once.
As king of Aquitaine in the time of Charlemagne, Louis made himself esteemed and loved; his justice, his suavity, his probity, and his piety were pleasing to the people, and his weaknesses disappeared under the strong hand of his father. When he became emperor, he began his reign by a reaction against the excesses, real or supposed, of the preceding reign. Charlemagne’s morals were far from regular, and he troubled himself but little about the license prevailing in his family or his palace. At a distance, he ruled with a tight and heavy hand. Louis established at his court, for his sisters as well as his servants, austere regulations. He restored to the subjugated Saxons certain of the rights of which Charlemagne had deprived them. He sent out everywhere his commissioners with orders to listen to complaints and redress grievances, and to mitigate his father’s rule, which was rigorous in its application and yet insufficient to repress disturbance, notwithstanding its preventive purpose and its watchful supervision.
Almost simultaneously with his accession, Louis committed an act more serious and compromising. He had, by his wife Hermengarde, three sons, Lothair, Pépin, and Louis, aged respectively nineteen, eleven, and eight. In 817, Louis summoned at Aix-la-Chapelle the general assembly of his dominions; and there, while declaring that “neither to those who were wisely minded nor to himself did it appear expedient to break up, for the love he bare his sons and by the will of man, the unity of the empire, preserved by God himself,” he had resolved to share with his eldest son, Lothair, the imperial throne. Lothair was in fact crowned emperor; and his two brothers, Pépin and Louis, were crowned king, “in order that they might reign, after their father’s death and under their brother and lord, Lothair, to wit: Pépin, over Aquitaine and a great part of Southern Gaul and of Burgundy; Louis, beyond the Rhine, over Bavaria and the divers peoples in the east of Germany.” The rest of Gaul and of Germany, as well as the kingdom of Italy, was to belong to Lothair, Emperor and head of the Frankish monarchy, to whom his brothers would have to repair year by year to come to an understanding with him and receive his instructions. The last-named kingdom, the most considerable of the three, remained under the direct government of Louis the Debonair, and at the same time of his son Lothair, sharing the title of emperor. The two other sons, Pépin and Louis, entered, notwithstanding their childhood, upon immediate possession, the one of Aquitaine and the other of Bavaria, under the superior authority of their father and their brother, the joint emperors.
Charlemagne had vigorously maintained the unity of the empire, for all that he had delegated to two of his sons, Pépin and Louis, the government of Italy and Aquitaine with the title of king. Louis the Debonair, while regulating beforehand the division of his dominion, likewise desired, as he said, to maintain the unity of the empire. But he forgot that he was no Charlemagne.
It was not long before numerous mournful experiences showed to what extent the unity of the empire required personal superiority in the emperor, and how rapid would be the decay of the fabric when there remained nothing but the title of the founder.
In 816 Pope Stephen IV came to France to consecrate Louis the Debonair emperor. Many a time already the popes had rendered the Frankish kings this service and honor. The Franks had been proud to see their King, Charlemagne, protecting Adrian I against the Lombards; then crowned emperor at Rome by Leo III, and then having his two sons, Pépin and Louis, crowned at Rome, by the same Pope, kings respectively of Italy and of Aquitaine. On these different occasions Charlemagne, while testifying the most profound respect for the Pope, had, in his relations with him, always taken care to preserve, together with his political greatness, all his personal dignity. But when, in 816, the Franks saw Louis the Pious not only go out of Rheims to meet Stephen IV, but prostrate himself, from head to foot, and rise only when the Pope held out a hand to him, the spectators felt saddened and humiliated at the sight of their Emperor in the posture of a penitent monk.
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