Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


28.2.07
  Feudalism 101 (Part 2)

Carolingian Times (8th-10h centuries)

Subsequently, the oath of obedience changed into an oath of fealty, and therewith the system of entourage into the genuine feudal system.

Not all the retainers could live at the court, so they were given a piece of land as beneficium (French fief), and they were only called into service on special occassions. The dependence of the vassals towards their lord was lessened, at the same time the social status of the vasalls developed into membership of a special group with increasingly high standing that would become the knights. A disadvantage of this development resulted in the king and the lords somewhat losing the grip on their vasalls.

During the reign of Charlemagne, feudality developed into a veritable system by uniting the originally independent institutions of the personal bound by commendation and the landloan of the beneficium. Vassalage thus became the prerequisite for receiving a beneficium. The act of making a vasall was formalized: the first step was the commendation or manumission ('handgang' - the vasall put his hands into the hands of the lord), followed by an oath of fealty. Touching of a reliquar was also often part of it.

The importance of the oath was enhanced the moment the institution of the antrustiones went into decline. A possible reason for this was the fact that the oath was legally binding for both parties and it could only take part between freeborn men. It thus gave a counterweight to the act of the commendation that stressed the dependant situation of the vasall. Successively, vassalage became acceptable even for persons of high standing.

Obedience was no longer neccesarily included in the oath formula. "By this oath I promise to be faithful to my lord, the very pious Emperor Charles, as according to custom and right a vasall owns faith towards his lord, to guard his realm and protect his rights. And I will keep this my sworn oath henceforth as is in my power, and may God, Creator of heaven and earth, and these holy relics help me." (1) Often the oath of fealty is defined in a 'negative' way: not to do anything that may give harm or disadvantage to the lord, "...to ensure the king by an oath of fidelity not to do anything against his life and his body, and not to take him prisoner to his disadvantage..." (2) The lord, too, had duties towards his vasalls, besides fidelity from his side it was mostly protection in form of military aid in case the vasall was attacked, and maintenance, fe. by giving him a beneficium. In addition to the afore mentioned fidelty, the vasall owed his lord consilium et auxilium, ie. he had to visit his lord on days of council and judgement and function as an advisor. Auxilium meant military aid as a mounted knight, together with his retainers, if he had; but it also could involve payment of ransom, or giving financial support in case of great celebrations such as marriage. High standing vasalls of a king could be asked to bring 500 or 1000 warriors to a war, part of them fully equipped kinghts. Therefore, vassalty was mostly a military institution.

Commendation and oath-taking both founded the personal relationship between vasall and lord, and a contract made in that way could not be broken or annulated save by the death of one of the parties. Later on, failure of one of the parties to keep the mutual promise of succour by the vasall and protection by the lord could also lead to annulation of the feudal bond. We have to keep in mind that personal bonds were the only way to somewhat regulate the misuse of power in a society without a 'modern' political system of legislative and courts of justice. Added to this, religion in Mediaeval society had a very strong influence and oath-breaking was considered as a major sacrilege leading directly towards condamnation.

Third part of the ceremony of making a vasall was the so-called investiture: the vasall was given the right over his beneficium by handing over of a symbolic object, fe. a staff. The sequence and importance ot the three elements of commendation, oath, and investiture changed within time.

Originally, the beneficium fell back to the lord after the vasall died. But the heirs of a vasall were, of course, interested in keeping the fief. Often the lord agreed to this and the usual way was to reenact the whole ceremony to make the new bond legal. In the second half of the 9th century heritage became the accepted way of transferring a fief.

The feudal pyramid - that means the system of lesser lords bound to dukes and counts, and these bound to the king - was weakened by the fact that an increasing number of minor vasalls and subsequently even the higher ones gave their alliance to several lords for different fiefs. This resulted in a lessened bond towards the king, the oath-taking became a mere formality. At the end of the millenium the feudal system was close to a collapse, a development accelerated by the weakening of the position of the king during the late Carolingian period (there were often several sons fighting over the heritage and the lands). But still the value of the oath had some effect and kept the feudal system and with it the empire from collapsing.

Footnotes
(1) Annales Regni Francorum 802
(2) Actes des comtes de Flandre; part of the oath sworn by Count Robert II of Flanders to King Henry I of England in 1101

Picture: Roland swearing fealty to Charlemagne, from the mss. of a chanson de geste - Public Domain (could not find out which particular manuscript)
 


  Feudalism 101 (Part 1)

Merovingian Times (5th-8th centuries)

"Because it is well known to everyone that I have no food and no clothes, I have prayed to your compassion and I have of my free will decided to give myself into your protection, or to commend myself to you. And I have done this; it shall be that way that you will give me food and clothes and support me in the measure as I will serve you and therewith earn your support. Until my death I am obliged to serve you and to obey you as I may as a freeborn man, and during my life I cannot withdraw from your power and protection, but I will remain in your power and protection as long as I live." (1) This formula is a rare written example for a process which usually was staged orally and by the use of symbolic gestures. The contract of commendation was concluded between two persons and ended with the death of one of the parties. It is important to note that the duties of the commendent might not interfere with his rights and dignity as a freeborn man.

Pacts between free men of lower social status and men of power have already existed in Merovingian times, and I suppose they may have existed even earlier albeit there's no proof. Roman sources did not care how exactly the relationship between fe. Arminius and his retainers, if he had such, was defined.

Those pacts were based upon service from the one side, and protection from the other side, the patrocinium. The relation between them was hierarchical, power on one side, obedience on the other. Especially kings could thus attract men, and in Merovingian times these royal retainers were called antrustiones. They formed a special sort of personal guard with a number of privileges. For example, if any of them was killed in a fight, his relatives got a higher weregild than for a non-member (2). This special status the group had in common with the Old Norse hirð, only the latter organisation lasted until the 13th century. The Merovingian antrustiones fell into decline when the Carolingian familiy rose to kingship in the 8th century.

The contract does not specify the duties of the vassal, nor the way the protection of the lord was carried out. Nor is it clear whether the commendation in these early times necessarily involved an oath of fealty, or a symbolic gesture like the manumission. But both are occasionally mentioned concerning the antrustiones (3)

The lord could keep the commendent at his court, but he could also give him a piece of his land to live upon. This was called tenure in case it was given as a loan, and usually the tenant had to pay taxes or tithes. But the lord could also give the land under more favourable conditions like tax exemption as a beneficium (4). In Merovingian times the patrocinium, based upon obedience and service from the commendent (sometimes called vassus) and protection by the lord, and the gift of a beneficium were separate institutions. That changed in Carolingian times when vassalty and beneficium became connected. (5)


Footnotes
(1) Taken from the Formulae Turonensis, No. 43. Edition: MG Formulae Merovingici et Karolini Aevi. ed. by K. Zeumer, p. 158. The formula dates from the beginning of the 8th century, but the form of it goes back to an old tradition (Ganshof, p. 4).
(2) It is not clear whether the members of the antrustiones were connected in a form of co-operative among each other (as it was the case in the hirð), or whether they as vassals of the king only were bound to him; Althoff, p. 139.
(3) Ganshof, p. 7. An example for the act in: De regis antrustione, in: Marciulfi Formulae 1.18, ed. Zeumer).
(4) The word beneficium is often used in the chartes and documents from the Merovingian times onward (Ganshof, p. 9).
(5) The word vasall (Latin vassus or vassallus) is used from the 8th century onwards. It might go back to the Celtic gwas = servant (Schulze, p. 58), but there is no absolute proof for this assumption.

Literature
  • Gerd Althoff. Verwandte, Freunde und Getreue - Zum politischen Stellenwert der Grupppenbindungen im früheren Mittelalter. Darmstadt 1990 (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft)
  • Karl-Heinz Bender. König und Vasall. Untersuchungen zur Chanson de geste des XII. Jahrhunderts, Heidelberg, 1967 (=Studia Romanica 13)
  • James Campbell. The Anglo-Saxon State (selected essays). London and New York, 2000
  • Jean Favier. Histoire de France vol. II. Le temps de principautés - De l'an mil a 1515. Paris, 1984
  • François Louis Ganshof. Qu'est-ce que la féodalité? Bruxelles, 1944, 3rd and reworked ed. 1957 (that book still is a standard work)
  • Michael Heintze. König, Held und Sippe - Untersuchungen zur Chanson de geste des 13 und 14. Jahrhunderts und ihrer Zyklenbildung. Studia Romanica 76, Heidelberg 1991
  • John Le Patourel. Feudal Empires, Norman and Plantagenet (selected essays). London, 1984
  • Erich Köhler. Conseil des barons et jugement des barons: Epische Fatalität und Feudalrecht im altfranzösischen Rolandslied. In: H. Krauß (ed.) Altfranzösische Epik, Darmstadt 1978, S. 368-412
  • François Neveux. La Normandie: des ducs aux rois, Xe - XIIe siècle. Rennes, 1998
  • Pierre Riché. Les Carolingiens - Une famille qui fit l'Europe. Paris, 1983
  • Hans K. Schulze. Grundstrukturen der Verfassung im Mittelalter, Band 1: Stammesverband, Gefolgschaft, Lehnswesen, Grundherrschaft. Stuttgart, Berlin, Köln 1985
  • Karl Ferdinand Werner. Die Ursprünge Frankreichs bis zum Jahr 1000. München, 1995 (1st edition 1984)
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    25.2.07
      Mysterious Forest

    Most of you will remember the photo (and another on my snippet blog) I posted some time ago, showing the mysterious road through a forest where the autumn sun casts its rays through the foliage.

    Everything could lurk behind the next bend.

    It does. Writer and artist Chris Howard found out what exactly.

    Copyright Chris Howard; posted with permission.

    If you don't see what is lurking, check this post for details.

    Note: I do not take responsibility for any plotbunnies also lurking among the trees. :)
     


    20.2.07
      Spreading Another Meme

    This time it's Susan Higginbotham's fault. :)

    Straight Historical, Historical Mystery, Historical Fantasy, Historical Romance, or Time Travel?
    Straight mostly, but I also read Historical Fantasy and other Alternate takes. Mystery sometimes, Romance seldom.

    Historical Figures as Main Characters or Purely Fictional Characters in Historical Settings as Main Characters?
    I take both.

    Hardback, Trade Paperback, or Mass Market Paperback?
    Trade or Mass Market - there are few authors I buy in hardback.

    Philippa Gregory or Margaret George?
    Haven't read either yet, but George is on my To Buy list.

    Amazon or Brick and Mortar?
    Amazon, much easier to find books there.

    Bernard Cornwell or Sharon Penman?
    I like both. Maybe Cornwell a tad more since I'm such an action girl, lol.

    Barnes & Noble or Borders?
    We don't have them in Germany

    First Historical Novel You Ever Remember Reading?
    Em, the Illiad and Song of the Niblungs? Novel would be Ich zog mit Hannibal (I traveled with Hannibal) by Hans Baumann and Eagle of the Ninth, Sutcliff. Ivanhoe was one of my very early reads as well.

    Alphabetize by Author, Alphabetize by Title, or Random?
    Random

    Keep, Throw Away, or Sell?
    Most books I keep, some I sell or donate to a library.

    Jean Plaidy or Norah Lofts?
    Same as with Gregory, haven't read them yet.

    Read with Dust Jacket or Remove It?
    Read with dust jacket.

    Stop Reading When Tired or at Chapter Breaks?
    Chapter breaks or section breaks.

    “It was a dark and stormy night” or “Once upon a time”?
    It was a dark and stormy night,” I guess. Nothing like hopping into the middle of the action.

    Buy or Borrow?
    Buy most of the time, except when I'm unsure whether I'll like it.

    Buying Choice: Book Reviews, Recommendations, or Browsing?
    Recommendations and Reviews.

    Dorothy Dunnett or Anya Seton?
    Dunnett.

    Tidy Ending or Cliffhanger?
    Cliffhangers are ok in a series but else I prefer a tidy ending.

    Sticking Close to Known Historical Fact, or Using Historical Fact as Wallpaper?
    Sticking close to known facts. If you don't, call it Historical Fantasy or Alternate History.

    Morning Reading, Afternoon Reading or Nighttime Reading?
    Nighttime

    Series or Standalone?
    Both

    Favorite Book of Which Nobody Else Has Heard?
    I could be evil and list some German authors who alas, never get translated, but I'll name Halldór Laxness' Gerpla (The Happy Warriors) instead.

    And I tag ... drumroll ...
    Scott Oden (He owes me for the last one)
    David Anthony Durham (One of the new guys on my blogroll, and I'm curious.)
    Celedë Anthaas (Because it's the official acceptance into the blogsphere to get tagged for a meme. *grin*)

    Park in Braunlage / Harz
     


    4.2.07
      Ausonius' Mosella

    Salve, amnis odorifero iuga vitea consite baccho,
    consite gramineas amnis viridissime ripas!
    naviger ut pelagus, devexas pronus in undas
    ut fluvius, vitreoque lacus imitate profundo.

    Thus says the poet Decimus Magnus Ausonius (310-395 AD) in his Mosella. Ausonius was born in Bordeaux (Burdigala, Gaul); poet, wine-lover, teacher of the young emperor-to-be Gratian, and obviously a bit of a traveller since his poem Mosella describes a journey along the river.

    Hills on the western shore opposite Trier.
    (Taken from the Trier side overlooking an islet where the Moselle branches for half a mile)

    I attempted a translation albeit I suck at Latin, lol:

    Greetings, river, framed by perfumed vineyard-covered hills,
    Framed by grass; river of greenest shores.
    Your strong waters carry ships, flowing in easy waves
    Along the stream, and a glittering lake your depths emulate.

    I wish I had known the text when I traveled there. The images Ausonius evokes respond to what I did experience on my Moselle cruise in the evening.

    The Roman bridge across the Moselle in the evening haze

    Quis color ille vadis, seras cum propulit umbras
    Hesperus et viridi perfudit monte Mosellam.
    tota natant crispis iuga motibus et tremit absens
    pampinus et vitreis vindemia turget in undis.
    adnumerat virides derisus navita vites,
    navita caudiceo fluitans super aequora lembo,
    per medium, qua sese amni confundit imago
    collis et umbrarum confinia conserit amnis.

    Evening at the Moselle

    What colour are the waters when the Evening Star
    Brings shadows of night, and green mountains fill the Moselle.
    Hilltops swim in rippling waters, and trembles
    The distant vine and grapes swell in crystal waves.
    The boatsman counts mocking green vines
    As he lets his boat drift by on the surface.
    In the middle, where the river confounds its own image
    With hills and shadows, lines blur in the water.

    The viridissime ripas

    A complete Latin version can be found here.
     


    Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

    All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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    I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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