My History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times


28/02/2007
  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)
  •  


    04/02/2007
      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.
     




    The Lost Fort is a history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history and architecture, as well as some geology, illustrated with my own photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, pretty towns and beautiful landscapes.

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    I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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    Dog Sledding With Huskies
    Eagles and Gulls in the Trollfjord


    Shores of History - The Baltic Sea

    Baltic Sea Cruise

    Lithuania

    Nida and the Curonian Spit
    Beaches at the Curonian Spit




    Historia
    Geologia
    Delectatio (Fun Stuff)
    Comblogium (Blog Roll)
    Conexiones (Links)

    - Roman History
    - Mediaeval History
    - Other Times and Miscellanea


    Roman History

    Wars and Frontiers

    Maps
    Romans in Germania

    Traces of the Pre-Varus Conquest
    Roman Camp Hedemünden
    New Finds in 2008

    The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
    Museum Park at Kalkriese

    The Battle at the Harzhorn
    Introduction

    Along the Limes
    Limes Fort Osterburken
    Limes Fort Saalburg

    Roman Frontiers in Britain
    Hadrian's Wall

    Rebellions
    The Batavian Rebellion

    Roman Militaria

    Armour
    Early Imperial Helmets
    Late Roman Helmets
    The Negau B Helmet

    Weapons
    The pilum
    Daggers
    Swords

    Other Equipment
    Roman Saddles

    Life and Religion

    Religion
    The Mithras Cult
    Isis Worship
    Curse Tablets and Good Luck Charms

    Everyday Life
    Bathing Habits
    Children's Toys
    Face Pots
    Styli and Wax Tablets

    Public Life
    Roman Transport - Barges
    Roman Transport - Amphorae and Barrels
    Roman Water Supply

    Roman villae
    Villa Rustica Wachenheim

    Miscellaneous
    Legend of Alaric's Burial


    Mediaeval History

    Feudalism
    Feudalism, Beginnings
    Feudalism, 10th Century
    The Privilege of the deditio
    A Note on handgenginn maðr

    The Hanseatic League
    Introduction and Beginnings
    Stockfish Trade


    Germany

    Geneaologies

    List of Mediaeval German Emperors

    Geneaology
    Anglo-German Marriage Connections
    Heinrich the Lion's Ancestors

    Biographies

    Kings and Emperors
    King Heinrich IV
    Emperor Otto IV, Introduction

    Princes
    Otto the Quarrelsome of Braunschweig-Göttingen
    The Dukes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen
    Otto of Northeim
    The Ludowing Landgraves of Thuringia
    Albrecht II and Friedrich I of Thuringia

    Counts and Local Lords
    The Marshals of Ebersburg
    The Counts of Everstein
    The Counts of Hohnstein
    The Lords of Plesse
    The Counts of Reichenbach
    The Counts of Winzenburg

    Famous Feuds

    Local Feuds
    The Lüneburg Succession War
    The Thuringian Succession War - Introduction
    The Star Wars

    Royal Troubles
    Otto IV and Bishop Adalbert II of Magdeburg


    England and Normandy

    From the Conquest to King John

    Normans, Britons, and Angevins
    The Dukes of Brittany and the Honour of Richmond

    From Henry III to the War of the Roses

    Great Fiefs
    The Earldom of Richmond and the Duchy of Brittany


    Scotland

    Kings of Scots

    House Dunkeld
    Malcolm III and Northumbria
    Struggle for the Throne: Malcolm III to David I
    King David and the Civil War (1)
    King David and the Civil War (2)

    Houses Bruce and Stewart
    Robert the Bruce and Stirling Castle
    The Early Stewart Kings

    Scottish Nobles and their Quarrels

    Clan Feuds
    MacLeans and MacDonalds
    A Scottish Wedding


    Wales

    Princes and Rebels

    The Princes of Gwynedd
    The Rise of House Aberffraw

    The Rebellions
    From Llywellyn ap Gruffudd to Owain Glyn Dŵr


    Scandinavia

    Kings and Vikings

    Kings of Norway
    King Eirik's Scottish Marriages

    Famous Nobles and their Feuds
    Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


    Other Times and Miscellanea

    Post-Mediaeval History

    Discoveries
    Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
    Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)

    Explorers
    Fram Expedition to the North Pole
    Fram Expedition to the South Pole

    History in Opera and Literature

    Opera

    Belcanto and Historicism
    Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
    The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

    Historical Ballads

    Ballads by Th. Fontane, translated by me
    About Theodor Fontane
    Archibald Douglas
    Gorm Grymme
    Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
    The Tragedy of Afghanistan


    Geological Landscapes

    The Baltic Sea
    Geology of the Curonian Spit

    The Harz
    Karst Landscape
    Karst - Lonau Falls
    Karst - Rhume Springs

    Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
    Blue Dome near Eschwege
    Diabase and Basalt Formations
    Karst Formations

    Solling-Vogler
    Raised Bogs
    The Hannover Cliffs

    The Shores of Scotland
    Staffa

    Paleontology

    Fossils
    Ammonites


    Fun Stuff

    Not So Serious Romans
    Aelius Rufus Visits the Future Series
    Building Hadrian's Wall
    Playmobil Romans

    Royal (Hi)Stories
    Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
    The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

    Historical Memes
    Charlemagne meme
    Historical Christmas Wishes
    New Year Resolutions
    Aelius Rufus does a Meme
    Rules for Writing Scottish Romances

    Funny Sights
    Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg

    My Novels in Progress / Planning

    I'm a bit of a writer, too; here are the novel projects on which I'm currently working

    Roman Novels (Historical Fiction)
    The Saga of House Sichelstein (Historical Fiction)
    Kings and Rebels (Fantasy)


    *********************

    Links leading outside my blog will open in a new window. I do not take any responsibility for the content of linked sites.

    History Blogs - Ancient

    Roman History Today
    Ancient Times (Mary Harrsch)
    Bread and Circuses (Adrian Murdoch)
    Following Hadrian (Carole Raddato)
    Mike Anderson's Ancient History Blog
    Mos Maiorum - Der römische Weg
    Per Lineam Valli (M.C. Bishop)
    Zenobia (Judith Weingarten)

    Digging Up Fun Stuff
    The Anglo-Saxon Archaeology Blog
    Arkeologi i Nord
    The Journal of Antiquities (Britain)
    The Northern Antiquarian
    The Roman Archaeology Blog

    History Blogs - Mediaeval

    Þaér wæs Hearpan Swég
    Anglo Saxon, Norse & Celtic Blog
    Casting Light upon the Shadow (A. Whitehead)
    Norse and Viking Ramblings
    Outtakes of a Historical Novelist (Kim Rendfeld)

    Beholden Ye Aulde Blogges
    A Clerk of Oxford
    Daily Medieval
    Historical Britain Blog (Mercedes Rochelle)
    Magistra et Mater (Rachel Stone)
    Michelle of Heavenfield (Michelle Ziegler)
    Senchus (Tim Clarkson)

    Royal and Other Troubles
    Edward II (Kathryn Warner)
    Henry the Young King (Kasia Ogrodnik)
    Piers Gaveston (Anerje)
    Lady Despenser's Scribery
    Simon de Montfort (Darren Baker)
    Weaving the Tapestry (Scottish Houses Dunkeld and Stewart)

    A Mixed Bag of History
    English Historical Fiction Authors
    The Freelance History Writer (Susan Abernethy)
    The History Blog
    History, the Interesting Bits (S.B. Connolly)
    Mediaeval Manuscripts Blog
    Mediaeval News (Niall O'Brian)
    Time Present and Time Past (Mark Patton)

    Thoughts and Images

    Reading and Reviews
    Black Gate Blog
    The Blog That Time Forgot (Al Harron)
    Parmenion Books
    Reading the Past
    The Wertzone

    Imaginations
    David Blixt
    Ex Urbe (Ada Palmer)
    Constance A. Brewer
    Jenny Dolfen Illustrations
    Wild and Wonderful (Caroline Gill)

    German Travel Blogs
    Alte Steine
    Blickgewinkelt
    Meerblog
    Reiseaufnahmen
    Sonne und Wolken
    Teilzeitreisender
    Travelita
    Unterwegs und Daheim

    Highland Mountains
    The Hazel Tree (Jo Woolf)
    Helen in Wales
    Mountains and Sea Scotland

    The Colours of the World
    Shutterbugs


    Research

    Archaeology
    Past Horizons
    Archaeology in Europe
    Orkneyar

    Roman History
    Deutsche Limeskommission
    Internet Ancient Sourcebook
    Livius.org
    Roman Army
    Roman Britain
    The Romans in Britain
    Vindolanda Tablets

    Not so Dark Ages
    Burgundians in the Mist
    Viking Society for Northern Research

    Mediaeval History
    De Re Militari
    Internet Mediaeval Sourcebook
    Kulturzeit
    The Labyrinth
    Mediaeval Crusades
    Medievalists.Net

    Castles
    Burgenarchiv
    Burgerbe
    Burgenwelt
    Exploring Castles
    The World of Castles

    Miscellaneous History
    Heritage Daily
    The History Files

    Mythology
    Ancient History
    Encyclopedia Mythica

    Online Journals
    Ancient Warfare
    The Heroic Age
    The History Files

    Travel and Guide Sites

    Germany - History
    Antike Stätten in Deutschland
    Burgenarchiv
    Strasse der Romanik

    Germany - Nature
    HarzLife
    Naturpark Meissner
    Naturpark Solling-Vogler

    England
    English Heritage
    Visit Northumberland

    Scotland
    The Chain Mail (Scottish History)
    Historic Scotland
    National Trust Scotland

    Books and Writing

    Interesting Author Websites
    Bernard Cornwell
    Dorothy Dunnett
    Steven Erikson
    Diana Gabaldon
    Guy Gavriel Kay
    George R.R. Martin
    Sharon Kay Penman
    Brandon Sanderson
    J.R.R. Tolkien
    Tad Williams

    Historical Fiction
    Historical Novel Society
    Historia Magazine

    Writing Sites
    Absolute Write
    TheLitForum.com
    National Novel Writing Month


    *********************


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