The Carolingian World: Europe in the Early Middle Ages summary



The Carolingian World: Europe in the Early Middle Ages summary


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The Carolingian World: Europe in the Early Middle Ages summary




The Frankish chieftain Charles Martel defeated Muslim invaders in 732 at the Battle of Poitiers in central France.' Muslims and Christians have interpreted the battle differently. To the Muslims, it was only a minor skirmish, won by the Franks because of Muslim difficulties in maintaining supply lines over long distances and the distraction of ethnic conflicts and unrest in Islamic Spain. For Christians, the Frankish victory has been perceived as one of the great battles of history: it halted Muslim expansion in Europe. A century after this victory, in 843, Charles Martel's three great- great- grandsons concluded the Treaty of Verdun, which divided the European continent among themselves. 

Between 732 and 843, a distinctly European society emerged. A new kind of social and political organization, later called "feudalism," appeared. And for the first time since the collapse of the Roman Empire, most of western Europe was united under one government. That government reached the peak of its development under Charles Martel's grandson, Charlemagne. Christian missionary activity among the Germanic peoples continued, and strong ties were forged with the Roman papacy. A revival of study and learning, sometimes styled the "Carolingian Renaissance," occurred under Charlemagne. 


*How did Merovingian and Carolingian rulers govern their kingdoms and empire?

*What was the significance of the relations between           Carolingian rulers and, the church?

*The culture of the Carolingian Empire has been described as the "first European civilization." What does this mean? 

*What factors contributed to the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire? 

*In a society wracked with constant war and violence, what medical care was available? 

*Consider some of the historiographical problems related to the word feudalism. 

*How did Viking expansion lead to the establishment of the Kievan principality? 



The success of the Frankish king Clovis, as we have seen (see pages 218-219), rested on three major developments: Clovis's series of military victories over other Germanic tribes; his acquisition of the wealthy provinces of Roman Gaul with their administrative machinery intact; and, after Clovis's conversion to orthodox Christianity, the ideological support of the Roman papacy and of the bishops of Gaul. By selecting as his capital Paris-legendary scene of the martyrdom of Saint Denis, believed to be a disciple of Saint Paul-Clovis identified himself with the cult of Saint Denis and used it to strengthen his rule. The Frankish kingdom included much of what is now France and a large section of southwestern Germany. 

When he died, following Frankish custom, Clovis divided his kingdom among his four sons, a partition not according to strict acreage but in portions yielding roughly equal revenues. 2 Historians have long described Merovingian Gaul in the sixth and seventh centuries as wracked by civil wars, chronic violence, and political instability as Clovis's descendants fought among themselves. So brutal and destructive were these wars and so violent the ordinary conditions of life that the term Dark Ages came to designate the entire Merovingian period. Recent research has presented a more complex picture. The civil wars were indeed destructive but they "did not pose a threat to the survival of the kingdom. Indeed, in a sense, they were a unifying part of the structure of the Frankish state in the sixth century and for most of the seventh."3 

What caused the civil wars? First, the death or even reported death of a king triggered crisis and war. Lacking a clear principle of succession, any male of Merovingian blood could claim the throne, and within the Merovingian family there were often many possibilities. A prince-claimant had to prove himself worthy on the battlefield. Second', the desire for new lands provoked conflict. Royal officials and warriors had a similar desire for new estates, and they sold their support to the prince who would promise them more lands. Royal armies also wanted war because war meant booty and plunder. Sometimes a Merovingian king's great warriors urged him, even against his better judgment, to make war so that they could profit economically. No one disputed the Merovingian family's right to rule: it alone possessed the blood and charisma. The issue was which member. Thus the royal family and the royal court served as the focus around which conflicts arose, and in this sense the civil wars actually held the kingdom together. 4 

Merovingian politics provided royal women with opportunities, and some queens not only influenced but occasionally dominated events. The theoretical status of a princess or queen rested on her diplomatic importance, with her marriage sealing or divorce breaking an alliance; on her personal relationship with her husband and her ability to give him sons and heirs; on her role as the mother and guardian of princes who had not reached legal adulthood; and on her control of the royal treasury. For example, when King Chilperic I (561584) was murdered, his wife Fredegunda controlled a large state treasury. The historian Fredegar alleges that Queen Brunhilda (d. 613), wife of King Sigebert of the East Frankish kingdom, killed twelve kings in pursuit of her political goals, including Sigebert, her grandchildren, and their offspring. When her sister Galswintha was found strangled to death in bed shortly after her marriage to Chilperic, ruler of the West Frankish kingdom, Brunhilda suspected Chilperic of the murder-so that he could marry his then mistress, Fredegunda. Brunhilda instigated war between the two kingdoms. After 592 she was the real power behind her sons' and grandsons' shaky thrones, and she also ruled Burgundy, which her maneuvers had united to the East Frankish kingdom. Contemporaries may have exaggerated Brunhilda's murders, but her career reflects both the domestic violence of the Merovingian royal family and the fierce determination of some queens to exercise power 

How did Merovingian rulers govern? What were their sources of income? How did they communicate with their peoples? While local administration probably varied somewhat according to regional tradition, the civitas-the city and surrounding territory-served as the basis of the administrative system in the Frankish kingdom. A comites-senior official or royal companion.) later called a count-presided over the civitas. He collected royal revenue, heard lawsuits, enforced justice, and raised troops. To receive his tax revenues, a Frankish king had to be sure of the comites loyalty. Rebellion led to confiscation of the comites' lands. A ruler's general sources of income were revenues from the royal estates, especially large in the north; the right to hospitality when he visited an area (with wives, children, servants, court officials, and several hundred warriors, plus all their horses, hospitality could be a severe drain on the resources of a region); the conquest and confiscation of new lands, which replenished lands given as monastic or religious endowments; and the "gifts" of subject peoples, such as plunder and tribute paid by peoples east of the Rhine River. Specific income derived from a land tax paid by all free landowners, originally collected by the Romans and continued by the Franks. In the course of the seventh century, the value of this tax declined as all Franks gradually gained immunity from it. In fact, the term frank began to be associated with freedom from taxation, which may have been an incentive for Gallo-Romans to shift their ethnic allegiance to the Franks. Fines imposed for criminal offenses and tolls and customs duties on roads, bridges, and waterways (and the goods transported over them) also yielded income. As with the Romans, the minting of coins was a royal monopoly, with drastic penalties for counterfeiting. For all this, the comites had responsibility. 5

Merovingian, Carolingian (see page 245), and later medieval rulers led peripatetic lives, traveling constantly to check up on local administrators and peoples. Merovingian kings also relied on the comites and bishops to gather and send local information to them. Gallo Roman by descent, bishops and comites were usually native to the regions they administered and knew their areas well. A bishop, for example, might report injustices done by secular officials. Frankish royal administration involved a third official, the dux (duke). He was a military leader, commanding troops in the territory of several civitas, and thus responsible for all defensive and offensive strategies. Kings seem to have appointed only Franks to this position. 

Clovis and his descendants in the sixth and seventh centuries also issued capitularies, administrative and legislative orders divided into capitula, chapters or artic1cs. These laws attempted to regulate a variety of matters: for example, protecting priests, monks, nuns, and church property from violence; defining ownership and inheritance; punishing drunkenness, robbery, arson, rape, and murder. Apart from the violent and crime ridden realities of Merovingian society, capitularies show the strong influence of Roman law. They also reveal Merovingian kings trying to maintain law and order, holding courts, and being actively involved in exercising judicial authority. The Roman idea, strengthened by political Augustinianism began to take root: a good or effective king maintained peace and gave his people justice. 

The court or household of Merovingian kings also included scribes who kept records, legal officials who advised the king on matters of law, and treasury agents responsible for aspects of royal finance. These officials could all read and write Latin. Over them all presided the mayor of the palace, the most important secular figure in the kingdom. Usually a leader of one of the great aristocratic families, the mayor governed the palace and the kingdom in the king's absence. 6 

Kings also consulted regularly with the leaders of the aristocracy. This class represented a fusion of Franks and the old Gallo-Roman leadership. It possessed landed wealth, villas over which it exercised lordship, dispensing local customary, not royal, law; and it often led a rich and lavish lifestyle. Members of this class constituted, when they were with the king, the royal court, those around the king at a given time. If he consulted them and they were in agreement, there was peace. Failure to consult could mean resentment and the potential for civil war. 

From this aristocracy there gradually emerged in the eighth century one family that replaced the Merovingian dynasty. The emergence of the Carolingians-whose name comes from the Latin Carolus, or Charles-rests on several factors. First, beginning with Pippin I (d. 640), the head of the family acquired and held on to the powerful position of mayor of the palace. Second, a series of advantageous marriage alliances brought the family estates and influence in different parts of the Frankish world. Thus Pippin 11 (d. 714), through his first marriage, won influence in the territory around Echternach (modern Luxembourg) and, by his second wife, estates in the Meuse Valley. The landed wealth and treasure acquired by Pippin 11, Charles Martel (r. 714-741), and Pippin III (r. 751-768) formed the basis of Carolingian power. 7 Although Pippin 11 and his son Charles Martel possessed more lands than any other single aristocratic family, and although they held the positions of mayor of the palace and duke, their ultimate supremacy was by no means certain. Other dukes rallied to the support of the Merovingians, and Pippin devoted much energy to fighting these magnates. Only his victory over them and King Theuderich at Tertry in 687 ensured his dominance. Such victories gave the family a reputation for military strength. Charles Martel's successful wars against the Saxons, Frisians, Alamans, and Bavarians, as well as his defeat of the Arabs near Poitiers in 732, further enhanced the family's prestige, while also adding distinction as defenders of Christendom against the Muslims. 

The early Carolingians also acquired the support of the church, perhaps the decisive asset. Irish, Frankish, and Anglo-Saxon missionaries, of whom the Englishman Boniface (680-754) is the most famous, preached Christianity to pagan peoples and worked to reorganize the Frankish church. Boniface's courage in chopping down the oak of Thor at Geismar, near Fritzlar, the center of a large pagan cult, won him many converts. With close ties to the Roman papacy, Boniface participated in establishing the abbey of Fulda and the archdiocese of Mainz, held church councils, and promoted The Rule of Saint Benedict in all monasteries. (In the latter, Boniface was not successful. Many monasteries preferred to be guided by several monastic directives.) The Carolingian mayors of the palace, Charles Martel and Pippin 111, fully supported this evangelizing activity, as missionaries also preached obedience to secular authorities as a religious duty. 

As mayor of the palace, Charles Martel had exercised the power of king of the Franks. His son Pippin III   aspired to the title as well. Against the background of collaboration between missionaries and the Frankish mayors, Pippin sent delegates to Pope Zacharias asking him whether the man who held the power should also have the title of king. Pippin's ambassadors reached Rome at a diplomatically opportune moment. In the eighth century, the Lombards severely threatened the papacy, which, being subject to the Byzantine emperor, looked to Constantinople for support. But Byzantium, pressured from the outside by attacks from the Arabs and the Avars and wracked internally by the dispute over the veneration of icons, known as iconoclasm, was in no position to send help to the West. Pope Zacharias therefore shifted his allegiance from the Greeks to the Franks and told Pippin that "it was better to call him king who had the royal power 'in order to prevent provoking civil war in Francia"' and that Zacharias "by virtue of his apostolic authority commanded that Pippin should be made king." Chilperic, the last Merovingian ruler, was consigned to a monastery. An assembly of Frankish magnates elected Pippin king, and he was anointed by Boniface at Soissons. When, in 754, Lombard expansion again threatened the papacy, Pope Stephen II journeyed to the Frankish kingdom seeking help. On this occasion, he personally anointed Pippin and gave him the title "Patrician of the Romans." Pippin promised restitution of the papal lands.          Thus an important alliance had been struck between the papacy and the Frankish monarchs. On a successful campaign in Italy in 756, Pippin made a large donation to the papacy. The gift consisted of estates in central Italy that technically belonged to the Byzantine emperor. Because of his anointment, Pippin's kingship took on a special spiritual and moral character. Before Pippin, only priests and bishops had received anointment. Pippin became the first to be anointed with the sacred oils and acknowledged as rex et sacerdos (king and priest). Anointment, rather than royal blood, set the Christian king apart. Pippin also cleverly eliminated possible threats to the Frankish throne, and the pope promised him support in the future. When Pippin died, his son Charles, generally known as Charlemagne, succeeded him. 

When Charlemagne went to Rome in 800, Pope Leo III showed him the signs of respect due only to the emperor. The Carolingian family thus received official recognition from the leading spiritual power in Europe, and the papacy gained a military protector. The Greeks regarded the papal acts as rebellious and Charlemagne as a usurper. The imperial coronation marks a decisive break between Rome and Constantinople. 


The Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne

In the autumn of the year 800, Charlemagne paid a momentous visit to Rome. Charlemagne's secretary and biographer, Einhard, gives this account of what happened: 

His last journey there [to Rome] was due to another factor namely that the Romans, having inflicted many injuries on Pope Leo-plucking out his eyes and tearing out his tongue, he had been compelled to beg the assistance of the king. Accordingly, coming to Rome in order that he might set in order those things which had exceedingly disturbed the condition of the Church, he remained there the whole winter It was at the time that he accepted the name of Emperor and Augustus. At first he was so much opposed to this that he insisted that although that day was a great Christian feast, he would not have entered the Church if he had known beforehand the pope's intention. But he bore very patiently the jealousy of the Roman Emperors [that is, the Byzantine rulers] who were indignant when he received these titles. He overcame their arrogant haughtiness with magnanimity, a virtue in which he was considerably superior to them, by sending frequent ambassadors to them and in his letters addressing them as brothers. 9 

For centuries scholars have debated the significance of the imperial coronation of Charlemagne. Did Charlemagne plan the ceremony in Saint Peter's on Christmas Day, or did he merely accept the title of emperor? What did he have to gain from it? If, as Einhard implies, the coronation displeased Charlemagne, did that displeasure rest on Pope Leo's role in the ceremony, which, on the principle that he who gives can also take away, placed the pope in a higher position than the emperor? Did Pope Leo arrange the coronation in order to identify the Frankish monarchy with the papacy and papal policy? 

Though final answers will probably never be found, several things seem certain. First, Charlemagne gained the imperial title of Holy Roman emperor and considered himself a Christian king ruling a Christian people. His motto, Renovatio romani imperi (Revival of the Roman Empire), "implied a revival of the Western Empire in the image of Augustinian political philosophy."10 Charlemagne was consciously perpetuating old Roman imperial notions, while at the same time identifying with the new Rome of the Christian church. Charlemagne and his government represented a combination of Frankish practices and Christian ideals, the two basic elements of medieval European society. Second, later German rulers were anxious to gain the imperial title and to associate themselves with the legends of Charlemagne and ancient Rome. They wanted to use, the ideology of imperial Rome to strengthen their positions. Finally, ecclesiastical authorities continually cited the event as proof that the dignity of the imperial crown could be granted only by the pope. The imperial coronation of Charlemagne, whether planned by the Carolingian court or by the papacy, was to have a profound effect on the course of German history and on the later history of Europe. 



Charles the Great (r. 768-814), known as Charlemagne, built on the military and diplomatic foundations of his ancestors and on the administrative machinery of the Merovingian kings. Einhard wrote a lengthy idealization of this warrior-ruler. It has serious flaws, partly because it is modeled directly on the Roman author Suetonius’s Life of the Emperor Augustus. Still, it is the earliest medieval biography of a layman, and historians consider it generally accurate: 

Charles was large and strong, and of lofty stature, though not disproportionately tall ... the upper part of his head was round, his eyes very large and animated, nose a little long, hair fair, and face laughing and merry. Thus his appearance was always stately and dignified... although his neck was thick and somewhat short, and his belly rather prominent; but the symmetry of the rest of his body concealed these defects. His gait was firm, his whole carriage manly and his voice clear, but not so strong as his size led one to expect. His health was excellent, except during the years preceding his death.... 

In accordance with the national custom, he took frequent exercise on horseback and in the chase.... He ... oft e n practiced swimming, in which he was such an adept that none could surpass him.... He used not only to invite his sons to his bath, but his nobles and friends, and now and then a troop of his retinue or bodyguard.11 

Though crude and brutal, Charlemagne was a man of enormous intelligence. He appreciated good literature, such as Saint Augustine's City of God, and Einhard considered him an unusually effective speaker. Recent scholarship disputes Einhard's claim that Charlemagne could not write. 

The security and continuation of his dynasty and the need for diplomatic alliances governed Charlemagne's complicated marriage pattern. The high rate of infant mortality required many sons. Married first to the daughter of Desiderius, king of the Lombards, Charlemagne divorced her either because she failed to produce a child within a year or for diplomatic reasons. His second wife, Hildegard, produced nine children in twelve years. When she died, Charlemagne married Fastrada, daughter of an East Frankish count whose support he needed in his campaign against the Saxons. Charlemagne had a total of four legal wives and six concubines, and even after the age of sixty-five, he continued to sire children. Though three sons reached adulthood, only one outlived him. Four surviving grandsons ensured perpetuation of the family. 12 The most striking feature of Charlemagne's character was his phenomenal energy, which helps to explain his great military achievements. 


Territorial Expansion

Continuing the expansionist policies of his ancestors, Charlemagne fought more than fifty campaigns and became the greatest warrior of the early Middle Ages. He subdued all of the north of modern France. In the south, the lords of the mountainous ranges of Aquitaine fought off his efforts at total conquest. The Muslims in northeastern Spain were checked by the establishment of strongly fortified areas known as marches. 

Charlemagne's greatest successes were in today's Germany. There his concerns were basically defensive. In the course of a thirty-year war against the Saxons, he added most of the northwestern German tribes to the Frankish kingdom. Because of their repeated rebellions, Charlemagne ordered, according to Einhard, more than four thousand Saxons slaughtered in one day. 

To the south, he also achieved spectacular results. In 773 to 774, the Lombards in northern Italy again threatened the papacy. Charlemagne marched south, overran fortresses at Pavia and Spoleto, and incorporated Lombardy into the Frankish kingdom. To his title king of the Franks he added king of the Lombards. Charlemagne also ended Bavarian independence and defeated the nomadic Avars, opening the Danubian plain for later settlement. He successfully fought the Byzantine Empire for Venetia (excluding the city of Venice itself), Istria, and Dalmatia and temporarily annexed those areas to his kingdom. 

Charlemagne also tried to occupy Basque territory in northwestern Spain. When his long siege of Saragossa proved unsuccessful and the Saxons on his northeastern borders rebelled, Charlemagne decided to withdraw, but the Basques annihilated his rear guard under Count Roland at Roncesvalles (778), near Pamplona in the Pyrenees. This attack represented Charlemagne's only defeat, and he forbade people to talk about it. However, the expedition inspired the great medieval epic The Song of Roland. Based on legend and written down about I 100 at the beginning of the European crusading movement, the poem portrays Roland as the ideal chivalric knight and Charlemagne as exercising a sacred kind of kingship. Although many of the epic's details differ from the historical evidence, The Song of Roland is important because it reveals the popular image of Charlemagne in later centuries. 

By around 805, the Frankish kingdom included all of northwestern Europe except Scandinavia (Map 8.1)  Not since the third century A.D. had any ruler controlled so much of the Western world.


The Government of the Carolingian Empire

Charlemagne ruled a vast rural world dotted with isolated estates and small villages and characterized by constant warfare. According to the chroniclers of the time, between 714 and 814 only seven years were peaceful. Charlemagne's empire was not a state as people today understand that term; it was a collection of peoples and tribes. Apart from a small class of warrior aristocrats and clergy, and a very tiny minority of Jews, almost everyone engaged in agriculture. Trade and commerce played a small part in the general economy. Towns served as the headquarters of bishops, as ecclesiastical centers. The Carolingians inherited the office and the administrative machinery of the Merovingian kings and the functions of the mayor of the palace. The Carolingians relied heavily on the personality and energy of the monarchs. The scholar-adviser Alcuin (see pages 255-256) wrote that "a king should be strong against his enemies, humble to Christians, feared by pagans, loved by the poor and judicious in counsel and maintaining justice."' 3 Charlemagne worked to realize that ideal. By military expeditions that brought wealthy lands, booty, slaves, and tribute-and by peaceful travel, personal appearances, and the sheer force of his personality, Charlemagne sought to awe newly conquered peoples and rebellious domestic enemies with his fierce presence and terrible justice. By confiscating the estates of great territorial magnates, he acquired lands and goods with which to gain the support of lesser lords, further expanding the territory under his control. 

The political power of the Carolingians rested on the cooperation of the dominant social class, the Frankish aristocracy. By the seventh century, through mutual cooperation and frequent marriage alliances, these families exercised great power that did not derive from the Merovingian kings. The Carolingians themselves had emerged from this aristocracy, and the military and political success that Carolingians such as Pippin 11 achieved depended on the support of the nobility. The lands and booty with which Charles Martel and Charlemagne rewarded their followers in these families enabled the nobles to improve their economic position, but it was only with noble help that the Carolingians were able to wage wars of expansion and suppress rebellions. In short, Carolingian success was a matter of reciprocal help and reward. 14 

For administrative purposes, Charlemagne divided his entire kingdom into counties, based closely on the old Merovingian civitas (see page 244). Each of the approximately six hundred counties was governed by a count (or in his absence, a viscount), who published royal orders, held courts and resolved legal cases, collected taxes and tolls, raised troops for the army, and supervised maintenance of roads and bridges. Counts were at first sent out from the royal court; later someone native to the region was appointed. As a link between local authorities and the central government, Charlemagne appointed officials called missi dominici, "agents of the lord king." The empire was divided into visitorial districts. Each year, beginning in 802, two missi, usually a count and a bishop or abbot, visited assigned districts. They held courts and investigated the district's judicial, financial, and clerical activities. They organized commissions to regulate crime, moral conduct, the clergy, education, the poor, and many other matters. The missi checked up on the counts. In the marches, especially in unstable or threatened areas such as along the Spanish or Danish frontiers, officials called margraves had extensive powers to govern. 

A modern state has institutions of government, such as a civil service, courts of law, financial agencies for collecting and apportioning taxes, and police and military powers with which to maintain order internally and defend against foreign attack. These simply did not exist in Charlemagne's empire. Instead, society was held together by dependent relationships cemented by oaths promising faith and loyalty. 

Although the empire lacked viable institutions, some Carolingians involved in governing did have vigorous political ideas. The abbots and bishops who served as Charlemagne's advisers worked out what was for their time a sophisticated political ideology. In letters and treatises, they set before their ruler high ideals of behavior and government. They wrote that a ruler may hold power from God but is responsible to the law just as all subjects of the empire were required to obey him, he, too, was obliged to respect the law. They envisioned a unified Christian society presided over by a king who was responsible for maintaining peace, law, and order and doing justice, without which neither the ruler nor the kingdom had any justification. These views derived largely from Saint Augustine's theories of kingship. Inevitably, they could not be realized in an illiterate, pre-industrial society. But they were the seeds from which medieval and even modern ideas of government were to develop. 



Building on the military and diplomatic foundations of his ancestors, Charlemagne waged constant warfare to expand his kingdom. His wars with the Saxons in northwestern Germany and with the Lombards in northern Italy proved successful, and his kingdom ultimately included most of continental Europe. He governed this vast territory through a military elite, the Frankish counts, who exercised political, economic, and judicial authority at the local level. 

The culture that emerged in Europe between 732 and 843 has justifiably been called the "first" European civilization. That civilization had definite characteristics: it was Christian, feudal, and infused with Latin ideas and models. Almost all people were baptized Christians. Latin was the common language-written as well as spoken-of educated people everywhere. This culture resulted from the mutual cooperation of civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Kings and church leaders supported each other's goals and utilized each other's prestige and power. Kings encouraged preaching and publicized church doctrines, such as the stress on monogamous marriage. In return, church officials urged obedience to royal authority. The support that Charlemagne gave to education and learning, the intellectual movement known as the Carolingian Renaissance, proved his most enduring legacy. 

The resurgence of an ambitious aristocracy composed of greedy magnates who pressured later Carolingian kings for ever more lands; the growth of hereditary and semi-independent countships; and the invasions of the Vikings, Magyars, and Muslims-these factors all contributed to the empire's disintegration. As the empire broke down, a new form of decentralized government, later known as feudalism, emerged. In a feudal society, public and political power was held by a small group of military leaders. No civil or religious authority could maintain a stable government over a very wide area. Local strongmen provided what little security existed. Commerce and long-distance trade were drastically reduced. Because of their agricultural and commercial impact, the Viking and Muslim invaders represent the most dynamic and creative forces of the period. By the twelfth century, the Kievan principality-Slavic in ethnicity, Greek Orthodox in religion, and the center of considerable trade with the Chinese and Muslim worlds-constituted a loose collection of territories without a strong central government. 


Feudal Homage and Fealty

Feudalism was a social and political system held together by bonds of kinship, homage, and fealty and by grants of benefices-lands or estates given by king, lay lord, or ecclesiastical officer (bishop or abbot) to another member of the nobility or to a knight. In return for the benefice, or fief, the recipient became the vassal of the lord and agreed to perform certain services, usually military ones. Feudalism developed in the ninth century during the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire because rulers needed fighting men and officials. In a society that lacked an adequate government bureaucracy, a sophisticated method of taxation, or even the beginnings of national consciousness, personal ties provided some degree of cohesiveness.

In the first document, a charter dated 876, the emperor Charles the Bald (r 843-877), Charlemagne's grandson, grants a benefice. In the second document, dated 1127, the Flemish notary Galbert of Bruges describes homage and fealty before Count Charles the Good of Flanders (r 1119-112 7). The ceremony consists of three parts: the act of homage; the oath of fealty, intended to reinforce the act; and the investiture (apparently with property). Because all three parts are present, historians consider this evidence of a fully mature feudal system. 

In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity. Charles by the mercy of Almighty God august emperor . . . let it be known to all the faithful of the holy church of God and to our now, present and to come, that one of our faithful subjects, by name of Hildebertus, has approached our throne and has beseeched our serenity that through this command of our authority we grant to him for all the days of his life and to his son after him, in right of usufruct and benefice, certain estates which are . . . called Cavaliacus, in the county of Limoges. Giving assent to his prayers for reason of his meritorious service, we have ordered this charter to be written, through which we grant to him the estates already mentioned, in all their entirety, with lands, vineyards, forests, meadows, pastures, and with the men living upon them, so that, without causing any damage through exchanges or diminishing or lessening the land, he for all the days of his life and his son after him, as we have said, may hold and possess them in right of benefice and usufruct.... 

Done of the sixteenth kalends of August [July 1 5th] the thirty-seventh year of the reign of Charles most glorious emperor in France ... at Ponthion in the palace of the emperor. In the name of God, happily. Amen. 

On Thursday, the seventh of the ides of April [April 7, 1127], acts of homage were again made to the count, which were brought to a conclusion through this method of giving faith and assurance. First, they performed homage in this fashion: the count inquired if [the prospective vassal] wished completely to become his man. He replied, "I do wish it," and with his hands joined and covered by the hands of the count, the two who were united by a kiss. Second, he who had done the homage gave faith to the representative of the count in these words: "I promise in my faith that I shall henceforth be faithful to Count William, and I shall fully observe the homage owed him against all men, in good faith and without deceit." Third, he took an oath on the relics of the saints. Then the count, with the rod which he had in his right hand, gave investiture to all those who by this promise had given assurance and due homage to the count, and had taken the oath. 


Questions for Analysis 

1. Why was the charter drawn up? Why did Charles grant the benefice? 

2. Who were the "men living on it," and what economic functions did they perform? 

3. What did the joined hands of the prospective vassal and the kiss symbolize? 

4. In the oath of fealty, what was meant by the phrase "in my faith"? Why did the vassal swear on relics of the saints? What were these, and why were they used? 

5. What does this ceremony tell us about the society that used it? 



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