From Spear to Flintlock: A History of War in Europe and the Middle East to the French Revolution

By Frederic J. Baumgartner | Go to book overview

7
Feudalism

I love to see a lord when he is the first to advance on horseback, armed and fearless, thus encouraging his men to valiant service; then when the fray has begun, each must be ready to follow him willingly, because no one is held in esteem until he has given and received blows. We shall see clubs and swords, gaily colored helmets and shields shattered and spoiled, at the beginning of the battle, and many vassals all together receiving great blows. Once he has started fighting, no noble knight thinks of anything but breaking heads and arms -- better a dead man than a live one who is useless. I tell you, neither in eating, drinking nor sleeping do I find what I feel when I hear the shout "At them" from both sides.

Bertran de Born, quoted in John Keegan and Richard Holmes, Soldiers: A History of Men in Battle ( New York, 1996), pp. 25-26. De Born was a twelfth-century troubadour.

By the time the raids of Saracen, Magyar, and Viking had ended, the feudal system had achieved maturity, at least in its heartland, which extended from Normandy across northern France to the Rhine. In most of west and central Europe, protofeudal structures were eventually transformed into complete feudalism, but fringe areas such as Switzerland, Scotland, and Scandinavia remained largely nonfeudal.

Despite all the connotations of the term feudalism -- a social system, a form of landholding, a means of allotment of labor -- it was first of all a military system. Its purpose was to provide local military protection at a time when states could not support standing armies. It was the means by which a small force of mounted warriors could provide local defense, or a vast host be assembled to defend the kingdom, without drawing on the minute revenues of the central government. Land was the only form of wealth available in the quantity needed to support such a force, especially since by the mid-tenth century those obliged to serve did so as cavalry, which was the vastly more expensive military style. In short, feudalism was a system in which payment for military service was made in land.

-79-

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