The Customs of Catalonia between Lords and Vassals

The Customs of Catalonia between Lords and Vassals

The Customs of Catalonia between Lords and Vassals

The Customs of Catalonia between Lords and Vassals

Excerpt

The Significance of Pere Albert’s Customs of Catalonia:
A Pale Light in a Heavy Fog

Few terms have caused wider or more persistent misunderstanding than those associated with feudal tenure and allegiance. Largely the same body of northern European evidence has provided the raw material for drastically divergent interpretations of the role of feudal relations within medieval society. One school, the “deconstructionist,” denies the viability of “feudalism” as a foundation of historical truth, but rather asserts that it is all but impossible to talk of general feudal practice at any period of the Middle Ages. According to one of the founders of this view, Elizabeth Brown, feudalism was an anachronistic abstraction which owed its existence, not to any real evidence, but rather to the efforts of early modern lawyers and historians who manufactured a “feudal system” where there had been none. To Brown and Susan Reynolds, the most recent scholar to build on her views, misconceptions about the regime of lords and vassals could not arise from the contemporary documentation because such evidence was so scattered and unclear that it could support no intellectual system whatsoever. Instead, they assert, the modern world got feudalism wrong, because of a class of royal advocates and legists of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, as well as their counterparts in the ancien régime , who all attempted to make the scattered relics of feudal relations fit into a system which was topped by the monarch himself. Thus was born the “feudal pyramid,” a model which the “deconstructionists” claim was invented out of thin air and then accepted uncritically by such early modern legal and political theorists as Sir Edward Coke, François Hotman, Sir Thomas Craig,

Elizabeth A. R. Brown, “The Tyranny of a Construct: Feudalism and the Historians of Medieval Europe,” AHR 79 (1974): 1063–89; Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted (Oxford, 1994), 775–86.

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