The History of Medieval Europe

By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII
THE FEUDAL LAND SYSTEM AND FEUDAL SOCIETY

WITH the disruption of Charlemagne's empire and the period of renewed invasions from all sides, we are no longer able to follow the fortunes of one ruler or of several fair-sized kingdoms; but find ourselves in the complicated tangle of feudalism, with its overlapping areas, its conflicting claims and titles to land and power, its minute subdivisions of sovereignty, its thousands of lords. Feudalism in the strict sense of the word denotes the relationships which existed in the Middle Ages, especially from the ninth and tenth to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, between the members of the fighting and landowning class. In a broader sense it also covers the life of the subjugated peasantry upon the land dominated by the warriors, and all the other economic, social, political, and intellectual results and accompaniments of feudalism in the narrower sense.

Meaning of feudalism

As the Frankish state disintegrated and central government and common action ceased to exist, the pieces out of which Charlemagne and his predecessors had put together their empire fell apart again according to old geographical, tribal, and racial lines, or following more recent divisions. Local officials and great landholders again became a law unto themselves, and the former tried to hand on their political power to their sons as the latter did their lands. The Carolingian government had often tacitly admitted its inability to rule all the territory nominally subject to it by granting an immunity to this or that monastery or great man. By such a grant the king renounced his right to collect taxes, administer justice, and send his officials into the lands of the individual or monastery in question. Now the repeated incursions of Northmen, Saracens, and Magyars broke off

Political and social chaos of the ninth and tenth centuries

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