Romanesque Art in Western Europe
The balance of power among Christian states and, with it, leadership in the arts shifted westward at the end of the eleventh century. In France the longevity and political acumen of the Capetian kings enabled them eventually to meld the French lands into a true monarchy. Meanwhile the Normans, beginning with the brilliant, efficient, and brutal William the Conqueror, turned their interests away from the North Sea kingdom of their Viking ancestors and created a powerful Anglo-Norman state.
In theory a kingdom belonged to its ruler, but when distant kings could not meet the minimal requirements of their people—the need for security and a rule of law—a political structure arose known as feudalism (from feudum, or fief, a parcel of land). Feudalism was a system of landholding in return for personal service in which the parties to the agreement were bound by personal oaths. As feudalism evolved, especially in France and England, the system formed a pyramidal social structure, with the king at the pinnacle, nobility and warriors below, then free peasantry and artisans, and finally serfs tied to the land. The ruler promised his people justice and protection; the vassal owed military service, assistance in the administration of justice, and a share of the produce of the land. Originally, every able-bodied man fought his leader's battles and cultivated his own land, but as such hastily assembled mobs proved unreliable and inefficient, a specialized class of mounted warriors emerged. These knights devoted their lives to perfecting little other than their military skills. Improvements in agriculture created a modest surplus to support the community. Because under feudalism actual ownership of the land was only as real as the lord could enforce, or as the vassal chose to honor, in practice landholding became hereditary. Gradually, even the knights developed a landholder's mentality—that is, they became more concerned with the preservation and extension of their holdings than with the conduct of the king's wars.
Europe at the beginning of the Romanesque period was still rural. Individual manors where peasants cooperatively cultivated strips of land formed the basis of the economy. A manor might extend over a thousand or even two thousand acres and include crop land, pasture, and timber. At the center stood the lord's manor house with its mill, forge, brewery, and wine or cider press. The manor house and its out-buildings, the church, and a cluster of peasant houses formed a manorial village, which could vary in size from a dozen to fifty or sixty families. Living on their manors, the lords held court, administered justice, and collected revenues in kind.
Some people never fitted into this feudal, manorial scheme. Free peasant landholders appeared in the eleventh century, and by the thirteenth century they had become the dominant agricultural class. They could have gained their own land by participating in the recla