Richard Abels



Feudalism is NOT a medieval term or concept. It has no one, agreed upon definition. The 'feudal system,' as most British and American medievalists use the term, describes a complex network or web or personal loyalties and (sometimes) tenure that defined how the nobility of the High Middle Ages were connected to one another and gave shape to how they ruled over each other and the peasantry.  BUT this is not the way that all historians have or do use this word. When Adam Smith coined the term “feudal system” he meant by it a social and economic system defined by inherited social ranks, each of which possessed inherent social and economic privileges and obligations. In Smith’s feudal system wealth derived from agriculture, which was organized not according to market forces but on the basis of customary labor services owed by serfs to landowning nobles. This is what Marxist historians and economists mean by feudalism.  Some historians, indeed, would expunge the word 'feudalism' from all textbooks--and there is a very good case to be made for this, since the 'system' I described above is a historical construct derived from a mass of disparate sources from different times and places (though based, in large part, on legal treatises of the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the period that 'feudalism' was supposed to be waning!).



Traditionally, American and British historians have used the term "feudalism" to describe a political, military, and social system that bound together the warrior aristocracy of western Europe between ca. 1000 and ca. 1300. This "system," it is asserted, only gradually took shape, and differed in detail from region to region. The elements of this system were 1) the personal bond of mutual loyalty and military service between nobles of different rank known as vassalage/lordship  (see below for fuller definitions of these institutions, section VI A); 2) 'fiefs' (land or moveable wealth) held by vassals/men from their lords, whose property, in theory, the tenements remained, in return for specified service, which was usually a combination of military and social duties (e.g. attendance at the lord's court, hospitality to the lord and his men) and miscellaneous payments that reflected the lord's continued rights over the property (see below section VI B); 3) jurisdictional and political power in the hands of 'private' individuals, that is, of nobles who held franchises, immunities or banal rights, which meant  4) decentralized rule under a weak king who was, nonetheless, defined (in theory) as the apex of this network of personal loyalty and land tenure (i.e. the lord of lords and the ultimate source of all rights over land). In this feudal paradigm the king possessed more authority than actual power. “Classical feudalism” (before the rise of strong feudal monarchies in which kings claimed the role of liege lords, see section VI A below) is characterized by the fragmentation of political authority and the passage of public power into many different private hands.
     In this paradigm, "feudalism" is essentially a military recruitment system, in which land tenure is exchanged for knight service.


A. "Feudalism" as a political, military, and social system connecting the warrior aristocracy of medieval Europe through bonds of vassalage and by the granting and holding of fiefs. (Anglo-American usage)

The term 'feudal' was invented by Renaissance Italian jurists to describe what they took to be the common customary law of property. Giacomo Alvarotto's (1385-1453) treatise De feudis ("Concerning Fiefs") posited that despite regional differences the regulations governing the descent of aristocratic land tenure were derived from common legal principles, a customary shared 'feudal law.' This juridic concept of 'feudalism' was subsequently extended to cover the aggregate of institutions connected with the support and service of knights and with the descent of their tenures ("fiefs").

Historians who define 'feudalism' as the "political and social relations within the free, ruling, and preeminently fighting classes" of the Middle Ages are heirs to this juridic view. The leading exponent of this approach was F.L. Ganshof (Feudalism, trans. P. Grierson, London, 1964) who saw "feudalism" as:

a body of institutions creating and regulating the obligations of obedience and service--mainly military service--on the part of a free man (the vassal) towards another free man (the lord), and the obligations of protection and maintenance on the part of the lord with regard to his vassal. The obligation of maintenance had usually as on its effects the grant by the lord to his vassal of a unit of real property [actually the grant of tenure] known as a fief.

For Ganshof "feudal society" was characterized by the fragmentation of political authority and the passage of public power into private hands (PRIVATE JURISDICTION).

B. "Feudalism" defined as a socio-economic system whose basic characteristic is the exploitation of peasant labor by lords. (View most associated with French annalistes and Marxist historians.)

An alternative definition of "feudalism" that emphasizes economic production derives from the 18th century Enlightenment. Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations (1776) used the term 'feudal system' (a phrase he coined) to describe a form of production governed not by market forces but by coercion and force. For Smith the 'feudal system' was the economic exploitation of peasants by their lords, which led to an economy and society marked by poverty, brutality, exploitation, and wide gaps between rich and poor. This economic definition of 'feudalism' found its way into the writings of Karl Marx. Across the channel Enlightenment philosophes, notably Montesquieu, also saw the 'feudal law' as a system of exploitation. For them 'feudalism' meant the aggregate of seigneurial privileges and prerogatives, which could be justified neither by reason or justice. When the National Constituent Assembly abolished the 'feudal regime' in August 1789 this is what they meant.

I would prefer to term Smith's/Marx's "feudalism" either "manorialism" or "the seignorial system" and distinguish it from what I call "feudalism" (see above).



The point is that such definitions are arbitrary.

Lordship, dependent tenures (the feudum/fief of thirteenth-century charters and legal sources), and manors were real twelfth/thirteenth-century institutions, even if the precise meaning of the words used to describe lords, their retainers/dependents, fiefs, etc., differed from region to region. "Feudalism," on the other hand, is a historical construct that one must define before using.

More than thirty years ago Elizabeth Brown in an article in the American Historical Review 79 (1974) entitled, "The Tyranny of a Construct: Feudalism and Historians of Medieval Europe," contended that it would be best to discard entirely the term “feudalism” because it is fundamentally misleading. "As far as pedagogy is concerned," Brown declared, "students should certainly be spared an approach that inevitably gives an unwaranted impression of unity and systematization. ... To advocate teaching what is acknowledged to be deceptive and what must later be untaught reflects an unsettling attitude of condescension toward younger students" (1078). Brown's criticism is far-reaching. She regards not only feudalism but all isms--'abstract analytic constructs formulated and defined as a shorthand means of designating the characteristics that the observers consider essential to various time periods, modes of organization, movements, and doctrines'--as artificialities that distort through simplification and which are fraught with the unstated assumptions of those who coined these terms. As Brown concludes: "The tyrant feudalism must be declared once and for all deposed and its influence over students of the Middle Ages finally ended. Perhaps in its downfall it will carry with it those other obdurate isms--manorial, scholastic, and human--that have dominated for far too long the investigation of medieval life and thought."

Brown's criticisms were developed further by Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted (Oxford, 1994). Reynolds surveyed the documentary evidence for dependent military tenures-'fiefs'-in England, France, Germany and Italy, and concluded that terms such as 'fief', 'benefice', 'vassal' lacked any technical meaning until the late twelfth century when they were given legal definition by the Italian lawyers who produced the Liber Feodorum. In essence, Reynolds argued that in the early middle ages custom rather than law ruled, and that this custom was both highly localized and mutable. There is no evidence, to her mind, for precise 'feudal' institutions or obligations in the tenth or eleventh centuries. If anything, dependent tenures were less important than family lands (allod is another technical term that she claims lacks a specific definition), and horizontal bonds of association more important than the vertical bonds (lordship) that historians have traditionally emphasized. Reynolds argues for the persistence of public power and the centrality of communities in the eleventh century.

I wouldn't go as far as either Brown or Reynolds in rejecting 'feudalism'. If defined narrowly (and, again, I prefer Ganshof's definition with its emphasis on vassalage, maintenance of retainers by their lords through service tenements, and the wielding of what is usually thought of as 'public' powers by private individuals), 'feudalism' is a useful short-hand term to describe vertical social and political relations among the medieval aristocracy of England and France from the mid 11th through 13th centuries (and of Germany in the 13th century). In this respect it seems telling that Norman England and the Crusader principalities, two political societies created by conquest, were the most “feudalized” societies of the twelfth century.  William the Conqueror’s distribution of lands to his followers was on the basis of fiefs, i.e. lands held de rege (from the king) with military obligations attached to them. Whether Normandy (or Anglo-Saxon England) was “feudal” or not in 1066, it is indisputable that William structured the Norman settlement of his newly acquired kingdom upon the principle of dependent military tenure.

One must, however, always be aware that an ideal construct only APPROXIMATES reality; the danger is MISTAKING THE IDEAL MODEL for reality, and either interpreting source evidence through the construct or judging the actual social, political, and tenurial relationship among a particular medieval aristocracy against this ideal. The question, was this society 'feudal'? is less important than understanding the institutions and relationship of that society within its own context.


In 1939, Marc Bloch, one of the fathers of the "Annales" school and arguably the most prominent modern medievalist after Henri Pirenne, decided to give up trying to define "feudalism" and settled for describing "feudal society" (Feudal Society [1939], trans. L. A. Manyon, London, 1965):

A subject peasantry; widespread use of the service tenement (i.e. the fief) instead of a salary, which was out of the question; the supremacy of a class of specialized warriors; ties of obedience and protection which bind man to man and, whithin the warrior class, assume the distinctive form called vassalage; fragmentation of authority--leading inevitably to disorder; and, in the midst of all this, the survival of other forms of association, family and State, of which the latter, during the second feudal age, was to acquire renewed strength.

Bloch's description has the merit of avoiding the almost Nominalist/Realist arguments over the existence of "feudalism."

A. Bloch also identified TWO FEUDAL AGES.

i. The FIRST FEUDAL AGE, lasting from the late 9th to the mid eleventh century, was characterized by the breakdown of central authority, in part because of the viking raids. In theory the feudal pyramid extended from the lowest knight of the kingdom to the king at its apex; in reality each castellan, a noble possessed of a castle (motte-and-bailey castle: man made hill with a wooden tower called a donjon on top of it, and a ditch and pallisade at the base of the hill creating a defended enclosure), was essentially autonomous politically. Kings were simply one lord among many, though IN THEORY each king was the ultimate feudal overlord as THE CHOSEN OF GOD (KINGS BY GRACE OF GOD). Authority devolved upon the localities. The economy was primitively agrarian; the little trade that there was largely long-distance luxury trade, in which the west exchanged slaves and raw materials for the luxuries of the east).

ii. SECOND AGE OF FEUDALISM: c. 1050 to c. 1300. Doubling of population in western Europe, agricultural revolution (three field rotation, heavy plough, horse harness, windmills); expansion of commerce leading to the growth of towns and rebirth of cash economy; creation of new industries (TEXTILES), especially in Flanders and northern Italy; interconnected European economy with specialized production of commodities and raw materials for export (e.g. English wool to Flanders; Bordeaux wines to England); emergence of merchant class, etc. This is the age of the GOTHIC CATHEDRAL, SCHOLASTIC PHILOSOPHY, CRUSADES, PAPAL MONARCHY, UNIVERSITIES (not to mention the great concentric castles that figure in all those popular movies about the middle ages) The economic changes also helped kings and the great princes of Europe to consolidate power, as feudal monarchies arose that were to be the basis of the modern European nation states.

These economic changes also led to a transformation of feudal relations and the definition of nobility. The knightly class became a hereditary nobility by the year 1000. The influx of wealth led to an increasing emphasis upon expenditure and conspicuous consumption as a reflection of nobility. Since this was also an age of rampant inflation, the aristocracy found itself continually pressed for money, which led, in many instances, to attempts to increase the economic exploitation of manorial resources through the use of professional bureaucratic staff in noble households and on manors. By the 13th century aristocrats in England, France, Germany, and Italy tended to be literate, at least in the vernacular, and all great landowners had professional administrators to look after their affairs. (Here is where the universities became especially important in the secular history of medieval Europe).

The aristocracy, faced by the emergence of the merchant class, began to define itself as a special order (with the help of the Church). This led to CHIVALRY and to the rituals of knighthood (e.g., dubbing ceremony, courtly love, etc). Though still defining itself as a warrior class, the military value of feudal knights declined due to the rigid customary limitations on service. By the middle of the 12th century English and French kings were relying on mercenaries (many of them poor or landless knights). The aristocracy, however, continued to display its martial prowess in games (tournaments) as well as in war. Though its a bit of an exaggeration, feudal incidents displaced military service as the most important render owed by a feudal tenant to his lord.

V. THE FEUDAL TRANSFORMATION OR REVOLUTION (based on Thomas Bisson, 'The "feudal revolution"' in Past and Present 142 (1994), pp. 6-42)

Georges Duby's study of the Maconnais during the years 980 to 1030 (1953) led him to conclude that this region experienced a breakdown in public law and order coincident with the emergence of a 'new and harsh regime of lordship' based on castles and knights. The new lords imposed new obligations on the peasants, both those of servile and free descent, who became a new class-the serfs (banal lordship). Public law and order gave way to violence, custom and violent custom.

J.Fr Lemarignier (1957) added to this by chronicling the devolution of power in the late Carolingian period, as kingdoms fractured into principalities, counties, and, by the end of the tenth century, into castellanies. The Capetian idea of kingship was weakened and finally, by the 1020s, swamped in the 'seignurial tide and lost its public character.' Pierre Bonnassie found the same process in the Spanish March, discovering that in the 1020s 'an old public order based on Visigothic law preserving peasant property and slavery was smashed by castle-generated violence,' which produced a revolutionary change in the social order. Duby further linked this new form of domination to the development and popularization in the 1020s of the paradigm of the three orders-the heaven sanctioned obligation of the many who work to serve those who fight and those who pray.

A summary of this view was offered by J-P Poly and Eric Bournazel, The Feudal Transformation, 900-1200 (French 1980, trans 1991). This feudal transformation (mutation) or 'revolution' described a cluster of changes: 1) collapse of public justice, 2) new regimes of arbitrary lordship over recently subjected and often intimidated peasants, 3) the multiplication of knights and castles, and 4) a new ideology of the three orders. Thus while fiefs and vassals could be found in the eighth and ninth centuries, 'feudalism' arose only around the millennium. The most extreme statement of this view is by Guy Bois (1989) who saw the persistence of the antique order-characterized by private property and slave labor--lasting until around the year 1000 when it was swept away.

The reaction against this view: Dominique Barthelemy's research on the Vendomais proved to him that the feudal transition was a phantom. He contended that it is based only on changes in terminology (e.g. miles to caballarius), 2) the discussion of peasants has been misconceived, and that around 1000 there existed simultaneously different modes of agrarian dependency, 3) the concept of tenth-century public order preserving justice, freedom and property is anachronistic and inattentive to the social realities. Duby himself has backed away from the feudal revolution in his most recent work. The new paradigm also drew fire from the 'hyper-Romanists' who see the persistence of Roman order into the 12th century and who challenge the validity of the public vs private paradigm itself.

Most recently there has been a debate on the feudal revolution in Past and Present, begun by T.N. Bisson in 1994 (vol. 142), followed by criticisms by Barthelemy and Stephen White (1996: 152), and most recently by T. Reuter and Chris Wickham (who defends Bisson ) in 155 (1997). Bisson emphasizes the transformation of violence from 'political' (maintenance of public order through public officials and courts) to non-political and non-constructive (the use of violence by castellans and others to increase or maintain their power, without any sense of creating political institutions or structures.) Bisson's restatement takes into account that the shift from slavery/free peasants to serfs was gradual and that serfdom coexisted with both in the tenth through twelfth centuries. He also acknowledges that the 'revolution' was not complete by 1200 and was, in fact, a continuing process. Bisson makes the interesting point that even in the twelfth century the 'officers and agents' of counts, dukes, and kings did not enforce law and order or implement the orders and regulations of their lords, but ruled with arbitrary force under their lords.

My own sense is that Bisson's argument is more persuasive.  The evidence does suggest a break down in public order maintained through public officials and courts in late tenth- and eleventh-century France and Italy, and although the transformation from free/slave to servility (serfdom) was gradual and hardly unidirectional, the trend from 950 to 1150 was toward the domination of peasant villages by lords claiming proprietarial and juridical rights over these lands and the authority to command the labor of their inhabitants. Such “banal” lordships, moreover, derived their power from the possession of castles and the service of knights.  England and Germany, however, cannot easily be accommodated under the 'feudal transformation' paradigm, and White, Janet Nelson, and Barthelemy are right in maintaining that the Carolingian world of the ninth and tenth centuries was also marked by the use of extra-judicial violence as a tool for disputes resolution among the elites. One also must acknowledge that the idea of public (that is, royal) authority continued throughout this period in the person of counts and dukes, whatsoever their actual powers and their de facto relationship with the kings whom they nominally served.


A. VASSALAGE: the protective relationship set up by one free man (the lord) over another (his 'man'). The term itself is a modern construct. In the 11th and 12th centuries the terms most widely used were miles (soldier), fidelis (faithful man), homo ('man'). 'Vassal' was itself rarely used after the ninth century, except in chansons where it most often connoted 'warrior'.) The origins of the the lord-man relationship may be found in the conditions of 7th and 8th century western Europe that made such a PRIVATE pledge of mutual protection and support necessary. The breakdown of central authority in the west (due to the abandonment of the Roman cities for the countryside; the breakdown of central administrative institutions, including the army and bureaucracy; decay of roads, communications, etc.) led to dangerous times. Lordship became the dominant societal bond--or at least the dominant vertical bond (kinship and friendship remained powerful ties)--in the 10th century because of the the Viking invasions that shattered the remaining vestiges of central authority of the Carolingian kings of West Francia (soon to be France).

I. Antecedents of 'vassalage' include
a) the Roman patron/client relationship,
b) the Germanic warband=chieftain's military household (termed 'comitatus' by the Roman historian Tacitus, ca. A.D. 100)
c) late Roman 'friendship' agreements, convenientiae, used to end legal disputes or to forge alliances among the powerful.

From the patron/client relationship and the 'convenientiae' came the notion of contract and mutual obligations that religiously and morally binding (fides--fealty/faith). From the Germanic warband came the idea of military service, maintenance (support through gifts of food, clothing, shelter, and weapons), oath, the ceremony of homage, and, perhaps most importantly, the merging of ideas of 'state' and 'household.' One should not, however, draw radical distinctions between the three sources, which historically overlap.

Just as lords had many vasssals, vassals could have several lords. “Liege lordship” was the mechanism developed for determining the table of priorities of loyalty. The liege lord was a vassal’s primary lord, to whom he owed loyalty and service above all others. In the second half of the twelfth century Henry II of England and then King Philip Augustus of France in imitation of Henry developed an ideal of royal liege lordship in which the king was defined as the primary lord of every free man who held land in the realm, regardless of who that man’s immediate personal lord might be. See Henry II's use of the concept of royal liege lordship

B. FIEF and FEUDAL INCIDENTS: fief (feudum) is the word from which feudalism derives. In the tenth and eleventh centuries 'fief' still lacked a precise definition: it could be used either to describe dependent tenure held by a man from his lord, as it is used now by historians, or it could denote simply property. In 13th-century charters from England, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy the term was used to describe a dependent tenure held from a lord by a vassal in return for a specified amount of knight service and occasional financial payments. These payments are sometimes termed FEUDAL INCIDENTS (because earlier historians saw them as 'incidental' to the fundamental obligation of military service, but see below on the problem of regarding military service as the essence of the lord/vassal relationship).

Giving fiefs was beneficial to both lord and vassal. Land meant that the vassal could marry and raise a family. Possession of landed estates was equivalent to manhood. The grant of fiefs was also beneficial to the lord, since the lord's "honor" (complex of lands) usually consisted of widely scattered holdings that were difficult to exploit or control anyway. Interestingly, there is a series of charters from twelfth-century Montpellier analyzed by historian Frederic Cheyette that suggests that the same land could be granted in alodio repeatedly by the same donor to the heirs of the original recipient, and then granted back to the donor as a feudum. As Cheyette observes, this "practice raises far more questions than that: it suggests that an analysis of the rights one or another individual might hold in the property is here simply beside the point. What seems to be important for the participants is the entire ritual of donation, return grant, and oath of fidelity, a ritual that served to implant a personal relationship, what the document from Pignan refers to as "love," into the landscape. The particular words that the scribe scratched on parchment were of less importance than the action and the words that were uttered."

The confusion over the definition of property created a problem for the lord: how was he to maintain his legal ownership of the property in face of its de facto ownership by the vassal? The tension between the vassal's desire to transform the fief into hereditary property, and the lord's desire to retain the fief as his property resulted in a COMPROMISE, the so-called "FEUDAL INCIDENTS" mentioned above. The fief, thus, became hereditary tenure; the eldest son of a deceased vassal would inherit, but first he had to do HOMAGE AND FEALTY to the lord and pay a "RELIEF" for the land (a monetary recognition of the lord's continuing proprietary rights over the property). Henry II's use of the concept of royal liege lordship to enhance his rights and power as king transformed these incidents into important sources of royal income and patronage. Baronial discontent with royal claims to arbitrarily assessed "reliefs" and other feudal payments under Henry's son King John led to Magna Carta in 1215.

A second problem faced by the lord was the difficulty of exacting as much service as he wished from his feudal tenants. Services over the tenth and eleventh century tended to become fixed as CUSTOMARY OBLIGATIONS. Thus throughout northern France in the 12th and 13th century military service for fiefs was limited for offensive campaigns to 40 days for a knight.

This limitation on military service highlights an irony about 'feudalism': there seems to have been no period in which feudal obligation was the chief form of military recruitment! By the twelfth century English and French kings and barons were already commuting military service for cash payments (scutages), with which they could purchase the service of mercenaries.

And this brings us back to the idea of the fief as a social institution. Knight service in war was far less common than 1) castle-guard (the obligation of a vassal to serve in a castle garrison of the lord), 2) suit in court (the vassal's obligation to attend the lord's court, to give him counsel, and to help him judge disputes, 3) attendance in the lord's entourage (accompanying the lord when he travelled or attended the court of his lord--meant to increase the social status of the lord), 4) hospitality to the lord or to his servants. Most feudal incidents, indeed, reflected the social relationship between the lord and his vassal and the mixed proprietary rights each had over the fief. Hence a lord in late 12th-century England and France could claim the right of:

wardship and marriage--right to control descent of fief by chosing husband for female heir and guardian of minors (preferably in consultation with heir's closest male adult kinsmen);

aids--payments to aid the lord in times of need (customarily given to the lord to defray cost of knighting of eldest son, marriage of eldest daughter, and for ransoming of lord's person;

escheat--the reversion of the fief to the lord in default of an heir;

i. Antecedent of the fief: 'beneficia' (literally, benefit)--gift of USE of land, derived from the late Roman land law practiced in barbarian kingdoms; used by Church to endow servants w/o alienating land.

ii. Historical development of the 'fief'--the fiefs of the eleventh and twelfth century derived from two separate sources. The first was land carved out of the estates of the upper nobility. The second source was ALLODIAL LAND transformed into dependent tenures. An ALLOD was property rather than a tenure; it was owned by its proprietor, who enjoyed over it the rights of alienation, sale, and inheritance. During the tenth century in northern France and the eleventh century in France south of the Loire, allodial holdings were transformed into fiefs, as local magnates either recruited or forced the owners of these lands into dependent relationships. The process occurred later in Germany, and was still going on in the thirteenth century. The transformation of fiefs into allods parallels the rise of BANAL lordship over peasants (see below). It also probably helped redefine the fief as hereditary tenure as the two forms of possession merged.

The above is highly schematic. Again, feudum lacked a precise meaning until the mid twelfth century, when it received formal definition from land lawyers. In reality, allodial holdings never disappeared completely in the eleventh century. Nor was it always a simple matter of defining the land as a tenure held from another, since, sometimes, such land could be conceived simultaneously as family property and as a holding from a lord, depending upon the document.


LYNN WHITE'S (1962) view of origin of 'feudalism' as a result of the introduction of the stirrup (probably the most elegant and widely known, though not widely accepted today by medievalists).

In 732 CHARLES MARTEL defeated Moslems at Poitiers/Tours. He learned from the Arabs the benefits of the stirrup (lateral support that allows horseman to deliver shock blow from horseback without knocking himself off horse) and began to remodel his forces into cavalry. To support the large warhorse needed for this warfare and to provide the material needs for a warrior class that would spend all of its time mastering the techniques needed to be a knight, Charles endowed his vassals with fiefs (taken from Church land). He thus brought together the institutions of vassalage and the fief. TECHNOLOGICAL DETERMINISM--STIRRUP LEADS TO KNIGHT, KNIGHT LEADS TO FEUDALISM.

Criticism: 1) nothing in the feudal relationship requires a vassal to be a mounted warrior. 2) Mounted warriors were not the dominant element in Frankish armies in the 8th and 9th centuries. 3) 'Feudalism' existed in nascent form before the 8th century without mounted warriors.

Conclusion: cavalry did not create feudalism but helped make boundaries between warrior and peasant firmer due to the expense of knighthood (miles comes to mean nobleman by early 11th century).


Manorialism, or seigneurialism, describes the aristocracy's political, judicial, and economic power over the peasantry. It is both a mode of production and a system of political control.

The MANOR was a territory (estate) under a lord's economic and juridical control. Its lands often were divided into the lord's demesne and the tenants' lands (lands held by peasants who owed rent and service to the lord). As juridical units manors represented the passage of public policing and judicial powers into the hands of private nobles. Each manor, thus, would have a manorial court in which the lord or his agent exercised jurisdiction over crimes and civil disputes.

ANTECEDENT OF THE MANOR. Latifundia (vast estates of late Roman empire). Similarly, in Gaul/France one can see a natural transformation of the late Roman coloni (citizens tied to their tenures) into serfs (unfree peasant laborers). The transformation of the latifundia into the manor entailed, however, the acquisition by the lord of jurisdictional rights over the

peasants and the imposition of customary labor services on them.

The manor is the economic/jurisdictional expression of the fief. The two describe the same land, but describe different aspects of control over that land.



The term 'lord' could describe 1) the man to whom a vassal has done homage and fealty; 2) the master of a peasant.


A. KNIGHTS.   In the tenth century the words that were by 1200 would mean “knight,” e.g. milites (soldiers) and caballari (horsemen), described the military retainers of nobles rather than nobles themselves. The tenth-century nobility was not yet a military aristocracy that defined itself by the profession of arms; rather it was an aristocracy based upon the possession of landed wealth and the power that derived from it. By the early twelfth century in England and France, however, "knights" (Latin milites) had merged with the old aristocracy to form an hereditary nobility that defined itself by the military service it rendered to superiors.  Although the definition of knight as warrior was truer in theory than practice—many twelfth- and thirteenth-century knights were far more comfortable with hunting and administration than with tournaments and war, and in the thirteenth century “knighthood” in England had become a social marker rather than military designation—theory is important here. It reflects the self-image of the knight. Knights came to view themselves, and be viewed by the clerical elite, as an "order" in Christian society: ‘those who fight for us.’  Knights committed themselves to warfare and its surrogates, tournaments and hunting, and guarded their monopoly over at least the latter two. The "voice" of the late twelfth-century French knight is perhaps best heard in the chansons de geste and the poems of Bertran de Born.

War had very little to do with what most students (and teachers) think medieval warfare was all about: knights in armor charging maddly at one another. WARFARE IN THE 11TH AND 12TH CENTURIES INVOLVED RAVAGING OF LAND, SIEGES OF CASTLES, AND CAMPAIGNS OF MANEUVER. BATTLES WERE VERY RARE. In Richard the Lionhearted's 25 years of campaigning, he fought altogether three battles, and only one of these can be considered a real engagement.

Most campaigns did not end in battle largely because generals were reluctanct to risk battle. This was in accord with VEGETIUS's De Re Militari (ca. 400), a late Roman military treatise that was the most popular handbook of warfare throughout the Middle Ages. The aim of war was to win or hold territory, and that meant taking or building castles and fortified towns. Before one could capture the strongholds, one had first to weaken the enemy by denying him supplies. This was accomplished by ravaging the countryside. As Henry V was later to put it, "War without fire is like sausage without mustard."

The best description of a typical medieval campaign is from the late twelfth century Chanson des Lorrain:

The march begins. Out in front are the scouts and incendiaries. After them come the foragers whose job it is to collect the spoils and carry them in the great baggage train. Soon all is in tumult. The peasants, having just come out to the fields, turn back, uttering loud cries. The shepherds gather their flocks and drive them towards the neighboring woods in the hope of saving them. The terrified inhabitants are either burned or led away with their hands tied to be held for ransom. Everywhere bells ring the alarm; a surge of fear sweeps over the countryside. Wherever you look you can see helmets glinting in the sun, pennons waving in the breeze, the whole plain covered with horsemen. Money, cattle, mules, and sheep are all seized. The smke bollows and spreads, flames crackle. Pesants and shepherds scatter in all directions.