The Feudal Period: 900 - 1100
Monasticism and the Cluniac Reform Movement
Holy Roman Empire
Feudalism is the political system which developed as a
consequence of the Ninth Century Invasions. Feudalism defines the
relationship between the nobility. A Lord grants land (called a fief)
to his Vassal in return for military service. In an age when money has
disappeared from circulation, Kings have only land with which to reward
their followers. Centralized government has disappeared during this
age. A feudal king has very little power. Often his vassals are
more powerful than the King.
There are special ceremonies whereby these feudal relationships are
established. A knight pays homage to his lord. He takes an oath
of fealty to his lord promising to carry out his obligations. In
return, the lord grants land, the fief, to his follower or vassal.
This fief may be an entire province for a duke or it can be a single manor
for a knight.
During the Middle Ages, the cavalry predominates over the infantry.
Knights maintain horses. They ride into battle with their lances and
swords. They are attended by servants and foot soldiers. But the
nobility fights on horseback.
Feudal grants of land tend to become viewed as hereditary possessions.
This weakens the power of the king or lord over his followers. Why
should the second generation vassal still be loyal to the second generation
Feudal Hierarchy (approximate)
The Roman Catholic Church was an integral part of society during the Middle
Ages. The Medieval Ideal is that there is one Empire and one
Church: Emperor and Pope are the apex of the political system.
While the reality of the Middle Ages is that power is exercised at the local
level, the memory of the Roman Empire remained. One Universal Church and One
State remained the ideal.
During the Middle Ages, society is divided into three estates:
Third Estate--Everyone Else, but
in reality this refers to the townspeople..
Manorialism is the economic system on which the early
Middle Ages are based. Manors are economically self-sufficient
estates. Each manor produces most of the goods required for
survival. The manor is owned by a Lord, who is a member of the
nobility or landed aristocracy. The Lord of the Manor and only he is
part of the Feudal System.
The vast majority of the people living during the early Middle Ages are
serfs. The serfs are bound to the soil. They are not quite
slaves but they are also not free. Serfs gain protection from their
lords. At a time of constant warfare and raiding by Vikings, Magyars,
and Muslims, free farmers often traded in their freedom for the security
that the manor could provide.
Serfs did not play a role within the feudal system. They provided the
manpower to work the farms. Serfs were probably 90% of the population
or more during the early Middle Ages. The status of serfs and their
material welfare varied greatly during the course of the Middle Ages and in
| Monasticism and the Cluniac Reform Movement.|
The Catholic Church was an integral part of the feudal
system during the early Middle Ages. Bishops received fiefs from kings
and were expected to go to war for their lords. Bishops were
themselves lords, who went to war against their feudal rivals.
During the early Middle Ages, most priests were illiterate and grossly
immoral by today's standards. They are often married or lived with
concubines. Higher clergy, like bishops, were often hard-drinking,
hard-swearing, hard-whoring warriors.
But repeatedly in history when the Church is in decline, somewhere within it
reform is born. If the Church wanted to regain its moral voice and
mission, it had to free itself from bondage to the feudal system. The
Cluniac Reformers accomplished that objective.
|Holy Roman Empire|
When Charlemagnes Empire was divided into three parts at the Treaty of Verdun in
843, the Eastern Frankish lands developed into what may be called Germany. Various German
tribes, like the Saxons, Franconians, Bavarians, and Austrians formed a tribal (Stem)
monarchy that came to be called the Holy Roman Empire. Otto I the Great (936-973) is often
considered to be the founder of the Holy Roman Empire, which included Northern and Central
Italy. It included Rome. He was crowned emperor by the pope in 962.
During the Middle Ages until 1250, this
Empire was the most powerful state in Europe. When the Popes successfully asserted their
independence from the Emperor, the Empire went into decline. It became a loose
confederation of over 300 free cities, bishoprics, duchies, and small kingdoms headed by
an Emperor chosen by seven Electors. Since the fifteenth century, Habsburgs were usually
elected to this position.
Papal Monarchy refers to the development of a strong papacy,
independent of political control, which came to dominate European affairs in
the time period from 1059 through 1309. The Cluniac reform movement
and the creation of the College of Cardinals mark the beginning of this
period and the Avignon Papacy marks its end. Pope Innocent III is the
The Capetian kings ruled France from 987 to
1328. These kings built up France from very limited territorial
possessions near Paris, the Isle de France, to the powerful feudal kingdom
of Philip IV, the Fair.
William, Duke of Normandy, conquered England in 1066 after he won the Battle
of Hastings over the last of the Anglo-Saxon kings. Over the next
centuries, his successors established a strong feudal monarchy in
England. Henry II encouraged the formation of what came to be
the Common Law of England through his royal judges. Kind John was
forced to grant the Magna Charta. Edward I added the institution of
Parliament with a House of Lords and a House of Commons to the governmental
structures of England.
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