- 1 The Three Orders
- 2 Manifestations of Medieval Political Order
- 3 Fiefs and Benefices
- 4 From Feudal Territories to Feudal Monarchies
- 5 Rural Society
- 6 The Rise of Towns
- 7 France under the early Capetians
- 8 The Ottonian Empire
- 9 The Reform of the Church
- 10 The Anglo-Saxon kingdom after 955
- 11 The Norman Conquests
- 12 The Investiture Contest
The Three Orders
MEDIEVAL scholars regularly divide society into three orders or estates. Archbishop Adelbero of Laon stated that “here below, some pray, others fight, still others work.” A century later, Gerald of Cambrai, a close associate of the emperor Henry II, wrote that “from the beginning, mankind has been divided into three parts, among men of prayer, farmers, and men of war.” Such a tripartite division of society is, of course, a gross oversimplification, and there can be little question but that medieval men recognized the complexity of social organization. Still, the notion that the world was divided into three orders — those who pray, those who fight, and those who work — is not limited to European societies. Among the Indians, Iranians, Ionians, Romans, Celts, Scandinavians — in short, among nearly all Indo-European cultures, this division plays a significant role in cosmology. However, it is its particular significance in the European case that concerns us here.
Ordo was a Roman legal term, used to delineate legally defined social groups. In the early Middle Ages, however, after the older Roman social system had broken down, the work lost for a time its original meaning. Indeed, when it reappears as a term to describe a legally discreet group, it is in the case of monastic orders. The ordo Cluniacensis, the “order” of Cluny, is among the first instances of the word’s reappearance in the political vernacular of Europe. Thereafter, it is a term widely used in ecclesiastical circles.
The application of the monastic ordo to civil society in general follows on the teachings of Gregory the Great and his successors, who argued that the secular world, by virtue of its sinfulness, was in a state of disorder. God had imposed order on his unruly creatures. Ordo then was both an emanation of the divine and a consequence of the fall. As Isidore of Seville put it, servitude is the fruit of sin, lordship hence becoming necessary for the maintenance of order. It stood to reason that of the three orders (ordines) of the world, the clergy were superior to all laymen, owing to their closer relation to God. The nobility, invested with the sword by God to protect the innocent and condemn the guilty, occupied a secondary position, while the lowest rung was to toil in obedience. Each order, in its own particular way, prepared the coming of the kingdom. Orders are, then, not only legal or political categories, but moral ones as well.
St. Augustine laid down much of the foundation of medieval thought concerning the order of the world. His definition of the church as the city of God while it sojourns on earth provided the justification for viewing the clergy as the “First Estate,” the purveyors of divine order in a world made disorderly by sin. Augustine writes that “the Churches which are multiplying throughout the world are, as it were, sacred seminaries of public instruction.”
Within the church, a set of hierarchies and ordines arose as well. Apostolic succession implied a hierarchical organization of the clergy. Of equal significance was the distinction between regular clergy – i.e., those who lived by a rule – and secular clerics who ministered to the laity. The former were, in many respects considered superior, living more in harmony with the divine order.
When we consider that the church comprised not only persons and buildings, but land and estates, this order took on a significant meaning for the political divisions of Europe. A diocese or an abbey, like a parish church, was supported by range of lands and estates, often scattered over a wide area. The rights to extract income from these estates often translated into more general rights of lordship, hence, political authority. Throughout the Middle Ages, kingdoms, duchies, and counties were often poorly defined. But while it might often be difficult for a medieval person to determine in whose kingdom they lived (residents of Gascony were often termed “English,” while those who lived in Provence might be equally considered French, Italian, or Imperial subjects) everyone knew in which bishopric they resided. As Robert Bartlett has observed: “The theory of Latin Christendom was that of a cellular body, and the cells were the dioceses … disputed boundaries and ambiguities were not unknown and in some areas of Europe the territorial diocese took hold only slowly, but the essential truth remains that the diocese comprised Latin Christendom.”
But while the clergy certainly provided a model for society, the clerical order was shaped by lay society as well. In order to maintain the purity of the faith, it was argued, the church needed to maintain its autonomy from secular lordship, in particular from the demands of petty notables who had endowed churches or who protected them from attack. The foundation of churches was a standard exercise of lordship. The “big bang” of church building in Anglo-Saxon England in the eighth century has been identified as a sign of the extension of noble power over the countryside. The defense of clerical immunity, the preservation of the libertas ecclesia, was dependent on the guarantees of a higher power. So Cluny, while manifesting a sacred ordo, was only able to do so because of the protection granted it by the dukes of Burgundy. Duke William granted Cluny extensive lands to support the monks so that it could be “a venerable house of prayer … faithfully frequented with vows and supplications, and that celestial converse shall be sought and striven after with all desire and with deepest ardour.” William also granted them the privilege to elect their own abbot and swore to protect the monastery from anyone who “should, through any kind of wile, attempt to do any act of violence” to the foundation.
Kings and Emperor certainly played their part in the formation of the clerical order. Otto the Great and his successors granted immunities to churches and monasteries, promising to protect and defend them (Schütz und Schirm), as well as reserving the right to nominate abbots and bishops. One of the major effects of Ottonian policy was to change the nature of the episcopate. Prior to Otto’s time, bishops and canons were recruited from the local clergy. The episcopate, then, was relatively heterogeneous in composition. From Otto’s reign onwards, the crown tended to appoint as bishops men “who through years of service at court were entrusted with the imperial administration and who retained close ties with one another as with the royal court.” So the social composition of the clergy, their education, outlook and sense of “order” was, in practical terms, deeply influenced by the secular ruling powers.
The clergy comprised a clearly defined group. The nobility did not, however, and the distinction between nobilitas as a moral and as a legal category was poorly defined in the Early Middle Ages. In the course of the tenth and eleventh centuries, however, a more clear-cut understanding of who comprised the nobility arose. Fundamentally, the nobility represented an aristocracy of wealth, a “manorial class” who dominated the countryside through a mixture of physical violence and economic power. This was reinforced through appeals to religious ideas, which stressed the need for a secular sword to punish the wicked and protect the godly. Theoretically, nobles derived their authority from, or at least had it legitimated by, the crown. The conferral of dignitas or honores, that is to say a formal “office” with rights and powers, could be an important step in the quest for nobilitas. But while this could be significant, the real measure of nobility lay in a nobleman’s ability to marshal resources, manage his estates, and gather around him clients and soldiers. He was a farmer and a soldier, and generally received dignitas proportional to his wealth.
One defining characteristic of the early nobility seems to have been their landholdings. To be noble, one had to be free, but freedom could be lost. Stable wealth was the means to the preservation of freedom. Hence, one of the hallmarks of nobility was allodial land. An allod was a piece of property that was own free and clear, and over which the owner had real right. The connection between allods and nobilitas is perhaps best represented in the German term for noble. The basic root of allod is the Germanic word od, meaning property. In old Bavarian, the word for noble was Odal, a word which survives today in modern German as Adel.
It also seems clear that, from an early point, nobility was seen as hereditary. This concern over patrimony tended to manifest itself in nomenclature. Noble houses tended to identify with a founder, a “famous man” whose lands formed the core of the noble allod, and whose deeds proved his nobilitas. The famous name would be passed down from generation to generation. This practice, which appears to have begun in the seventh century, indicates the emergence of stable noble dynasties in the Merovingian and early Carolingian period. At the same time, the frequent repetition of names in the sources creates a nightmare for prosopographers.
One crucial event for the formation of the nobility was the “family revolution” of the later tenth century. During the post-Carolingian period, great family estates were broken down into minuscule holdings as a result of a system of partible inheritance. In his study of the Mâconnais, George Duby noted that six estates, held by six great families was subdivided into twenty four units in the later tenth century. The result was a marked decline of the lower ranks of the nobility. The “revolution” came around 1000 when the remaining noble lines were consolidated. The key was a system of impartible inheritance, whereby rights to succession were determined according to the principle of primogeniture. Women lost many of their rights to their husband’s estates, and vertical, patrilineal dynasties were created. The rise of such patrilineal dynasties in the eleventh century provided a much clearer definition of who the nobility were, while limiting the emergence of new noble houses.
The development of feudalism, both as a political and a cultural construct, also aided in the definition of the European nobility. While it is often maintained that only noblemen could become vassals and receive benefices, the reverse was just as significant: to be granted a benefice or to swear fealty was a good indication of noble status. With the development of the ideas of chivalry, first through the Peace of God movement, later in the context of the crusades, the moral significance of nobilitas was elevated. But while the old saying argued that “nobility lay in behavior, not in the blood,” increasingly, nobilitas of character was imputed to those who were of noble birth.
During the tenth and eleventh centuries, a new class of nobility emerged. Initially knights were not considered members of the nobility. Referred to by a variety of names, most notably miles and caballarius, knights were simply soldiers. The name implies servitude – even today the German word knechtmeans servant – and early knights tended to be drawn from the upper level of the peasantry. They were either small land owners, with few allods, or else tenant farmers. In Germany, a formal distinction was drawn between the milites, simple soldiers who were free men (Edelfrei), and ministeriales, knights of unfree birth. Knights were given small estates in return for guarding castles, keeping the peace, or accompanying their lords on campaign.
In the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, the status of knights began to change. Most important was the “Christianization” of knighthood, through the Peace of God movement and the Crusades. In his Policraticus, John of Salisbury described the conditions of knighthood as comprising two elements: electio and professio. The first was the selection of a knight by his lord, and indicated that the knight was an individual of significant stature. The second constituted the oath of fealty. Through this, knighthood was defined as sort of public service. Through the influence of the clergy, the crusades, and poetry, the notion of knightly service was elevated to a moral virtue.
By various routes, the knights merged with the nobility. In the first case, the same inheritance practices which came to define the nobility in the eleventh century were adopted by knights. As lineal descent and primogeniture were emphasized, the notion of “knightly birth” arose. Among the first places this is noted in is Mâcon in the late eleventh century. By the end of the thirteenth century, a clear legal standard of Ritterbürtigkeit had been established. At the same time, many poorer or weaker nobles found themselves compelled to submit to greater lords. In the eleventh century, many “free” milites became vassals, while many “unfree” ministeriales were being recognized as being of “noble” stature. By the end of the fourteenth century, no distinction between milites and ministeriales existed in Germany, except as a dim memory. Likewise, in the rest of Europe, the knights came to comprise the lower order of the “second estate.”
From the end of the eleventh through the end of the thirteenth century, western Europe was expanding. The Crusades and related offensives against the Moors in Spain, the heathen people of eastern Europe, and non-Latin Christians, resulted in an “Aristocratic diaspora.” Younger sons of noble houses, robbed of legacies through the adoption of impartible inheritance and primogeniture, sought their fortunes abroad. From Sicily to Lithuania, Portugal to Judaea, western knights set up new estates in conquered lands. Formerly distant provinces were now tied through dynastic links to the centers of power in France, Germany and England. Similar legal and administrative practices, forms of land tenure, and cultural values were extended across Europe. Hence like the missionaries before them, the nobility played a major role in the definition of western culture.
While the clergy constituted the first estate, and the nobility the second, these two groups only made up a fraction of society. Arguably less than five percent of the population belonged to either of these two groups. The remainder, all other people, comprised the “third estate.” They were nearly all agricultural laborers of some variety. Even in the later Middle Ages, poor town dwellers maintained gardens, while rich merchants were also landowners and farmers. The cycle of plowing, planting, and reaping defined the life of the masses. But while they provided the foundation for medieval civilization, in general, the peasants were looked upon as little better than animals. Nobles saw them as dangerous people: “evil bumpkins who neither fear God nor men who ought to be respected.”
The church and the nobility both required large reserves of servile labor to support them. Maintaining a stable labor source, however, was a difficult business. Fundamentally their were two options. Magnates could acquire by treaty, purchase, or conquest enough slaves to work his lands. Slavery was an important part of both the Roman agrarian system and barbarian society, and during the Saxon wars of Charlemagne large numbers of slaves again became available. In 775, one could buy a Frankish boy for 12 solidi; a horse would cost you fifteen. Slave labor has his problems, however, chiefly that human beings do not breed well in captivity. Slaves could escape, and, in any event, the supply of new slaves dried up fairly quickly after each new conquest. By the early ninth century, a new slave was a luxury item.
The second option open to the magnates was to persuade free men to work for them. Beginning in the sixth century, Coloni or serfs, began to replace slaves on many estates. Unlike slaves, serfs were free men who agreed to perform certain services and give up a portion of their freedom in return for land. The Bavarian law code of 744-48 lays out some of the responsibilities of an eighth century colonus:
There is the ground rent assessed by the bailiff, who should take care that the colonus gives according to what he has. He shall give three measures of corn out of every thirty and pay for grazing rights in accordance with the custom of the country. He is to plough, sow, fence, reap, cart, and get in the crop on [the lord’s land] … He is to enclose, mow, toss and carry the hay on one arpentum of [the lord’s] meadow. As regards the spring grains he must set aside up to two measures of seed, sow, reap and take in the crop … Let them hand over every second bale of flax, every tenth pot of honey, four chickens and twenty eggs. They shall provide post-horses or else themselves go wherever they shall be directed. They shall perform services with their wagons with a radius of fifty leagues, but they shall not be compelled to go farther. For repairing the lord’s houses, hayloft, granary and hedge, reasonable tasks have been assigned to them.
The innovation of serfdom narrowed the gap between free peasants, of whom there were still some, and slaves. At first, we find a relatively low proportion of servi, a word that can mean slave, but increasingly came to signify serfs, to free tenants. Indeed, throughout the ninth century, there remains a certain ambiguity in the use of the terms servus, colonus, and other words used to describe servile labor. By the tenth century, however, increasing numbers of tree tenants were compelled to become serfs. In some cases, such as Normandy in 997, this provoked large-scale peasant revolts. In twelfth-century France, a “new” form of serfdom became common. Although now nearly all peasants were defined as serfs, labor services (corvee) and rents were reduced, while tenements were granted on long-term leases. It is perhaps significant that the emergence of the nobility as a distinct class, and the merger of the knights into the ranks of the nobility coincided with the decline of the free peasantry.
Although it is tempting to speak of medieval peasants in undifferentiated terms, this masks the complexity of medieval rural society. For the early Middle Ages, the distinction between free and unfree peasants (serfs, Leibeigene) is useful, but by the eleventh century, the distinction become increasingly meaningless. In Bavaria, the decline of royal authority and the emergence of powerful ecclesiastical and noble immunities in the ninth century strengthened bonds of personal allegiance. Free peasants lost many of their freedoms and were more closely tied to their noble lords. From the eleventh century onward, however, the situation began to reverse itself. Corvee labor became “superfluous” and was generally replaced with money payments, while land was granted to peasants on leases of varying durations. The village replaced kindred and familia as the center of economic and political life. This in part was due to the break up of noble estates: the peasants in any given village might be the subjects of any number of lords, ensuring that no single outside force was dominant in the political or economic affairs of the community. While the distinction between free peasants and serfs was still unclear, by the middle of the thirteenth century — in contrast with the early eleventh century — the status of serfs was closer to that of free peasants.
Manifestations of Medieval Political Order
IT is common to describe the political system of the Middle Ages with resort to the idea of feudalism. This term, however, is so poorly defined as to become meaningless. Within Marxist historiography, the term has been used to describe the overall political, social, and economic structure of Europe. Marc Bloch wrote of “Feudal Society” in a work encompassing a whole range of periods, places, and social groups. François Louis Ganshof, in his study of feudalism, describes it solely within the context of laws, formulas, ceremonies, and constitutional principles. In any event, “feudalism” as a system is an eighteenth century notion, derived from two centuries of discussion about “feudal law” in the universities of France and Germany. Running the risk of oversimplification, it may be stated that “feudalism” was a system invented by scholars in the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries in order to make sense of the obsolete social system that peered at them through the pages of ancient charters and legal treatises. In French sources, the word “feudalism” itself does not appear until after 1815.
In general terms, feudalism has been defined as a system whereby free men were bound to superiors through oaths of fidelity and received in reward an estate, a “fief.” The system is seen as arising in the Frankish kingdom during the Merovingian period, reaching its near complete form in the later Carolingian era. Its foundation was the organization of Germanic society, in particular the warband (Gefolgschaft, Comitatus) centered on the noble chieftain. In France, the fall of the Carolingians and the apparent anarchy of the early Capetian era mark the golden age of feudalism. Through the institution of vassalage, lords were able to subordinate free men to their retinue, while the reception of fiefs and honors in return for military service elevated simple peasant free-holders to knights, laying the foundations of a warrior aristocracy. With the development of more sophisticated governmental institutions in the twelfth century, feudalism was transformed from a divisive force to a mechanism for ordering society in a more clearly hierarchical fashion. The king’s position as supreme feudal lord – suzerain – gradually evolved into sovereignty through the agency of new legal concepts, gleaned from Roman law. In this so-called “second feudal age” the outlines of more modern political systems emerged, gradually replacing the system of personal loyalties associated with feudalism with more abstract notions of state.
Such a view, while potentially useful, is also rather misleading. The feudal “system” so defined is a scholarly construct, an attempt to reconcile myriad local variations. Consequently, many of the specific elements of the standard definition do not hold up to close analysis. The Germanic origins of western feudalism are hard to maintain. Just as the Germanic invasions of late antiquity disrupted Roman provincial society, so to did the process of resettlement break up the order of Germanic society. There are other problems as well. The traditional definition of feudalism focuses on ceremonies, in particular the act of homage and investiture. Oaths sworn at these ceremonies become important texts for describing feudo-vassalic relations. Behind this approach lies an artificial distinction between two elements in the feudal bond, the “personal” element of the oath of fidelity, and the “real” element of benefice. In reality, the ceremony and the oath was merely a means to an end. The relations between lords and vassals after the ceremony is what counts. And generally what bound them most closely was their mutual property interests.
Many of the more general elements of the “feudal system” were present in Roman times. From the time of Alexander Severus (223-235), if not earlier, peasant soldiers were given heritable land in return for military service. These limitanei were found throughout the empire. In the fifth century, Theodosius II reissued legislation concerning such land grants. In Anatolia, the early Byzantine emperors resurrected this system to oppose the Moslem invasions. These soldier-farmers, known as akrites played a significant role in the defense of the Moslem frontiers. A popular epic about the tenth century Byzantine hero Basil Digenes Akrites was as much an expression of this form of “feudalism” as his French and Spanish counterparts, Roland and El Cid. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, the Byzantine emperor’s gave out estates to nobles in return for military service. These Pronoiai are roughly equivalent to western fiefs. Indeed, after the crusades, we find pronoiai referred to in Greek sources as “feuda”, while the pronoete becomes “liege and knight”.
The institution of vassalage appears to be deeply rooted in Gallic society. The word “vassal” is derived from the Celtic gwassawl, the adjectival form of gwas, meaning boy or slave. Originally the term was only used with respect to slaves, but by the later sixth century, the meaning seems to have changed slightly. It now refers to a poor man who has entered into dependence. A host of other terms suggest the nature of early vassals: ingenui in obsequio (free man in service), soldurii (“soldier”), gasindi (dependent, often used of family members), bucellarii (butler). A sixth century gloss reads “vassus, id est horogavo,” defining vassus with the Germanic word meaning servant.
The most commonly cited source used to describe the condition of vassals in Merovingian times is the famous Tours formula, presented below. The text dates from the second quarter of the eighth century, but, according to Ganshof, “looks back to an earlier epoch.”
To the magnificent Lord (A), I (B). Inasmuch as it is known to all and sundry that I lack the wherewithal to feed and clothe myself, I have asked of your piety, and your goodwill has granted to me, permission to deliver and commend myself into your mundoburdus (patronage, authority). This I have therefore done, in such fashion that, while you have undertaken to aid and sustain me in food and clothing, while I have undertaken to serve you and deserve well of you so far as lies in my power. And for as long as I shall live, I am bound to serve you and respect (obsequium) you as a free man (ingenuili) ought, and during my lifetime I shall not have the right to withdraw myself from your authority and mundoburdus; I must on the contrary be for the remainder of my days under your power and protection. And in virtue of this action, if one of us tries to alter the terms of the agreement, he will have to pay x solidi to the other, but the agreement itself shall remain in force. Whence it has seemed good to us that the two parties concerned should draw up and confirm two documents of the same tenor, and this they have done.
The meaning of the text seems fairly clear. A free man enters into service and places himself under the authority of another in return for food and clothing. In some cases, this would involve a land grant, but more often it implied that the new vassal would retain in his lord’s company. Such early vassals, collected by landlords, were called trustiones in the early Merovingian period. Antrustiones were the retainers of the king, and enjoyed a triple Wergeld. Nonetheless, we ought to be cautious in our interpretation. The text is a formula, as opposed to an oath known to be performed at a specific time by a specific individual. In any event, it speaks of an inherently unequal situation. Moreover, the clauses concerning fines and attempts to “alter the terms of the agreement” suggest that frequently one or another party attempted to renege on the deal.
It is worth noting that the term vassal does not appear frequently in the sources, while the term commendation is not contained in any of the extant formulae. More commonly, the words fideles or homines were used to describe men who were bound to their lord. This suggests that the relations between lord and “vassal” were perhaps considerable more fluid than one would think from the sources concerning the ceremonies. Moreover, that there was no clearly defined “system” of vassalage in the Carolingian and post Carolingian periods is evidenced by the presence of similar terms and ideas in vernacular Slavic texts of the same period. The Old Czech Legend of St. Wenceslas uses the terms dru ina and ratnici to describe the followers of the dukes of Prague. These terms are interchangeable with the Latin terms Comites and Milites –“followers” or “counts” and “knights.” Even more common was to refer to the duke’s followers as mu i — homines. In other Slavic sources we find the term l’udi, a cognate of Leudes, the Frankish vernacular term for Antrustiones. In other words, the Slavic sources suggest that a very similar social structure of lords and dependents could be found on either side of the frontier, and, in some cases, identical terminologies were employed to describe the situation. Similar parallels may be found in early Anglo-Saxon sources, as well as Norse Sagas. Only with the spread of the Latin language and standardized forms of record-keeping in the eleventh and twelfth centuries were these regional, vernacular forms replaced.
By the eighth century, vassalage had risen in respect, and royal vassalage, the establishment of personal ties between a noble and the king, was a sought after position. The earliest known oath of vassalage dates from 757 and was performed by Duke Tassilo of Bavaria. Although vassalage was not a Carolingian innovation, the oath of fealty, sworn by the vassal to his lord, was. Tassilo commended himself to Charlemagne “with the hands,” placing his hands in those of his lord. By making physical contact with some sacred object, either a relic or a gospel book, an essential part of the oath, a sacral bond was created between lord and vassal.
By the ninth century, we can distinguish between for types of vassals. There were military servants without benefice and those with small estates, comprising between four and twelve manses (peasant farms). Such vassals made up the bulk of retainers in the courts of bishops, abbots and counts, as well as the royal court. They held a status little higher than did the horogavo of the sixth century. Above these were the royal vassals, who held larger estates. At the top of the list were the counts and bishops. From 768 onwards, the reward for commending oneself to the crown was the promise of land. The dependence of the great nobles on the crown for their wealth was a far better glue than oaths and ceremonies for holding the empire together.
Fiefs and Benefices
THE term benefice (beneficia) goes back to Merovingian times, and may in fact be a concept from Roman vulgar law. It literally means a “good deed.” As a manifestation of Christian charity, individuals or churches might give out money or lands to a poor individual in need, asking little or nothing in return. In Byzantine law, such a grant was called a charistikon, deriving from charis, the Greek word for charity or mercy. Given that the recipients might be said to be in a precarious position, such grants were commonly known as precaria. After the reforms of St. Boniface, the crown reserved the right to make these grants, even though the church retained ownership of the land, and received any rent which was due. The result was a tripartite division of right; the church owns the land and holds rights to collect rents and other dues, the crown holds the right to grant the land in benefice, and the rentier receives the right to use the land in return for fealty to the crown and rents to the church. Such grants were not heritable, and returned to the owner at the recipients death.
Often the terms fief and benefice are used interchangeable, but at least from Carolingian times until the end of the tenth century, the words appear to refer to two different kinds of land grant. Fief is an ancient Germanic word. It derives from fehu, a Germanic word meaning cattle or movable wealth. Although it does not appear in early Frankish sources, it is commonly used in Anglo-Saxon documents to refer to a gift, in particular a gift that created bonds of peace (feoh-gyfte). A feo or fief, then, was a binding gift. In contrast with the benefice, the gift of a feo obliged the recipient to provide some sort of service in return. The first Frankish text using feo in this context is in a poem from the late seventh century. It refers to the bishop of Tours and his betrayal of the early Carolingian mayor Grimoald.
He who forgets the man who helped him
And banishes the memory of his provider
Tramples right and honor under foot.
He who forgets the gift of a feo
And the acquirer of his former allod
Is a filthy pig who spews up his honor.
The terms feo and feus emerge in the charters from St. Gall in the eighth century referring to annual rents received from properties. Around 900 in France, feo appears as a gift, given in return for service, but implying obligation. In the tenth century, fiefs created the bond between lords and vassals. Over time it came to be applied to offices (Honores), and could amount to a money payment, known in France as a fief-rente. In any case, however, the fief was the outward sign of political dependence of free men on their lords.
From Feudal Territories to Feudal Monarchies
THE hallmark of the post-Carolingian age was the creation of feudal territories and the rise of banal lordship. The basic outlines of banal lordship have already been described, but a few points bear emphasis. The division of kingdoms into territories was nothing new. The Frankish kingdom was comprised of large and stable regna. These could either be defined geographically, such as Austrasia and Neustria, or with reference to a particular ethnic history, such as Gothia or Burgundy. In any event, the use of the term did not necessarily imply the presence of a king. Hence when some tenth and eleventh century counts referred to their lands as regna, this did not mean that they had derived their authority from the kings of old. Rather, there appears to have been an accepted principle of territorial sovereignty distinct from and independent of the institution of the central monarchy. While the new territorial rulers of the tenth century might have held comital offices that were of Carolingian origin, they did not hold them of the crown. Rather, the counts had usurped their offices and transformed them into personal properties.
Most tenth century great nobles had impressive titles, but little real authority. The dukes of Aquitaine ruled, in theory, one of the great Frankish regna, one which comprised a half of the west Frankish kingdom. In reality, the duke’s power extended little beyond his seat at Poitou. He had no formal chancery and no institutional authority in the larger parts of the duchy. Although the leading landowners and other important men of the duchy might normally come to do homage to the duke, this amounted to little more than showing respect.
As stated earlier, the erection of castle proved to be an important means of extending comital authority. Castles represented military power, but also fiscal authority. Knights and garrisons could collect taxes – in reality protection money – and exact justice, collecting fines and confiscating the property of malefactors. In other words, the practice of lordship could be quite profitable. Through their castles and courts, the counts and dukes were able to gradually transform peasant allods into fiefs, reducing free peasants to serfs. The necrology of Notre Dame de Chartres show that while 80% of lands donated by peasants between 940 and 1030 were allods, by the end of the eleventh century, only 8 % of donations represented peasant allodial land. This pattern may be seen as well in other areas. How did the lords gain control over the land? The answer lies in the ambiguity of property rights. Early medieval law codes deal almost entirely with criminal matters, ecclesiastical affairs, or classification of the social order. They say little about property rights. This was the domain of customary law. There were two generally accepted signs of ownership: possession and general recognition of ownership. Increasingly, however, the nobility began to use other means to document ownership. In eighth century Denmark, viking nobles set up Runestones on their properties. In the south, charters and wills served the same purpose. Far easier than documenting rights, of course, was simple intimidation. Peasants would be invited to “prove” their claims by undergoing an ordeal, such as holding a red-hot iron, or dipping their arm in boiling water. Out of fear, many peasants merely gave up their allods rather than run the risk of torture. Eventually, the lords adopted “custom” for themselves, defining customary law in their own terms through written codes. These came to be known as the conseutudinae pravae, the “bad customs,” and were a source of frequent conflict. Throughout the Middle Ages, peasants often couched their resistance to authority in terms of the “old law” or “old customs.”
As the counts began to obtain more land that could be given out as fiefs, it became possible to increase his stock of vassals, and bind them more closely to him with promises of land. Of course, once the land was awarded, it might be difficult for a lord to convince his vassal to do his bidding. Hence, it was often in the lord’s interest to promise a fief that was not his to give. The results of such a practice were well described by Hugh of Lusignan, a castellan in early eleventh century Aquitaine. Duke William V (960-1030) promised Hugh that he would give him a fief held by Viscount Roso when the latter died. In the meantime, Hugh’s lands were seized by Viscount Savary, who promptly died. The duke promised that he would not make any deals with Savary’s brother and heir, Ralph, but in fact confirmed his inheritance of the lands formerly held by Hugh. Hugh then made an agreement with Ralph to marry his daughter in return for a better fief. But William ordered him not to marry the girl, promising Hugh an even better estate if he remained loyal. As time goes on, the plot thickens, bringing to bear the count of Anjou and many other notables beside. In the end, the result is always the same. Anytime anyone makes an offer to Hugh to compensate for his loss, Duke William makes a better offer, but then refuses to pay up. The lesson of the story is that Hugh, who appears from the story to be a loyal vassal, did not need a fief to keep him bound to the count. Rather, his inability to obtain a fief keeps he continually dependent on the duke. We can also see from this the bidding war that ensues between lords vying for vassals. By the end of the tale, it is clear that any one individual may be the vassal of several different lords, with divided loyalty. An outgrowth of this situation was the development of liege-homage. Liege-homage is that owed to a “higher” or “better” lord, one to whom allegiance is owed above all others. Of course, as Hugh points out, what makes for a “better lord” is a “better fief.”
Eventually the crown was able to make use of many of the same techniques to ensure their authority over the counts. Conflicts, such as that described by Hugh of Lusignan, provided ample opportunity for royal intervention. Of greater significance, however, was the development of a royal bureaucracy and a court system staffed by legal professionals. William the Conqueror used legal inquests from the beginning of his reign to assert his rights over properties. These inquests lead to the conduct of the Domesday survey, which identified the crown as the supreme arbiter in property disputes. The kings of France were able to do much of the same in their realms from the reign of Philip Augustus onward. While it might seem as it they were exploiting a pre-exiting situation, the drafting of law codes by royal legal scholars in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was as guilty of coopting and twisting custom to their own purposes as the counts were a century before.
IN the Roman era, the land was divided between large estates, Latifundia, worked by slave labor and an ever-diminishing number of freehold estates. Although the Romans, for cultural reasons, tended to honor the freeholders, in reality, Imperial taxation policies favored the growth of great estates In the third century, as populations declined, the state levied taxes on uncultivated land . If the owners could not pay the taxes, the land was attached to adjoining estates. Such policies favored the magnates while pushing small freeholders “to the wall.” The latifundia grew, while the status of agricultural laborers declined. As access to slave labor, a resource that had been widely available during the days of conquest, became limited, measures were taken to bind free peasants to the land. The Roman state assessed taxes on rural communities in two ways. Cultivated land was divided into units —iugera — which were taxed according to productive potential. In addition, a head tax (capitatio) was levied on cultivators, both human and animal. After 332 cultivators were fixed to the soil by combining the iugatio and the capitatio: each iugum should have its own caput. As a result, “social immobility and hereditary occupational status became the fundamental characteristics of life and work in the later Roman and early Byzantine periods.”
In the late Roman period, there were two basic types of rural settlement. On the open fields of the lowlands, the ager, large estates — Latifundia andvillae — dominated the landscape. In the hills lay a different kind of settlement, the saltus. These were often pre-Roman settlements, where animal husbandry and even hunting provided a more significant part of production that farming. With the collapse of the Roman army and the Germanic and Slavic invasions, however, the older system was disrupted. By the seventh century, ever greater parts of the ager had been abandoned, and farming practices from pre-Roman times restored.
The extent to which the reorganization of rural society in the early Middle Ages derives from the social organization of the conquering peoples is hard to gauge, however. In the west, much has been made about the attitudes of the early Germans. Passages from the Germania of Tacitus are frequently cited as “proof” that the Germans lived in free communities. But Tacitus was writing in the second century, and is a questionable source for describing Germanic society in the fifth century, much less later periods. Likewise, in the East, Procopius’ descriptions of the Slavs has been used as a source for early Slavic social structures. In his History of the Wars, composed in the sixth century, Procopius writes that the Slavs “are not ruled by one man, but have lived from old under a democracy , and consequently everything which involves their welfare, whether for good or for ill, is referred to the [common] people.” While eastern European scholars have made much of this statement, it is difficult to know what Procopius’ “demokratia” means in this context, nor on what basis he came to this conclusion. The term might well be being used in a pejorative sense. But although it is uncertain exactly how the invasions impacted rural society, it is clear that during the early Middle Ages, significant changes occurred.
In the East, small freeholds appear to replace large estates in many parts of the empire. Part of this derived from legal reforms in the seventh century. The head tax became a hearth tax paid by each family, separate from the land tax. Moreover, the tax was levied on villages rather than individual households. This practice, described in the eighth century Farmers’ Law, indicates that free, largely autonomous peasant villages had replaced large estates as the central focus of rural life.
In the West, the early Middle Ages also saw the rise of villages. Scholars generally recognize two forms of rural settlement in the West, the “open field community,” found primarily in northern France and southern and central England, and “woodland” communities. The open field settlements are closely linked to areas of Germanic settlement in the fifth and sixth centuries. In these regions two, three or more long unfenced fields would be divided into strips for plowing. Every third year, one strip would be left fallow. Fallow and stubble would serve as common pasture for animals. Peasants lived in large, nucleated villages, usually under powerful manorial lordship. After the so-called “family revolution” of the eleventh century, peasants held their lands outright or, more often, on leases. Inheritance was impartible and patrilineal.
In the woodland communities of northern and western England, Brittany and Normandy, peasants lived in small, isolated farmsteads. Fields were divided with ditches and hedges, largely as a result of the survival partible inheritance. Because there was so much allodial land, the proportion of free peasants remained somewhat higher through the early and high Middle Ages. Peasant villages were often grouped into larger units, called “march-confederations” (Markgenossenschaften) and consisted of a group of communities that shared a common border, or march. These confederations were largely self-governing, though not as “free and democratic” as some nineteenth-century liberal historians wished they were. In time, however, these were incorporated into the emerging state system. Counts appointed advocates (Vogt) who organized military activities and served as judges. This process began in earnest in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and reached its peak after 1200. On the one hand, this resulted in a decrease in peasant rights, as the manorial system became more widespread. At the same time, a dualism resulted as the older forms of communal government coexisted with the centralized administration of the Vogt.
Along the frontiers in Germany, Spain, and Anatolia particular forms of peasant communities emerged. In Germany, many frontier outposts were under the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical lords — bishops and abbots. Consequently, churches, rather than noble manors, provided the focus for political life, as well as defense. In northern Bavaria, many villages were grouped around fortified churches or cemeteries. The fortified church of SS. Peter and Paul in Detwang, consecrated in 968, still stands today. Its windows are narrow slits cut in walls that are ten feet thick in spots. Similar fortified churches also were built in Bohemia in the ninth and tenth centuries. In Spanish border communities, estates became heritable through both male and female lines at a time when in France and England, inheritance laws clearly relegated women to lower status. In Anatolia, the Byzantine government made regular grants to peasant-soldiers on the frontier, giving them land in return for military service.
The increasing sophistication of village organization coincided with a general increase in production. The introduction of new technologies, such as the padded horse collar, the use of manure for fertilizer, and improved plows, is often cited as critical to this development. Nonetheless, we should be careful not to overemphasize the importance of technological change. In many areas, older forms of crop rotation were not replaced by the “three-field” system until the fifteenth or even the sixteenth century. Manuring was of limited value in some areas, such as Spain, where high acid levels in the soil would only be raised through the introduction of additional organic waste. In other words, local soil conditions tended to be of greater significance than technical prowess for production. Nonetheless, more land was cleared for farming in many parts of Europe, most notably in Germany and along the Slavic frontier. There we find settlements with –rode, –rodung– in their names, indicating that the area was cleared from forest. These Rodung villages tend to be found at higher elevations than older settlements.
Most scholars seem to agree that the critical factor in the rise of villages was the exercise of lordship. Duby writes that “pressure exerted by seigniorial power on productive forces” lay behind the clearing of land. For Bartlett, the new settlements in Germany were the product of “calculated seigneurial enterprise,” brought about by “innovative lords.” Anglo-Saxon scholars have described a “revolution in landholding” in the period after 850, pointing to new settlements. Of these, Richard Hodges writes “the nucleation of villages cannot itself be ascribed to the collective zeal of the peasantry. This was surely the work of the manorial class.” Flemish and Dutch nobles ordered the building of dikes and the draining of polder in the Netherlands. Still, peasant communities were not always passive instruments of their lords’ ambitions, as shown in the case of Rosny-Sous-Bois.
The village of Rosny-Sous-Bois to the east of Paris had been given by the kings of France to the powerful abbey of St. Genevieve on the Mont in Paris. Although no one remembered precisely when (certainly before 1163) both peasants and lords were clear on the status granted to the peasants under the charter. According to the canons, the farmers of Rosny were serfs. The residents of Rosny declared that they were not. From 1179 until 1225, both sides contested the issue in both the royal and papal courts. In 1179, the canons of St. Genevieve appealed to the king who upheld their claims that the peasants were serfs. The canons took the additional precaution of having the pope confirm their authority in 1182. The “serfs” of Rosny contested the papal bull, and obtained a reversal from pope Lucius III. Lucius soon contradicted himself after receiving additional letters from the canons. He excused himself by writing the “[b]ecause of the multitude of affairs that are brought before the apostolic chair, we cannot possibly remember the tenor of our letters and other decisions. For this reason we may have been tricked unawares into contradicting what we have written earlier.” A later appeal to Honorius III in 1219 was also initially successful, and the curia condemned the canons for their treatment of the peasants, writing “it is most unfitting for religious men to act in a manner so contrary to mercy, for the perfection at which they must aim obliges them to abstain from many things which may be permitted to others.” As Marc Bloch observed:
The peasants had really disturbed the spiritual head of Christendom. They had done more than simply inform him of the hocus-pocus of which their lords were guilty: they had gone on to explain how the state of serfdom to which they were reduced obliged them continually to violate, against their will, the laws of the Church.
Honorius upheld the claims of the villagers that they were not serfs, but then fate took another turn. While the canons continued to lobby their case in Rome, they built a new jail at Rosny with the support of the crown. The jail, built to punish those who broke their communal obligations, was clearly intended to intimidate the villagers into dropping their suit. By 1225, most of the men and women of Rosny had “willingly” withdrawn their petition from Rome. On the basis of their actions, and after reviewing the long series of papal and royal letters in favor of the canons, Honorius decreed that the peasants of Rosny were indeed serfs. This turned out to be a moot point. In 1246 the village bought its freedom for a rather modest sum, ending the dispute once and for all.
The case of Rosny illustrates a number of points. The extent to which the fate of one village could become intertwined in the affairs of the kings of France and the papacy — the two greatest powers in western Europe in the thirteenth century — is striking. Moreover, these peasants must have had money: lawsuits, especially those taken to Rome, were exceedingly expensive. That Rosny could continue a suit for fifty years at that level gives lie to our general notion of “poor” peasants living at the edge of starvation. Clearly they had access to cash in large quantities. The ability of the village to purchase its freedom suggests that in the end, they determined that this was the cheapest way to resolve the issue. Above all, it is clear that Rosny possessed a sense of communal solidarity that only strengthened in the face of opposition.
In his study of medieval Italian politics, Giovanni Tobacco notes that at all levels of society, we may perceive an “interplay of customary usage, violence, and commercial transactions.” At base, both lords and peasants were concerned with the same thing, the exploitation of the land. Lords sought to gain as much profit from their rights as protectors and landlords – keep in mind that rents, taxes, and protection money were one in the same. At the same time, peasants could take advantage of the competition between lords, such as here between the canons, the crown, and papacy, three lordships competing for power. As consensus between rival lords broke down, “the peasant collectivity began to operate as a means of resistance and expressed its own political will, encouraged to do so by the hated growth of the conseutudines pravae, which were not supported by any organic political force of repression.” Hence, Tobacco concludes, “the development of the seigneurial ban stimulated the whole social body .. and provoked it to react.” When the villages obtained enough wealth to purchase seignorial rights (nobles were always in need of cash), they became rural communes, fully independent, self-governing towns outside the power of banal lordship.
The Rise of Towns
CLASSICAL civilization had been largely urban in character, but by the end of the Roman Empire, cities everywhere had fallen on hard times. Around the Mediterranean, most cities survived from antiquity through the Middle Ages, but even the greatest of these, such as Rome or Athens, were mere shells of their former selves. Further north, many old Roman towns, such as London, York, Vienna, Trier and Cologne, were abandoned, in some cases remaining unpopulated for centuries. The reason for the collapse of cities is complex, but two factors stand out. First of all, the late Empire experience a severe demographic crisis, leading to widespread depopulation. Secondly, the collapse of imperial government contributed to a collapse of the economy. The Roman state had supported the economy through massive expenditures and forced circulation of goods. Once the trade links broke down, cities could no longer be supplied with goods, Beyond the borders of the empire, there had been no cities, and would be none until the later Middle Ages.
The introduction of the manorial system, in many respects, might be seen as laying down the economic preconditions for the rise of cities. The consolidation of large estates bound together wide areas into a single economic unit. The estates constituted a trading zone, and rural markets bound the isolated farmsteads, hamlets and villages together. These markets became a means for the introduction of currency into rural areas. With the spread of the monetary economy into the countryside, the foundation was laid for further economic growth.
In the seventh century we can see an increase in long-distance trade. Initially, this was conducted at specially organized sites. In Anglo-Saxon England we have the Burhs set up by kings as centers of production and exchange. There are also a number of northern coastal cities with names ending in -wic or -wik. The name is significant. In the Scandinavian tongues, a Vik was a port city. The term is either derived from the Latin vicus or simply a cognate of the Latin portus. In any event, in the seventh century, there is a marked increase in towns with these names. In England we have Lundenwic (London), Eoforwix (York), Gipeswic (Ipswich) Duneuuic (Dunwich). On the Continent we find the important trading towns of Slisvic (Schleswig) and Wijk bij Duurstede on the Dutch coast. These were not only trading posts but major mints (Dorestad) or industrial centers (Ipswich).
The Viking expansion of the ninth and tenth centuries contributed to rapid urban growth, both in Scandinavia and in England and on the Continent. The Vikings bound together formerly isolated economic regions into a single unit. So, in Viking Jorvik (York again), one could buy Byzantine textiles, often paid for with Arab silver. The Vikings also founded their own cities, such as the town of “Black Pool,” better known by its Gaelic name, Dubh Linn (Dublin). Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, and some other Irish ports may as well be Viking foundations.
In the Slavic east, towns began to rise as well. In the ninth and tenth century, there is evidence that Slavic forts, known as grody (grad, hrad) was being reconstructed. Many of these grody came to play the same role as the Anglo-Saxon Burhs. By the late tenth century, several major production and distribution centers had emerged. Cracow appears as a city after 960, while at the same time, Prague was considered the largest Slave Market in Europe. Novgorod and Kiev grew rapidly, and by the end of the tenth century exceeded in size and wealth many western cities.
Trade in the Mediterranean remained fairly viable until the coming of the Muslims. But while the Muslim invasions of the seventh century disrupted trade, it did not destroy it. Rather, by 900 the Venetians had made many trade contacts with Islam. Moreover, in 922 Venice obtained customs privileges from Byzantium. Pisa and Genoa opted for a different strategy, and pursued a proto-crusading policy. Throughout the eleventh century, Pisa sent great pillaging expeditions against Muslim emporia in Corsica, Sardinia, the Balearics, Sicily, and the Maghrib. In 1072 Pisan “pirates” helped ferry the Normans into Sicily in return for trading privileges. Genoa followed suit.
From the tenth century onwards, we see stable growth of urban institutions, largely owing to their importance as markets, defensive strongpoints, and centers of administration. In Germany and the low countries, nobles and ministeriales were imported into the cities by the ruling powers to organize their defense and run the administration. This created the core of a noble patriciate. In Italy, most cities were dominated by bishops. In a similar fashion, they attracted vassals, known as capitanei. Thus the early urban elites were often not merchants, but landowners. This should not seem all that unusual. Although it is common to speak of cities as centers of trade and industry, this was a relatively recent development. For most of the medieval and Early modern period, the primary importance of the cities were as the centers for the consumption and distribution of surplus agricultural produce. Until the end of the thirteenth century, landowners dominated the cities of Italy. In Germany, many cities remained under the authority of city-dwelling magnates into the eighteenth century.
France under the early Capetians
THE collapse of the Carolingian empire brought about significant changes in the political structure of France. As the later Carolingian rulers declined in ability, internal divisions within the kingdom became ever more acute. The dynasty established in the mid-ninth century by Robert the Brave, count of Anjou and Paris, emerged as a serious rival to the Carolingians. When Robert’s son Odo seized the throne in 888, this indicated the potential for replacing the Carolingians. At the same time, loyalty to the dynasty remained strong, and after Odo’s death, the crown returned to the line of Charlemagne in the person of Charles “the Simple” (898-922).
In 922 a group of nobles, dissatisfied with Charles the Simple, revolted and elected Odo’s brother Robert as king. Robert I (922-923) was killed fighting his rival at Soisson, but Charles lost the battle and was imprisoned. With the support of Robert’s son Hugh the Great, Rudolf of Burgundy assumed the throne. Although descended from the Carolingians, Rudolf (923-936) owed his crown to his marriage to Robert’s daughter Emma. After Rudolf’s death, Hugh the Great arranged for Charles the Simple’s son, Louis “from across the Sea,” to return and claim the throne. Neither Louis IV (936-954) nor his son Lothar (954-986) were anything but ciphers. For his part, Hugh the Great was content to remain, like Pippin of Heristal, the power behind the throne.
Hugh the Great’s son, Hugh Capet, had no such scruples and spent the years after his father’s death (956) seeking to gain the throne for himself. His chance came in 987 when the last of the Carolingians, Louis V, died after a reign of less than a year. Following the precedents set in 888 and 922, the nobles of Neustria elected Hugh king of the West Franks.
About the reign of king Hugh (987-96) next to nothing is known. What is clear is that he put upon the throne the most successful dynasty of the Middle Ages. Between 987 and 1328 fourteen direct descendants of Hugh the Great sat on the French throne. The return to dynastic kingship was begun by Hugh Capet almost immediately after his accession. Hugh had his son Robert the Pious (996-1031) elected, anointed, and crowned as co-ruler. By arranging the election and coronation of his successor in his lifetime, Hugh ensured that he would be succeeded by an heir of his body. Robert II followed his father’s lead and crowned his son Henry I (1031-1060) in his own lifetime. Although the monarchy remained de jure elective, succession was de facto determined dynastically.
Although very little is known about the activities of these kings, they did have a certain significance. They maintained the office of the monarchy and imparted a degree of stability in the succession after a century of crisis and collapse. The history of the early Capetians tends to be obscured, however, by other developments within France. The great Belgian historian Jan Dhondt described the period from the accession of Charles the Bald until the end of the ninth century as characterized by the formation of territorial states. Counts and other nobles of the rights and powers previously held by the kings, in particular the king’s bannum. The result was a form of political power known as banal lordship. This was represented in the dominance of the counts over local courts and the economy. This development, far more than the beginnings of the Capetian dynasty, was to provide the fundamental outline of French political culture.
One of the crucial foundations of banal lordship was encastellation. There had been fortifications in Carolingian times, but these were structures built to defend large groups of people in times of crisis. By the tenth century local magnates had taken over many of these sites and converted them to suit their needs. Small, permanent structures were built, and the total enclosed area decreased. Eventually, the castles were reduced to one or two fortified houses or towers. The large number of castles built towards the end of the tenth century were not intended to provide for the defense of the “common people.” Most were constructed after the cessation of Viking attacks and served as administrative centers for the counts. They were placed under the authority of Castellans or Vicomtes who acted as comital officials in the villages and estates surrounding the castle. The nature of their duties is suggested by the vernacular German word used to describe this office in Alsace. There the castellan was called a sculdahis (modern German Schultheiss), a term that came to mean judge.
The castles became the focus of political life and the center of the web of feudal relations within the counties. Baldwin II of Flanders (879-918) cemented his control over his county by building a network of castles at the beginning of his reign. They were fairly small – only 200 meters in diameter -and spaced between six and nine miles apart from one another Baldwin was able to construct these using powers granted to counts by the Carolingians monarchs, in this case the right to levy taxes and demand labor services of peasants. The castles served as a means whereby feudal relationships were extended into the lower levels of society. The castellans became local aristocrats and gathered around them soldiers (milites) who were bound to him by oaths of vassalage. In Vendôme in the early eleventh century, castles were staffed by about a dozen of these early knights. In accordance with the practice of counts and kings, the castellans also gave out fiefs to their vassals, albeit small ones, comprising perhaps a few dozen acres. Initially these were not heritable. Only after the mid-eleventh century did it become common for these land grants to be passed on to the recipient heirs.
In addition to the castellans, local land owners and petty county notables also came to bind themselves to the count through oaths of vassalage. This coincided with the collapse of self-governing peasant communities and the disappearance of allodial land. Increasingly, peasant free-holders found it impossible to hold onto their lands and were often forced, sometimes in flagrant violation of law and custom, to give over their lands to the counts or his officials and receive them back in return for rents or other dues. The counts were able to use their bannum as a way to reduce free peasants to tenants and serfs, while at the same time undermining local autonomy, increasing their own authority over peasant villages. By 1150 hardly any allodial land remained in France. Practically all peasants were serfs, working land owned by either the counts, magnates, or the church.
In the absence of a strong monarchy, and as the petty nobles of the West Frankish kingdom sought to create their own realms, violence became commonplace. In response, bishops and princes began convening peace conferences in the late tenth century, beginning the Peace of God movement. The first councils were held in Charroux (989) and Narbonne (990). The councils issued decrees forbidding knights from pursuing their opponents into churches or otherwise violating the sanctuary. Other edicts prohibited attacks on clerics or defenseless peasants. The Peace of God movement later spread to Burgundy and Aquitaine, where the dukes used the peace as a means of controlling their vassals and increasing their own stature within the region.
The Truce of God movement began after 1040, primarily in regions outside the range of the Peace of God. Truce derived from the Germanic word trewa, meaning loyalty or honor (mod. German Treue). The Truce of God prohibited fighting on Sundays and during Lent and various church festivals, such as Christmas and Easter. The Treuga Dei also was intended to protect non-combatants from attack. Although such movements may seem naive, they contributed to a change in the ethos of western Europe. One product of the Peace of God and Truce of God movements was the development of the code of chivalry, intended to limit the violence of war and create a cultural context for a peaceful and orderly society.
The Ottonian Empire
IN the East Frankish kingdom, the decline of the Carolingians was even more rapid than in the west. Although Louis the German was nominally strong, after his death the power of the crown in the east decayed. By the end of the ninth century power rested in the hands of the dukes of Saxony, Franconia, Bavaria, Swabia, and Lorraine. The first four duchies took their names for the older tribes of Germany — the Franks, Bavarians, Swabians, and Saxons. Consequently, these are referred to as tribal or Stem-Duchies, after the German word for tribe, Stamm. Lorraine comprised parts of the old kingdom of Lotharingia and did not represent any particular Stamm.
In Saxony and Bavaria, powerful marcher lords established the ducal dynasties in the early ninth century. The Bavarian dynasty was known as the Liutpoldingers, after Margrave Liutpold who died in 907 fighting the Magyars. His son Arnulf is the first of the dynasty to appear in the sources as dux baioariorum. In Saxony, the marcher lord Liudolf (d. 866) claimed the title dux orientalium Saxonum. Duke Otto (880-912) ensured that his family was among the most prominent noble families in the Frankish kingdom.
No single dynasty dominated the duchies of Franconia and Swabia. In Swabia a two way struggle raged between the Hunfridingers and Erchangers, hereditary counts of the palace (comes palatii, German, Pfalzgraf) in Swabia under the later Carolingians. The bishops of Constance and the abbots of the important imperial monasteries of St. Gall and Reichenau were major players in the internal politics of the duchy. In Franconia as well, two dynasties competed for supremacy, the Babenbergers and the Conradiners. In 906 the Conradiners defeated their Babenberg rivals, securing the ducal title for the head of the family, aptly named Conrad.
After the death of Louis the Child (899-911), the Stem-Dukes elected duke Conrad of Franconia as the new king. The reign of Conrad I (911-918) marks a turning point in German history. The east Frankish kingdom now emerged as a separate nation. Election triumphed over the principle of dynastic succession. Initially, Conrad was elected by the Saxon and Franconian nobles, largely owing to the support of Otto of Saxony. The Bavarian and Swabian nobles recognized his election, but the Lotharingians did not. Conrad led three unsuccessful campaigns in his effort to reclaim Lorraine for the empire. The Magyars made four major raids during Conrad’s reign, in 912 (Franconia, Thuringia), 913 (Bavaria and Swabia), 915 (Swabia, Thuringia, Saxony), and 917 (Swabia). Beset by revolts in Swabia and Saxony, Conrad was unable to offer much help against the invaders. By the end of his reign, Conrad’s authority did not extend beyond his own duchy.
Upon his death, Conrad designated the Saxon duke, Henry the Fowler, as his successor. Henry I (919-936) was elected, like his predecessor, at Fritzlar by Saxon and Franconian nobles. Arnulf of Bavaria was subsequently elected king by the Bavarians and Swabians. Realizing that Swabia was the weaker of the two rebel duchies, Henry invaded in 919. The Hunfridinger duke Burchard II submitted without a struggle and recognized Henry as the legitimate king. Henry invaded Bavaria in the following year, and after a brief campaign was able to secure Arnulf’s submission. Arnulf became Henry’s vassal and, according to Luitprand of Cremona’s account, commended himself to the king and was received as a militis regis (royal knight).
After defeating Arnulf, Henry turned his attention to Lorraine. In a meeting with the west Frankish king Charles the Simple, held in a boat anchored in the Rhine, Henry and Charles agreed to partition Lorraine. Henry soon tired of this situation, and used the deposition of Charles the Simple in 922 as an excuse to seize the western part of the duchy. In 925 Henry I invaded Lorraine, conquered it, and received Duke Giselbert as his vassal.
Throughout the 920’s, Henry fought both the Slavs and the Magyars. After a series of Magyars raids, Henry opted to buy peace and offered the Magyars tribute in return for a nine-year truce. He then turned his attention to fortifying his defenses against the Slavic tribes east of the Elbe. The episcopal city of Merseburg became the focus of his military efforts. In 926, the same year he made peace with the Magyars, Henry issued a series of decrees reorganizing the army. A series of forts were built, staffed with milites agrarii, peasant soldiers bound to the king as serfs. One of the most famous of these units was the Merseburg Legion, made up of condemned criminals who were offered the choice of military service as colonial militia instead of execution. By 928, Henry’s forces were strong enough to allow him to take the offensive. Several East-Elbian tribes recognized Henry as their overlord and German colonists were settled on their lands. Henry then led an offensive against Bohemia. In 929, the Premyslid duke of Bohemia, St. Wenceslas, did homage to Henry and formed an alliance with the Saxon king. With his north-eastern borders now secure, Henry now went to war with the Magyars. He defeated them soundly in 933 and ensured twenty years of peace.
In 936, Henry’s son Otto, was elected king. Thanks to his father’s reconquest of Lorraine, Otto I (936-73) was able to hold his election, consecration and coronation in Aachen in the palace chapel built by Charlemagne. This created from the start a close association between Otto and his Carolingian predecessor.
Upon the death of Henry the Fowler, the Slavic tribes that had acknowledged his authority rose in revolt. Otto quickly suppressed the uprising and organized two new marches along the Elbe frontier. In the north, the noted Saxon noble Hermann Billung was named margrave. To the south, count Gero was made lord of the march. Otto’s reorganization of the march had some serious repercussions at home. Hermann Billung’s brother Wichmann, angered that he had not been granted a margravate as well, left the imperial army and went over to the Slavs. Gero’s appointment provoked the jealousy of Otto’s half-brother Thankmar. In alliance with Eberhard, the son of Duke Arnulf of Bavaria, Thankmar and Wichmann staged a revolt intending to dethrone Otto in 938. The rebels were soundly defeated. After the battle, Thankmar fled to a church to seek sanctuary, but was run through with a spear as he clung to the altar. Eberhard and Wichmann both submitted, the former having to resign his duchy.
Only one year after the first revolt, Otto’s younger brother Henry staged his own revolt, this time with the help of two other dukes, Eberhard of Franconia, and Giselbert of Lorraine. The rebels were annihilated at Aldernach in 939. Eberhard was killed on the battlefield and Giselbert drowned while trying to retreat across the Rhine. Henry threw himself on his brother’s mercy and was received back into the king’s grace. Since the rebels had been aided by the French king, Louis IV, Otto followed up his victory by invading France. There he met up with the army of Hugh the Great, whose knights did homage to Otto. To secure peace with France Otto made marriage alliances with both the French king Louis IV and Hugh the Great.
Otto now turned his attention to the Kingdom of Burgundy. After the death of Charles the Bald, Burgundy had become an independent kingdom. In 887, it had split into two parts, upper Burgundy, north of the Jura, and lower Burgundy, containing the Mediterranean coastal region of Provence. Rudolf II of Upper Burgundy (912-937) commended himself to Henry the Fowler in order to obtain military support. When his rival Hugh of Provence seized the crown of Lombardy from him in 926, Rudolf made an alliance with Otto. Immediately after Rudolf died, Hugh of Provence intervened in the succession, casting out Rudolf’s son Conrad. Otto intervened on Conrad’s behalf, and nixed Hugh’s plans to unite Italy and Burgundy. Conrad subsequently became Otto’s vassal, renewing the suzerainty of the German king over Burgundy.
Otto’s quarrel with Hugh of Provence drew him into Italian affairs after 941. Following the deaths of Hugh (948) and his son Lothar (950) Otto accepted the invitation of Lothar’s widow, Adelheid of Burgundy, to take control of Lombardy. In 951 Otto was crowned king of Italy at Pavia, taking the title previously used by Charlemagne: rex francorum et langobardorum. To secure his claim, Otto then married Adelheid.
On account of the king’s preoccupation with Italian affairs, a new revolt against his authority began brewing. This time the rebel was Otto’s son, Liudolf. He found an ally in the duke of Lorraine, Conrad the Red. Together they staged perhaps the most dangerous revolt of Otto’s reign in 953. The revolt was put down, and Liudolf reconciled to his father. The duchy of Lorraine was taken from Conrad and granted to Otto’s youngest brother Bruno, Archbishop of Cologne. Bruno became the model for the Ottonian imperial bishops. Since the Stem Dukes could not be trusted, the church took over the administration of the empire. Bruno founded a school, much like Alcuin’s palace school, which became a training ground for future bishops and abbots.
In 954 the Magyars decided to attack Germany yet again. They laid siege to Augsburg, whose defenses had been organized by Bishop Udalrich. After settling Liudolf’s revolt, Otto hastily put together a relief army and sped towards Augsburg. The Bohemians sent a contingent to help, and the former rebel Conrad the Red, now reduced to a simple knight, brought his own forces. At Lechfeld on St. Lawrence’s day (Oct. 8, 955) Otto and his forces defeated the Magyars in one of the most decisive battles in world history. With this victory, Otto was recognized as the savior of Europe. Like Charles Martell at Poitiers, Otto the Great had saved Europe from a heathen horde, and ensured the survival of Christendom.
Following his victory, Otto began to intervene forcefully in the affairs of the church. The early medieval papal state had reached its height under popes Nicholas I (858-867) and Hadrian II (867-872) but had subsequently fallen on hard times. Various Roman aristocratic families competed for control of the office. In the early tenth century, the popes were appointed by Theophylact and later by his wife Theodora and her daughter Marozia. The latter married Hugh of Provence in order to bolster her power. This provoked a reaction by the Romans who expelled Hugh in 932. They elevated Marozia’s son Alberic to the office of “prince and senator of Rome,” giving him full control over the city. Alberic then arranged for his son to become pope. John XII (955-964) was among the most notorious of all popes, famous for his sexual excesses. John intended to restore the political power of the papacy in central Italy, but soon found himself hard pressed by the nobles of Spoleto as well as factions within the city. He consequently called on Otto for assistance.
Otto arrived in Italy in 962, and quickly suppressed the revolts. John XII rewarded Otto by crowning him emperor. But when it became apparent that Otto actually intended to rule in Italy, John made alliances with various Italian rebels, the Byzantine emperor, and even the Magyars against the empire. The conspiracy came to naught, and in 963 Otto convened a synod at Rome that deposed John and elected a new pope, Leo VIII. With this election, Otto decreed that in future no pope could be elected without imperial approval. The Roman nobles did not agree with such provisions. For the next several generations there were often two popes: one appointed by the emperor, another elected by the nobility. Few died natural deaths.
In the last years of his reign, Otto concentrated his efforts on two projects. The first was a reorganization of the Slavic marches. Part of this involved the foundation of several new dioceses in the frontier regions. These included Merseburg, Brandenburg, Havelberg, Oldenburg, as well as the suffragen-bishoprics of Miessen and Zeitz. Magdeburg became an archdiocese, and most of the new sees were placed under its leadership. Each of these served as the focal point for colonization efforts. In addition to these foundations within the empire, several missionary dioceses were set up by German clerics beyond Germany’s borders. In Denmark, bishops were appointed for Slesvig, Ripen, and Aarhus after the conversion of the Danish king Harald Bluetooth. Prague received its own bishop in 967. Miezsko, the Piast prince of Poland, converted after marrying a Czech princess. German and Czech missionaries set up a Polish church and founded a new diocese at Posen. Nearly all of the early bishops in these foreign sees were Germans, drawn from the palace school of Archbishop Bruno of Cologne.
The second project that Otto undertook involved his relations with Byzantium. Initially, he intended to conquer outright the Byzantine possessions in southern Italy. Otto’s relations with his Byzantine counterpart, Nicephorus II Phocas (963-969), were abysmal. Negotiations took a better turn after the accession of John Tzimiskes in 969. In 972 the two rulers negotiated an alliance against the Moslems, and Otto’s son received a Byzantine princess named Theophano as his bride. The following year, Otto the Great died.
Otto II (973-983) was only eighteen upon his accession. Although a very well educated young man, he was unable to cope with the many crises that gripped the empire during his reign. His cousin, Henry the Wrangler of Bavaria, led a revolt against imperial control of the Bavarian episcopacy. Harald Bluetooth of Denmark invaded the empire in alliance with some of the northeastern Slavic tribes in an attempt to extend his kingdom into the newly established marches. Like his father and grandfather, Otto II had to fight a war with France over Lorraine. An Arab invasion of Sicily inspired Otto to lead a crusade to southern Italy. This led to conflict with Byzantium, which claimed Sicily as part of its empire. During this campaign (983) Otto caught Malaria and died. Following his death a massive Slavic revolt drove the Germans out of the marches. Hamburg was sacked and every one of its residents crucified.
Otto III (983-1002) was three years old when he was crowned Roman Emperor at Aachen in 983. His mother Theophanu acted as regent. Almost immediately, Henry the Wrangler had himself elected king by a group of rebel nobles. Among those who flocked to his banner were Boleslav II of Bohemia, Mieszko of Poland and Mistui, the pagan Slavic prince who had organized the revolt of 983. The French king offered his support as well, receiving a promise from Henry to hand over Lorraine as his price. Within the empire, however, the Empress soon attracted no shortage of supporters, in particular among the powerful bishops. Henry the Wrangler was forced to submit. Once order had been restored, Theophanu staged a second festive coronation in 986. At this point, the four stem dukes served the young king as his servants. Both Miezko of Poland and Boleslav II of Bohemia did homage to Otto, recognizing him as their overlord.
For the next four years, Theophanu ruled the empire, proving herself to be the most capable ruler in Europe since Otto the Great. She exploited the succession crisis in France in 987, that which brought Hugh Capet to the throne, to guarantee that Lorraine would be recognized as part of the Empire. Theophanu reorganized the marches, appointing effective marcher lords and clerics in the border regions. She was active in Italian politics, and ensured that Imperial authority would be respected there as well as in Germany. Shortly after her return from Italy in 991, Theophanu died. She was only thirty-five years of age, and her loss was a severe blow to the empire.
Otto III began his personal rule in 994 at the tender age of fifteen. He had been raised by his mother with a strong appreciation of the importance and power of the emperors. Having been raised in the eastern court, she brought with her the ancient Roman ideals of universal sovereignty. Otto III was confident in his authority and resolved in his mission to revive the empire. His self-confidence was infectious, and he quickly became the focus of a genuine imperial cult. His first act was to undertake a campaign against the Slavs in alliance with the Polish and Czech rulers. In 996 he went to Italy to restore imperial control over the papacy, naming his cousin as pope Gregory V (996-999).
Gregory V soon faced opposition from the Roman nobles, and with the prodding of a Byzantine agent, the Romans elected an anti-Pope, John XVI. At this point, Constantinople saw an opportunity to regain Rome and Italy for the eastern Empire. In order to secure his control over Italy, from 998 onward, Otto III intended to make Rome his capital, and from there direct a renovatio imperii romanorum. Otto’s reforms included a reorganization of the imperial chancery and, after the death of Gregory V in 999, the appointment of a new pope. Otto’s tutor, the gifted scholar Gerbert, was crowned as Pope Silvester II (999-1003). Their plans went awry however. In the east, the Polish duke Boleslaw Chobry established an independent archdiocese at Gniesen. Although Otto III was able to arrange for the conversion of the Hungarian king St. Stephen, this did not prevent the convert from setting up his own archdiocese in the Hungarian city of Gran. A revolt in Rome proved the death knell of Otto’s plans. Although he was able to defeat both the rebels and their Byzantine allies, he died before he could capitalize on his gains. At his death in 1002, the emperor had not yet reached his twenty-second birthday.
The Reform of the Church
DURING the ninth century, a significant church reform movement began north of the Alps. One of the first centers was the abbey of Cluny, founded by Duke William of Aquitaine in 911. Cluny grew to become the largest monastery in Christendom, and controlled a vast empire of daughter houses. Cluny benefited from the autonomy that duke William had granted it, as well as from the wealth of its holdings. The basis of the reform was an attempt to recreate the Benedictine ideal. Abbots St. Odo (926-44) and St. Mayeul (965-94) spread the reform, setting up other Clunaic monasteries throughout northern Europe. These monasteries soon developed close ties with Rome, and appealed frequently to the papacy for help against the ambitions of nobles who wished to gain control over their estates.
After 1000, the emperors became more active in the reform of the church. Their attempts to reform the imperial church and the papacy were largely based on the monastic reform began at Gorze, a Benedictine monastery near Metz. In 933, the abbot of Gorze undertook a thorough reform, based, like that at Cluny, on the reforms initiated by Benedict of Aniane. Gorze played a similar role in Germany as did Cluny in France, and under the later Ottonians and their successors, the Gorzer reform was imposed on most of the monasteries and cathedral chapters of the Empire.
One of the great champions of the Gorzer reform was emperor Henry II (1002-1024), the son of Duke Henry the Wrangler of Bavaria. Henry II undertook to reform both the monasteries and bishoprics in the Empire. Abbots were required to manage their estates better, largely to prevent “robber barons” — mostly local nobles — from obtaining revenues from monasteries under imperial patronage. The monasteries also had to institute more rigorous observance of the Benedictine rule, following the example of Gorze and Cluny. In the later stages of the reform, Henry II depended heavily on the advice of abbot Odilo of Cluny (944-1048). For Henry as for the Ottonians, the bishops provided one of the most important bases for imperial power. Consequently, Henry convened a number of synods to cement the relations between the emperor and the episcopacy. In an unprecedented move, Henry became directly involved in the administration of some sees by taking seats on the cathedral chapters of the dioceses of Paderborn, Magdeburg, Bamberg and Strasbourg. The foundation of the diocese of Bamberg merits special attention. Formerly the seat of the Babenberg dynasty, Bamberg became the site of a new diocese in 1007, created to serve as a stepping off place for future missions to the Slavs. Laid out on seven hills, Bamberg was intended to be an imperial capital, a new Rome north of the Alps. Largely for his foundation of the see, along with his reform activities, both Henry and his bride, the empress Kunigunde of Luxembourg, were made saints in the twelfth century.
Henry II was the last male member of the Liudolfinger dynasty, and upon his death, a succession crisis threatened to undermine the stability of the empire. In the end, the empress Kunigunde decided the matter, refusing to turn over the imperial regalia or control over the government for two months until her favored candidate was elected king. Conrad II (1024-1039) was the first member of the Salian dynasty. He carried on many of the policies of his predecessor but was, by and large, both luckier and more successful than Henry II. The nobles of Lombardy and Tuscany submitted to his authority without much prodding, allowing Conrad to travel to Rome unhindered in 1027 to receive the imperial crown from the hands of the pope. In attendance at the coronation were his allies Rudolf III of Burgundy and Cnut, king of England and Denmark since 1016. After his coronation, Conrad convened a series of reform synods, filling vacant sees with members of his own chancery. He issued a series of laws for Italy that maintained the rights of vassals, making the emperor the defender of the rights of many members of the lower nobility previously at the mercy of their overlords. By the end of his reign, Conrad used the title of Roman Emperor exclusively, and in all of his important documents, his realm was described as the Imperium Romanorum.
Henry III (1039-1056) assumed his father’s throne without the slightest hint of incident and pursued his policies even more aggressively. He led three armies into Bohemia in 1041, securing the perpetual union of the Czech state with the Empire. Further campaigns against Hungary (1043) and Poland (1046) made the rulers of these states vassals of the German king. In the following years he secured imperial control over Burgundy, in part through cementing an alliance with Duke William V of Aquitaine, marrying his daughter Agnes. During his stay in Burgundy, Henry III discovered the Truce of God movement. He quickly embraced its ideals, and decided to extend the truce within the empire. To this end, he declared an imperial public peace (Kaiserliche Landfrieden) from the pulpit at a reform synod at Constance.
Henry III’s perceived his responsibility for supporting the peace in the Empire as an extension of his responsibilities as the God-given head of Christendom. After 1044, he undertook restoring peace within the church. Pope Benedict IX, the last Tusculan pope, was deposed by a conspiracy of Roman nobles in 1044. They elected in his stead Sylvester III, a member of the Crescentier family who reigned for a whole seven weeks. The reform party in Rome, headquartered in the Clunaic monastery at Aventine, chose their own pope, Gregory VI, who was able to drive Sylvester and his supporters out of the city. Henry supported the general ideas of the reformers, but could not recognize the uncanonical election of Gregory VI. Consequently, at a synod held at Sutri on December 20, 1046 the emperor declared Gregory deposed. Three days later the synod deposed Benedict IX and Sylvester III. Having just dethroned three popes, Henry III appointed his own chancellor, Bishop Suitgar of Bamberg, to the throne of St. Peter. Clement II reigned for just nine months, but during that time he secured the ascendancy of the reformers in Rome. He crowned Henry emperor, and enjoyed the support of Abbot Odilo of Cluny and Peter Damian, an influential reform abbot.
After the death of Clement II and the short pontificate of Damasus II (July 17 to August 8, 1048), Henry appointed a new pope. Leo IX (1048-1054) laid the foundation for the “reform papacy.” He came to Rome accompanied by two monks, Hildebrand and Humbert, who were later to become the architects of sweeping reforms. Leo travelled widely, and held twelve synods in Italy and Germany, one of these jointly with the emperor. The imperial aspect is important. As Gerd Tellenbach has noted “In Leo’s time … (the reformers) were inspired above all by the desire to maintain and strengthen the renewed importance which the emperor had given to the papal office.” For Leo, the papacy had to be strengthened above all against the “pretensions of Byzantium.”
When Leo IX died in 1054, Henry III appointed his chancellor to the papal throne. Victor II continued the reform work of his predecessor in close association with the emperor. Unfortunately, the alliance did not last long. Both Victor II and Henry III died in 1056. In the absence of a strong emperor, the papacy and the reform slipped out imperial control.
The Anglo-Saxon kingdom after 955
BY 955 the wars of reconquest against the Danes were finished. Under Edgar the Peaceable (959-975), the authority of the Anglo-Saxon kings reached an apogee. In 973, a number of British rulers submitted to Edgar and became his vassals. Among them were king Kenneth of Scotland, Dunmail, king of Strathclyde, Maccus “King of many islands,” and four Welsh princes. The submission to Edgar marked the supremacy of the house of Wessex over all of Britain. The fortunes of the English monarchy then took an abrupt turn. Edgar died in 975. Three years later his son Edward “the martyr” was murdered, either at the instigation of or at least with the foreknowledge of his brother Æthelred. Æthelred II (978-1016), known by the epithet “unrede” or ill-counseled, labored under the stigma of fratricide. Unfortunately for the English, the reign of Æthelred the Unrede coincided with a revival of Danish activity.
The internal troubles which had plagued Denmark since the beginning of the Viking age came to an end in the early tenth century with the accession of a new king, Gorm the Old. Until his death in 936, Gorm gradually consolidated his hold over Denmark, defeating rival kings and nobles until he had established a unified, fairly centralized kingdom. His son Harald Bluetooth (936-988) converted to Christianity and added Norway to his dominions. In 988, Harald was driven from the throne by a conspiracy of nobles, led by his own son, Swein “Forkbeard.” Swein Forkbeard was a pagan, and in political matters likewise followed a different course than his father. Harald’s primary political interests were in the Baltic, where he hoped to secure Danish control over the lucrative trade with Russia and Poland. To this end he married his son to a Polish princess. Swein, however, immediately turned his attention westward, and in 988 attacked England. In alliance with Olaf Trygvasson of Norway, Swein organized a massive invasion force that was directed against England in 994. Over ninety ships and some 2,000 men took part in the invasion. From 997 until 1002, Danish and Norwegian armies ravaged the English coastal areas. Unable to defeat the Danes and Norwegians in battle, Æthelred agreed to pay them 24,000 to depart.
Swein had capitalized on the poor relations between England and Normandy. Æthelred had opened diplomatic relations with Richard I of Normandy after the attack of 988. These quickly soured, and by 990, only a personal envoy from the pope prevented a war. As a result, Swein was able to winter over in Normandy in 1000. Realizing the problem, Æthelred tried to patch up relations with Normandy and ensure that the dukes would not aid the Danes further. To this end, he married Emma, the sister of the duke Richard II. Then he made a fatal error. To avenge the Danish invasions, Æthelred ordered a massacre of Danes in England. In reaction, Swein decided to conquer England outright.
Swein’s chance came in 1009 when the English navy mutinied. Eighty vessels were destroyed, and England was left without any sea-borne defenses. Swein fell on England with all the resources Denmark could muster. By the end of 1013, Æthelred had been driven from his kingdom and forced to take refuge in Normandy. Swein did not live to enjoy the fruits of his triumph, however. In February, 1014, Swein Forkbeard died. He had left two sons, the younger of which, Cnut, was given the new English realm. While Cnut tried to raise a new army Æthelred returned to England and organized resistance to the invasion. After the old king died in April 1016, his son Edward Ironside continued the fight against Cnut and the Danes. Cnut agreed to a treaty with Edward, in which the kingdom would be divided between them. As it turned out, Edward died before the treaty could take effect. After November, 1016, Cnut ruled as the sole king of England. Cnut was in a strong position in England. Most Englishmen were fed up with Æthelred the Unrede and saw the new king as a conqueror who had brought peace and order to a land rent by war and civil strife. Although Æthelred the Unrede had children by his second marriage to Emma of Normandy, they were young boys and hardly posed a threat to Cnut. In order to ameliorate the threat, Cnut married Emma, and they produced their own heir to inherit the kingdom. After the death of his brother Harold in 1019, Cnut led an English army to pacify and then assert his control over Denmark. Thereafter, he turned his attention to Norway. A member of the old Norwegian ruling house, Olaf, proclaimed himself king. From 1028 to 1030, Cnut struggled with him to secure his control over Norway. St. Olaf was killed in 1030, but became by his death a martyr and the focus of Norwegian nationalism. Although nominally king of Norway, Cnut’s authority there was circumspect, and after 1035 the kingdom became independent of its Anglo-Danish overlords.
Under Æthelred, England had drifted out of continental politics. Cnut worked to change this, forging diplomatic ties with Germany and the princes of France and the Baltic. Cnut realized that England lay in the middle of a great northern trade region that stretched from the eastern Baltic to the bay of Biscay. He made trade agreements with the dukes of Aquitaine and Normandy. In 1027 he travelled to Rome to take part in the coronation of emperor Conrad II. His daughter Gunnhild subsequently married Conrad’s son, the future emperor Henry III. In England, Cnut undertook to reform the laws and supported a wide-ranging reform of English monasteries. Among his most lasting reforms was the reorganization of the administration of the English monarchy. Previously, the kings had ruled through eoldermans, regional governors. The eoldermanries represented the distinctive traditions of different parts of England, corresponding to and helping to maintain the historical divisions between the old kingdoms of the heptarchy. Cnut appointed new officials, given the Danish title of Earl, who ruled areas that had little connection to the old kingdoms. The new earldoms represented a centralization of power and the unity of the Anglo-Danish kingdom. No longer was the English king merely the high-king over a number of petty kingdoms. He was the sovereign ruler of a single, united national monarchy. It is ironic that the architect of this profound change was himself born in Denmark of Danish and Polish parents.
After Cnut’s death, a struggle ensued over the succession between his sons Harold “Harefoot” and Harthacnut. Harthacnut, the son of Cnut and Emma of Normandy had been administering Denmark for his father. Some among the English nobility, most notably Earl Godwine of Wessex and Queen Emma, felt that an absentee king would be preferable. Harold, however, was able to gain control over London and ultimately the crown. Harold I (1036-1040) is a shadowy figure about whose reign little is known. After his death, Harthacnut invaded England, and spend most of his two year reign savaging the English countryside. After Harthacnut died in 1042, his half-brother Edward, the son of Emma and Æthelred the Unrede, assumed the throne.
Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) was the next to last Anglo-Saxon king of England. He is something of an enigma, and his status as a saint often obscures the political realities of his reign. One thing that is clear is that during his reign Normans and other Frenchmen made up a large part of his court. Among the nobility, the great Earls — Godwine of Wessex, Leofric of Mercia, and Siward of Northumbria — competed for power. Of all of these, Godwine was by far the most powerful. He forced Edward to marry his daughter, and arranged for his son Harold to be given several earldoms. A group of nobles conspired against Godwine in 1052, and he was for a short time driven out of the country. Edward appointed a Norman cleric as archbishop of Canterbury and made a succession treaty with Duke William II of Normandy, promising to name him as heir. Godwine returned, however, and was reconciled with the king. The Normans were driven out and an Anglo-Saxon bishop, Stigand of Westminster, was named to the see of Canterbury. For the next ten years, Godwine effectively ruled England. His son Harold Godwinsson was made king after the death of Edward the Confessor. The ejection of the Normans, however, and the repudiation of the succession agreement between Edward and Duke William of Normandy ensured that Harold would not be able to keep his crown without a fight.
The Norman Conquests
THE most dramatic series of events in the mid eleventh century were the series of conquests undertaken by the Normans. Since the establishment of the duchy of Normandy by Hrolf the Ganger in 911, the Normans had gradually been assimilated into the population of Northern France. By 1025, the “Danelaw of France,” as Normandy is sometimes called, was French in language and culture. Nonetheless, the vigor of their Viking ancestors had not diminished.
A strong ducal government emerged under Duke Richard II “the Good” (996-1026) and his son Robert I (1026-1035). Then fate took an abrupt turn. Robert died on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, leaving the duchy in the hands an illegitimate minor son, William “the Bastard.” The condition of the duchy during the minority of William II (1035-1087) was “sufficiently terrible,” being marked by progressive anarchy in both the court and countryside. According to one chronicle, William frequently was forced to flee the palace “to take refuge in the cottages of the poor” during these troubled times. William achieved his majority in 1047, and spent the next six years fighting a war for survival against his enemies. In 1054, he defeated Henry I of France, a major supporter of the rebels in Normandy, allowing the young duke to solidify his control over the duchy. In 1060 William defeated Geoffrey Martel, the count of Anjou and his most dangerous rival. Thereafter, William’s position in Normandy was secure.
After 1060, William was free to turn his attention to England. After the return of Godwine of Wessex in 1052 and the expulsion of the Normans, the house of Godwin held supreme power in England. After the death of Edward the Confessor in 1066, Godwine’s son Harold, was chosen king. This contravened succession treaties between Edward and William dating from 1052, giving William legal grounds for attacking England. Harold was also faced with opponents from Scandinavia. Harald Hardrada of Norway also claimed the English throne and invaded near York. Harold Godwinsson met Harald and defeated him at the battle of Stamford bridge. It was at this point that William crossed over to England. King Harold led his troops on a forced march to the south and met the second invading army at Hastings on October 14, 1066. The Anglo-Saxon army withstood two charges, but broke when their king was killed, struck in the eye by an arrow. William of Normandy marched on London and was crowned king of England.
William the Conqueror ruled England from 1066 to 1087, and spent nearly all of that time fighting foreign and domestic enemies to secure his conquest. He led campaigns in the western shires in 1068, then turned his attention to the north. The northern counties rose in 1069 with the support of the Scottish king Malcolm III and Philip I of France. In conjunction with the rebellion, a large Danish fleet operated off the English coast. On the continent, Philip I provoked a rebellion in Maine, a dependency of Normandy. William suppressed all of these revolts with the utmost severity. His “harrying of the North” in 1071 constituted perhaps the worst destruction brought on the English by their own sovereign. William mounted a major expedition against the Scots in 1072 and reconquered Maine the following year. Still, there was little relief. In the last years of his reign, William had to reckon with yet another French invasion of Normandy. He died of injuries shortly after driving the French from his duchy in 1087.
The Norman success in England was notable, but not nearly so dramatic as events in Italy. England was at least a unified kingdom, with firm royal traditions. It had been conquered by the head of a great ducal dynasty. In southern Italy, the Norman conquests were led by the younger sons of petty Norman noble families in a region in which history had created a “bewildering” number of competing states and contending authorities. Of these, the strongest were the Byzantines, based the city of Bari and the Themes of Calabria and Apulia. Byzantine naval power, as well as their control of the important ports of Bari, Brindisi, Otranto, and Durazzo, made them a factor to be reckoned with. Still, they were faced with revolts from their Roman Catholic subjects. A greater threat was posed by Arabs, who had occupied Sicily in the tenth century.
In the early eleventh century, a group of Normans, ejected from the duchy by Duke Richard II, came to aid a group of Lombards rebelling against their Byzantine masters in Apulia. Although the revolt was suppressed, the Normans were here to stay. By 1045, the Norman Rannulf had established his own dynasty. Upon his death, Rannulf was count of Aversa and Duke of Gaeta. Of all the Normans, however, none were so successful as the sons of Tancred de Hauteville, a minor Norman castellan. Twelve of his sons came to southern Italy. The eldest son, William Bras de Fer (Iron arm) was by 1043 the most powerful man in Apulia. After his death in 1046, his younger brother Robert Guiscard emerged as the leader of the family.
In the years after the Council of Sutri, Robert Guiscard and Richard of Aversa, the nephew of Rannulf, were the leading political figures in southern Italy. Their power was so great that Pope Leo IX personally led an army against them. At the battle of Civitate in June, 1053, Robert Guiscard and Richard of Aversa defeated Leo and took him prisoner. Leo agreed to recognize their authority, and soon became their allies against the common enemy — the Byzantines. Between 1054 and 1057 Gusicard’s Normans and those of Aversa made a serious of conquests, mostly at the expense of the Greeks. Pope Nicholas II renewed the papal alliance in 1059, and at the synod of Melfi received both Richard and Robert as his vassals, granting to Guiscard Sicily, should he be able to wrest it from the Saracens.
Robert Guiscard left the conquest of Sicily to his youngest brother, Roger. Roger, in alliance with moslem princes, was able to seize Palermo in 1072, securing a foothold on the island. Guiscard concentrated his efforts on Bari, the center of Byzantine power in Italy. From 1068 to 1071 he laid siege to the city until it finally capitulated. With the capture of Bari in 1071, Robert was the greatest power in the region. The death of his sometimes ally, sometimes rival, Richard of Aversa, in 1078 made Guiscard the sole ruler of southern Italy. Guiscard’s brother Roger I (1072-1101), completed the conquest of Sicily by 1091, securing it with a series of strong fortresses. His son Roger II (1105-1154) extended his domain to include Guiscard’s legacy on the mainland. By 1130, Roger II was strong enough to make himself king of Naples and Sicily.
The Investiture Contest
HENRY III had played a leading role in the reform of the church, but upon his death he left a small child as heir. For the first ten years of his reign, Henry IV (1056-1106) was a minor, and government lay in the hands of his mother. During this time, various noble factions attempted to seize control of the administration, and upon achieving his majority, Henry IV was faced with a number of rebellions. The duke of Bavaria, Otto of Northeim, revolted in 1070. Henry IV handily defeated him and turned his duchy over to the Welf IV, leader of a powerful family from the mark of Carinthia. The Saxon nobles rose up in 1073, and were only brought into line after a two year campaign. By the end of 1075, Henry IV had defeated all his domestic rivals and was firmly in control of the German kingdom.
During the years of Henry’s minority, the reform of the church had proceeded apace, but without imperial guidance. In fact, under the leadership of two cardinals, Humbert and Hildebrand, the papacy was becoming ever bolder in its dealings with imperial powers. Earlier, during the pontificate of Leo IX, Humbert had personally taken on the Patriarch of Constantinople in a battle of wills. Patriarch Michael Keroularius (1043-1058) was an ambitious man, and hoped to restore Byzantine control over the churches of southern Italy. He perceived Leo’s alliance with the Normans as a direct threat to Byzantine interests and condemned western liturgical practices. Three major issues concerned the clerical marriage, the use of unleavened bread for communion, and fasting on the Sabbath. In the first case, the eastern church allowed married men to be ordained as priests, while the west demanded monastic celibacy from its priests. As for the latter issues, the western church used unleavened wafers (azyma) for communion and required communicants to fast before receiving the sacrament. The eastern church condemned these practices as Judaistic. They used leavened bread (enzyma) arguing that this was the tradition handed down from the apostles. They also believed that the leaven represented the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life.
While such issues may seem petty, they were of significant theological importance: “If the oblation of unleavened bread is not the true body of Christ, then the Latin Church is deprived of eternal life.” Moreover, the question pitted the authority of the patriarch against that of the pope. Humbert, acting as papal legate, strongly attacked Keroulios’s position. Even though Leo IX died on April 15, 1054, this did not prevent Humbert from continuing his attacks. On July 16, 1054, he and his associates laid a bull of excommunication on the altar of Hagia Sophia, shaking the dust off their feet as they left. The bull accused the eastern church of simony (the dominant vice of the West), refusing communion to men who shaved, castration of priests, and a whole host of spurious and erroneous charges. The citizens of Constantinople rioted when the bull was read and demanded action. Keroulios excommunicated the western church with the strongest possible strictures. It was only in 1965 that Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I revoked the bulls of excommunication.
After returning to Rome, Humbert devoted his energies to combating the sin of Simony. In 1058 he wrote his most important work, Adversus simoniacos libri tres. The third book of this work condemned all lay investiture as simony, including the appointment of bishops by the emperor. Since Sutri, criticisms of Henry III’s actions had been voiced. Wazo of Liege argued that Henry’s actions threw the whole ecclesiastical hierarchy into question. If the pope was the divinely appointed head of the church of Christ on earth, then it was impossible to give allegiance to one pope over another just because one had been appointed by the emperor. To this end, acting largely on the advice of Humbert, Nicholas II changed the manner of papal election. According to his decree of 1059, the popes would be in future elected by the college of Cardinal bishops. Neither the emperor nor the populus of Rome, previously the two rivals for the power to appoint popes, could have any say in the election. This freed the papacy from imperial control,
Nicholas II was succeeded by Alexander II (1061-1073) during whose pontificate the independence of the papacy was ensured. Chief among Alexander’s advisors was Hildebrand, a monk who had been at Sutri, had accompanied the deposed pope Gregory VI, then had served pope Leo IX. In 1073, Hildebrand was elected pope, taking the name Gregory VII. Among his first acts was to issue a provocative encyclical, the dictatus papae, in 1074. In this document, Gregory associated the power of the keys – the core of which was the power of absolution from sin – with the right to judge on earth. Section 22 of the document stated that the church had never erred, and further more stated “The obedience which the subject owes to the Pope takes precedence over the oath which he has sworn to his prince. For the Pope is the higher and stands in the place of God and God must be obeyed rather than man.” These concepts of loyalty and obedience were couched in feudal concepts of hierarchy and right. From this stance, Gregory stated in 1074 that any lay investitures, even by the Emperor, were punishable with excommunication.
Germany was the natural place for conflict. In England, William the Conqueror was otherwise occupied, and the Pope did not want to push England into the Imperial camp. Besides, since Hildebrand had urged Alexander II to uphold the legitimacy of William’s claim to England and declare his conquest a just war, William owed a certain debt to the new pope. France was in disarray, and in Spain and Italy the proprietary church system worked to the benefit of the papacy. Oddly enough, the conflict within Germany began with the German bishops. Henry IV received news of the Dictatus Papae at Goslar while celebrating his victory over the Saxons. Feeling secure in his power, Henry picked up the gauntlet and summoned his bishops. At the assembly of Worms on January 24, 1076, the leading churchmen of the Empire agreed that “this dangerous man (Gregory) wants to order bishops about as if they were servants on his estates; and if they do not do all that he commands they have to go to Rome or else they are suspended without legal process.” The German bishops had both a sacral and administrative function within the Imperial government. From their point of view, the papal decrees limited their freedom of action in preforming all of their duties, removing from them “all the authority given them through the grace of the Holy Spirit, who takes part in their ordination.” Consequently, the Synod called for the abdication of Pope Gregory VII. Henry foolishly supported this move, in a reply addressed to “Hildebrand, no longer Pope, but false monk.”
The result, of course, was that Gregory excommunicated Henry in October of 1076. The estates of Germany ordered Henry to free himself from the Ban in four months or lose his crown. From 25-28 January 1077, Henry stood barefoot in the snow outside the papal residence at Canossa begging for absolution. Gregory granted it, but the princes did not wait for news of Henry’s absolution and elected Rudolf of Swabia as anti-king. From 1077 to 1080 Germany was racked by civil war. Initially, Gregory assumed a posture of neutrality. When it seemed that Henry would emerge victorious, however, Gregory excommunicated him a second time. This time, however, Henry IV did not grovel in the snow. Even many of the cardinals considered Gregory’s actions petty, and by 1083, thirteen had abandoned the pope and allied with the emperor. Shortly after the second excommunication, Henry defeated Rudolf of Swabia at the battle of Elster. Rudolf’s right hand was cut off — the same hand with which he had sworn his oath of fealty to the king. Since Rudolf had died from this wound, it was taken as a sign of God’s punishment for breaking the oath. Consequently, most of the rebels returned to the emperor’s side. Henry marched into Italy and occupied the city of Rome. He then had the Bishop of Ravenna elected anti-pope as Clement III. Gregory was besieged in the Castel d’ St. Angelo, but rescued by Robert Guiscard. Three days after Guiscard liberated Rome, his army, made up of Calabrian and Saracen mercenaries, sacked Rome, selling many of its leading citizens into slavery. Gregory VII died a year later in May 1085, a broken man.
Despite Gregory’s death, the basic problems remained unresolved. Neither side was content with the investiture decrees, and the status of Mathilde’s lands was still uncertain. For the papacy the turning point came with the pontificate of Urban II (1088-99). He established the College of cardinals as an advisory council, bringing them into the government of the church. In Germany, the conflict between the Emperor and his nobles continued. In 1106, Henry IV’s son took power with the support of the nobles and forced the abdication of his father, who died shortly thereafter. Henry V worked out a compromise with the church. In the Concordat of Worms, (1122) the Emperor reserved the right to invest bishops with their worldly offices. Moreover, free election of bishops by a body similar to the college of cardinals, the cathedral chapter, ensured that local power networks would determine the bishops – the papacy would only be able to approve or disapprove an election. In 1177, the status of Mathilde’s lands was finally resolved – they were returned to the papacy in return for further Imperial control over elections and investiture within the Empire.