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The Feudal System and the Crusade

In accounting for the crusades we must consider the governmental condition of Europe at the time. Under no other system than that of feudalism would it have been possible to unify and mobilize the masses for the great adventure. Had Europe then been dominated by several great rulers, each with a nation at his control, as the case has been in subsequent times, even the popes would have been unable to combine the various forces in any enterprise that was not purely spiritual. Just to the extent in which the separate nationalities have developed their autonomy has the secular influence of the Roman see been lessened. Kings and emperors, whenever they have felt themselves strong enough to do so, have resented the leadership of Rome in matters having temporal bearings.

¬Nor would the mutual jealousies of the rulers themselves have allowed them to unite in any movement for the common glory, since the most urgent calls have never been sufficient to unite them even for the common defense, as is shown by the supineness of Catholic Europe when, in the fifteenth century, the Turks crossed the Marmora and assailed Constantinople.

But in the eleventh century there was no strong national government in Europe ; kingship and imperialism existed rather in name than in such power as we are accustomed to associate with the words. At the opening of the tenth century France was parcelled out into twenty- nine petty states, each controlled by its feudal lord. Hugh Capet (987-996) succeeded in temporarily combining under his sceptre these fragments of Charlemagne's estate; but his successors were unable to perpetuate the common dominion. In the year 1000 there were fifty-five great Frankish lords who were independent of the nominal sovereign. Indeed, some of these nobles exercised authority more weighty than that of the throne. Louis VI. (1108) first succeeded in making his lordly vassals respect his kingship, but his domain was small. " fie de France, properly so called, and a part of Orliannais, pretty nearly the five departments of the Seine, French Vexin, half the count ship of Sens, and the countship of Bourges — such was the whole of it. But this limited state was as liable to agitation, and often as troublous and toilsome to govern, as the very greatest of modern states. It was full of petty lords, almost sovereign in their own estates, and sufficiently strong to struggle against their kingly suzerain, who had, besides, all around his domains several neighbors more powerful than himself in the extent and population of their states " (Guizot).

In Spain much of the land was still held by the Moors. That which had been wrested from them was divided among the Christian heroes who conquered it, and who, though Feudal System rules were not formally recognized, held it with an aristocratic pretension commensurate with the leagues they shadowed with their swords.

¬In Germany, though imperialism had been established firmly by Otho the Great, the throne was forced to continual compromise with the ambition of its chief vassals, like the dukes of Saxony, Bavaria, Swabia, and Franconia. A papal appeal to such magnates was sufficient at any time to paralyze, or at least to neutralize, the imperial authority.

¬The Norman holdings in the south of Italy, the independence of the cities of Lombardy in the north, the claims of the German emperor and of the popes to landed control, were typical of the divisions of that unhappy peninsula.

¬Later than the age we are studying, Frederick Barbarossa (1152-90) enjoined that "in every oath of fealty to an inferior lord the vassal's duty to the emperor should be expressly reserved." But it was not so elsewhere. When Henry II. (1154-89) and Richard I. (1189-99) claimed lands in France, their French vassals never hesitated to adhere to these Knglish lords, nor " do they appear to have incurred any blame on that account. St. Louis (1226-70) declared in his laws that if 'justice be refused by the king to one of his vassals, the vassal may summon his own tenants, under penalty of forfeiting their fiefs, to assist him in obtaining redress by arms ' " (Hallam).

The extent to which the French barons were independent of the throne will be evident from a glance at their privileges. They possessed unchallenged :

(1) The right of coining money. In Hugh Capet's time there were one hundred and fifty independent mints in the realm.

¬(2) The right of waging private war. Every castle was a fortress, always equipped as in a state of siege.

¬(3) Immunity from taxation. Except that the king was provided with entertainment on his journeys, the crown had no revenue beyond that coming from the personal estates of its occupant.

¬(4) Freedom from all legislative control. Law-making ceased with the capitularies of Carloman in 882. The first renewal of the attempt at general legislation was not until the time of Louis VIII. in 1223. Even St. Louis declared in his establishments that the king could make no laws for the territories of the barons without their consent.

¬(5) Exclusive right of original judicature.

¬But if such was the independence of the feud-holder in his relations to the sovereign, those beneath him were in absolute dependence upon their lord. This is seen in the following obligations of feudal tenants to their superior :

¬(1) Reliefs: sums of money due from every one coming of age and taking a fief by inheritance ; fines upon alienation or change of tenant ownership.

¬(2) Escheats : reversion to the lord of all property upon a tenant's dying without natural heirs, or upon any delinquency of service.

¬(3) Aids : contributions levied in special emergency, as the lord's expedition to the Holy Land, the marriage of his sister, eldest son, or daughter, his paying a " relief " to his overlord, making his son a knight, or redeeming his own person from captivity.

(4) Wardship of tenant during minority. This involved on the part of the lord the right to select a husband for a female dependent, which alliance could be declined only on payment of a fine equal to that which any one desiring the woman could be induced to offer for her.

If the feudal system pressed so harshly upon those who were themselves of high rank, it need not be said that the common people were utterly crushed by this accumulation of graded despotisms, whose whole weight rested ultimately on the lowest stratum. The mass of the lowly was divided into three orders :

(1) Freemen possessing small tracts of allodial land, so called because held by original occupancy and not yet merged in the larger holdings. There were many freemen in the fifth and sixth centuries, but in the tenth century nearly all the land of Europe had become feudal. The freemen, whose possessions were small, soon found it necessary to surrender land and liberty for the sake of protection by some neighboring lord.

¬(2) Villains or serfs, who were attached to the land and transferable with it on change of owners.

¬(3) Slaves. The degradation of the servile class was limitless, the master having the right of life and death, entire use of the property and wages of his people, and absolute disposal of them in marriage. Slavery was abolished in France by Louis the Gross (1 108-37) so f ar as respected the inhabitants of cities ; but it took nearly two centuries more to accomplish the abolition of servitude throughout the kingdom.

The cities were, indeed, rising to assert their communal, if not manhood, rights. The communes, as they were called, demanded and received privilege in certain places of electing any persons to membership as citizens who were guaranteed absolute ownership of property. But the communes were far from even suggesting anything like the modern democratic systems, and were opposed by clergy and nobility. " So that," says Guizot, " security could hardly be purchased, save at the price of liberty. Liberty was then so stormy and so fearful that people conceived, if not a disgust for it, at any rate a horror of it." Men had not evolved the morality which could make a commonwealth. Law was bound on men only by forcq. The wall of the castle, grand and impressive as wealth could build it, or only a rude addition to the natural rock, was the sole earthly object of reverence. To the strong man came the weak, saying, " Let me be yours ; protect me and I will fight for you."

It will be evident that under the feudal system patriotism, in the modern sense of attachment to one's national domain, can scarcely be said to have existed. While we may not believe recent French writers who assert that the love of their country as such was born with the Revolution a hundred years ago, it is certain that the mediaeval attachment was no wider than to one's immediate neighborhood. The crusading Count of Flanders, on viewing the desolate hills about Jerusalem, exclaimed, " I am astonished that Jesus Christ could have lived in such a desert. I prefer my big castle in my district of Arras/' The love of the peasant seems to have been only for his familiar hills and vineyards, and his loyalty was limited by the protecting hand of his lord.

Yet generous spirits could not remain forever so narrowly bounded in their interests. Men were ready to hear the call to a wider range of sympathies and actions. The summons for the crusades thus furnished the lacking sentiment of patriotism; but it was a patriotism that could not be bounded by the Rhine or the Danube, by the Channel or the Pyrenees. Europe was country ; Christendom was fatherland.

¬At the same time the compactness of each feud, the close interdependence of lord and vassal, furnished the condition for the organization of bands of fighting men, ready to move at once, and to continue the enterprise so long as the means of the superior should hold out. There was needed to start the crusading armies no council of parliament or alliance of nations, hazarded and delayed by the variant policies of different courts. If the baron was inclined to obey the call of his ghostly superior, the successor of St. Peter, his retainers were ready to march. And the most brawling of the barons was superstitious enough to think that the voice of the Pope might be the voice of God. If he did not, his retainers did, and disobedience to the papal will might cost him the obedience of those subject to him. Besides, many of the feudal lords were themselves in clerical orders, with their oath of fealty lying at the feet of the Holy Father.

Thus Europe, though divided into many factions, and, indeed, because the factions were so many, was in a condition to be readily united. We shall see in a subsequent chapter that it was in the interest of the holy see to apply the spring which should combine and set in motion these various communities as but parts of that gigantic piece of ecclesiastical and military mechanism invented by Hildebrand.

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