Feudalism In Europe, Its Frankish Birth And English Development

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13


Weekly Poll

Please Help Click Here


Feudalism,  A general Overview

Author:     Stubbs, William

 Feudalism: Its Frankish Birth And English Development


Part Four


     Analysis of the Feudal System - Its local Extent - View of the different

Orders of Society during the Feudal Ages - Nobility - Their Ranks and

Privileges - Clergy - Freemen - Serfs or Villeins - Comparative State of

France and Germany - Privileges enjoyed by the French Vassals - Right of

Coining Money - And of private War - Immunity from Taxation - Historical View

of the Royal Revenue in France - Methods Adopted to Augment it by Depreciation

of the Coin, etc. - Legislative Power - Its State under the Merovingian Kings

and Charlemagne - His Councils - Suspension of any General Legislative

Authority during the Prevalence of Feudal Principles - The King's Council -

Means adopted to supply the Want of a National Assembly - Gradual Progress of

the King's Legislative Power - Philip IV. assembles the States-General - Their

Powers limited to Taxation - States under the Sons of Philip IV. - States of

1355 and 1356 - They nearly effect an entire Revolution - The Crown recovers

its Vigor - States of 1380, under Charles VI. - Subsequent Assemblies under

Charles VI. and Charles becomes more and more absolute - Louis XI. - States of

Tours in 1484 - Historical View of Jurisdiction in France - Its earliest Stage

under the first Race of Kings and Charlemagne - Territorial Jurisdiction -

Feudal Courts of Justice - Trial by Combat - Code of St. Louis - The

Territorial Jurisdictions give way - Progress of the Judicial Power of the

Crown - Parliament of Paris - Peers of France - Increased Authority of the

Parliament - Registration of Edicts - Causes of the Decline of the Feudal

System - Acquisitions of Domain by the Crown - Charters of Incorporation

granted to Towns - Their previous Condition - First Charters in the Twelfth

Century - Privileges contained in them - Military Service of Feudal Tenants

commuted for Money - Hired Troops - Change in the Military System of Europe -

General View of the Advantages and Disadvantages attending the Feudal System.


     The advocates of a Roman origin for most of the institutions which we

find in the kingdoms erected on the ruins of the empire are naturally prone to

magnify the analogies to feudal tenure which Rome presents to us, and even to

deduce it either from the ancient relation of patron and client, and that of

personal commendation, which was its representative in a later age, or from

the frontier lands granted in the third century to the Laeti, or barbarian

soldiers, who held them, doubtless, subject to a condition of military

service.  The usage of commendation especially, so frequent in the fifth

century, before the conquest of Gaul, as well as afterwards, does certainly

bear a strong analogy to vassalage, and I have already pointed it out as one

of its sources.  It wanted, however, that definite relation to the tenure of

land which distinguished the latter. The royal Antrustio (whether the word

commendatus were applied to him or not) stood bound by gratitude and loyalty

to his sovereign, and in a very different degree from a common subject; but he

was not perhaps strictly a vassal till he had received a territorial benefice.

^a The complexity of subinfeudation could have no analogy in commendation.


[Footnote a: This word "vassal" is used very indefinitely; it means, in its

original sense, only a servant or dependant. But in the continental records of

histories we commonly find it applied to feudal tenants.]


     The grants to veterans and to the Laeti are so far only analogous to

fiefs that they established the principle of holding lands on a condition of

military service.  But this service was no more than what, both under

Charlemagne and in England, if not in other times and places, the allodial

freeholder was bound to render for the defence of the realm; it was more

commonly required, because the lands were on a barbarian frontier; but the

duty was not even very analogous to that of a feudal tenant. ^b The essence of

a fief seems to be, that its tenant owed fealty to a lord, and not to the

state or the sovereign; the lord might be the latter, but it was not, feudally

speaking, as a sovereign that he was obeyed.  This is, therefore, sufficient

to warrant us in tracing the real theory of feuds no higher than the

Merovingian history in France; their full establishment, as has been seen, is

considerably later.  But the preparatory steps in the constitutions of the

declining empire are of considerable importance, not merely as analogies, but

as predisposing circumstances, and even germs to be subsequently developed.

The beneficiary tenure of lands could not well be brought by the conquerors

from Germany; but the donatives of arms or precious metals bestowed by the

chiefs on their followers were also analogous to fiefs; and, as the Roman

institutions were one source of the law of tenure, so these were another.


[Footnote b: If Gothofred is right in his construction of the tenure of these

Laeti, they were not even generally liable to this part of our trinoda

necessitas, but only to conscription for the legions.  Et ea tamen conditione

terras illis excolendas Laeti consequebantur, ut delectibus quoque ob noxii

essent et legionibus insererentur (Not. ad Cod. Theod. l. vii. tit. 20, c.

12).  Sir Francis Palgrave, however, says, - "The duty of bearing arms was

inseparably connected with the property." (English Commonwealth, i. 354.) This

is too equivocal; but he certainly means more than Gothofred; he supposes a

permanent universal obligation to render service in all public warfare.]


     It is of great importance to be on our guard against seeming analogies

which vanish when they are closely observed.  We should speak inaccurately if

we were to use the word feudal for the service of the Irish or Highland clans

to their chieftain; their tie was that of imagined kindred and respect for

birth, not the spontaneous compact of vassalage. Much less can we extend the

name of feud, though it is sometimes strangely misapplied, to the polity of

Poland and Russia.  All the Polish nobles were equal in rights, and

independent of each other; all who were less than noble were in servitude.  No

government can be more opposite to the long gradations and mutual duties of

the feudal system. ^c


[Footnote c: In civil history many instances might be found of feudal

ceremonies in countries not regulated by the feudal law.  Thus Selden has

published an infeudation of a vayvod of Moldavia by the King of Poland, A.D.

1485, in the regular forms, vol. iii. p. 514.  But these political fiefs have

hardly any connection with the general system, and merely denote the

subordination of one prince or people to another.]


     The regular machinery and systematic establishment of feuds, in fact, may

be considered as almost confined to the dominions of Charlemagne, and to those

countries which afterwards derived it from thence.  In England it can hardly

be thought to have existed in a complete state before the Conquest.  Scotland,

it is supposed, borrowed it soon after from her neighbor.  The Lombards of

Benevento had introduced feudal customs into the Neapolitan provinces, which

the Norman conquerors afterwards perfected.  Feudal tenures were so general in

the kingdom of Aragon, that I reckon it among the monarchies which were

founded upon that basis. ^d Charlemagne's empire, it must be remembered,

extended as far as the Ebro. But in Castile ^e and Portugal they were very

rare, and certainly could produce no political effect.  Benefices for life

were sometimes granted in the kingdoms of Denmark and Bohemia. ^f Neither of

these, however, nor Sweden, nor Hungary, come under the description of

countries influenced by the feudal system. ^g That system, however, after all

these limitations, was so extensively diffused, that it might produce

confusion as well as prolixity to pursue collateral branches of its history in

all the countries where it prevailed.  But this embarrassment may be avoided

without any loss, I trust, of important information.  The English constitution

will find its place in another portion of these volumes; and the political

condition of Italy, after the eleventh century, was not much affected, except

in the kingdom of Naples, by the laws of feudal tenure. I shall confine

myself, therefore, chiefly to France and Germany; and far more to the former

than the latter country.  But it may be expedient first to contemplate the

state of society in its various classes during the prevalence of feudal

principles, before we trace their influence upon the national government.


[Footnote d: It is probable that feudal tenure was as ancient in the north of

Spain as in the contiguous provinces of France.  But it seems to have chiefly

prevailed in Aragon about the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when the Moors

south of the Ebro were subdued by the enterprise of private nobles, who, after

conquering estates for themselves, did homage for them to the king.  James I.,

upon the reduction of Valencia, granted lands by way of fief, on condition of

defending that kingdom against the Moors, and residing personally upon the

estate.  Many did not perform this engagement, and were deprived of the lands

in consequence.  It appears by the testament of this monarch that feudal

tenures subsisted in every part of his dominions. - Martenne, Thesaurus

Anecdotorum, t. i. p. 1141, 1155. An edict of Peter II. in 1210 prohibits the

alienation of emphyteuses without the lord's consent.  It is hard to say

whether regular fiefs are meant by this word. - De Marca, Marca Hispanica, p.

1396.  This author says that there were no arriere-fiefs in Catalonia.


     The Aragonese fiefs appear, however, to have differed from those of other

countries in some respects.  Zurita mentions fiefs according to the custom of

Italy, which he explains to be such as were liable to the usual feudal aids

for marrying the lord's daughter, and other occasions.  We may infer,

therefore, that these prestations were not customary in Aragon. - Anales de

Aragon, t. ii. p. 62.]


[Footnote e: What is said of vassalage in Alfonzo X.'s code, Las siete

partidas, is short and obscure; nor am I certain that it meant anything more

than voluntary commendation, the custom mentioned in the former part of this

chapter, from which the vassal might depart at pleasure.  See, however, Du

Cange, v. Honor, where authorities are given for the existence of Castilian

fiefs; and I have met with occasional mention of them in history.  I believe

that tenures of this kind were introduced in the fourteenth and fifteenth

centuries; but not to any great extent. - Marina, Teoria de las Cortes, t.

iii. p. 14. Tenures of a feudal nature, as I collect from Freirii Institut.

Juris Lusitani, tom. ii. t. 1 and 3, existed in Portugal, though the jealousy

of the crown prevented the system from being established.  There were even

territorial jurisdictions in that kingdom, though not, at least originally, in



[Footnote f: Daniae regni politicus status.  Elzevir, 1629.  Stransky,

Respublica Bohemica, ib.  In one of the oldest Danish historians, Sweno, I

have noticed this expression: Waldemarus, patris tunc potitus feodo. Langebek,

Scrip. Rerum Danic. t. i. p. 62.  By this he means the duchy of Sleswic, not a

fief, but an honor or government possessed by Waldemar. Saxo Grammaticus calls

it more classically, paternae praefecturae dignitas.  Sleswic was, in later

times, sometimes held as a fief; but this does not in the least imply that

lands in Denmark proper were feudal, of which I find no evidence.]


[Footnote g: Though there were no feudal tenures in Sweden, yet the nobility

and others were exempt from taxes on condition of serving the king with a

horse and arms at their own expense; and a distinction was taken between liber

and tributarius.  But any one of the latter might become of the former class,

or vice versa. - Sueciae descriptio.  Elzevir, 1631, p. 92.]


     It has been laid down already was most probable that no proper

aristocracy, except that of wealth, was known under the early kings of France;

and it was hinted that hereditary benefices, or, in other words, fiefs, might

supply the link that was wanting between personal privileges and those of

descent.  The possessors of beneficiary estates were usually the richest and

most conspicuous individuals in the state.  They were immediately connected

with the crown, and partakers in the exercise of justice and royal counsels.

Their sons now came to inherit this eminence; and, as fiefs were either

inalienable, or at least not very frequently alienated, rich families were

kept long in sight; and, whether engaged in public affairs or living with

magnificence and hospitality at home, naturally drew to themselves popular

estimation.  The dukes and counts, who had changed their quality of governors

into that of lords over the provinces intrusted to them, were at the head of

this noble class.  And in imitation of them, their own vassals, as well as

those of the crown, and even rich allodialists, assumed titles from their

towns or castles, and thus arose a number of petty counts, barons, and

viscounts.  This distinct class of nobility became coextensive with the feudal

tenures. ^h For the military tenant, however poor, was subject to no tribute;

no prestation, but service in the field; he was the companion of his lord in

the sports and feasting of his castle, the peer of his court; he fought on

horseback, he was clad in the coat of mail, while the commonalty, if summoned

at all to war, came on foot, and with no armor of defence.  As everything in

the habits of society conspired with that prejudice which, in spite of moral

philosophers, will constantly raise the profession of arms above all others,

it was a natural consequence that a new species of aristocracy, founded upon

the mixed considerations of birth, tenure, and occupation, sprang out of the

feudal system.  Every possessor of a fief was a gentleman, though he owned but

a few acres of land, and furnished his slender contribution towards the

equipment of a knight.  In the Libri Feudorum, indeed, those who were three

degrees removed from the emperor in order to tenancy are considered as

ignoble; ^i but this is restrained to modern investitures; and in France,

where subinfeudation was carried the farthest, no such distinction has met my

observation. ^j


[Footnote h: M. Guerard observes that in the Chartulary of Chartres,

exhibiting the usages of the eleventh and beginning of the twelfth centuries,

"La noblesse s'y montre completement constitutee; c'est a dire, privilegiee et

hereditaire.  Elle peut etre divisee en haute, moyenne, et basse." By the

first he understands those who held immediately of the crown; the middle

nobility were mediate vassals, but had rights of jurisdiction, which the lower

had not.  (Prolegomenes a la Cartulaire de Chartres, p. 30.)]


[Footnote i: L. ii. t. 10.]


[Footnote j: The nobility of an allodial possession, in France, depended upon

its right to territorial jurisdiction.  Hence there were franc-aleux nobles

and franc-aleux roturiers; the latter of which were subject to the

jurisdiction of the neighboring lord.  Loiseau, Traite des Seigneuries, p. 76.

Denisart, Dictionnaire des Decisions, art. Franc-aleu.]


     There still, however, wanted something to ascertain gentility of blood

where it was not marked by the actual tenure of land.  This was supplied by

two innovations devised in the eleventh and twelfth centuries - the adoption

of surnames and of armorial bearings.  The first are commonly referred to the

former age, when the nobility began to add the names of their estates to their

own, or, having any way acquired a distinctive appellation, transmitted it to

their posterity. ^k As to armorial bearings, there is no doubt that emblems

somewhat similar have been immemorially used both in war and peace.  The

shields of ancient warriors, and devices upon coins or seals, bear no distant

resemblance to modern blazonry.  But the general introduction of such

bearings, as hereditary distinctions, has been sometimes attributed to

tournaments, wherein the champions were distinguished by fanciful devices;

sometimes to the crusades, where a multitude of all nations and languages

stood in need of some visible token to denote the banners of their respective

chiefs. In fact, the peculiar symbols of heraldry point to both these sources,

and have been borrowed in part from each. ^l Hereditary arms were perhaps

scarcely used by private families before the beginning of the thirteenth

century. ^m From that time, however, they became very general, and have

contributed to elucidate that branch of history which regards the descent of

illustrious families.


[Footnote k: Mabillon, Traite de Diplomatique, l. ii. c. 7.  The authors of

the Nouveau Traite de Diplomatique, t. ii. p. 563, trace the use of surnames

in a few instances even to the beginning of the tenth century; but they did

not become general, according to them, till the thirteenth.


     M. Guerard finds a few hereditary surnames in the eleventh century and

many that were personal.  (Cartulaire de Chartres, p. 93.) The latter are not

surnames at all, in our usual sense.  A good many may be found in Domesday, as

that of Burdet in Leicestershire, Malet in Suffolk, Corbet in Shropshire,

Colville in Yorkshire, besides those with de, which of course is a local

designation, but became hereditary.]


[Footnote l: Mem. de l'Acad. des Inscriptions, t. xx. p. 579.]


[Footnote m: I should be unwilling to make a negative assertion peremptorily

in a matter of mere antiquarian research; but I am not aware of any decisive

evidence that hereditary arms were borne in the twelfth century, except by a

very few royal or almost royal families.  Mabillon, Traite de Diplomatique, l.

ii. c. 18.  Those of Geoffrey the Fair, Count of Anjou, who died in 1150, are

extant on his shield; azure, four lions rampant or.  Hist. Litteraire de la

France, t. ix. p. 165.  If arms had been considered as hereditary at that

time, this should be the bearing of England, which, as we all know, differs

considerably.  Louis VII. sprinkled his seal and coin with fleurs-de-lys, a

very ancient device, or rather ornament, and the same as what are sometimes

called bees.  The golden ornaments found in the tomb of Childeric I. at

Tournay, which may be seen in the library of Paris, may pass either for

fleurs-de-lys or bees.  Charles V. reduced the number to three, and thus fixed

the arms of France.  The counts of Toulouse used their cross in the twelfth

age; but no other arms, Vaissette tells us, can be traced in Languedoc so far

back. T. iii. p. 514.


     Armorial bearings were in use among the Saracens during the later

crusades; as appears by a passage in Joinville, t. i. p. 88 (Collect. des

Memoires), and Du Cange's note upon it.  Perhaps, however, they may have been

adopted in imitation of the Franks, like the ceremonies of knighthood.

Villaret ingeniously conjectures that the separation of different branches of

the same family by their settlements in Palestine led to the use of hereditary

arms, in order to preserve the connection. T. xi. p. 113.


     M. Sismondi, I observe, seems to entertain no doubt that the noble

families of Pisa, including that whose name he bears, had their armorial

distinctions in the beginning of the twelfth century.  Hist. des Repub. Ital.

t. i. p. 373.  It is at least probable that the heraldic devices were as

ancient in Italy as in any part of Europe.  And the authors of Nouveau Traite

de Diplomatique, t. iv. p. 388, incline to refer hereditary arms even in

France to the beginning of the twelfth century, though without producing any

evidence for this.]


     When the privileges of birth had thus been rendered capable of legitimate

proof, they were enhanced in a great degree, and a line drawn between the

high-born and ignoble classes, almost as broad as that which separated liberty

from servitude.  All offices of trust and power were conferred on the former;

those excepted which appertain to the legal profession.  A plebeian could not

possess a fief. ^n Such at least was the original strictness; but as the

aristocratic principle grew weaker, an indulgence was extended to heirs, and

afterwards to purchasers. ^o They were even permitted to become noble by the

acquisition, or at least by its possession for three generations. ^p But

notwithstanding this ennobling quality of the land, which seems rather of an

equivocal description, it became an established right of the crown to take,

every twenty years, and on every change of the vassal, a fine, known by the

name of franc-fief, from plebeians in possession of land held by a noble

tenure. ^q A gentleman in France or Germany could not exercise any trade

without derogating, that is, losing, the advantages of his rank.  A few

exceptions were made, at least in the former country, in favor of some liberal

arts, and of foreign commerce. ^r But in nothing does the feudal haughtiness

of birth more show itself than in the disgrace which attended unequal

marriages.  No children could inherit a territory held immediately of the

empire unless both their parents belonged to the higher class of nobility. In

France the offspring of a gentleman by a plebeian mother were reputed noble

for the purposes of inheritance and of exemption from tribute. ^s But they

could not be received into any order of chivalry, though capable of simple

knighthood; nor were they considered as any better than a bastard class deeply

tainted with the alloy of their maternal extraction. Many instances occur

where letters of nobility have been granted to reinstate them in their rank.

^t For several purposes it was necessary to prove four, eight, sixteen, or a

greater number of quarters, that is, of coats borne by paternal and maternal

ancestors, and the same practice still subsists in Germany. ^u


[Footnote n: We have no English word that conveys the full sense of roturier.

How glorious is this deficiency in our political language, and how different

are the ideas suggested by commoner!  Roturier according to Du Cange, is

derived from rupturarius, a peasant, ab agrum rumpendo.]


[Footnote o: The Establishements of St. Louis forbid this innovation, but

Beaumanoir contends that the prohibition does not extend to descent of

marraige, c. 48.  The roturier who acquired a fief, if he challenged any one,

fought with ignoble arms; but in all other respects was treated as a

gentleman.  Ibid.  Yet a knight was not obliged to do homage to the roturier

who became his superior by the acquisition of a fief on which he depended.

Carpentier, Supplement. ad Du Cange, voc. Homagium.]


[Footnote p. Establissemens de St. Louis, c. 143, and note, in Ordonnances des

Rois, t. i.  See also preface to the same volume, p. xii.  According to Mably,

the possession of a fief did not cease to confer nobility (analogous to our

barony by tenure) till the Ordonnances des Blois in 1579.  Observations sur

l'Hist. de France, l. iii. c. 1 note 6.  But Lauriere, author of the preface

above cited, refers to Bouteiller, a writer of the fourteenth century, to

prove that no one could become noble without the king's authority.  The

contradiction will not much perplex us, when we reflect on the disposition of

lawyers to ascribe all prerogatives to the crown, at the expense of

territorial proprietors and of ancient customary law.]


[Footnote q: The right, originally perhaps usurpation, called franc-fief,

began under Philip the Fair.  Ordonnances de Rois, t. i. p. 324; Denisart,

art. Franc-fief.]


[Footnote r: Houard, Dict. du Droit Normand Encyclopedie, art. Noblesse,

Argou, l. ii. c. 2.]


[Footnote s: Nobility, to a certain degree, was communicated through the

mother alone, not only by the custom of Champagne, but in all parts of France;

that is, the issue were "gentilhommes du fait de leur corps." and could

possess fiefs; but, says Beaumanoir, "la gentilesse par laquelle on devient

chevalier doit venir de par le pere," c. 45.  There was a proverbial maxim in

French law, rather emphatic than decent, to express the derivation of

gentility from the father, and of freedom from the mother.]


[Footnote t: Beaumanoir, c. 45; Du Cange, Dissert. 10, sur Joinville;

Carpentier voc. Nobilitatio.]


[Footnote u: [Note Note XII.]]


     It appears, therefore, that the original nobility of the Continent were

what we may call self-created, and did not derive their rank from any such

concessions of their respective sovereigns as have been necessary in

subsequent ages.  In England the baronies by tenure might belong to the same

class, if the lands upon which they depended had not been granted by the

crown.  But the kings of France, before the end of the thirteenth century,

began to assume a privilege of creating nobles by their own authority, and

without regard to the tenure of land.  Philip the Hardy, in 1271, was the

first French king who granted letters of nobility; under the reigns of Philip

the Fair and his children they gradually became frequent. ^v This effected a

change in the character of nobility, and had as obvious a moral, as other

events of the same age had a political, influence in diminishing the power and

independence of the territorial aristocracy. The privileges originally

connected with ancient lineage and extensive domains became common to the

low-born creatures of a court, and lost consequently part of their title to

respect.  The lawyers, as I have observed above, pretended that nobility could

not exist without a royal concession.  They acquired themselves, in return for

their exaltation of prerogative, an official nobility by the exercise of

magistracy.  The institutions of chivalry again gave rise to a vast increase

of gentlemen, knighthood, on whomsoever conferred by the sovereign, being a

sufficient passport to noble privileges.  It was usual, perhaps, to grant

previous letters of nobility to a plebeian for whom the honor of knighthood

was designed.


[Footnote v: Velly, t. vi. p. 432; Du Cange and Carpentier, voce Nobilitaire,

&c.; Boulainvilliers, Hist. de l'Ancien Gouvernement de France, t. i. p. 317.]


     In this noble or gentle class there were several gradations.  All those

in France who held lands immediately depending upon the crown, whatever titles

they might bear, were comprised in the order of barons. These were originally

the peers of the king's court; they possessed the higher territorial

jurisdiction, and had the right of carrying their own banner into the field.

^w To these corresponded the Valvassores majores and Capitanei of the empire.

In a subordinate class were the vassals of this high nobility, who, upon the

Continent, were usually termed Vavassors - an appellation not unknown, though

rare, in England. ^x The Chatelains belonged to the order of Vavassors, as

they held only arriere fiefs; but, having fortified houses, from which they

derived their name (a distinction very important in those times), and

possessing ampler rights of territorial justice, they rose above the level of

their fellows in the scale of tenure. ^y But after the personal nobility of

chivalry became the object of pride, the Vavassors who obtained knighthood

were commonly styled bachelors; those who had not received that honor fell

into the class of squires, ^z or damoiseaux.


[Footnote w: Beaumanoir, c. 34; Du Cange, v. Baro; Etablissemens de St. Louis,

l. i. c. 24, l. ii. c. 36.  The vassals of inferior lords were, however,

called, improperly, Barons, both in France and England.  Recueil des

Historiens, t. xi. p. 300; Madox, Baronia Anglica, p. 133.  In perfect

strictness, those only whose immediate tenure of the crown was older than the

accession of Hugh Capet were barons of France; namely, Bourbon, Coucy, and

Beaujeu, or Beaujolois.  It appears, however, by a register in the reign of

Philip Augustus, that fifty-nine were reckoned in that class; the feudatories

of the Capetian fiefs, Paris and Orleans being confounded with the original

vassals of the crown.  Du Cange, voc. Baro.]


[Footnote x: Du Cange, v. Vavassor; Velly, t. vi. p. 151; Madox, Baronia

Anglica, p. 135.  There is, perhaps, hardly any word more loosely used than

Vavassor.  Bracton says, Sunt etiam Vavassores, magnae dignitatis viri.  In

France and Germany they are sometimes named with much less honor.  Je suis un

chevalier ne de cest part, de vavasseurs et de basse gent, says a romance.

This is to be explained by the poverty to which the subdivision of fiefs

reduced idle gentlemen.


     Chaucer concludes his picturesque description of the franklin, in the

prologue to the Canterbury Tales, thus: - "Was never such a worthy vavassor."

This has perplexed some of our commentators, who, not knowing well what was

meant by a franklin or by a vavassor, fancied the latter to be of much higher

quality than the former.  The poet, however, was strictly correct; his

acquaintance with French manners showed him that the country squire, for his

franklin is no other, precisely corresponded to the vavassor in France.  Those

who, having been deceived, by comparatively modern law-books, into a notion

that the word franklin denoted but a stout yeoman, in spite of the wealth and

rank which Chaucer assigns to him, and believing also, on the authority of the

loose phrase in Bracton, that all vavassors were "magnae dignitatis viri,"

might well be puzzled at seeing the words employed as synonyms.  See Todd's

Illustrations of Gower and Chaucer for an instance.]


[Footnote y: Du Cange, v. Castellanus; Coutumes de Poitou, tit. iii.; Loiseau

Traite des Seigneuries, p. 160.  Whoever had a right to a castle had la haute

justice; this being so incident to the castle that it was transferred along

with it.  There might, however, be a Seigneur haut-justicier below the

Chatelain; and a ridiculous distinction was made as to the number of posts by

which their gallows might be supported.  A baron's instrument of execution

stood on four posts; a chatelain's on three; while the inferior lord who

happened to possess la haute justice was forced to hang his subjects on a

two-legged machine.  Coutumes de Poitou; Du Cange, v. Furca.


     Lauriere quotes from an old manuscript the following short scale of

ranks: Duc est la premiere dignite, puis comtes, puis viscomtes, et puis

baron, et puis chatelain, et puis vavasseur, et puis citaen, et puis villain.

l Ordonnances des Rois, t. i. p. 277.]


[Footnote z: The sons of knights, and gentlemen not yet knighted, took the

appellation of squires in the twelfth century.  Vaissette, Hist. de Lang. t.

ii. p. 513.  That of Damoiseau came into use in the thirteenth.  Id. t. iii.

p. 529.  The latter was, I think, more usual in France.  Du Cange gives little

information as to the word squire.  (Scutifer.) "Apud Anglos," he says,

"penultima est nobilitatis descriptio, inter Equitem et Generosum.  Quod et

alibi in usu fuit." Squire was not used as a title of distinction in England

till the reign of Edward III., and then but sparingly.  Though by Henry VI.'s

time it was grown more common, yet none assumed it but the sons and heirs of

knights and some military men; except officers in courts of justice, who, by

patent or prescription, had obtained that addition.  Spelman's Posthumous

Works, p. 234.]


     It will be needless to dwell upon the condition of the inferior clergy,

whether secular or professed, as it bears little upon the general scheme of

polity.  The prelates and abbots, however, it must be understood, were

completely feudal nobles.  They swore fealty for their lands to the king or

other superior, received the homage of their vassals, enjoyed the same

immunities, exercised the same jurisdiction, maintained the same authority, as

the lay lords among whom they dwelt.  l Military service does not appear to

have been reserved in the beneficiary grants made to cathedrals and

monasteries.  But when other vassals of the crown were called upon to repay

the bounty of their sovereign by personal attendance in war, the

ecclesiastical tenants were supposed to fall within the scope of this feudal

duty, which men little less uneducated and violent than their compatriots were

not reluctant to fulfil.  Charlemagne exempted or rather prohibited them from

personal service by several capitularies. ^a The practice, however, as

everyone who has some knowledge of history will be aware, prevailed in

succeeding ages.  Both in national and private warfare we find very frequent

mention of martial prelates. ^b But, contrary as this actual service might be

to the civil as well as ecclesiastical laws, the clergy who held military

fiefs were of course bound to fulfil the chief obligation of that tenure and

send their vassals into the field.  We have many instances of their

accompanying the army, though not mixing in the conflict; and even the parish

priests headed the militia of their villages. ^c The prelates, however,

sometimes contrived to avoid this military service, and the payments

introduced in commutation for it, by holding lands in frank-almoigne, a tenure

which exempted them from every species of obligation except that of saying

masses for the benefit of the grantor's family. ^d But, notwithstanding the

warlike disposition of some ecclesiastics, their more usual inability to

protect the estates of their churches against rapacious neighbors suggested a

new species of feudal relation and tenure.  The rich abbeys elected an

advocate, whose business it was to defend their interests both in secular

courts and, if necessary, in the field.  Pepin and Charlemagne are styled

Advocates of the Roman church.  This, indeed, was on a magnificent scale; but

in ordinary practice the advocate of a monastery was some neighboring lord,

who, in return for his protection, possessed many lucrative privileges, and

very frequently considerable estates by way of fief from his ecclesiastical

clients.  Some of these advocates are reproached with violating their

obligation, and becoming the plunderers of those whom they had been retained

to defend. ^e


[Footnote a: Mably, l. i. c. 5; Baluze, t. i. pp. 410, 932, 987.  Any bishop,

priest, deacon, or subdeacon bearing arms was to be degraded and not even

admitted to lay communion.  Id. p. 932.]


[Footnote b: One of the latest instances probably of a fighting bishop is Jean

Montaigu, archbishop of Sens, who was killed at Azincourt. Monstrelet says

that he was "non pas en estat pontifical, car au lieu de mitre il portoit une

bacinet, pour dalmatique portoit un haubergeon, pour chasuble la piece

d'acier; et au lieu de crosse, portoit une hache." Fol. 132.] [Footnote c:

Daniel, Hist. de la Milice Francoise, t. i. p. 88.]


[Footnote d: Du Cange, Eleesmosyna Libera; Madox, Baronia Angl. p. 115; Coke

on Littleton, and other English law-books.]


[Footnote e: Du Cange, v. Advocatus; a full and useful article.  Recueil des

Historiens, t. xi. preface, p. 184.]


     The classes below the gentry may be divided into freemen and villeins.

Of the first were the inhabitants of chartered towns, the citizens and

burghers, of whom more will be said presently.  As to those who dwelt in the

country, we can have no difficulty in recognizing, so far as England is

concerned, the socagers, whose tenure was free, though not so noble as

knight's service, and a numerous body of tenants for term of life, who formed

that ancient basis of our strength, the English yeomanry. But the mere freemen

are not at first sight so distinguishable in other countries.  In French

records and law-books of feudal times, all besides the gentry are usually

confounded under the names of villeins or hommes de pooste (gens potestatis).

^f This proves the slight estimation in which all persons of ignoble birth

were considered.  For undoubtedly there existed a great many proprietors of

land and others, as free, though not as privileged, as the nobility.  In the

south of France, and especially Provence, the number of freemen is remarked to

have been greater than in the parts on the right bank of the Loire, where the

feudal tenures were almost universal. ^g I shall quote part of a passage in

Beaumanoir which points out this distinction of ranks pretty fully.  "It

should be known," he says, ^h "that there are three conditions of men in this

world; the first is that of gentlemen; and the second is that of such as are

naturally free, being born of a free mother.  All who have a right to be

called gentlemen are free, but all who are free are not gentlemen. Gentility

comes by the father, and not by the mother; but freedom is derived from the

mother only; and whoever is born of a free mother is himself free, and has

free power to do anything that is lawful." ^i


[Footnote f: Homo potestatis, non nobilis - Ita nuncupantur, quod in potestate

domini sunt - Opponuntur viris nobilibus; apud Butilerium Consuetudinarii

vocantur, Coustumiers, prestationibus scilicet obnoxii et operis.  Du Cange,

v. Potestas.  As all these freemen were obliged, by the ancient laws of

France, to live under the protection of some particular lord, and found great

difficulty in choosing a new place of residence, as they were subject to many

tributes and oppressive claims on the part of their territorial superiors, we

cannot be surprised that they are confounded, at this distance, with men in

actual servitude.]


[Footnote g: Heeren, Essai sur les Croisades, p. 122.]


[Footnote h: Coutumes de Beauvoisis, c. 45, p. 256. 45. p.256.]


[Footnote i: [Note XIII.]]


Home Page

World History Center