Thursday, October 2, 2014

HWH Notes 10-2-14

Feudalism and the Manor Economy

With the invasions of Vikings, Muslims, and Magyars, kings and emperors were too weak to maintain law and order

The response to this situation was the realization of the basic need for protection which evolved into a decentralized political structure known as Feudalism

Feudalism was a loosely organized system of rule in which powerful local lords divided their landholdings among lesser lords known as vassals

Vassals pledged their service and loyalty to the higher lord

The relationship between the lords and vassals was based on the exchange of land for not only loyalty but also military service

Feudal contract was an exchange of pledges between the lord and vassal

The vassal was granted a fief (estate), which included peasants/serfs to work the land

In return the lord pledged protection to the vassal

The vassal also agreed to provide 40 days of military service per year and certain payments throughout the year

All contracts had a place in the power structure; many times lords were vassals to higher lords or to multiple lords at one time

If all of these lords went to war, then the vassal had a liege lord to whom he owned his first loyalty

Warfare was a way of life in the Middle Ages

Rival lords battled constantly for power and resources

Many began training as a knight (mounted warrior) early; at the age of 7 a boy was sent to the castle of his father’s lord to learn the art of riding and warfare; he learned to keep his armor and weapons in good, working order

Discipline was strict and a lazy “bound boy” could end up with a severe beating

After becoming a Squire and being apprenticed to a knight; he would be dubbed a knight during a public ceremony and here he would pledge himself to his lord

Knights were constantly training for war and participated in mock battles and in tournaments to prove their skill and bravery

These are the days of the development of powerful fortified homes called castles; their purpose was to provide a living place for lord and his family as well as a protection to the peasants/serfs, etc. during times of attack

Over time these castles became large and covered several acres of land

By 1100s castles had high walls, towers, and drawbridges over motes – making them harder to attack, so the enemy developed siege tactics to try and starve the castle into surrendering – some time it worked

When it did not, then there were attacks with battering rams, siege towers, ladders, etc. to scale the walls; catapult was invented to launch burning balls of straw into the castle complex to start fires, also handy for throwing the heads of your enemy back to their comrades to destroy their morale and will to keep fighting

The invention of the cannon ended the need for castles as they could knock down the walls of your castle; castles were still built but more for a show of wealth and power than for protection

Women in the Middle Ages

Assumed role of the lord when he was away fighting or away on business

She was expected to oversee the vassals and if necessary go to war against another lord to defend the estate

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Inherited the land of her father very young; she was the daughter of the Duke of Aquitaine

Married at the age of 15 to the French heir to the throne

He became King Louis VII and she became queen of France

She accompanied him on the 2nd Crusade with her own suit of armor and fighting by his side

He tired of her and divorced her; she retained control of the lands inherited from her father

In 1152, she married Henry II of England

1173, she aided her sons in an attempt to overthrow Henry

When it failed, she was imprisoned

Once Henry died, her son Richard the Lion-Hearted became king and released her from prison

She ruled England in his place while he went Crusading

She was unusual in her time

Rights to inherit were restricted with the eldest son receiving the property

Marriage negotiations could last years over the dowry a woman would bring to the marriage

A widow was allowed to retain property for her lifetime

Girls were sent before the age of 10 to live with friends or relatives to be trained how to weave and spin, as well as supervise servants

Few women learned to read or write

They were expected to have many children and be  dutiful to her husband




·       In the later Middle Ages, knights adopted the conduct of Chivalry, which required a knight to be brave, loyal, and true to their word

·       They agreed to fight fair in warfare and to treat captured knights well

·       This conduct only applied to nobles and not commoners

·       Knights were expected to protect the weak, such as the poor, less fortunate, and women

·       This idea placed women on a pedestal to be protected at all cost

·       Many knights had their bravery sung about and placed in epic stories and poems by Troubadours, who were traveling musicians who made a living by entertaining the nobility from castle to castle

·       Few knights were actually able to live up to these high ideals, but it did establish a code of expectations

Economic System

v The manor – the lord’s estate – included one or more villages, which provided housing to the peasants

v Serfs were bound to the land, they were not slaves, but according law could not leave the manor without the lord’s permission; if the manner was sold or went to another lord, then the serfs went with it

v Lords and Peasants were bound by mutual rights and obligations

v Peasants/Serfs:

a) Worked several days per week on the lord’s land

b) Repaired the lord’s bridges, buildings, fences, etc.

c)  Had to have the lord’s permission to marry

d) Paid the lord a fee when they inherited their father’s acres or when they used the local mill to grind their grain

e)  Other “special” payments were due to Christmas and Easter

f)    Payments were in products

g)  Had the right to farm land for themselves

h)Had lord’s protection from raids and warfare

i)    They could not be forced to leave the manor

j)    In theory, they were guaranteed food, housing, and land

v The manor was self-sufficient – everything they needed was produced there

v Village consisted of cottages, huts, water mill, a church, and the lord’s manor house

v Each family and the lord had lands divided into strips of good and bad land – all received parts of each one

v Beyond the fields were pastures for animals

v All woods and the animals contained therein belongs to the lord and the peasants were not to take any wood or animals without the permission of the lord; if they did, they could expect harsh punishments

v Peasants worked long hours daily, except Sunday

v Hunger was common when the fall harvest had been consumed and the spring crops were not yet ready

v Diseases were a constant thread and most peasants did not live beyond the age of 35

v Diet was mostly bread and vegetables; seldom ate meat unless it was a special holiday or festival

v Received a week off at Christmas and Easter
Lived in two room huts or cottages

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