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though its parentage may be partly attributed to the German tribes, was also indebted, for its being, to causes which came into operation after the settlement of the northern warriors in their conquered territories ; and, when it had attained its full vigour, it was very unlike anything which had been ever before seen either by themselves or others.
FEUDALISM IN FRANCE. FEUDALISM, as already intimated, reached its height in France, where we find it in its palmy pride, during the tenth and eleventh centuries. Had we travelled through the country at that time, we should have been especially struck with the vast number of castles scattered over the land. Within them were concentrated the elements of strength. Feudal owners were the captains, rulers, and magistrates of the age. These important personages might be divided into two classes, according to the nature of the fiefs which they held. The holders of royal fiefs formed the first class, the holders of arrière, or subordinate fiefs, formed the second class. The former comprised dukes, marquises, counts; the latter included those of the lesser barons, who were denominated châtelains, as having a right to occupy fortified houses. The latter class of nobles were dependent on the former, and stood to them in the relation of vassals; they again, in their turn, had a number of dependents, subject to their authority, and owing them military service. Each of these nobles was a sovereign in his own domain, the fountain of law, polity, and order. His superior lord did not interfere with him in his internal rule, but simply required from bim certain external feudal services. Sovereignty in France had sunk, at this time, to a very low ebb, and retained but a shadow of authority. The kings of that country were then little more than nobles, holding fiefs of their own, subject to no superior; over their own territories they had complete feudal power, like other lords, but beyond that, their authority was feeble. A tie of supremacy scarcely more than a name--a memento of the past, resulting from the original grant of benefices by the crown, alone remained.
The noble, or aristocratic class, was not limited by the rank of secondary barons, who had the privilege of establishing themselves in their own castles. There were other persons deemed to be possessors of noble or gentle blood. Every knightly dependent belonged to the privileged order. “The distinct class of nobility became coextensive with the feudal tenures. 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 a coat of mailwhile the commonalty, if summoned at all to
war, came on foot, and with no armour of defence. 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.”* Members of all these noble classes were eligible to hold offices of state ; but none beside them had this privilege, except the clergy. These advantages being hereditary, all marriages between the noble and the plebeian class were forbidden. Thus an immense aristocracy was formed, having no sympathies with the lower classes. Such of the latter who retained the name of freemen were chiefly the inhabitants of towns; beside these, were a few scattered allodialists and rural tenants, subject to certain pecuniary payments. The inhabitants of towns, were least dependent, and suffered least from feudal oppression; freemen in the country were quite at the mercy of their powerful military neighbours. Next to these were the villeins, or cultivators of the land, who were attached to the soil, but yet were permitted to hold property of their own; and below them came the serfs, who were in a state of abject slavery. The power of the lord over them was so absolute, that, iu the language of a feudal law-book, f “he might take all they had, alive or dead, and imprisoi. them when he pleased, being accountable to none but God.” “In this degraded class, slavery existed, in a form quite as revolting as we ever find it in the worst days of the Roman republic;
* Hallam, Middle Ages.
though, perhaps, the power of the master was less severely exercised by the feudal lord than by the ancient patrician.
Thus, then, all power, political and civil, centred in the feudal aristocracy. They only were lords of the soil, and rulers of the state; property, military command, judicial authority, were all vested in them. The “people” had no political existence. The popular element of society, as developed in the ancient world, as seen in the Roman commonwealth, had perished in the convulsions which succeeded the fall of the empire; and the popular element of modern society had not yet appeared. Aristocracy had little or nothing to struggle with, either above or below it. The principle reigned in all its power; it exerted an unchecked influence. Yet it was not the union of the noble class that gave them strength. The feudal lords of the same rank were independent of each other, and assumed isolated positions. Entrenched within his own fortress, each stood aloof from the rest ; and when they did meet, it was not unfrequently front to front, as enemies in the field. They inherited and displayed much of that spirit of proud individual independence which had burned in the bosom of their German ancestors : each one relied upon himself rather than upon his order; and thus they greatly differed from the aristocracies of ancient and modern times; in all of which we see a principle of union at work-a measure of personal importance, derived from association
with others of the same class, and a measure of individual strength and influence, derived from a feeling of common interest.
In the feudal aristocracy were included the higher orders in the church-the prelates, and the abbots of large monasteries. The fiefs they held rendered them to all intents feudal lords, and the spirit and practice of the system were displayed by them in whatever related to their territorial possessions. They swore fealty to the king as the lord paramount, and divided their estates among vassals on military tenures, while at the same time they claimed and exercised in their own territory the same sort of civil jurisdiction as belonged to the temporal barons. Their sovereign demanded that they should equip a certain number of men for his service in war ; and hence it was customary for an abbot to choose some baron in the character of “advocate,” to lead the vassals of the monastic fiefs to battle, and generally to protect the interests of the abbey.
Having presented this brief outline of the distinctions of feudal society, we shall attempt a sketch of the forms, relations, and usages of feudal life, as exhibited in France, during the period of their most striking exemplification.
Let us, then, suppose ourselves carried back, through the interval of some eight or nine centuries, to one of the provinces of France. Let the reader's innagination supply the place of those powers of enchantment whose existence