Feudal Confusion

I am trying to get a take on the Feudal Transformation/Revoluton/Mutation etc (as a non-specialist) and realising once again why I always find it so hard. It’s not simply a dispute about why changes happened (or different timetables in different places). It’s a dispute in which half the things which are said to have changed may not actually have happened at all (or happened many centuries earlier or later). For my own sake I’m trying to work out some of the possible factors and connections, but I’m still not sure I’ve got a grip on it.

I’m focusing here on ‘France’ in a broad sense, because almost everyone does, but with the proviso that both England and Germany show things can be different. Firstly, there are some things that look rather like red herrings.

1) Castles and changing settlement patterns don’t seem to be the key, because they occur in places outside France without the same effects.

2) Similarly patrimonialisation of lordship happens in France (following political fragmentation) and Germany (without political fragmentation).

3) The ‘transition from slavery to serfdom’ also doesn’t look very useful, because it’s not clear that slave modes of production are ever widespread, because slavery as social death is already in decay in the early Middle Ages and because for all the supposedly tight Carolingian legal boundary of slave/free the reality looks somewhat different.

4) A focus on the ‘rise of violence’ is very dubious; as Carolingianists keep on pointing out, you can see a lot of armed retinues and lordly violence in the Carolingian period as well. (I think there might be more traction in trying to examine exactly who is fighting who: is there a change between noble on peasant and noble on noble violence?)

5) The ‘family mutation’ as Pauline Stafford and Constance Bouchard Britton (among others) have pointed out, increasingly looks to be due more to the different sources we have available than a definite change from a ‘broad’ to a ‘narrow’ idea of family.

The most promising focus is on what you can see that actually does change. At the start you have the Carolingian world, a society organised on a particular pattern of ‘public order’ and local relationships; from the early eleventh century you have (in many places in western Europe) a different looking society, increasingly getting formally organised on a different pattern. In particular, you have some texts giving explicit rules of fidelity for the upper classes (and I’d link with this chivalry, as a class-based code of conduct for acceptable/unacceptable violence, which probably develops in early eleventh century Normandy). You have formalised hereditary public office. You have the formal subordination of peasants to lords (as seen in consuetudines) and more institutionalised village government. The problem is how do you get from here to there. What you do with the tenth century?

The earlier view (down to Marc Bloch, say) was that you got ‘anarchy’ in the tenth century and then new organisation in the eleventh. The feudal revolution view (Georges Duby onwards) is the Wile E. Coyote view of the Carolingian world: public order still keeps going without effective kings, till all concerned suddenly look down, realises they’ve gone over the cliff and crash. One problem is that how much political fragmentation you see depends where you look. George Duby’s Maconnais fragments a lot and the evidence for Carolingian public order continuing much into the tenth century is fairly weak. In contrast, some of the territorial principalities, like Aquitaine, look rather firmer, as Jane Martindale’s pointed out. If you say that small-scale political fragmentation is what drives the emergence of the new order (as Chris Wickham does), then the problem is why that should be? After all, in principle, a locally based society needs fewer explicit rules than a large-scale one does. If you see the territorial principalities as being able to maintain a vaguely Carolingian public order, then why do changes happen at all? It’s hard to see why a ‘Carolingian’ Catalonia that continues into the mid-tenth century then suddenly unravels, when the Carolingians never had much direct impact on the region anyhow.

One alternative to these two views is saying that there’s a gradual evolution of institutions, but the problem here is finding the equivalent of the missing link. Saying it’s all down to Carolingian definitional practices, for example, needs you to find a continuation of such defining practices throughout the tenth century, which is tricky.

Or there’s the approach mainly taken by those who study dispute settlement, that nothing really changes anyhow. Carolingian public order is always just a facade that doesn’t affect practice anyhow, so there’s really no practical difference between the Late Merovingian period and the eleventh century. That goes along with the view (Marxist but also held by others) that medieval peasants are always oppressed. The difficulty with the nothing changes view is answering why the facade is suddenly changed/removed when it is. Why are new rules of the game suddenly written down, when they haven’t needed to be before?

Which is why the most effective explanations I’ve seen so far (such as by Robert Moore) tend to say that church reform and economic development are the key factors, which at least have the advantage of being things that we know did happen. The developing economy (and especially monetisation and the growth of towns) means there is more wealth going and that peasants have more options and both churches and lords are trying to grab control of it and them. Monasteries resort (as is their practice) to defining their rights via charters and this sets off rounds of defining by secular lords as well (either in direct competition or realising the benefits of the tactic). This fits with a view of the Peace of God which sees it at as least partly intended as an attempt by the upper classes as a whole to determine what is licit violence and what is not. (The aims of the Peace of God may be traditional ones of public order, but not the details of the provisions). Given that you can also see a lot of the Gregorian reform as being about setting rigid boundaries and definitions of church/world (as well as an attempt to welsh on the social norms previously agreed between the church and lay landowners), the whole thing hangs together vaguely plausibly. Whether it’s the best answer, I’m not yet sure, but at the moment it looks more coherent than anything else I’ve seen.


10 thoughts on “Feudal Confusion

  1. You and I have very different takes on this, which I suppose is to be expected. In particular I give Duby’s view more credit than you, though I don’t swallow all of it by a long way.

    I think it starts with the economy, not the Church, and conditioned by the political collapse, so that previously, if you are Johannes Nobilis Medietatis, while your own estates would probably never make you one of the élite in the ninth century, but spending a lot of time at court, on royal campaigns and so forth may do, by the late-tenth century going to court gets you very little, in West Francia at least, whereas your peasants are turning rather more of a profit these days. In Germany of course there’s still a court that can dispense patronage and a war frontier so this process is nothing like as strong, even though relatively speaking the economy is booming even bigger. And there you also get less definition and chartering, but where people are being forced to make their wealth and status locally it comes down to definitions, semantics and documents far faster.

    I also think that the key area of change is in spheres of public action, which is of course what our sources principally show and how Barthélemy and others who get beneath that in quiet areas can say nothing happens really. This is also where the family mutation comes in: actual kingroup structures probably aren’t changing but the way those kingroups publically represent themselves seems to be, and there I can’t see a better explanation than Duby’s one that they are seeking lost security in an expression of solidarity in public. Obviously that too will then depend on firstly how much the `public’ protection worked before, and how much it falls to bits.

    Lastly Catalonia is as ever a special case. Some day I will write the book, but for now, Bonnassie is at least half-right; there is very strong comital control, albeit over a growing cauldron of isolated unpoliceable frontier warlords and so on, and then suddenly that control is removed by thirty years of minorities, regencies and ineffective rule (as well as a cessation of war profits) and so you get a Carolingian-style collapse of central attraction in miniature very fast as people scrabble to maintain their status by new means and no-one is able to put up an alternative except the Church, which needs comital support for real effect.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure how Church reform, another ever-present drive, is suppose to finally bring about the social change here that it couldn’t quite with the weight of Charlemagne, Louis the Pious and Benedict of Aniane behind it. I’ve always seen the Peace of God as a reaction to change, not an engine of it. I should obviously look more closely at Moore.

    Mainly my theory about the feudal transformation, such as it is, is that actually most of these changes are happening, and have been happening for a long time, sometimes cyclically, rolling forward and back, in particular the centralisation of authority and then its regionalisation in reaction, and also Church reform from the centre versus relaxation in practice, a continual dynamic because Christianization is so slow and needs extra resources as the population grows. Then, at this point, where `point’ is about two centuries, over most of Europe several of these cycles reach their peak points together. Not always the same cycles in each area, not at the same time, and not always with the same triggers, but there is some general coincidence that explains why people keep trying to treat it as a single phenomenon. And if you ask me why that is, I would say that there’s only one thing that’s consistent over all that area: production is going up, there are more resources and the concentration of resources in small areas is going up so smaller areas become more viable as power bases. From that, everything else, but in forms and timeframes as variable as Europe itself.


  2. I’m relying on the secondary literature here (and only some of it, I haven’t actually read Duby’s original Maconnaise book, for example), so here are a few responses based on very partial (in all senses) reading. I’d accept the significance of the economic changes and equally that the king is no longer significant in West Francia. But I still don’t see that you can make the feudal revolution timing (sudden shock c 980) work with political fragmentation. Are there actually any West Frankish kings with real pulling power after Charles the Bald? As for ‘public action’, I’m extremely unsure how you define and recognise this. Are there things you’re including in this other than the judicial system? Stephen White may be getting hung up on the wickedness of Georges Duby’s structuralism, but he is right that it’s very hard to see public courts in the late tenth century Maconnais as being essentially public Carolingian ones (and that even Carolingian courts don’t in practice look more than nominally ‘public’). What criteria do you think you can usefully use to tell how ‘public’ a court is, when all you’ve really got to go on is charter evidence? (There also the problem that charter evidence is rarely continuous in any one area from the ninth to the eleventh century, though is Catalonia an exception here?)

    If localism does means a need to write down the new rules, why doesn’t it happen in the early tenth century? Alternatively, if the tenth century can keep going with a mix of a Carolingian facade and ‘private’ negotiations, why there is a need in the early eleventh century to start having tight definitions? And (a question I’m asking from pure ignorance) is political fragmentation necessary for such redefinitions? Is the same process of redefining going on in England, for example? I think I’m with Paul Fouracre in ‘Marmoutier and its serfs in the eleventh century’. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th series, 15 (2005) who ends up effectively saying ‘yes, political fragmentation probably made some difference, but it’s very hard to know what it was’.

    On the ‘family mutation’ idea, I’ve been influenced by Constance Britton Bouchard and Pauline Stafford, who point out some of the holes in the Schmid-Duby argument. Bouchard’s point is that families seem to have a broad sense of family when they’re socially climbing (so they stress any connection to the top) and then have a narrow sense of family when they’ve ascended (so they keep everything for descendants, not collaterals). When you have the sources, you can see narrow lineages as far back as Bernard and Dhuoda in the mid-ninth century. I know there’s a possibly circular argument here and in fact you’re getting different sources because family consciousness has changed, but things like house histories come in relatively late (twelfth century). Stafford, meanwhile, points out that a lot of Duby’s evidence for family structural/consciousness change is from charter evidence, such as the laudatio parentum and that this may be affected by the presence of Cluny as ‘a Father Christmas in reverse, gobbling up gifts in the tenth-century Maconnais’. I also suspect that the Carolingian church’s enforcement of incest rules would gradually lead anyhow to consciousness of a ‘deeper’ (more generations) ancestry. I’m more sympathetic to Duby’s view that there are increasing attempts to limit heirs in the eleventh century.

    As for why church reform changed things in the tenth/eleventh century and not in the early ninth, Robert Moore has what seems like a reasonable answer. The Cluniac/Benedictine/Gorze etc reforms, however, much the ‘reform’ rhetoric may be bogus, do trigger a vast round of giving land to the church. Up till the end of the tenth century or so, there are cycles of giving and taking back land from monasteries, either at the small, scale immediate ‘Cluny gets the same piece of land twice’ level or at a more macro-level (the waves of giving and then ‘secularisation’ of church property). What changes, Moore argues, is that at the top of this cycle of getting, the church reformers change the rules (because exploitable land is getting more profitable) and claim that church land is really, definitely inalienable. (Whereas I think you could argue that the Carolingian reform movement, because of the needs of kings, is always ‘church land should be inalienable, BUT’). (Tim Reuter in a paper on simony similarly claimed that the reforming Gregorian church was successful in the ideological claim that their countergift for donations should be a purely spiritual, rather than a material one).

    For Moore, the reform movement then can be seen as a bargain between noble householders and the church over property and chastity. The church gets to hold onto its property, without fragmenting it by circulating it back to lay nobles. In return, the church promises celibacy so there are no clerical dynasties that can build up their power via church land. Instead, there is a regular supply of vacant clerical offices into which nobles can shove some of their surplus brothers and the family can control church property that way.

    Moore’s other main point is that this process isn’t just started from 1050 onwards, but that the basic ideas of the Gregorian reform movement are already there in the Peace of God several generations earlier. In general, he sees the Peace of God as another bargain between the clerical and secular elite. It’s not really clerics and people versus lay nobles in the absence of rulers. Instead, it’s an agreement between clerics and lay nobles on the ground rules for acceptable violence, including who gets to exploit which peasants when. (Looking at the acta from a Carolingian perspective, the overall aims of the legislation may be the same as in some capitularies, but there is definitely more specificity in the Peace of God texts about what it is OK to do). Secular rulers also muscle in on the Peace as soon as they can, as a support for their own law enforcement. Meanwhile, popular support is used as a bargaining chip by the clerics for their own interests and then the people are shoved firmly back in their place. (Moore also sees something of the same process in using the populus in the main Gregorian reforms: Gregory VII uses ‘popular’ support to threaten simoniac priests and then once the reformers have been successful, the popes clamp back down on lay enthusiasm).

    I would also, incidentally, see the Peace of God as a belated ideological/legislative catch-up about the realities of the warrior role. Carolingian ideology and legislation are still working on the model of the freeman in arms, even when in practice there’s an increasing professionalisation of warfare. You can see the concrete (rather than metaphorical) use of the word ‘inermis’ coming in at the very end of the ninth century. When you get the next round of defining (and contra Charles West, I think there is a definitional gap during most of the tenth century), there is a clear separation of armed/unarmed.


    • This is making me think over some stuff, which is all to the good, but I’m not sure I necessarily have answers–who does, after all? Some point by point replies may help explain where my views come from though.

      Carolingian kings with pulling power: Matthew Innes argues in State and Society that everyone till Charles the Fat has some, and that his combination of the realms leaves him unable to meet the devolved demands for patronage. No-one can get what they want from him and so it all falls over. I don’t know that I agree, but everything looks strange from Catalonia. The last Carolingian charters to recipients on the Spanish March are from 986. In Catalonia, the kings still had pulling power, but in most of the regions between the kings and there, not really so much at all. Otherwise I think Lemarignier’s work showing how the persons shown in Capetian royal charters come from closer and closer by is worth something, but it’s very difficult to compare the Carolingians because their charters have no witnesses. Certainly, however, the people from far away stop coming, except, it seems, occasional pre-Catalans. I don’t really know why that is, except that the counts there voice their power in terms of royal delegation and it may therefore be politically useful for them to respect royal instructions.

      I should have defined `public’ when I used it, sorry. I meant in the most basic, unloaded, sense: actions people carry out where other people can see them. So yes, court hearings, but also witnessed sales, preaching, anything with a need for an audience. So you can tell a court is `public’ in that sense by who witnesses its verdicts. What you can’t necessarily tell of course is whether they work, or, like the royal grants, what they’re generally worth.

      (Catalonia has a few ninth-century to eleventh-century strings of documents, and many tenth- to eleventh-century ones, but the modes of documentation do change, albeit much less so and more slowly than in northern France of Barthélemy’s Vendôme.)


      As far as definitions and localism is concerned, I think that I may have pushed that boat out too far. What you say in your reply makes me reach for things in response that seem to contradict that idea and I think I may in fact want to drop it. Let me try this version instead.

      I’m unsure that the eleventh century does bring a need for tighter definitions in and of itself, but I think the process may be that growing demography and prosperity means more monied population, and therefore more people who can manage to take time to study–also, more prospct of employment for those who do. More use of writing brings more diversification of documentation and the concepts that underlie it. So if you have more people writing charters, more people seeing the point of them because of their partway literacy (I accept that lots of people were literate in the Carolingian era but more were in the larger populations of later on, I’m sure), the charters get more complicated. Except in that it starts with more people, I don’t think this is causally connected with the other changes of the transformation. In fact I think the biggest problem with mutationist historiography is the notion that it must all be linked; obviously these phenomena affect each other but they are not necesarily causally associated, and I think this one is perhaps more easily separated than the others.

      Therefore I think the process of definition is also seen in England, and I stopped and remembered how many charters the German court and monasteries generated and thought how stupid I’d been to say above that there was less of that there. The engine is I think the same, a (re-)growing use of writing in government and private record. I don’t think this does need to associate with fragmentation therefore, although I do think that fragmentation concentrates lords on their own resources and that that has a serious affect on what they try and squeeze out of their own jurisdictions, which is what I was trying to get at above. I seem to have been arguing Barthélemy there, that the documents change not the society, and I should have been arguing the reverse, but more subtly. The documents do change; society also changes, and in most places the documents pick this up but in a different way from before because they are changing.

      Is that any better?

      I have more, but apparently what I wrote is too long–no change there then–so I’ll append it in another comment.


    • Part the two, the Church. I agree that reform has a socialising effect: I think you can’t explain the popular heresy thing without accepting that people were internalising reform expectations of those who had the cure of their souls. And therefore I would absolutely agree that it starts before 1050, and I wonder whether the stuff that Hincmar of Reims wrote about clerical standards was ever preached, for example, and whether it isn’t the collapse and break-up of the Empire as evidence of a God-backed world order that makes people start to really muse on that stuff. Again, less of this in Germany (I think actually this time, no?) where such a structure is maintained?

      I think I would also accept the Reuter argument that Gregorian reform killed the counter-gift–arguing with Timothy Reuter has never ever been clever after all. But Cluny is very unusual in having that number of quit-claims and second redonations–it is just very unusual in all charter terms except formulae in fact–and I think that has something to do with how very heavily it stamps itself into the area. In Freising, where a lot of gifts are contested in the eighth and ninth centuries, I think there is genuine opposition going on. In Catalonia there are almost no quitclaims anywhere. In Italy, everything possible can be found but only once or twice, it seems to me. I don’t think there is one way in which lands move between the Church and the laity, therefore, I think it depends very much on what the Church in question can offer the local laity. Cluny’s liturgical force gives it a special edge that draws people to association with it; other places might have more material considerations, or Königsnähe or whatever, higher up their selling points. I don’t have this bit fully worked out though, as the Church as ideological power tends to come too far down in my thinking.

      Last paragraph, on the Peace of God and unarmed warriors, yes, I entirely agree. Müller-Mertens placed that loss of credibility of the Carolingian army very early. I myself don’t really know if I would and need to read more Halsall. Military technology and tactics are very very culturally-determined, it seems to me, and their effects don’t always match expectations. I haven’t got finished answers here either therefore.


      I seem to be going on at great length here mainly to help sort out my own thinking, the same way that I tend to with Charles West. I don’t know how much you would want this in your blog and would happily take it elsewhere or keep it to myself if you had rather. Meanwhile, though, here’s some more.


  3. As the long pause would indicate I’m still trying to work out what I believe and I’m not sure I know. But here at least are some more responses and thoughts:

    1) I don’t follow Barthelemy in thinking there’s just a documentary revolution in the tenth to eleventh century. There are different types of documents, but it seems to me that there are some which indicate radically different concepts of the world as well, which can’t exist unless things had changed substantially in the real world. You can’t, I think, make the Conventum of William of Aquitaine look Carolingian, in any way; while although it’s unique in its form, it does look like other glimpses we get of the early eleventh century world (and, as has often been pointed out, the chansons de geste).

    2) I’m inclined to see an evolutionary rather than revolutionary change in society in most of ‘greater’ France (Catalonia may be an exception). So in theory you could do what Chris Wickham suggested and have an ideal type ‘Carolingian justice’ and an ideal type ‘seigneurial justice’ and see at any moment what you look closer to. There are two problems here. One is that you have to set the chronological limits fairly wide (800-1100 or so), because it’s only at those ends that you get the normative documents that enable you to see how the two systems are supposed to work. The second problem is that Carolingian justice in practice rarely looks ‘Carolingian’ to start with, so there’s an obvious problem with it as an ideal type.

    3) If you argue for revolutionary change I think you have to say what precipitates it: why does a system that is drifting along getting more and more sub-Carolingian suddenly fall off a cliff and get reconstituted on a different basis? Your temporary political collapse in Catalonia from 980 would provide a plausible reason there. (Although it’s worth noting that Tim Reuter argued that the kingdom of Germany has a political crisis for fifty years after 1076 and then was reconstituted in essentially the same form, so Barbarossa looks terribly Ottonian). But is there any evidence of a new political (or other) crisis in the late tenth century Maconnais?

    4) The problem for those who believe in evolution, like me, is why the documents (and the mentality underneath them) change. It’s not obvious why people should wake up one day and say ‘things are different, so let’s write that down’. And literacy isn’t an answer, because, as Charles West points out, it’s not a one-way street. You can argue from charters that pragmatic literacy holds up in the tenth century. What you cannot dispute (except in England) is that normative/legislative literacy disappears in the tenth century: there is very little legislative activity, not many church councils or even, at a lower level, estate administrative rules.

    5) So, because my particular research interests are mentalities more than practice, I look round for something that will cause such redefining. The most obvious change here is resurgent churches. If you see the tenth century as a time of accumulating property (starting with Cluny in 909), then the changes are, I think, more likely to happen after two or three generations, when the first flush of generosity has worn off, and it’s then a question of the monastery holding onto what it’s got. (Cluny’s first pancarta, for example, is at the end of the tenth century). If monasteries are redefining rights, rules and procedures for how society ought to work in order to protect their own interests, then the lay world may follow this example, aided by clerics working for them.

    6) On Carolingian armies, I think Guy Halsall concludes it’s very difficult to be sure whether or not Carolingian armies in the eighth century are being raised on hereditary obligation principles or via lordly followings: he argues with Matthew Innes’ discussion of a warrior called Ripwin. But he does show that as late as Charles the Bald, some Carolingian rulers are trying to call on every freeman with a horse to serve, so the idea is still there. The problem with looking later is the usual one about different types of warfare. For the defence of the patria you probably would want a large army, however formed; for private wars I suspect it’s more useful to have fewer, but more highly trained warriors. It’s the difference between the Home Guard and the Marines.

    As a final thought, one thing that possibly links normative literacy, warfare and monasticism is enthusiasm or its lack. One of Guy’s points is that there are no regulations about raising eighth century armies because you didn’t need them; you could get enough people to join in successful wars of conquest without that kind of enforcement. The coercion (and the capitularies) come in when things start getting harder, you get defensive wars and the enthusiasm wanes. Maybe, analogously, monasteries don’t need written rules for how they relate to the outside world when everyone’s keen to be the neighbour of St Peter; it’s in the consolidation phase that you really need to define exactly what you get from whom.


  4. Even Barthélemy thinks Catalonia’s an exception; in his original “La mutation féodale a-t-elle eu lieu?” he doesn’t mention Bonnassie anywhere except in one footnote suggesting that Catalonia is too unusual to be used in wider conclusions.

    Matthew Innes has suggested to me in the past that in fact the Conventum can be seen in a Carolingian light and he has ambitions to do some work demonstrating this but until he actually manages this I agree entirely with you and don’t see how it can be done. However, it does seem to operate in a world of oaths which must also have existed to govern the lord-vassal relationships of the Carolingian age, and I wonder if those who left their lords then wouldn’t have justified it in similar terms. By that reckoning, the odd thing about the Conventum would be its intended audience and the details that are presumably supposed to grab their sympathy. (For those reading who don’t know what we’re talking about, there’s a translation of the relevant document by Paul Hyams in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook.)

    I don’t myself believe in an ideal type of Carolingian justice. Quite apart from anything else, every regnum‘s practices differ. I think the only unifying ideal in that mess of systems is appeal beyond them to the ruler. That stops quite quickly…

    I think what precipitates sudden change is an influx of money, in most cases. In Catalonia, before the collapse, there has been a decade of good living off the back of new Muslim tributes. In the Mâconnais, Cluny is piling up, and throwing about, concentrated wealth. Pretty much everywhere is seeing a productive increase even without other factors. I think it’s simply that an increase in disposable wealth opens up vastly more political and social choices for those who have it and is thus a general force for the loosening of social bonds. As for Cluny, you’ve got Rosenwein for an example of what that does but if you want an example of what a developing monastery can do to an undeveloped community, you could always try my paper on Sant Joan de les Abadesses

    Resurgent churches, I think, doesn’t work by itself, because you have just the same things going on earlier. Warren Brown’s work on how the Carolingian churches in Bavaria change the society there looks very similar: so why no documentary transformation in eight-century Bavaria? And the answer is I think that actually there is one and the documentary revolution is as impossible to pin down to a short period as the so-called feudal one, if not actually more so. If you don’t like that, though, this is where the political collapse arguments look relevant again. Eighth-century Bavaria had a powerful centralising monarchy behind its churches; Cluny has to defend itself and therefore pulls in all strategies as Passau, for example, didn’t have to. I don’t know if I buy that but it’s arguable. Looks a lot like Duby though.

    Military service is changing at least partly because of the technology, but you are also right about types of service. In the First Viking Age, a call-out of all free men may well be useful still, because you’ll get troops in the relevant area when you can’t necessarily get the royal host there in time, and they’ll be armed to about the same standard as the opponents. If the opponents however are a local baron’s castellan and milites, a peasant militia is unlikely to cut it… So as politics change so do the types of fighting.

    This is not very coherent given I have to write a lecture on all this tonight, but hey, I have a really good diagram


  5. The diagram is wonderful, although should you include, somewhere, a tiny feudal pyramid, with Susan Reynolds looking sceptically at it?

    You’re almost certainly right about money, which does seem to be the difference between the impacts of Carolingian and eleventh century monasticism. The Carolingian period does see the development of new monastic administrative documentation: the first cartularies come in at the end of the eighth century, polyptychs in the early ninth (not in the same areas though). While a lot of the cartularies are Bavarian, and so could be seen just to be reflections of political worries about the takeover of the duchy by Charlemagne, the St Gall charters also seem to have been rearranged in the early ninth century. My impression is that most of these documents arise in what you might call the consolidation period of the monasteries: they’ve got rich, now they’re planning to hold onto their gains. There’s also another new lot of normative documentation in the later ninth century about the inalienability of church land, produced by Hincmar etc, some of which provides the basis for claims in the Gregorian reforms (Pseudo-Isidore was apparently very significant).

    What seems to me different is a less intense lay reaction to this; laymen are not routinely setting down exactly what their rights are to get hold of other people’s money, control them etc, whereas they are doing this in the eleventh century. I suppose you get back to Duby’s open frontier argument: you don’t need to count your pennies when there’s still an alternate way of having the lolly roll in. I’d also be interested to see whether one could piece together any evidence to suggest it’s more expensive to live an ‘appropriate’ noble lifestyle in the eleventh than the ninth century, so lay nobles ‘need’ more money. I need to have a look at Robin Fleming’s work on conspicuous consumption in late Anglo-Saxon England, but I don’t know if there are parallels in the Continental sources.

    I’m afraid that while I have got a copy of your paper, I haven’t yet read it – though if you knew the long list of other important historical works that I haven’t yet read, you would see this isn’t anything personal.

    I’d say it is the eye of faith alone that can make Matthew imagine a Carolingian version of the Conventum. I have only ever found two Carolingian documents that give any specific norms about the lord’s responsibilities to his man (two capitulary clauses, one of which is a detached fragment). The rest is all motherhood and apple pie rhetoric. There is no reason to think that any oaths would have been more specific. In contrast, Stephen White argues that the Conventum is playing complex rhetorical games with three different concepts of lordship, which both players choose to switch between as it suits their advantage. If those complex norms had been there in the Carolingian period, I can’t believe that someone wouldn’t have written down something that gives us a clue about it.

    Looking at your diagram also suddenly gave me the dizzying thought of ‘what is all this about legitimate power anyhow?’ Is the power of kings fundamentally different in quality from that of dukes or castellans? Are the Carolingians more legitimate than the Dukes of Aquitaine because as powerful nobles they took over an existing polity rather than carving out their own within an existing one? Or is it, as St Augustine, implied just a question of different scale of banditry (along with better propaganda departments)?


  6. I don’t think I can squeeze anything more onto that diagram…

    Noble expenses: Josep María Salrach would certainly argue that it is more expensive to be a noble in the eleventh century, because now you need to maintain a retinue of armoured knights where before you needed a big squad of footsoldiers; the equipment is just a lot dearer, which is why the peasant militia is priced out of warfare in the first place. Something in that, I think, but not a whole answer. I also think that before the Carolingian Empire collapses, and indeed in Germany where it kind of doesn’t, laymen have better things to do to gain status and honores than squeeze their peasants. The real gains will come from the king, until the king can’t give any more and the nobility have to look to their rights at home. I think that this shrinking of the political sphere is the rest of the explanation, at least of this bit.

    I think the monastic consolidation phase is a generic thing unrelated to the wider time; Wendy Davies shows a similar process at Redon, which is roughly contemporary with the Bavarian takeover, I suppose, but I think it’s generic anyway (because it looks similar at Sant Joan too and Matthew sees Fulda in the same terms). House is founded, with expensive endowment; no-one is sure about this at first, and it expands by buying, then once it’s been established for a generation or two the donations start to arrive as people choose to access the power and connections it offers. After a century or so it gets too big for its boots and local donation eases off (Chris Wickham picks up on this bit in his The Mountains and the City, he’s not so keen on the bit of the phase where people like the Church.) Cluny of course just leaps off the graph and doesn’t behave in the normal pattern. It’s like a supergiant compared to the Main Sequence.

    And lastly, I agree with you entirely about the Conventum and understand completely about the paper, and am in a similar state with various people myself. But term marches on and will soon be easing up a bit. I hope.


  7. Plz be respecting feudalizm: further opinions from Chris Wickham
    I figure in these hard times Geoffrey Chaucer needs all the promotion he can get, you know? Though he seems, despite his absence from the Internet, to be writing in to the Guardian, or at least his agent is. But, you will be shocked to hear, this wasn…


  8. Metablog V: series pagesYou will observe, if you’re looking carefully, that the uppermost part of this blog now has new links on it. This is because I was just beginning to draft a post about the first of this term’s Earlier Middle Ages seminars at the Institute o…


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