The Rise of Feudalism in England

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The heightened sense of loyalty, allegiance, and homage that developed across England throughout the early 11th century was greatly influenced by the rise of the feudal system across Medieval Europe. An interpretation of the events throughout the evolution of feudalism is presented in the novel, The Rise of Feudal Monarchies, written by Sidney Painter and published in 1951. Her elucidation of the events is closely related to the ideas of Carl Stephenson, who communicated similar ideas in his 1965 novel, Medieval Feudalism. The authors similarly discuss the emergence of the feudal system, presenting that the interpretation of the feudal conditions in England remain consistent and unvarying between the years 1951 and 1965.

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The inception of Feudalism in England derives from the Norman Conquest, initiated in 1066 and expedited to enforce the decentralized governmental policies of France. William the Conqueror, the former Duke of Normandy, set out to conquest control over England, and spread his ideas of reform. As William brings his ideas of a successful feudal system with him to the throne, the previous disorganized styles of government would be abolished. (Painter 44) An example of the policies that derived from French authority can be exemplified by the source created in 1110, “The Charter of Homage and Fealty”, created by Bernard Atton who was a viscount of Carcassonne. The oath details, “Moreover, I acknowledge that I hold from thee and from the said monastery as a fief the castle of Termes in Narbonne; and in Miner-ve the castle of Ventaion, and the manors of Cassanolles, and of Ferral and Aiohars; and in Le Rogs, the little village of Longville; for each and all of which I make homage and fealty with hands and with mouth to thee my said lord abbot Leo and to thy successors, and I swear upon these four gospels of God that I will always be a faithful vassal to thee and to thy successors and to St. Mary of Grasse in all things in which a vassal is required to be faithful to his lord, and I will defend thee, my lord, and all thy successors, and the said monastery and the monks present and to come and the castles and manors and all your men and their possessions against all malefactors and invaders, at my request and that of my successors at my own cost; and I will give to thee power over all the castles and manors above described, in peace and in war, whenever they shall be claimed by thee or by thy successors” (Charter of Homage and Fealty). This pledge was an oath of loyalty to his lord Leo, and in situations like this and other ones similar, the aptitude and strength of the oath would determine the benefice of the subordinate. Throughout this excerpt, the speaker detailed the land and castles that he is interested in, in return for his loyalty and service. The benefice to the vassal, if his oath is reviewed and approved, is the desired land, castles, or monuments. This approval was determined by the level of devotion in the ideas offered by the vassals within their pledges. A subordinate must offer enough service to the lord, often including military obligations and a measurement of their wealth. Both state and society became dominated by agriculture. The methods of the feudal system were monopolizing and engrossing, but evidence supports that it was seemingly necessary to create an established military, and thus creating a systematic way to achieve this was necessary as well. (Stephenson 6-8). Vassals often would have had to offer their own self to guard and fortify the lord, and in order to protect him and his successors, they would have had to recruit and allocate other members of the militia. Beneficially, this landed a stronger sense of commitment and devotion between the different levels and members of the social hierarchy, and the collection of knights from the lower social classes may have provided the idea of belonging. Evidence also concludes that members of England society believed they could influence figures of authority through wealth, land, and social rank and thus strived to become powerful members of society. (Painter 44-45). In Bernard Atton’s, “Charter of Homage and Fealty” of 1110, the extent of devotion that this subordinate expressed was presented to and considered by his lord Leo.

Another excerpt that details the France origin of Feudalism is the oeuvre, “Modus Faciendi Homagium & Fidelitatem (The Manner of Doing Homage & Fealty), c. 1275”. The text expounds, “When a Freeman shall do Homage to his Lord of whom he holds in Chief, he shall hold his hands together between the hands of his Lord, and shall say thus: “I become your Man from this day forth, for life, for member, and for worldly honor, and shall [owe] you Faith for the Lands that I hold of you; saving the Faith that I owe unto our Lord the King, and to [mine other Lords.]…. I become your Man from this day forth, and shall bear you Faith for the Tenement which I claim to hold of you; saving the Faith that I owe to our Lord the King, and to my other Lords” (Modus Faciendi Homagium & Fidelitatem (The Manner of Doing Homage & Fealty), c. 1275). There is a deep-rooted fidelity and devotion presented in the excerpt, utilizing phrases such as “worldly honor”, “become your man”, and a frequent repetition of the word “faith”. This tonality indicated an eagerness to offer devout services to Lord, exchanging their loyalty for a higher rank in society or an improved, reformed disposition. It was easy to enforce the policies of the feudal system due to the lack of a decentralized government prior to the reforms. A strong sense of leadership was established and although the conditions weren’t always ideal for the dependent peasantry, England became unified under a compound belief system.

The inclination towards structured feudal systems in England was presented in Sidney Painter’s 1951 work of literature, The Rise of Feudal Monarchies, and such ideas were expressed similarly by Carl Stephenson in 1965 in his work, Medieval Feudalism. The progression towards a systematic feudal system is portrayed very similarly between the two novels, and evidence from the texts indicates that the interpretation has not significantly changed over time. In Sidney Painter’s work, The Rise of the Feudal Monarchies, the author proclaims that the idea of Feudalism originally derives from “Germanic” customs many years prior. Painter asserts that “the royal power rested on three bases. Each King had a small group of men, bound to him by special oaths of loyalty, who served as his officials and bodyguards. Clearly a later form of the Germanic Chieftain’s Comitatus” (Painter 1). The author indicates that social classes were put into a hierarchy regarding their wealth, stability, and devotion to their lord. William of Normandy brought these policies with him as he conquered England and overrode the previous governmental ideals. In “1066 William, Duke of Normandy, invaded England, defeated and killed King Harold, and subdued the whole country. William had been brought up in a feudal environment, was the head of a great French fief, and was followed to England by men who were equally imbued with feudal ideals” (Painter 44). William believed that England required a heavier military bases and sought to establish the feudal system in order to create this. King Henry, successor and son of William the Conqueror, sought to expand the civil courts, promote new methods of jurisdiction, and further establish new processes for obtaining land. As Henry was trying to build himself up as king and figure of authority, his desire for power imploded. Following the implosion of his power, there was a dynamic change in the methods of jurisdiction. Previously, an individual who expressed their case in the court would have been severely penalized and many crimes would go unpunished. Reformed policies sought to reform these standards and required proper judicial decision to be completed in order to distribute land. These reforms also set to combat the contention and aggression found in the trials for land. Evidence throughout Painter’s work continues to support that under the reign of both King William and his successor King Henry, one’s wealth and amount of land determined their worth and position in society. To exemplify further, Painter asserts that an individual could, “purchase an order moving the trial to the king’s court. Then the sheriff levied a jury of 24 knights, called a “grand assize,” who were to investigate the question and be ready to state in court which party was in the right” (Painter 60). This details that through the power of wealth, people could purchase trials to further investigate their worthiness of the land.

In the 1965 work of Carl Stephenson, Medieval Feudalism, the author expresses ideas similar to those of Sidney Painter. Stephenson also firmly asserts that the idea derived from German culture, “comitatus”, was relevant to the development of Feudalism across Europe. To exemplify, Stephenson states, “comitatus is heard of again and again in the later centuries among the Goths, the Franks, the Lombard’s, the Anglo-Saxons, and even in the Vikings of Scandanavia” (Stephenson 8). Detailing the spread of the feudal system throughout parts of Europe, this quote helps assert that Anglo-Saxon England began with the emergence of William the Conqueror to power in 1066. This allowed England to be introduced to a new style of government and rule, a style that was initially presented in Germanic customs and spread to places like France and England. Stephenson continues to assert this further when he states, “Clientage, involving no military service and implying anything but social inequality was utterly unlike the German comitatus” (Stephenson 6). This enforces that the “comitatus” structure entailed and introduced a stronger connection to military service and established social hierarchies. Stephenson asserts through this that the evolution of the feudal system in England is cultured by the ideas and practices of other rulers and places. Furthermore, Stephenson contends that “the most successful were those whose rulers maintained the best armies and the strongest administration. In such an environment feudal institutions continued to thrive because they provided a simple and practical means of government” (Stephenson 16). Detailing the reasons why feudalism was necessary in environments like England, this excerpt holds significance as it reveals similarities between the ideas of Sidney Painter and Carl Stephenson. Both Stephenson and Painter assert that feudalism was a heuristic, feasible form of governmental and military structure. The power of wealth in society is also mentioned in Stephenson’s, Medieval Feudalism. The author states that the “population tended to be sharply divided into two classes: an aristocracy of landlords and an economically dependent peasantry” (8). This section of the text illustrates that the peasantry was economically dependent on the other classes, including landlords, and that without this economic independence the peasantry had much lower levels of power and significance. This deepens the idea that state and society were monopolized by agriculture and wealth.

Both Sidney Painter in her work, The Rise of Feudal Monarchies, and Carl Stephenson in his work, Medieval Feudalism, interpret the events summarizing the rise of feudal systems in medieval England under the reign of William the Conqueror and his successor, King Henry. Both authors assert that feudalism is derived from Germanic customs, known as Comitatus, that wealth and ownership of land insinuate power, and that the installment of feudal systems were necessary to create a strong military.

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The Rise of Feudalism in England. (2019, Feb 15). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from

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