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About the close of the

ninth century the still

half-barbaric society of

Western Europe began to

be transformed into a

new condition. The movement was apparently retrograde. The unity which had been

attained in several states and kingdoms began

to be broken up, and the people seemed to prefer a return to tribal independence. General

government, in a measure, disappeared, and

was replaced by local institutions. Gradually

this process went on, now in France and Germany, and finally in England, until the whole

face of society was changed. By the close of

the eleventh century the great governments

which had been established by such rulers as

Charlemagne and Alfred the Great were seen

no longer. But in their stead had risen a

multitude of dukedoms, counties, and petty

dependencies, dotting the whole face of the

country, and bound together-if bound at

all-by ties which had been voluntarily assumed and might generally be renounced at

will. The state of society which thus supervened, and which prevailed throughout the

greater part of Europe, from the epoch of the

Carlovingians to the times of the Crusades, is

known as the Feudal System, and will now

claim our attention.

The social condition which thus presents

itself for analysis and review is, perhaps, the

most difficult to grasp and understand of all

the aspects in human history. Why it was

that the political power, seemingly so well

established by Charlemagne and others, should

suddenly be loosened in all its bonds and fall

back as if into the very chaos from which it

had emerged, is a problem which has occupied

the attention of the greatest thinkers and perplexed the pen of history. Certain it is that

the fact existed, and that in the times of

which we speak, when all human expectancy

would have looked in the other direction and

predicted the growth and development of great

states out of the energetic materials of barbarism, a sudden collapse and decline appeared

in the affairs of the Western nations, and a

subtle social chemistry, seizing upon the elements of society, resolved them into the primitive condition. It is the first duty of the