Page 1234

1234 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE MODERN WORLD.

took the place of imposed authority, and

government gave way to Feudalism. The

Empire of Charlemagne was made into three,

then into four, and then into seven kingdoms.

Each of these in its turn was divided into

great fiefs, of which there were in the aggregate, at the end of the ninth century, twenty-nine in France alone, and at the close of the

tenth, no fewer than fifty-five! Over each of

these some duke, count, or viscount established himself in almost independent sovereignty. He held his own court, issued his

own edicts, and in many instances coined his

own money. He sublet his fief to his vassals,

and exacted of them taxes, fealty, and homage. From the times of Charles the Bald,

877, the greater nobles of France claimed

and exercised the right of transmitting their

estates to their sons, according to their pleasure. Landed property became the basis of

all the dignities of the state. The crown and

prerogatives of the king fluctuated between

real facts and myths. Though the constitution of the kingdom still gave to the nominal

monarch the right to distribute benefices

to his nobles, the hereditary principle in

the noble, houses themselves had really

gained the upper hand, to the extent of

substituting the law of descent for the royal

prerogative. Thus it was that the Feudal

system was substituted for the greater fact

of nationality in France, Germany, and

finally in England.

The word feudal, thus used to define

the state of society which prevailed in Europe

from the tenth to the twelfth century of

our era, is derived from the Low Latin feodum,

and more remotely from the German word

viek, meaning cattle, or, more generally,

goods, money, or property. In other words,

the thing defined was the property system,

as contra distinguished from the political

system which it supplanted. In its broader

sense, feudalism was a type of social organization based on the ownership of land.

In the nature of the case the system implied

several things:

First, that the lands of the state should be

concentrated in the hands of a few.

Secondly, that political rights should be

made dependent on landed rights.

Thirdly, that all public relations should be

deduced from the private relations of those

who held them.

It will readily be seen from this general

outline of the system that in its essential

nature feudalism reversed the old theory

of society by putting the Man before the

State. Nor will the close connection of

the system, historically considered, with

the primitive institutions of Germany fail

to be noted by any one accustomed to trace

out the sequence of events. The real transformation of the society of ancient Germany into that of Mediaeval Europe reached

no further than this-that the political

organization from being personal in the

former became territorial in the latter. In

the language of another, land became the

sacramental tie of all public relations. The

poor man depended on the rich, not as his

chosen patron, but as the owner of the land

which he must cultivate, the lord of the court

to which he must bring his suit and service,

and in war the leader whom he was bound

to follow.

It is only by a stretch of language that the

word system can be applied to the feudal state

of Europe. Theoretical writers have been

pleased to see in the European king of the

eleventh century the suzerain or head of graduated orders ranged around this central figure,

and sloping down in all directions until they

rested on serfs and peasants. Nor is this view

of the situation wholly devoid of truth. But,

like so many other theories of human affairs,

it is constructed out of imagination rather than

out of the facts. True it is that during the

prevalence of feudalism the king was, in general terms, the suzerain or sovereign of all the

nobles of the kingdom. In this sense he was

the head of the system. But the feudal

scheme was much more irregular and broken

than what is here implied. Many of the

dukes and marquises held their lands in entire

independence of the king. Even lords of

lower rank sometimes possessed estates for

which they paid no tax and did no homage to

any superior. In hundreds of instances one

duke or count held his lands of another, and

it not infrequently happened that while the

nobleman A held certain lands of the nobleman

B, the latter also held certain other lands of the

nobleman A. At one season of the year A

did homage to B as a pledge of the renewal

of his fealty and service, and then in like

manner would B do homage to A. The king

himself held estates in many parts of the