Page 1235

1235 FEUDAL ASCENDENCY-FEUDALISM PROPER.

kingdom, and these he let to his vassals without

much respect to their rank. Lords of low

as well as lords of high degree were thus

bound directly to the king, so that the supposition of a graduated order ranged around

the sovereign would be no adequate representation of the fact. In truth, during the

prevalence of the feudal system the whole

structure of society was bound and rebound

with ties and cross ties, without either the

appearance or intention of regularity or

systematic gradation.

The conditions on which feudal lands were

held in the Middle Ages are well understood. They were, in general, three in number-homage, taxation, and military service.

The act of homage was intended to indicate

the submission of a vassal to his lord. It

could be received by the lord only, in person.

When the relation of dependence was sought

or enforced, the person about to become

a vassal presented himself to his liege with

uncovered head, and prayed that he might

be allowed to enter into the feudal relation

with him. The request being granted, the

vassal took off his sword and spurs, ungirt his belt, knelt before his lord, placed his

own two hands in his, and said: "I become

your man from this day forth, of life and limb,

and will hold faith to you for the lands I claim

to hold of you." The oath of fealty was then

administered, and the ceremony of investiture

followed. If the homage had been done on

the lands received by the vassal, the lord

gave to him a handful of earth or a stone

in token of the transfer of right; and if the

ceremony was performed off the estate

referred to, the superior generally gave

to the vassal a bit of turf taken from the

estate.

As already said, feudal rights were generally hereditary. On the death of a vassal the

estate fell to his eldest son. But the latter

must immediately repair to the manor and

repeat the act of homage done by his father.

It was possible for an infant to do homage by

proxy. But in this instance the act must be

repeated as soon as the vassal had reached his

majority.

As to the taxes imposed by a suzerain

upon his vassal, the same might be discharged

either in money or in the products of the

estate. In the case of the king and the greater

nobles, money was generally exacted; for the royal chamberlains preferred to purchase

provisions for the king's household from

the mediaeval market. But in the case of

the lords of low degree, who dwelt perhaps

upon the estates cultivated by their vassals

and serfs, their suzerains might well choose

to accept the annual stipend in products

of the land. Ever and anon, the peasants

and villagers were seen gathering from the

fields and hamlets the tithes belonging to

the master and conveying the same in rude

carts to the store-house of the baronial

castle.

Most of all, however, did vassalage depend upon the condition of military service.

The vassal was solemnly bound to rally at

the call of his lord, to accompany him in

all his enterprises of war, and to fight his

battles to the death. The Middle Age were

in some sense a camp as wide as Western

Europe. As a rule the peasant must bring

from his hamlet the armor and supplies

necessary for the campaign. Woe to the man who failed to arm himself for the fray.

Sometimes the expedition was long and full

of hardships. Generally it was undertaken

at the caprice or whim of the suzerain, who,

tired of the gluttony of peace, sought instinctively the noble sport of slaughter.

What cared the well-fatted king, the duke,

the marquis for the butchery of the lowborn serfs and cattle whom they drove

into the fight? It was enough that some

petty spite, engendered of kingly malice, or

some bitter jealousy born in the kingly bed,

should be propitiated with the base blood

of serfs.

It can not be doubted that Feudalism was

a necessity of the social condition of Europe

in the tenth century. The universality of its

adoption would of itself be a sufficient proof

that the system sprang naturally and inevitably out of the existing condition of political

society. With the cessation of barbarism, the

feudal principle began to assert itself. It

sprang up, as if from the soil. Wherever a

given situation was present, there the feudal

tenure prevailed more and more until the

whole social machinery of Western Europe

was conformed to a common type of action.

Every existing institution adopted the feudal

form. Monks hated it. Kings dreaded it.

Both embraced it. Even the Church put off

her imperial habit and donned the garments