Ch 02 The Growth of Feudalism

Ch.2-The Growth of Feudalism-Sect.5-The End of Saxon England

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CHAPTER II: THE GROWTH OF FEUDALISM

SECTION 5: THE END OF SAXON ENGLAND

 

 AFTER ALFRED, ENGLAND’S CULTURE DEGENERATED AND INSTITUTIONS STAGNATED.

UNDER THE DANES, SOCIETY SEEMED UNABLE TO EVOLVE BEYOND A CERTAIN POINT.

EVERYTHING WAS DECENTRALISED IN SMALL KINGDOMS, WITH THE SHERIFF REMAINING ALL POWERFUL.

IN THE FIELD OF JUSTICE, FEUDALISM PROSPERED WITH ROYAL RIGHTS AND POWERFUL INDIVIDUALS BECOMING EVER WEALTHIER, UNTIL THE SHIRE SYSTEM BROKE DOWN AND THE ‘NOBILITY’ HELD THEIR OWN COURTS TO INFLICT FINES AND WORSE.

PRIVATE JUSTICE FLOURISHED, DEFINING IT AS THE STONGEST POWER POINT OF FEUDALISM.

THE LANDLESS SUFFERED MOST, BUT BEING A SERF BOUND TO THE LAND DID NOT SEEM SO BAD.A SERF DID HAVE HIS OWN RIGHTS, THOUGH THEY WERE NOT LEGALLY ENFORCEABLE.

ONE RESULT OF THE NORMAN CONQUEST WAS THE DEFINITE LINE DRAWN BETWEEN SERF AND FREEMAN.

EVERYONE BELOW A FREEMAN WAS REDUCED TO A DEAD LEVEL OF SERVITUDE.

PAYMENTS IN DANEGELD WERE ENORMOUS, EVEN BY TODAY’S STANDARDS, AND WERE EXTRACTED FROM KINGS TO COMMONERS AND WERE ALSO THE BASIS OF PROPERTY TAX.

LOCAL MAGNATES DEFINED WEALTH IN FEUDAL TERMS: NO MAN WITHOUT A LORD, NO LAND WITHOUT A LORD.

WHEN, IN 1018, CANUTE BECAME KING OF ENGLAND AS WELL AS NORWAY AND DENMARK, IT APPEARED THAT ENGLAND WOULD BE LINKED WITH SCANDINAVIA, RATHER THAN FRANCE, BUT THE NORTHERN PEOPLE WERE STILL LARGELY TRIBAL. THEY WERE INADEQUATE FOR A PERMANENT EMPIRE.

IT WAS NOT UNTIL NORTHERN BLOOD HAD BEEN CROSSED WITH FRENCH FEUDAL INSTITUTIONS THAT ENGLAND WAS CAPABLE OF ADVANCING TOWARDS A PERMANENT STATE POWER.

CANUTE DEVELOPED THE STANDING ARMY, HIGHLY TRAINED AND WELL PAID. ONE FAMILY, THE GODWINS, ROSE THROUGH THE RANKS OF OBSCURITY TO VIRTUALLY CONTROL ALL OF ENGLAND BEYOND DANELAW.

WHEN CANUTE DIED, THE GODWINS RESTORED THE OLD ENGLAND LINE WITHOUT OPPOSITION.

ENGLAND THEN BECAME DIVIDED INTO SIX EARLDOMS, THREE DIRECTLY CONTROLLED BY THE GODWINS. WHEN EDWARD DIED, THE COUNCIL OF WISE MEN PROCLAIMED HAROLD, ELDEST SON OF GODWIN, KING. HOWEVER, WILLIAM, DUKE OF NORMANDY, ALSO CLAIMED THE THRONE AND BEGAN TO ASSEMBLE AN ARMY.

THE CONQUEST BY THE NORMANS ENDED THE REIGN OF THE NORTHMEN AND STARTED THE CRUSADES.

WILLIAM WAS A FEUDAL PRINCE, BUT HIS ARMY WAS NOT A FEUDAL ARMY. IT WAS ONE GATHERED AS FORTUNE HUNTERS.

NUMBERING 12,000, HE TRAINED THEM IN METHODS OF WARFARE UNKNOWN IN ENGLAND.

THE ENGLISH COULD BE MOBILE, BUT CHOSE TO FIGHT WITH THE AXE IN A DENSE MASS BEHIND THE TRADITIONAL SHIELD WALL.

THE NORMANS USED HEAVY ARMED CAVALRY AND THE CROSSBOW, AND, ONCE THE SHIELD WAS BROKEN, THE CAVALRY CHARGED.

WILLIAM SUCCEEDED MILITARILY AND POLITICALLY BY KEEPING HIS VASSALS UNDER HIS CONTROL, UNLIKE THE DEFIANT ATTITUDES ADOPTED BY THE EARLS OF MERCIA AND NORTHUMBRIA.

IN 1066, HAROLD WAITED FOR THE NORMANS, BUT WAS DIVERTED TO THE NORTH WHERE HE BEAT THE KING OF NORWAY AT STAMFORD BRIDGE. THEN LEARNED WILIAM HAD LANDED AT PEVENSEY.

WITHIN A WEEK, HE WAS BACK ON THE SOUTH COAST AND AT ‘BATTLE’ NEAR HASTINGS ON A CHALK RIDGE OVERLOOKING WILLIAM’S CAMP.

TACTICALLY, HAROLD’S  MOVEMENTS WERE MASTERLY, AND HIS ‘HOUSECARLS’ PROVED A MAGNIFICENT FIGHTING MACHINE, BUT STATEGICALLY HE SHOULD HAVE WAITED IN LONDON LONGER TO ALLOW ALL HIS TROOPS TO CATCH UP AND ASSEMBLE.

HOWEVER, THE NORMANS MADE VICTORY INEVITABLE WITH THEIR SUPERIOR MILITARY METHODS AND SURPRISE ATTACKS, AND THE FRENCHMEN HELD THE PLACE OF SLAUGHTER. HAROLD AND HIS BROTHERS ALL PERISHED.

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