Ch 03 Feudal England

Ch.3-Feudal England

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CHAPTER III: FEUDAL BRITAIN

SECTION 1: THE CONQUEST

 WILLIAM’S VICTORY OVER HAROLD BROKE THE GODWINS POWER AT SENLAC HILL, HASTINGS, AND ALL OF SOUTHERN ENGLAND LAY OPEN TO INVASION, THOUGH RESISTANCE CONTINUED IN LONDON.

 

EVEN THOUGH THE MIDLANDS AND THE NORTH WERE UNCONQUERED AFTER THE CAPTURE OF LONDON, WILLIAM WAS PRONOUNCED KING ON CHRISTMAS DAY AND CROWNED AT WESTMINSTER.

 

THE REST OF ENGLAND, HAVING PUT UP NO OPPOSITION, WAS LEFT UNDISTURBED, BUT BY 1069 WILLIAM WAS READY TO GOAD THE NORTH INTO REVOLT AND, WITH COLD FEROCITY, LAID WASTE TO YORKSHIRE AND DURHAM, LEAVING THE AREA UNPEOPLED FOR A GENERATION.

 

IT WAS NOT UNTIL THE PENNINES WERE TURNED INTO GREAT SHEEP FARMS BY CISTERIAN MONKS IN THE 11th CENTURY THAT THE REGION RECOVERED.

 

THE COMPLETION OF THE CONQUEST WAS FOLLOWED BY CONFISCATION OF LANDS, AND, AT THIS POINT, WE CAN SAY THAT FEUDALISM WAS FULLY ESTABLISHED.

 

THE ECONOMIC BASE WAS THE TOWN. ITS POLITICAL ORGANISATION WAS SUPERSTRUCTURED WITH RIGID DOGMA AND UNIFORMITY AND, WITHIN A FEW YEARS, THE COUNTRY PASSED FROM ITS OLD OWNERS INTO THE HANDS OF THE CONQUEROR.

 

POWER WAS DELEGATED FROM THE TOP, BUT WILLIAM RETAINED OWNERSHIP.

 

COURTS OF JUSTICE WERE CONTROLLED, TAXES LEVIED AND SERVICES ENACTED.

 

THE KING GRANTED LANDS TO HIS VASSALS AND EXTRACTED HUGE RENTS. HE WAS NOT INTERESTED HOW THE POOR WERE TREATED.

 

FEUDALISM WAS ALWAYS IN THEORY A CONTRACT BETWEEN KING AND VASSAL, BUT, IN ENGLAND, THIS CONTRACT WAS MORE REAL THAN ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD.

 

SO COMPLETE WAS WILLIAM’S CONTROL OF THE STATE ORGANISATION THAT IT ALMOST TRANSCENDED THE FEUDAL SYSTEM.

 

THE CROWN RETAINED ENOUGH LAND FOR ITS OWN POSSESSION, INCLUDING THE FORESTS, THAT IT WAS ESTIMATED TO COMPRISE ONE THIRD OF THE COUNTRY.

 

CHESTER AND SHREWSBURY HELD THE WELSH AND DURHAM THE SCOTS.

 

THE SHERIFFS WERE ALL POWERFUL, BUT THE PEOPLE REGARDED THE POWER OF THE CROWN AS A PROTECTION AGAINST THEIR OWN IMMEDIATE SUPERIORS.

 

THIS ALLIANCE BETWEEN THE KING AND THE SAXON POPULATION REMAINED A CONSTANT FEATURE DURING GENERATIONS THAT FOLLOWED THE CONQUEST.

 

SO, IN THE REIGN OF HENRY I, WHEN THE BARONS TRIED TO PLACE HIS BROTHER ROBERT, DUKE OF NORMANDY, ON THE THRONE, HENRY WAS ABLE TO DEFEAT ROBERT WITH A MAINLY SAXON ARMY AT TENCHEBRAY IN 1105.

 

IN THE 150 YEARS BETWEEN THE CONQUEST AND THE MAGNA CHARTA, FEUDAL BRITAIN DID NOT STAND STILL.

 

THOUGH THE MIDDLE AGES WERE THOUGHT OF AS A PERIOD OF STABILITY, THERE WAS IN FACT A CONSTANT STRUGGLE BETWEEN CENTRAL POWER AND THE REGIONS AND THE GROWTH OF A NEW COMBINATION OF CLASS FORCES BOTH LOCALLY AND NATIONALLY.

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