Ch 03 Feudal England

Additions - Foreign Relations-Scutage-Money-Crusades-The Great Charter





 The Normandy Kings used England as a base from which to extend their domains in France.

The bi-national character of kings and barons, were more at home in France than in England .
They spent half their summers campaigning in France using English men and treasures. However more important are the economic links forged between London and the Rhine (directly opposite the Thames across the Channel), the Mediterranean and the Baltic states. Ports of Lynn,( now Kings Lynn) Boston and Ipswich were used to trade with Flanders. Iron, salt, cloth, wine,wool, (spices from the East,) Lead, tin and cattle from the south coast to Caen.
Weavers and other textile workers came from the continent and settled here. The Flemings settled in Wales.


SCUTAGE –the growth of a money economy had the effect of encouraging the barons to take money payments from their own serfs instead of the customary labour dues ( Day and Boon Work)


THE CRUSADES were only relevant in so far as they were an effort to search for land to plunder and dynastic conquest. They were not untaken by kings at first but barons. Areas of France and Italy invaded by the Northmen, who were most active, at the same time there were counter – attacks against a new invasion of Moslems who threatened to cut trade routes to the East and even threatened Constantinople. A religious motive was added by setting the Holy Places at Jerusalem, as the objective, but Palestine was then,as now, the strategic key to Levant. The Moslem invasion had also put a stop to the stream of pilgrims going to Jerusalem, which were, as now, a highly organized business. The Third Crusade, to recapture Jerusalem from the Moslems, involved Philip of France and Richard 1 from England. For the first time British ships entered the Mediterranean, and the adoption by Richard of St George as his Patron Saint. This was the result of a direct alliance with the maritime republic of Genoa. The Crusade was a failure, extremely costly in lives and money.

However it lead to permanent connections between Italy and England.

The result of the Crusade was a progrom against the Jews, as money lenders, and they were barred from trade and industry. Used by the Crown, the Jews acted as a sponge, to gather money, but when the protection of the Crown was relaxed the Jews were exposed to massacre and pillage.

The Crown was short of money following the Crusades and sold "Charters" to the ever enlarged towns who still depended on agriculture for their wealth. As the towns grew they began to make bargains with their lords, undertaking to pay a lump sum or yearly “farm”  to be quit of their obligations to perform labour services. Merchants Gilds grew up. ( next article)The rise of corporate towns or “Communes”, freed from the system, personal relations and services, which led to the formation of new classes ready to enter the political field.
Richard’s short reign was important.


The revolt to these changes by Richard’ brother John, was the last occasion in English history in which any feudal magnate ever attempted to establish an authority opposed to and independent of that of the State.




John stood alone. He could not call out the “army” of supporters, which in the past had been the trump card of the Crown in its struggles with the nobility. Unwillingly he submitted, and at Runnymede on June 15th 1215, he accepted the programmes of demands embodied by the barons in Magna Carta.


This was a turning point in English History but mostly for the wrong reasons.


It did not embody the principle of “no taxation without representation”.

It did not guarantee parliamentary government, since Parliament did not exist then.

It did not establish the right to trial by jury, since, in fact, the jury was a piece of royal machinery, to which the barons had the strongest objections.


What it did do was to set out in detail the ways in which John had gone beyond his rights as a feudal overlord and to demand that his unlawful practices should stop.


It marked the alliance between the barons and the citizens of London by insisting on the freedom of merchants from arbitrary taxation.


In other ways, as it attempted to curtail the power of the royal courts, the Charter was reactionary.


And, while its most famous clause declared that “No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised (of his freehold) or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him or send upon him except by the lawful judgment of his peers and the law of the land”


The second word “freeman” excluded any possible benefit the overwhelming mass of the people who were still in villeinage.


However open revolt followed and it opened a new avenue that the barons could conduct a political struggle as a class rather than as individuals, so it prepared the way for the entry of new classes on to the political field and it led to the development of Parliament as the instrument through which the first nobles and after the bourgeoisie defended their interests.


The moment the barons dispersed, John denounced the Charter and gathered an army. The civil war that followed was interrupted by John’s death in October 1216.


His son was only 9 yrs old and he was quickly crowned and government was carried on in his name. The principles in the Charter became accepted as the basis of law. It was reaffirmed by every King from Henry 111 to Henry V1


The Charter was not re examined critically, until the 19th century, as a feudal document and discovered its real meaning and importance. (Shakespeare never refers to it for example).


The barons won there greatest victory but only at a price of acting in a way which was not strictly feudal, of forming new kinds of combinations both among themselves and with other classes.

There are three words that may need explaining:-



Levant - refers to land from Turkey to Egypt The Eastern Mediterranean

Genoa - Its coat of arms, St Georges Cross, became Englands flag, adopted by Richard 1 

Progrom  - against Jews. Its a long story and I will address it in Education/Reference

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