Paul Halsall

Introduction to the Medieval World

Class 18: Secular Society: Aristocratic Cultures and Peasant Life

Assigned Reading:

Topics: The Aristocracy. Chivalry. Political Power. Literature. Chaucer. Peasant life. Diet. Mortality. The Manor. Variety of patterns.


I. Aristocracies - Basic Nature A. Meaning of Aristocracy in Middle Ages Aristocracy and Nobility Birth, Titles, Power, Class B. A Military Class Basis for aristocracy's existence. Their provision of military power to higher powers. Their wielding it on their own behalf. C. A Land-holding Class Almost all European aristocracies develop out of power and wealth gained from owning land. In France this, of course, had been connected with Feudalism, which in ninth-tenth centuries had involved both a system of power relationships/obligations among the feudal lords and a conflation of public and private power. This was not the case everywhere. But due to the cultural and political impact of France that impact of that model was felt across Europe D. Levels within the Aristocracy Magnates - in Spain rijos hombres Sub-lords Knights E. Changes in middle ages modulated the meaning of both military power and land holding. But the aristocracy remained. II. Effect of Commercial Revolution on Aristocracy A. Commercialization of Life - Money reintroduced Money as root of evils [Importance of Avarice as a sin to medieval moralists - replaces Pride as worst of seven deadly sins.] -But as root of a more advanced economy. -Knight service replaced by scutage in England by late 12th century. B. Availability of goods Luxury good become available - Spices, Silk, or even good woolen cloth, Wine Aristocracies are a consuming class. Old self-sufficiency was not appropriate to their status. C. Governments need money In early middle ages no distinction between a monarchs private income and public expenditure. It was possible to run a state on that. Government did very little. As society becomes commercialized, money becomes more important. How do governments get money. Not through feudalism. -They impose tariffs -But not enough - need special taxes on income. Leads to calling of assembly. No taxation without consent, not as a principle but as a practicality D. Urban Oligarchies Within towns a distinct class structure Based on master Merchants. In Italy bankers especially become prominent III. Varieties of European Aristocracy How did all this impact on the European Aristocracy. - in terms of power - in terms of wealth - in terms of culture Hollister talks of the aristocracy. Strictly speaking this is in accurate. There were distinctions based on country. A. Aristocracies and Political Power Two way movement 1. Development of Councils into Parliaments Tradition of King's Councils 2. Centralization of Power B. Wealth Landed wealth was not liquid. Peasants might pay in kind or by labor service. To gain liquidity two methods -selling surplus produce -converting services to rents Which was most profitable depended on general economic conditions [which no-one understood] Aristocrats tended to chronically overspend for cultural reasons. C. France 1. Developments already discussed in N. France a. Castles b. Lineage 2. South France - a distinct culture. Remained independent minded Albigensian Crusade 3. Rising Power of French Kings. Philip Augustus 1180-1223 Louis IX - 1226-1270 Philip IV the Fair 1285-1314 Use of Roman Law - King is emperor in own kingdom. Piecemeal acquisition of territory stopped any national council emerging. but Estates General 1302. Aristocracy loses power in politics. But not in all areas. Lack of National consciousness in France. Until 100 years war. D. England 1. The conquest Centralization 2. Power of Henry I and Henry II Noble rebellions under Stephen Destruction of Castles 3. England - Parliament Magna Carta 1215 - feudal and constitutional Barons Revolt 1265 - Simon de Montfort Barons, + reps from towns and shires. Edward I (1272-1307. used them to raise money. Regular Parliaments in early 14th century E. Spain/Castile and Leon 1. Built up piecemeal 2. Alfonso X Cortes Towns and Nobles F. Germany Ministrales - servants of Emperor Emergence of real feudalism in late 12th and 13th centuries G. Italy Landed aristocracy important - but often moved into towns. Some towns dominated by Aristocrats - Rome, Milan, Ferrara. In others the oligarchy comes to dominate. IV. Aristocratic Families A. Basic aim was to preserve family power. B. Lineage emphasized primogeniture. Problem of younger sons disbursing family property. C. Strategy of having few children - common to aristocracies. But aristocrats subject to same mortality pressures as everyone else: -high infant mortality -chance of disease and accident. D. Problems 1. Heiresses 2. Families die out -no British title goes back before 1265. E. Class Mobility There is movement into aristocracy from below. V. Military Changes Mounted shock combat troops Advent of the infantry - Long bow, Crossbow Most explicit in 14th and 15 th centuries VI. Aristocratic Culture Concentrating on France here. Although nature of position in society changed, aristocrats develop a culture which in many ways looks back to the good old days. Childish aspect of aristocratic culture - in comp. with Church and Urban cultures. But Aristocratic mores still dominant - see folk tales. A. Distinguish from Clerical culture and popular culture -Reading ability. spreads gradually B. Chivalry -emphasizes military nature of aristocracy -Theory of knighthood Christian dubbing ceremony -elaboration of manners -Vassalage -Underside - Ransoms - for money C. Sport - Hunting, Hawking/Falconry, Tournaments D. Evolution of Sweaty baron to courtly lord. VII. Literature Latin and Vernacular A. Epic - Song of Roland Martial Spirit. Crusade literature? B. Troubadour Lyric Love and Marriage C. Romance - Arthur Convergence of Lyric and Epic D. Courtly Love Andreas Capellanus VIII Life on the Land i. Introduction A. Village and Manor formation in 9th and 10th centuries already discussed. [Go over] Village - unit of Work Manor - unit of jurisdiction B. Myths of changelessness and sameness. ii. Change 1050-1350 A. Causes of Change [Q&A] 1. Population Expansion - effects - amount of production - Value of labor 2. Expansion of resources -Internal (assorting. - Swamps & Forests -done by peasants - due to population growth -done by landlords to enhance their own lands to produce salable goods - the exchange economy -External - Spain & Germany All leads to surplus 3. Commercial Revolution Commercialization of Economy -Peasants can sell for money -Tax collectors want money -Lords want money 4. Limits to Growth might kick in. 1200-1350 - little ice age B. Twelfth Century 1. Expansion -of area farmed and of Europe in General -out paces population expansion. 2. Slaves and Serfs Slaves die out in Carolingian period -how to maintain an legal status when there is no real concept of law. -People simple `forget' the distinction The word `servus'. Serfs become tenants 3. Labor shortage Preventing Peasants leaving - migration - Spain, Germany, Towns Enhance position on village -give up labor service -commutation to money rents [flip side of commercial revolution's effect on aristocracy] 4. Demesne Farming less in 12th century 5. Emergence of a free peasantry in many areas. C. Thirteenth Century 1. Population growth began to outstripped land availability Effects on Rural Life -made labor cheaper -new beginning of farming demenes intensively -Landlords need money also for extraordinary taxation 2. Legal consciousness -Refer Bologna and canon Law -England and origins of Common Law Custom into law -Harder to evade old obligation -some people get stuck in categories 3. landless laborers - some evidence that in England people were prepared to give up freedom for land. D. Summary 11th and 12th century - population and land expansion - profits peasants and Lords 13th century -population growth continues but with new effects. It decreases the relative value of labor 14th century - A Malthusian crisis? iii. Village Life A. The Manor Law -Beadle - police official -Bailiff - runs manor courts -Pledging/Frankpledge Reeves - elected by fellows. Always a villein. allocates labor B. Physical Lay Out See handout C. Church 1. Clergy 2. Tithes 3. Feasts D. Monasteries and Monastic Landlords -Opened up new areas -stricter in enforcing obligation on peasants iv. Peasant Life This is necessarily schematic. A. Variety of Patterns Myth of sameness across Europe 1. Northern Europe -grain based cultivation Manor and Village -Varieties - fishing - sheep farming - hill farms - regional specialization -Hops -Grapes 2. Southern Europe -Grain and Olives -Not the same spread of manorial system -Varieties - Fishing - Sheep - Transhumance B. Daily Life - basically North European and English Evidence [Discuss why so much information comes from England -Survival of sources - no major revolution or wars -English language historical writing -The lecturer is English -does all this lead to a bias?] Pre-dawn breakfast - black bread and ale Work and marriage Outside work - largely male -plowing -Harvesting -trapping Inside Work - largely female -kitchen garden -animal maintenance -repair -cooking C. Fees for lords tools - mill etc., D. Housing - Thatch and timber One or two rooms, No furniture Animals in the House Beds - shared E. Nuclear and extended families F. Problems Nature - drought, flooding, famine, disease of humans, animals and crops [remember when we discuss religion] G. Mortality 1. Mortality - 2/3 before age 10 1/3 in first year 2. Disease -no doctors, aspirin, flea powder, lice killer 3. Effects of War 4. Diet a. Causes of Change Slow spread of tools - iron Three field system b. Grain - Wheat, Rye, Spelt c. Peas and beans d. Meat, Rabbits, Pigs e. Effects of New Diet - tentative Women live longer than men now - a change -iron rich vegetables eaten now -women need more iron - pregnancy, menstruation all use blood -women need 2x as much as men

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© Paul Halsall, 1996.

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