Science & Life Notebooks: The Feudal Age

Science & Life Notebooks: The Feudal Age

The notion of feudalism is too often reduced to that of a seigneurial regime founded on bonds of vassalage. Yet it is not limited to the emancipation of the aristocracy but also sees the kingdom of the Franks transform into the kingdom of France. In this issue of Science & Life Notebooks discover the power games between the lords who own the land, the king, the chivalry and the Church, but also the spectacular rise of medieval towns.

The word feudalism evokes, for many of us, a rural landscape punctuated by fortified castles from the top of which lords potentates bleed dry a peasantry overwhelmed by servitude, while heroic knights gallop from battle to tournament. These reminiscences of our first history lessons or of reading the novels of Thomas Peacok and Walter Scott are not devoid of foundations ... Feudal society, founded around the links uniting the suzerain to his vassals, practices violence. The land exploited by the serfs especially enriched the nobles, who used it as an instrument of domination. But the time is better than its reputation. And above all, it is not limited to the advent of the castle lordships. Because if it sees initially the emancipation of the aristocracy, it is the scene of a much more significant transformation: that of the kingdom of the Franks into the kingdom of France.

In 843, during the partition of the Carolingian Empire, who would have bet on West Francia? This estate attributed to Charles the Bald has contours that do not respect either geography or ethnic zoning. Very quickly the sovereign had to compose with the dukes and the counts, passing with them bonds of reciprocal fidelity which increased their power. The hour of the princes has come. But the king will have his revenge: the Capetians, and in particular Philippe Auguste, will turn to their profit the feudal system to enlarge the royal domain and strengthen the authority of the crown. Other gradual changes are being felt, such as the overall improvement in the condition of the peasants or the tremendous urban development in which, it is true, the local lords take an active part. Archeology provides precious testimony to the birth and evolution of these medieval towns, as evidenced by our report in Château-Thierry, whose history is as fascinating and eventful as that of Ivanhoé ...

The Feudal Age: the time of the lords. Les cahiers Science & Vie, March 2014. On newsstands and by subscription.

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