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Baldwin, M. W. (ed.) / The first hundred years

I: Western Europe on the Eve of the Crusades,   pp. [2]-29 PDF (10.8 MB)

Page 17

on the floor. A few great lords had some stone work in their castles —
perhaps a stone gate with towers. Others built great stone tours or towers
like the White Tower in the Tower of London built by William the Conqueror.
These had massive walls ten to twenty feet thick. The door was on the second
floor and was reached by a wooden stairway easily cut away in time of danger.
If an enemy appeared, the door would be closed and the inhabit ants of the
tower would sit quietly inside. The enemy could not get at them, but neither
could they get at him unless he came so close to the walls that stones or
boiling oil could be dropped on him from the roof. 
 The castle was an extremely vital factor in feudal politics. If adequately
supplied and garrisoned a castle could hold out almost indefinitely against
the siege methods of the day. Rarely could a feudal army be held together
long enough to take a resolutely defended castle. Hence its lord was practically
independent. If a baron was so unfortunate as to be condemned by his lord's
court, he could simply retire to his castle until his discouraged suzerain
was ready to make peace. Not until the advent of mercenary troops who would
stay in service as long as they were paid and the invention of improved siege
engines was it possible for a lord to exert any effective authority over
a vassal who possessed a strong castle. And the castle was an integral part
of feudalism. When feudal institutions spread to a new land, castles soon
appeared. Within a century of the Norman conquest there were some twelve
hundred castles in England. 
 At the beginning of the eleventh century France was the only feudal state
in Europe. The Capetian king was essentially a feudal suzerain supporting
his court on the produce of his demesne manors and raising his army from
his vassals in the duchy of France and the tiny contingents that the great
lords were willing to send him. The peers of France readily acknowledged
that they were the king's vassals, but rarely bothered to render him any
services. Actually France was not a single state but an alliance of feudal
principalities bound together by the feeble suzerainty of the king. In real
power the king was weaker than most of his great vassals. His demesne was
small and he could not control the barons of the Ile de France. The monarchy
survived largely be cause of the support of the church, which was inclined
to prefer one master to many, and the resources that could be drawn from
church fiefs. While some of the great lords such as the count of Flanders
and the dukes of Normandy and Aquitaine had obtained 

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