University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Page View

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 8

will. Finally they were extremely profitable. When a man was hanged, the
lord could seize all his possessions, and the penalty for many offenses was
a fine. The possession of seignorial authority gave a lord many opportunities
for profit. He could hold a market in his village and collect a toll or sales
tax on all goods sold. He could establish fees for crossing a bridge or sailing
down a stream. He could also establish monopolies. Thus many a lord compelled
his tenants to have their grain ground at his mill and to bake their bread
in his ovens, paying generous fees in grain and flour. He forbade his tenants
to keep doves while his waxed fat on their crops. 
 The unfree villager was almost completely subject to his lord, especially
when the latter had rights of jurisdiction. In theory criminal justice was
a function of the state and the unfree as well as the free were subject to
it. In England this theory was a reality. Except in minor offenses the lord
had no criminal jurisdiction over his unfree tenants and if he committed
a crime against one, he could be haled into a royal court. But in France
and western Germany the governmental powers were so distributed that if the
lord of a village could not hang his serfs, the lord next above him could,
and would be delighted to do so at his request. Nowhere did unfree tenants
have any civil rights against their lord. He could demand any rents and services
he desired and take any of their property that struck his fancy. The arbitrary
authority of the lord was, however, restrained by several circumstances.
The men of the Middle Ages were basically conservative their tendency was
to do what their ancestors had done and distrust innovations. Hence a lord
hesitated to increase the customary dues of his villagers. Then it was obviously
to his interest to keep his labor supply alive and this in itself limited
the rents and services he could demand. Finally the church insisted that
serfs had souls and urged the lords to treat them as fellow Christians. Rather
grudgingly the lords admitted that serfs could marry, but they insisted on
calling their families sequelae or broods. 
 Throughout history progress in agricultural methods has been slow and gradual.
As our information concerning the eleventh century is extremely scanty, it
is almost impossible to say to what extent and in what ways agricultural
techniques were improved. There is some evidence that villages were changing
from the twoto the three-field system and thus increasing their utilization
of their arable land. It seems likely that improvement in the design of plows
and the harnessing of oxen was allowing a reduction in 

Go up to Top of Page