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

I: Western Europe on the eve of the Crusades,   pp. [2]-29 PDF (56.0 KB)

Page 15

order the feudal system was no great success, for it was based on the assumption
that there would be continual warfare. In theory, quarrels between lords
and vassals and between vassals of the same lord were settled in the feudal
courts. Actually when two vassals of a lord quarreled, they went to war and
the lord did not intervene unless he thought one might be so seriously weakened
that he could not perform his service. And no spirited vassal ac cepted an
unfavorable decision by his lord's court until he was coerced with armed
force. Between vassals of different lords there was no hindrance to war.
In short, in eleventh-century France, feudal warfare was endemic and it was
a fortunate region that saw peace throughout an entire summer. The church
tried to limit this warfare by declaring the Peace and Truce of God. The
Peace of God forbade attacks on noncombatants, merchants, women, and peasants
while the Truce prohibited fighting on weekends and on religious days. Unfortunately,
neither Peace nor Truce was taken very seriously by the feudal lords. 
 Fighting was the chief function of the feudal male. From early youth he
was conditioned to bear the weight of knightly armor and drilled rigorously
in the use of arms. He had to learn the extremely difficult feat of hitting
a target with his spear while riding at full gallop with his shield on his
left arm. When he was considered adequately mature and trained he was made
a knight. This was a simple ceremony in the eleventh century. An ex perienced
knight gave him his arms and then struck him a terrific blow with his hand
or the fiat of his sword. Throughout his life the knight spent most of his
time in practising with his arms or actually fighting. Dull periods of peace
were largely devoted to hunting on horseback such savage animals as the wild
boar. The knight ate enormous meals of pastry and game washed down with vast
quantities of wine or ale. He kept his wife continuously pregnant and saw
that his house was well supplied with concubines to while away his leisure
hours. In short, the ordinary knight was savage, brutal, and lustful. At
the same time he was, in his own way, devout. He accepted without question
the teachings of the church and was deeply interested in the welfare of his
soul. He had a private chaplain, commonly chosen for the speed with which
he could say mass, who performed the sacraments in his chapel and heard his
confessions. Most knights scrupulously observed the rites of religion. They
were, however, little troubled by Christian ethics. The giving of generous
gifts to a family monastic establish ment or even the founding of a new one
was the usual way of 

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