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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 6

crudely fashioned from the hides of his cattle and the wool from his sheep.
He was never far removed from the threat of starvation. In general, throughout
the village region thirty acres of arable land seems to have been considered
a normal tenement and experts have calculated that this would support a family
in ordinary years. But many tenements were smaller than thirty acres and
there were bound to be bad years. And the high cost of transpor tation by
ox-cart over bad roads meant that even a local crop failure would result
in a famine. 
 For the mass of the population of western Europe the village was the political,
economic, social, and religious unit. The villager found his amusement in
the village fetes. The village priest per 
 formed the sacraments and gave his flock what little knowledge they had
of the world of ideas. As he was likely to be barely lit erate, this knowledge
was bound to be slight. The villagers were both devout and superstitious.
The countryside abounded in miracle-working springs and trees and its people
venerated a mul titude of local saints never officially recognized by the
 The legal status of the villagers and the proportion of their pro duce that
they could keep for their own use differed sharply from region to region
and even from village to village. By the end of the third quarter of the
eleventh century the seignorial system was firmly established in England,
France, and western Germany. In these broad regions almost every man who
worked the land owed some form of rent or service to a lord. In Saxony and
parts of eastern Germany the villagers still depended directly on the king,
but the seignorial system was spreading rapidly, aided by the political anarchy
of the last quarter of the century. But even where the seignorial system
reigned there were striking differences in conditions. In southern England,
most of France, and Alsace and Lorraine, the vast majority of the villagers
were unfree, bound to the soil and with no property rights against their
lords. In eastern and northeastern England, the ancient Danelaw and East
Anglia, a fair proportion, probably over half, of the villagers were freemen
who paid rents and certain carefully defined services to their lords. Some
parts of France such as the region about Bor deaux contained many freemen.
In eastern Germany the free vil lagers were gradually being reduced to serfdom
but the process was by no means complete. 
 The seignorial system was a set of institutions through which the feudal
class, soldiers and prelates, drew their support from those who tilled the
land. In most of the vast region occupied by 

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