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The following. extract from a book by Richard of Bury,
the Bishop of Durham, gives an exalted view of the
clergy. He explains what privileges and responsibilities
fall upon the priests and bishops and explains why the
clergy is entitled to them.

You (the clergy) are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy race; you are a peculiar people chosen into the work of God; you are priests and ministers of God, nay, you are called the very Church of God, --laymen cannot claim this distinction. You, being better than laymen, sing psalms and hymns in the chancel and, serving the altar and living by the altar, make the true body of Christ; wherein God himself has honored you not only above the laymen, but even a little higher than the angels. ...You give aid to the poor in the name of the Crucified One, for it is required of Christ's stewards that a man be found faithful. You are shepherds of the Lord's flock, ...and your sheep are bound to repay you with milk and wool.

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By what right do you claim these rights and responsibilities, o Priests? Always remember, we pray, that these liberties and privileges are bestowed on you because you have learned how to read the Holy Scriptures. In truth, taught by the Scriptures, which are the containers of wisdom and intellect, you yourself ascend to the exalted position of teacher, and are called by laymen, Rabbi (which means "teacher" in Hebrew). By reading the Scriptures and the books you become marvelous in the eyes of laymen, light great lights in the world, and possess the dignities of the Church according to your various stations. Because you can read you derive the benefit of clergy, for if you read but a single line you are granted the right to be heard by church courts rather than by those of the laymen; for it is written, "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm;" and he who has rashly touched them let him, by his own blow, be smitten violently with the wound of a curse.

* From Richard of Bury, PHILOBIBLON, in James Harvey Robinson, READINGS IN

EUROPEAN HISTORY (Ginn and Co., Boston: 1904), pp. 359-60. (Language modernized and simplified by John M. Good.)


The following legal document taken from France in the eleventh century cast light on additional privileges and responsibilities given to bishops.

In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity, Amen. I, Louis, by the grace of God king of the French, make known to all present as well as to come, that at Mante, in our presence, Count Henry of Champagne conceded the fief of Savigny to Bartholomew, bishop of Beauvais, and his successors. And for that fief the said bishop has made promise and engagement for one knight, and justice and service to Count Henry; and he has also agreed that the bishops who shall come after him will do likewise. In order that this may be understood and known to posterity, we have caused the present charter to be corroborated by our seal.


The following selection from John of Salisbury's STATESMAN'S
BOOK explains the position of the serf and the peasant in
medieval society. In this political treatise, Jolin of
Salisbury compared the state with the human body. The
soul, he said, was the Church and the priests, the head
was the Prince, the arms were the knights or soldiers,
and the peasants were the feet.


From John Dickinson, trans. THE STATESMAN'S BOOK OF JOHN OF
SALISBURY, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927) 243-244.

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In this selection, John of Salisbury indicates that the peasant class
perform the greatest of all services in the Commonwealth - the
feeding, sheltering and clothing of society. In return, the superiors
of the peasants owe the peasants service, namely protecting their
lands and homes.


John of Salisbury's description of the peasant's place in
the commonwealth paints an idealized picture of mutual
cooperation between lord and serf. In fact, the legal
status of the serf, much more than Salisbury's theory,
defined the privileges and responsibilities of serfdom.

The following extract explains this legal status.
There are many modes by which a Man, in a state of Villenage=, may acquire his

a ', freedom. Thus if his Lord, being desirous of emancipating him, releases him, as well from all his own claims, as those of the Lord's Heirs: or, if the Lord give or sell him to another, for the purpose of liberating him. It must, however, be observed, that no one in a state of Villenage can purchase his freedom with his own Money; for, in such case, he may, according to the Law and Custom of the Realm, be again recalled by his Lord to a state of Villenage, all the Chattels of a Villein-born being understood as so absolutely in the power of his Lord, as to preclude the former, at least with his own Money, and as against his Lord, from redeeming himself from Villenage. But, if a stranger with his own Money purchase the villein's freedom, the villein may for ever after maintain his freedom against his Lord, who has sold him. When any one has released a Villein, from all right which he, or his Heirs, could claim in him, or has sold him to a stranger, the villein who has been thus enfranchised may for ever after defend his freedom, as well against the Lord Himself, as his Heirs; whilst he can prove the fact in Court, either by a Charter, or by any other lawful means. And the question may even be decided by the Duel, if any one deny, that the party has been liberated from his state of Villenage, and, there by a proper Witness, who, having both seen and heard the very fact of Enfranchisement, is ready to prove his freedom in Court.

It should here be remarked, that a man may enfranchise his villein-born, so far as the consequences affect the persons of himself, or his Heirs, but not as they apply to others. Because, if a man born a Villein, but thus rendered free, should be produced in Court, to make proof against a stranger, or to wage his Law, he may be justly precluded, if it be objected against him, and proved in Court, that he was born in a state of Villenage, although his condition was such that he had been Knighted subsequently to his being enfranchised. If a yillein-born peacably remain during a year and a day in any privileged Town, so that he be received in their community or Guild as a Citizen, he shall from such circumstances be freed from Villenage.

v, 5.

Ranulf de Glanvill, Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Angliae,

John Beames, A TRANSLATION OF GLANVILLE, Washington, 1900, pp. 88-90. Edited by J. H. Beale, 1/ The French word for serfdom; villein is the old French word for serf. 2/ I.e., a town that had franchises by prescription or charter.



Many historians and social scientists distinguish between two general models of society: traditional and innovative. In a model traditional society, political, economic, and social systems would be organized and operated according to the society's long accepted folkways and mores. A model innovative society, on the other hand, would constantly develop new practices in its political, economic, and social systems. No society, however, is completely traditional or completely innovative. All traditional societies encounter at times circumstances which cause them to change their old ways of doing things while innovative societies always pattern some of their institutions and practices on the proven ways of the past.

Since no societies are purely traditional or entirely innovative, we can probably think about them most accurately if we imagine each society as falling in a particular place along a spectrum. Suppose we imagine at one extreme a society in which all decisions are made according to customs inherited from the past. On the other end of the spectrum, we can imagine a society in which all decisions are made as the result of a decision-making process in which folkways and mores play no part. We might represent these situations graphically as follows:

All decisions

based on fradition

No decisions

based on tradition



Greeks and


United States

of the three societies we have studied so far, Greece and Rome occupied positions near the right hand side of the spectrum, as the illustration above indicates. Though both had established mores and folkways, both also developed a host of new patterns, values, institutions and methods to cope with their changing environment. Still, neither society was as innovative as modern United States. The Greeks developed their humanistic values, a sharp break with tradition, and based their democratic political system and fluid social structure on those values. The Romans constantly changed their institutions to meet the demands of their ever expanding empire. Ultimately they changed much of their value system in response to the new creed of Christianity. These two societies were responsible for some of the first major innovations in the western world. These innovations ultimately became part of western traditions.

The society of medieval Europe, on the other hand, was more traditional. By the eighth century after Christ, the innovations of the Greeks, Romans and Christians had hardened into traditional values, mores, and folkways.

result, by the Middle Ages Europeans had established comparatively static political, social, and economic systems despite the fact that in all three of these areas marked changes took place over the centuries.

The political system, though its forms varied from place to place and though it often changed in minor ways to meet new challenges, was governed largely by tradition. Leaders were recruited from the same families or social classes, largely because political power was passed down from father to son. Judicial decisions were made on the basis of traditional tests or ordeals. If accused of a falsehood, a medieval knight had to meet an ordeal by fire. A fire was set burning and the knight was compelled to walk through it. If he came out uninjured it was assumed he was telling the truth. On the other hand, if he was severely burned, the spectators assumed that he had lied.

Administrative decisions were also made largely on the basis of custom. For example, a knight was required to serve his lord for only forty days and forty nights. Afterwards he was free to go home. A decision to go to war depended partly on the hope of winning before the knight's term of service was over. Legislative decisions were rarely made, for there were only rare instances when the medieval ruler felt that new laws that applied to all subjects were needed. Charlemagne, for instance, never made a law that affected all of his people. Rather he decided what each individual vassal was supposed to do. It never occurred to him to make a law about vassalage that would apply to all of his nobles. Even the Magna Charta, the recognized cornerstone of constitutional government, is not so much a statement of lofty principles as a catalogue of specific restrictions on what King John could or could not do.

The medieval economic system was also governed largely by tradition. The crops produced in Europe had been grown in the same way for centuries from the same soil that the medieval serf tilled. In an era in which modern technology adds invention to invention and a newer and better product is an everyday occurrence, it seems difficult to conceive of an age in which few new items were produced. But such was the case in the Middle Ages. For centuries the same products - wheat, millet, beans

wheat, millet, beans - were cultivated on European manors. The same articles were produced by the small manufacturers or artisans - armor, leather goods, weapons. Moreover, these products were produced in roughly the same way. The peasant used the same type of seeds that his forefathers had used and he rotated the planting of his crops in three separate fields as his ancestors in the Roman Empire had done. Wealth, too, was divided about as it had been apportioned for generations. The Church fathers and the knights received the greater share while the peasant received more meager portions. In an economy that depended primarily on agriculture rather than commerce, wealthy men were measured not by how much money they had in the bank but how much land they owned. The church and the lord owned the land while the peasant usually did not. Since land was passed from one generation to the next, the same classes retained control of what wealth there was. They controlled the political system and hence, the economy.

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