Pepin repays a favor, part 1

In November of the year 751 Pepin le Bref successfully completed a coup against the royal Merovingian family of Francia, a family that had ruled as kings for three centuries. Pepin did so in part with the support of Pope Zacharias, who sided with the Frank when Pepin sent emissaries to Rome in 749 to ask the famous question, who should be king, the one in name only, or the one who actually wields power? Once Zacharias answered in favor of Pepin, the Mayor of the Palace “was chosen king by all the Franks, consecrated by the bishops and received the homage of the great men.”1.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.33, p.102. Pepin was anointed and crowned by the foremost Christian in the land, the English monk and bishop Boniface.

Only a year later the papacy was in a jam. The Lombard king Aistulf was on the move, and had taken several cities that were under the ostensible jurisdiction of the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople, and the papacy. Pope Stephen II recognized that he would need to keep all of his options open, and he appealed for help to Emperor Constantine V (later known as “the dung-named”, but that’s another story). In June of 752 Stephen also sent a messenger to Pepin, asking him to send an ambassador who could then escort the pope to the king’s presence.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fredegar, Continuations, ch.33, p.102.

All men are not created equal

Are all men created equal? While “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” they were certainly not evident to those born in the 8th century. There were several different legal statuses a person could hold, either at birth or as their circumstances changed later in life. These statuses were written into the various law codes in effect at the time. Unfortunately the codes only describe what the effects of being part of one status or another were, but don’t delineate what it actually meant to be in one status or another. So we have to infer the meaning of a status, rather than rely on a written description. Welcome to early medieval studies.

The most common way the laws illustrated status was the fines that were imposed for various infractions against a person. “[A]lthough the laws do not support the existence of difference social classes based on birth in the Frankish kingdom, they nonetheless make it clear that some people were worth more than others. This difference in value was indicated by a person’s wergeld, the amount at which that life was valued.”1.Fischer-Drew, Laws of the Salian Franks, p.45. Based on these carefully constructed fines, and the descriptions of those to whom the fine protected, it is possible to build a rough social model for the early medieval age.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fischer-Drew, Laws of the Salian Franks, p.45.

Mind your manors

Manor houses, lords of the manor, and the rugged but forelock-tugging yeomanry did not spring, fully formed, from the minds of Fellowes and Bronte. Manors have been a part of the European landscape for more than fifteen centuries. What we see today are the slightest shadows of a system that once formed the foundation of the economic, social, and political structures in early medieval Europe.

A manor was a self-sustaining economic unit under a single lord that produced a surplus, a surplus which could take the form of many types of economic production. The manor was the dominant social and legal structure for the vast majority of the continent’s inhabitants. And the manor was the basic unit of political authority, the tool by which the king and church expanded their income and power. The benefice was the idea, the manor the method.

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Friends with benefits

No, not those friends with benefits. We’re talking about real benefits: the right to power and land. The granting of those rights formed the backbone of the Frankish economic, political, and social worlds.

The Germanic tribes, of which the Franks were one, had a custom in which war band leaders granted their faithful followers land or gold, both to reward them and to bind them to the leader in the future. By the 6th and 7th century this custom was practiced on a greater scale.1.Stephenson, Mediaeval Feudalism, pp.2 – 6. The essential elements remained the same: a man pledged himself to his lord (fealty and homage), and the lord in turn granted his new man something material in return, as well as the promise of protection.

By the 8th century under this tradition the king (or the mayors of the palace, acting in the king’s name) would grant usage of something valuable to one of his loyal followers. This grant, known as a benefice,2.From the Latin beneficium, a noun meaning a benefit. was made for, and in expectation of, past and future service to the king. The benefice could be fishing rights, a toll, an administrative office, or land.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Stephenson, Mediaeval Feudalism, pp.2 – 6.
2. From the Latin beneficium, a noun meaning a benefit.