Table of contents
- Pepin the Short
- Split of Frankish kingdom between Charlemagne and Carloman I
- 814: Death of Charlemagne
- 842: The Oaths of Strasbourg
- How Charlemagne’s Empire Fell
- 843: Treaty of Verdun Map
- Battle of Toulouse (844): Charles the Bald and Pepin II
- Treaty of Prüm, 855
- Treaty of Mersen, 870
- Treaty of Ribemont, 880
- Fealty in the Holy Roman Empire
Feudal system during the Middle Ages | World History | Khan Academy
The Palatine Chapel (built 790–805) of Charlemagne
The Fronsac castle (770) by Charlemagne
Carolingian Empire and its capital, Aachen, in the early 9th century.
Pavia, the capital of Lombardy from 572 to 774
Map of Italy and Northern Italy at the death of Lombard king Alboin (572)
History of creation of Papal states by Pepin and the Map of Lombard territories in Italy in 756 before the donation by Pepin to Pope Stephen II. During Stephen’s pontificate, Rome was facing invasion by the Lombard king Aistulf when Stephen II went to Paris to seek assistance from Pepin the Short. Pepin defeated the Lombards and made a gift of land to the pope, eventually leading to the establishment of the Papal States. The gift included the following cities: the Emilia-Romagna, the Duchies of Spoleto and Benevento, and the Pentapolis (the “five cities” of Rimini, Pesaro, Fano, Senigallia and Ancona). Pepin however left the Lombard king Aistulf in possession of their kingdom with Pavia as their capital.
Map of Francia in 714 (Austrasia shown in green)
We might begin by emphasizing that at the summit of the Carolingian governmental system was the head of the Carolingian family, who bore the title of king up to 800, of emperor — the Holy Roman Emperor — afterwards. Backed by the power of the Church, this Carolingian monarch was ruler by the grace of God, and rebellion against him was, in theory at least, disobedience to the Almighty. As ruler of the Franks, Lombards, and the other peoples who made up this vast empire, he was supreme judge and lawgiver, general, and administrator. In practice he was head of the Church. He was not a despot, however, and his authority was absolute rather than arbitrary, since he was limited by both law and custom. He did not have the right, for instance, of taxing his subjects directly, nor could he arbitrarily interfere with their property or rights, except in war, without following the cumbersome legal procedures of the time.
The chief limitation upon the power of the Carolingian monarch, however, does not appear to have been the result of the restraining influence of law, custom, and other precedents. It lay in the paucity of his financial resources. He did not have adequate money to pay for a self-perpetuating bureaucracy of officials who could govern in his name, or resources which enabled him to hire soldiers to fight for him. In this respect his government was inferior to that of his Moslem and Byzantine neighbors. In addition the extent of the Carolingian empire made it impossible for a monarch to supervise personally remote regions, as might have been possible had the empire been smaller. Though efforts were made, as we will note, to get around such limitations, no real solution of a governmental sort was ever devised in the Carolingian period.
The count was the basic official of the Carolingian governmental system. He was a man of proven ability, often related to the royal house, who was given a charge or honorem as it was called, as ruler of a district, which he exercised in the name of the monarch. He was a kind of sub-king in this district, exercising all the functions of government. He led into battle the army of his county, consisting of the ban, or levy of free-born men, and was responsible for the county’s defense and its fortifications. He managed the fiscus of the crown, that is to say, the royal estates of his county and such dues and levies as the king had a right to exact. He was responsible for law and order and presided over the royal courts in cases brought before them. He was in charge of the mint, which he operated in the name of the monarch. Except where royal immunities or private seigneurial jurisdiction intervened, he was supreme in his county. A count did not receive a salary for his services, but was rewarded by a share in the fines of the county courts and other revenues which were the perquisite of his office. Often too he was given land owned by the monarch as his own. The eagerness with which men sought the dignity of count seems to show that the office carried with it ample rewards. ——
While the count was the leading official of his county, there were others who, in a sense, shared his authority. These were the archbishops, bishops, and abbots of important monasteries. More often than not appointed by the Carolingian monarchs, possessing important lands in local areas of the Southern France, such churchmen eagerly sought and generally received special privileges from the crown. The most important were the royal immunities which placed their churches or abbeys under royal protection and which gave them a right to hold their own courts and manage their properties free of fiscal interference by the counts.
To control their counts, the leading weapon available to the Carolingians, (besides support for their potential rivals, the abbots and bishops of the local region) was removal from office. There were some other methods also used by them to keep the counts in check. None of these methods, however, seems to have been really satisfactory in keeping counts from entrenching their families firmly in particular districts of the Midi or the Spanish March.
This being the case, Charlemagne and Louis the Pious made use of another method which had been begun by their predecessors — vassalage or fidelitas. All counts, bishops, and abbots who were given honores had to do homage to the monarch for them and in a special ceremony swear an oath of personal allegiance. This solemn oath and ceremony established a special tie between him who swore it and the ruler, a tie which, according to the Manual of Dhuoda, could not be broken as long as either was alive. Nor were counts and important churchmen the only ones who were bound to the ruler by such ties. In the Midi, as elsewhere in the empire, are to be found a class of important landowners known as vassi dominici, who were given land belonging to the royal fisc as life benefices in return for an oath of allegiance or fidelitas. These men, often Frankish in origin, and known as fideles, seem to have had special military responsibilities, which meant they were to present themselves fully equipped for campaigns upon call of king or count.
According to the Astronomus, Charlemagne followed the policy of his predecessors in Aquitaine about 778, when he appointed as abbots and counts men of Frankish origin exclusively. In examining men who were appointed as counts later on by Charlemagne and Louis the Pious many historians have been impressed by the number of these officials who were of Frankish origin. These facts made some historians think that the Carolingians were leaders of a group of Austrasian noble families, who were tied to them by blood and vassalage, through whom they conquered and governed their empire and kept control over the Church.
Did the Carolingians try to establish throughout Southern France colonies of Franks as military garrisons to hold down the local population? The Astronomus certainly implies as much when he tells us that Charlemagne established the Franks throughout Aquitaine to control the local population who were not Franks. But what evidence can we find to back up his assertion? Here Septimania seems of particular importance since it had never been Frankish prior to the eighth century, and, any evidence of Frankish colonies there must date from the Carolingian period.
Southern French and Catalan Society (778-828)
During the reigns of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious a number of changes took place in the
society of Southern France and Catalonia, which were more significant than the purely governmental ones discussed in the last chapter. These changes helped to modify the nature of this society and to lay the bases for its development. The most important were the emergence of a new method of landholding, especially in Septimania and Catalonia, the development of a set of personal relationships which might be called proto-feudal, and the revitalization of the Church, particularly in respect to its monastic institutions. To these should be added two more: the beginnings of an agricultural revolution which put vacant and unused land in cultivation, and a limited but no less real revival of trade.
With two systems of landholding already in existence, the Carolingian monarchs added a third, the aprisio. In 780, when Charlemagne had to face the problem of providing for Spanish refugees with land. He solved this problem by allotting to these hispani tracts of uncultivated land in Septimania. Two different types of refugees were given such allotments, the important ones or majores, who arrived in the Midi with servants and many followers, and the less important ones known as minores. As territory south of the Pyrenees was gradually liberated from the Moslem yoke, the aprisio system was extended into Catalonia, until by 812 such holdings were to be found over a wide area in the maritime Catalan counties of Barcelona, Gerona, Ampurias, and Roussillon, as well as around Narbonne, Carcassonne, and Béziers, and in Provence.
Privileges enjoyed by the large aprisio holders also carried with them certain responsibilities. The most important one was the duty of military service. These milites, as they were sometimes called, were required, upon call, to join the count’s army and take part in frontier campaigns. They also had to furnish horses and purveyance to royal missi and envoys traveling to and from Spain. They were also permitted to receive benefices from counts and to enter into a dependent relationship with them in return for such grants of lands.
But what of small holders who were given aprisiones: the minores? What about these and their rights? We know less about them than the majores, other than that they were dissatisfied with their situation in 815 and complained about how they were being oppressed by the majores. They were certainly numerous, particularly a little later where they formed a considerable element in the population of Catalonia. Like the milites who help aprisiones, the minores seem to have been free men, who were given their grants of aprisiones by larger landholders: counts, churches, or abbeys. In return they appear to have put it into cultivation and to have paid the original proprietor a cens, sometimes one third of the crop. They were certainly also subject to call for military service and responsible for the same corvées and purveyance as the more important aprisio holders.
The Governmental System of the Midi and Catalonia
To sum up, then, the governmental system of the Midi did change during the years from 828 to 900 from what it had been under Charlemagne and Louis the Pious. Not only did noble families establish themselves as de facto hereditary rulers of important regions, but in the process the use of viscounts became more widespread, along with some use of vicars in a minor but important subordinate capacity. As this happened vassi dominici — or the bondage towards the Carolingian emperors — disappeared though some of their functions may have been taken over or transformed into those of vassi beholden to local counts instead of to Carolingian and Capetian monarchs who lived north of the Loire. In other words, the empire had shown signs of decay, there was no central power in the region and regional counts became dominant.
Another consideration, however, seems more important — a subtle but real change in the nature of power exercised by counts after 870. As they made their authority private and hereditary, they came to think of it as a private family possession and so subject to traditions of the equal division of family property among all heirs — as Roman and Visigothic law provided. Down to 900, at least, the system of law and of courts continued in a form like that
established by the earlier Carolingian rulers. Courts, judging from our documents, continued to be held in most regions and were presided over by counts, or their legal representatives, the viscounts, the vicars, and the missi. In addition to such secular tribunals we find evidence of other courts in these regions. These are ecclesiastical ones presided over by bishops and abbots. They were in line with Carolingian practice which, in granting immunities to abbeys and churches, gave them the right to establish courts for those subject to their authority. The earliest example of such a court in our sources is one held in the Limousin over which Bishop Stodile of Limoges presided and in which a dispute between a nearby abbey and a vassus of the bishop was handled.