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Keys Institutions in Medieval Europe

As medieval European civilization developed several institutions became defining elements. Among them were three order systems, medieval monarchy, feudalism, and manorialism.

Medieval monarchy was without doubt when of the most common order systems within Europe yet monarchs did not often have absolute power within their realms. Some factors acted in ways to strengthen medieval monarchy whilst other factors could in certain circumstances weaken or restrict royal authority (Roberts, 1996 p. 106). Monarchy itself had predated medieval monarchy in Europe yet during this era some royal dynasties had started to gain greater control over their respective realms. Medieval monarchy was arguably the most visible of the order systems in Europe with the proviso that monarchs were still prone to removal or conquest by rival dynasties. Kings came and went despite medieval monarchy been considered as a divinely inspired institution by many Europeans. Besides people having deference towards medieval monarchy as an order system within Europe it was usually buttressed by other cultural, economic, religious, and social institutions such as feudalism, manorialism, and the Christian Church (Lenman, 2004p. 287). The next order system to be assessed, feudalism was probably the institution that did the most to increase the power and the prestige of medieval monarchy. Feudalism was important as it for all monarchs as if it was implemented fully it provided them with the bulk of their military forces and also tax revenues. Monarchs without armies or money were noticeably weaker compared to those with such resources (Roberts, 1996 p. 105). Medieval monarchy was strongest in countries such as England and France, yet the power of kings often varied with their capabilities and also their personalities. Just compare the mighty Edward I of England with his son Edward II, or indeed his main opponent Robert the Bruce of Scotland (Holmes, 2007 p. 52).

Feudalism was an order system, which began amongst the Franks during the course of the 8th century (Roberts, 1996 p. 105). As an institution feudalism gave the most military and economic resources to monarchs and then to the land owning nobility. The starting point for feudalism as an order system was the principle that land ownership and paying homage to social superiors were the main factors in determining, which classes and individuals held the greatest amount of power not to mention wealth. Under feudalism it was the monarch who held all the land within their kingdoms, and then distributed it to the people that they believed would serve them the most loyally, the nobility (Lenman, 2004 p. 287).

Lenman B, (2004) Chambers Dictionary of World History, Edinburgh

Roberts J.M, (1996) A History of Europe, Penguin, London

Sebag Montefiore S, (2009) Heroes – History’s Greatest Men and Women, Quercus, London

In return for grants of land the nobility had to acknowledge royal authority of their king (queens were extremely rare) in acts of homage (Roberts, 1996 p. 106). Besides paying homage the nobility in the original forms of feudalism had to give their monarch military service for a minimum numbers of days each year as well as during wars. As the Middle Ages progressed the nobility and to a lesser extent the wealthier sections of the gentry would often forgo military service to the crown in return for paying cash payments. During wartime such cash payments allowed monarchs to pay for their armies (Lenman, 2004 p. 287). Feudalism also generated wealth, and small groups of armed retainers for the gentry and the nobility from their own tenant farmers and peasants. Farmers and peasants under feudalism had to pay rent to their landlords, provide them with a minimum number of days work, or give them a share of the crops grown on their land. The gentry and the nobility could also pressure their tenants or peasants into military service to meet the requests from monarchs during wars. Alternatively the private armies of the nobility could be used against monarchs, and during civil wars (Roberts, 1996 p. 104).

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