Land in medieval times was broken up into
fiefs. A fief was a trust, rather than an ownership. Your oldest son
could inherit the fief, but you could not sell a fief in early medieval
A fief meant more than land. Each fief
was a complete unit. That unit included at least one village, huts for
the serfs, the manor house or castle, and areas set aside to grow, feed,
or catch food - the fields, pasture land, and woods.
Fiefs with streams were greatly prized as
streams insured fresh water and added fish to the diet of those who
lived on the fief.
The only outsiders allowed to live on a
fief were peasants. Peasants were freemen. They could come and go as
they wished, but where would they go? War was everywhere. Peasants
received protection and the use of a small piece of land on which to
build a home in exchange for work.
Frankish kings, starting with Charlemagne's
grandfather - Charles Martel - had always rewarded military service with
land. If a noble died without heirs, the king would reassign that land
to someone else. The noble's family would be tossed out, to make room
for the new family coming in.
The serfs stayed with the land. They were part of
the fief. Their job was to do the work for whomever owned the fief. In
exchange, the fief owner promised the serfs would receive food, shelter,
Although fiefs were given to military men as
rewards, fiefs came with certain obligations, obligations beyond feeding
and protecting the fief workers, the serfs. In exchange for ownership of
a fief, you had to promise certain things.
You had to promise loyalty to the king or to
the lord who gave you the fief.
You had to provide military service. You did
not have to fight yourself, but you had to send men when needed.
You had to act as a host when your king or lord
You had to contribute funds for a ransom if
your king or lord was captured in battle.
You had to provide gifts of cash to help offset
the costs of any of your lord's special occasions, such as a
Fiefs were also awarded to counts and local officials. There was a lot
of land available. Every time two barbarian tribes went to war, the
losers lost their land, and usually their lives. Their families were
tossed out, and their fiefs were reassigned to new owners. That is one
of the reasons war was so popular. War was the way to riches.
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