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THE FEUDAL SYSTEM.
The feudal policy and laws were established with little variation in every kingdom of Europe. This uniformity originated from the similar state of society and manners to which they were accustomed. Instead of those loose associations, which were sufficient for their defence in their original countries, they saw the necessity of uniting in more close confederacy, to defend themselves against new invaders, or the ancient inhabitants whom their clemency had spared. Every freeman, upon receiving a portion of the lands which were divided, bound himself to appear in arms against the enemies of the conimunity. This military service was the condition upon which he received and held his lands; and as they were exempted from every other burden, that tenure, among a warlike people, was deemed botii easy and honourable. The king or general who led them to conquest, continning still to be the head of the colony, had of course the largest portion allotted to him. Having thus acquired the means of rewarding past services, as well as of gaining new adherents, he parcelled out his lands with this view, binding those on whom they were bestowed to follow his standard with a number of men in proportion to the territory which they received, and to bear arms in bis defence. His chief officers imitated the example of the sovereign, and in distributing portions of their lands among their dependents, annexed the same condition to the grant. Thus, a feudal kingdom resembled a military establishment rather than a
civil institution. The victorious army, cantoned out in the country which it seized, continued ranged under its proper officers, and subordinate to military command. The names of a soldier and of a freeman were synonymous. Every proprietor of land, girt with a sword, was ready to march at the command of his superior, and to take the field against the common enemy.
The principles of disorder and corruption are discernible in that constitution under its best and most perfect form. They soon unfolded them selves, and, spreading with rapidity through every part of the system, produced the most fatal effects. The bond of political union was extremely feeble; the sources of anarchy were innumerable. The monarchical and the aristocratical parts of the constitution, having no intermediate power to balance them, were perpetually at variance, and justling with each other. The powerful vassals of the crown soon extorted a confirmation for life of those grants of lands, which, being at first purely gratuitous, had been bestowed only during pleasure. Not satisfied with this, they prevailed to have thein converted into hereditary possessions. One step more completed their usurpation, and rendered them unalienable. With an ambition no less enterprising, and more preposterous, they appropriated to themselves titles of honour, as well as offices of power or trust. These personal marks of distinction, which the public administration bestows on illustrious merit, or which the public confidence confers on extraordinary abilities, were annexed to certain families, and transmitted like fiefs, from father to son, by 11 hereditary right. The crown vassals having thus secured the possession of their lands and dignities, the nature of the feudal institutions, which though founded on subordination verged to independence, led them to new and still more dangerous en. croachments on the prerogatives of the sovereign. They obtained the power of supreme jurisdiction both civil and eriminal within their own territories, the right of coining money, together with the privilege of carrying on war against their private enemies, in their own name and by their own authority. The ideas of political subjection were almost entirely lost, and frequently scarcely any appearance of feudal subordination remained. Nobles who had acquired such enormous power scorned to consider themselves as subjects. They aspired openly at being independent: the bonds which connected the principal members of the constitution with the crown were dissolved. A kingdom, considerable in name and in extent, was broken into as many separate principalities as it contained powerful barons. A thousand causes of jealousy and discord subsisted among them, and gave rise to as many wars. Every country in Europe, wasted or kept in alarm during these endless contests, was filled with castles or places of strength, erected for the security of the inhabitants, not ayainst foreign force, but against internal hostilities. An universal anarchy, destructive in a great measure of all the advantages which men expect to derive from society, prevailed. The people, the most numerous as well as the most useful part of the community, were either reduced to a state of actual servitude, or treated with the
same insolence and rigour as if they had been degraded into that wretched state. The king, stripped of almost every prerogative, and without authority to enact or to execute salutary laws, could neither protect the innocent nor punish the guilty. The nobles, superior to all restraint, harrassed each other with perpetual wars, oppressed their fellow-subjects, and bumbled or insulted their sovereign. To crown all, time gradually fixed and rendered venerable this pernicious system, which violence had established. Such was the state of Europe with respect to the interior administration of government, from the seventh to the eleventh century.
The Crusades, in order to rescue the holy land from the hands of infidels, first roused Europe, and introduced a change in her government and
Venerating the spot where the Son of God accomplished the redemption of mankind, and impressed with the current idea, that the end of the world was near at hand, multitudes hastened to the holy land, there to meet with Christ in judgment. When the minds of men were thus prepared, the zeal of a fauatical monk, who conceived the idea of leading all the forces of Christendom against the infidels, and of driving them out of the holy land by violence, was sufficient to give a beginning to that wild enterprise.
Peter the Hermit, for that was the name of that martial apostle, ran from province to province
with a crucifix in his hand, exciting princes and people to the holy war; and wherever he came, kindled the same enthusiastic ardour for it with which he himself was animated. The Council of Placentia, where upwards of thirty thousand persons were assembled, pronounced the scheme to bave been suggested by the immediate inspiration of Heaven. In the council of Clermont, still more numerous, as soon as the measure was proposed, all cried out with one voi 'It is the will of God.' Persons of all ranks catched the contagion; not only the gallant nobles of that age, with their martial followers, whom we may suppose to have been allured by the boldness of a romantic enterprise; but men in the more humble and pacific stations of life ; ecclesiastics of every order, and even women and children, engaged with emulation in an undertaking, which was deemed sacred and meritorious. According to the testimony of contemporary historians, six millions of persons assumed the cross,
which was the badge that distinguished such as devoted themselves to this holy warfare. All Europe, torn up from the foundation, seemed ready to precipitate itself in one united body upon Asia. Nor did the fumes of this enthusiastic zeal evaporate at once; the frenzy was as lasting as it was extravagant. During two centuries, Europe seems to have had no object but to recover or to keep possession of the holy land; and through that period, vast armies continued to march thither.