"Ravenna remained through all this period an outpost of Byzantine culture." 34THE NORMAN CONQUEST
The Italian nobility was characteristically urban, which mean characteristically Roman, and therefore serves not as a proof but as a disproof of the conquest theory.
From what is known of the relations of several Italian towns to the Eastern Europe, from their internal municipal life, from the names of their leading citizens, and from their cultural habits, one can only conclude that conquest had not displaced many effective Roman families, nor did invasion disperse them, nor did they die off for want of offspring. One must conclude that some of the old-line municipal administrators, lawyers, and senators had now turned to trade and to the courts of the Germanic kings as well as remaining, in part, landed aristocrats.
Historical accounts of the serfs (Le serf est le meme homme que l'ancien esclave), 35 both Germanic and Roman, typically fail to make any reference to social mobility, to upstartism, to the disintegration of social stratification. There is a sharp difference of emphasis and detail between the facts as presented by accredited historians and the interpretations of events by the conquest theorists of sociology.
Summary. With regard to Gaul and Italy it seems clear that the powerful officials appointed by the kings, although not forming an independent nobility, tended to form an hereditary one. This was true already under the Merovingians. And these officials were made up in considerable part of descendants of Roman senatorial families. The German nobles fought among themselves while the Gallo-Roman aristocrats spoke softly and filled the seats of power in church and state, and on the land. When the time came for seigneurs to make hereditary and permanent their titles and holdings, it was not the "conqueror" who took all, confiscating the holdings and titles of the "conquered." The lists were made up of powerful families, now intermarried. All thought of face seems to have given way to thoughts of class. Although the Merovingian and Carolingian kings thought they were absolute and that they could give and withhold office and perhaps land even at will, one reads nowhere in reputable histories of their failing to have the political sagacity to choose those already well entrenched on the land and in the court. There was nothing new or revolutionary in the events which heralded the formal freezing of the class structure which took place in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries.
Boissonade reviews the trend, showing that the feudal nobles were in large parts descendants of the older aristocracies, in these words: 36
Thus Irish, Gallic, Armorican wchechelvers, pencenedls, cinnidls, machtierns, baires (owners of cows); Anglo-Saxon antrustions, nobiles, proceres, optimates, dukes, and counts; Visigoth and Ibero-Roman nobiliores, gardings, judices, dukes, and counts -- these finally form one and the same class, that of lords (seniores, optimates, proceres, potentes), which replaces that of the Roman senators and the old Germanic and Celtic noblemen.
Boissonade also mentions that persons in close service to the king were sometimes, in spite of their humble birth, elevated to noble rank. Thus one reads also about those fortunate few, the ones personally close to those in power, who sometimes (rarely in terms of all personal servants and infinitely small in terms of personal connection with the king.
Such is the story of social class continuity in an age of conquest and turmoil. From it, one is led to believe that one of the most tenacious of all human institutions is social class.
It is not the purpose of this dissertation to attack the conquest theory of social class formation in general. However, in the study of the history of social class changes it was noted that sociology has not always kept pace with history in dealing with events in Gallo-Rome. The same may now be recorded with reference to the Norman Conquest.Next Page
A glance at the lists of the English peerage reveals that none of the lines reaches back to the time of William the Conqueror. One might, with misgivings, attribute this fact to the dying out of family lines. For instance, it is theoretically possible that many of the descendants and relatives of the descendants of Norman nobles allowed their family lines to die out completely as late as the seventeenth or eighteenth century. If that were true, it could authentically be stated that the Normans succeeded in founding the English nobility, if not of today, then of centuries gone by. In other words, no definite proof of the inability of the Normans to establish a relatively permanent noble class is provided by the following list, taken from Whitakers' Peerage for 1911 although this is strongly inferred, because titles are transferable to distant relatives and do not ordinarily lapse:
The premier Duke of England dates from 1483.
The premier Marquis of England dates from 1532.
The premier carldom of England dates from 1442.
(But since the serfdom of Arundel, now merged into the dukedom of Norfolk, dates from 1152, it might be so honored.)
The premier English Viscount dates from 1550.
The premier English Baron dates from 1246.
34. Hulme, op. cit., pp. 189 - 190.
35. Fustel de Coulagnes, op. cit., vol. IV (Paris, 1889) p. 54.
36. P. Boissonade, Le travail dans l'Europe chrétienne au moyen age (V - XVe siècles) (Paris, 1921) p. 104; translation ours.