After making it clear that "les seigneurs n'étaient pas des conquerants: il y avait parmi eux autant du Gaulois que de Germains." 7 Fustel de Coulanges states: 8

It was not the aristocracy which fought against the king, not the German race against the Gallo-Roman . . . . It was groups of seigneurs who fought other groups of seigneurs for the acquisition of office, land, or bishopric.

As a part of the story of social class rigidities, the composition and origin of any class must be clearly shown, in order that there will be no doubt as to whether or not the new class rose from the mass. Once the nobility was firmly established, procreation was obviously the key to recruitment. But the factor of origin is crucial because it accounts for the intervening period between the Roman senatorial class and the period of high feudalism. For that reason the following summary is offered. In speaking of the independent, self-controlled, firmly established agricultural nobility, Hulme says: 9

Whence came this insubordinate nobility? It had been formed by the dignitaries of the court, the provincial officials, the heads of the abbeys, the bishops . . . . The kingship had created this aristocracy. It had endowed it with lands. It had permitted it to grow powerful without mistrust . . . . Their power waxed; that of the king waned . . . . A growing part of the population became economically dependent upon the great landowning aristocracy.

Such were, in part, the class aspects of the establishment of agricultural feudalism. The upper classes were truly aristocrats. Middle classes almost immediately began to develop, in that places were made for younger sons by sub-infeudation and by the need of the manors for special officials to manage them. Other changes began immediately, as will be shown.

Shifts and changes among serfs. In the two hundred years between William the Conqueror and the end of the thirteenth century many complexities began to appear in the lower orders of the agricultural feudal system. "Commutation of personal services to money payments began in earnest in northern Europe about 1200. Already many of the better tenants had began hiring cotters to perform their boon-day or harvest obligations." 10

Cotters were land-less and sub-marginal dwellers on the estates. They were hired under the most precarious of conditions, the labor market. How much better serfs were to become economically still stronger as they leaned upon these hired laborers. In Crawley, an English village, it is said that the villeins who started out with advantages became the recipients of "very favorable terms of occupancy in the thirteenth century," 11 while the dwellers in North Crawley always lagged behind, remaining cotters for centuries.

These facts lend still more credence to the principle of social class, namely, that persons or groups with an initial start or advantage tend to rise, if anyone does. To them that have, more is given.

Regarding the many changes taking place among the serfs in the very centuries when feudalism was at its height, Ashley says: 12

When we compare the comparative simplicity of Domesday Book, in which over the greater part of England, villeins, cotters or borders, and slaves make up the whole population, with the elaborate divisions into six, eight, or even ten classes in the custumals of the latter part of the thirteenth century, the changes seem bewildering in their complexity and variety.


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7. N. D. Fustel de Coulagnes, Histoire des institutions politiques de l'ancienne France, vol. VI (Paris, 1892) p. 574.
8. Ibid., p. 592; translation ours.
9. Hulme, op. cit., pp. 248 - 249.
10. Melvin M. Knight, Economic History of Europe to the End of the Middle Ages (Boston, 1926) p. 187.
11. Norman Scott and Ethel Culbert Gras, The Economic and Social History of an English Village (Crawley, Hampshire) A.D. 909 - 1928 (Cambridge, Mass., 1930) p. 7
12. Ashley, op. cit., p. 20.