The Family at the Origin of Feudalism – Continued

September 8, 2022


The head of the family reigned as absolute master. He was called—this is the word to be found in documents of the period—“Sire”; his wife, the mother of the family, was called “dame,” domina.
The family lived in its fortified residence. Men toiled, loved, and died in the same spot where they had been born. The head of the family was, by turns, a fighting man and agricultural worker. The lands he cultivated lay around his dwelling.
Under the direction of the chief, the family became skillful in building its shelter and in making hooks and ploughs. In the inner courtyard glowed the fire of the forge in which weapons were fashioned on the resounding anvil. The women dyed and wove fabrics.
The family became a fatherland, and the Latin writings of the period designated it by the word patria, and it was loved with all the more affection because it was a concrete and living fact under the eyes of everyone. It made its compelling power directly felt, as well as its gentle influence. It became a solid and well-loved defence, an indispensable protection. Without the family, man could not maintain his existence.

In this way were formed those sentiments of solidarity uniting the members of the family to each other, which continued to develop and become more and more definite under the influence of a powerful tradition. A man’s prosperity contributed to that of his relatives, the honour of the one became that of the other, and, as a consequence, the shame of the one was reflected upon all the members of his kin.
This formed a society to itself on a small scale, neighbour to, but isolated from, similar small societies constituted on the same model.
Where is the State? It almost does not exist. The head of the family exercises all the functions proper to the State. A civilisation without the supernatural resources of the Church would have succumbed. We would have seen it crumble and the whole work come to an end. Yet, it is beyond doubt that this very disaster was largely the cause of the birth of the most extraordinary political and social regime in history: feudalism.
To say that catastrophe provoked feudalism would be tantamount to affirming that the flourishing of the new-born Church was due to the persecutions: Being persecuted, Catholics reacted; on reacting, they had zeal; and with that, they dominated the old pagan world. This is an overly mechanical and simplified explanation. One cannot affirm that, first, we had a society, then a hurricane blew in and destroyed everything, then everyone gathered at remote places, and from that feudalism was born!
Who could affirm that the only possible attitude of those peoples was to react and establish a living cell in each place? Who could maintain that they would necessarily give rise, in each refuge, to a man of value who would found a lineage capable of continuing his work? Who could claim they would have sufficient vigour and ingenuity to turn extremely poor lands into fertile ones and give an impulse to social renewal? Who could say they would have enough diplomatic tact, once circumstances had changed, to maintain family autonomy rather than allow themselves to be devoured by the State?
Before concluding this section, we should mention that “Saxon England also had a feudal system but it was less comprehensive than in France. In practice many small English landowners were ‘lordless’ and independent freemen. However, William the Conqueror introduced the more systematic and uniform type of feudalism of the Continent.”3
Furthermore, Anglo-Saxon “family institutions were identical with those of the French throughout the Middle Ages, and who, unlike the French, had continued to preserve them. Here, doubtless, lies the explanation of the prodigious Anglo-Saxon expansion throughout the world. For it is in fact, in this way, that an empire is founded, as a result of waves of explorers, pioneers, merchants, adventurers and daredevils who leave their homes to seek a fortune, but without forgetting their native land and the tradition of their forefathers.”4

3 Wilfred J. Moore, Britain in the Middle Ages, G. Bell and Sons, Ltd., London, 1954, p. 78.
4 Régine Pernoud, The Glory of the Medieval World, translated by Joyce Emerson, Dennis Dobson, Ltd., 1950, p.28.

The Christian Institution of the Family: A Dynamic Force to Regenerate Society, by Tradition, Family, Property Association. Pages 13-15.



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