KING AND VASSAL: THE FEUDAL SYSTEM

THE question of the authority of Church or King was never 1. resolved, any more than what is called the feudal system was ever existent in the well-defined forms that a short account must give. The constraints were not absolute. The feudal system was essentially a military organisation. The king needed men to fight. His own revenues were incapable of maintaining a great army. He therefore depended on his vassals, who brought their men when needed, but who perpetually sought to restrict the numbers they brought. When the king was strong, the greatest vassals obeyed ; when he was weak, they became virtually independent princes. But the theory was never denied ; only the consequences of it were. Thus in the West the feudal system was the prelude to nationalism. The nation was divided into king, ecclesiastics, nobles, and common folk. Inevitably the king came to look for a makeweight against the noble, not in the Church which itself held property, but in the common people. This was why kings were the patrons of traders, who brought them wealth, and later of the towns, in the streets of which were formed the first vocal elements of the third estate or commons, as distinct from nobles and ecclesiastics. But in the eleventh century, although the voice of national feeling began to be heard among the common people, often of a different nationality from their nobles, it was no more than a still small voice, for the common people were without power either of wealth or of arms and were mainly peasants in a state of servitude to the noble owners of the land. It was when the nobles began to be divided into the greater and the less, when the smaller landowner, becoming identified with the soil, became a patriot, that the nations emerged as we know them.

A THOUSAND YEARS OF FARMING These scenes, copied from an old illuminated manuscript, show that agricultural work has changed little since feudal times. Ploughing, breaking the clods, harrowing, sowing, all go on in much the same way.

Nor did that evolution come until the nations ceased to expand. The king sought to extend his dominions either by conquest or by acquiring vassals, and it was only when the limits of conquest were reached that the internal issue was finally settled. In some countries it was not settled until almost the close of the Middle Ages. It began to dominate the stage in one form or another in the next centuries.