Mind your manners! Yes, my lord. To civilize is to Christianize!
I work and I pay, I pray and I pay, I die and I pay. God wills it! Rich
and poor alike in the Middle Ages were controlled by five specific
institutions: the code of chivalry, the feudal system, Charlemagne, the
manorial system and the Catholic Church. To encounter them was inevitable,
to avoid them: impossible!
Firstly, the code of chivalry was a code of behaviour for the upper
class embodying all the qualities and characteristics of the ideal or
perfect knight. He should be bold and brave, yet gentle, considerate, wise
and courteous. Obviously, this perfect knight did not exist but gave
people an icon to which they might aspire. This code of chivalry also
included small acts of kindness and generosity to bind the men in the upper
ranks of society by ties of property as well as loyalty. This way, men
could rely on one another and feel a more firm sense of security and
Similarly, the feudal system was created early in the Dark Ages to
secure a sense of safety among the upper class. The feudal system involved
the granting of land or a fief by a lord to his vassal. The lords and
vassals were exclusively the very wealthy and powerful with the king as the
highest lord and the knight as the lowest vassal. The main purpose of the
feudal system was to provide fighting men who could ensure protection.
Feudalism was the first emergence of organized government in the Dark Ages.
Charlemagne was a born leader and a talented general, but also a
man so convinced of the value of religion and education that he made a
genuine attempt to revive the spiritual and cultural life in the Middle
Ages. Charlemagne was a brilliant administrator by carefully selecting
powerful Germanic nobles to help him and by creating the missi dominici. He
was an ingenious educator creating a standard curriculum involving the
quadrivium and trivium then putting them to practice in the schools he
built and rebuilt. Also, he saved, preserved and copied as much classical
information as possible. Finally, he was a brave soldier and conqueror.
Between 768 and 814, he was involved in more than 53 military campaigns, 30
of which he lead in person. Charlemagne's virtues, his charisma and
enthusiasm may have been a model for the crusaders so many years later.
Unfortunately, one of the most influential factors in medieval
Europe was also one of the most unjust. The manorial system broadened the
gap between the rich and the poor beyond the point of repair. Like the
feudal system, manorialism involved an agreement between two men, this time
the lord and his serf. A serf's obligations heavily outweighed those of
his lord. As the serfs wallowed at the bottom of this oppressive system
of governing, they started to think and those thoughts began togerminate:
in 1381, thousands of serfs joined a protest march to London, exploding
after generations of abuse. However, it still took an entire millennium
before changes began to take place, during the Industrial Revolution in
Finally, the church was everywhere, doing everything! From taxes
to crusades, the church involved itself in every aspect of medieval life.
The church had its own laws (canon law), its own courts, its own taxes, and
involved itself in political matters. People in the middle ages believed
devoutly in the existence of God and of heaven and hell. Their fear of hell
alone was what restricted many peoples' actions. Also, people believed that
their actions all had consequences both here and in the here-after. They
wanted nothing more than to please God and be accepted into heaven as the
stories told to them of hell were frightening and gruesome. The people
believed that priests were God's messengers chosen by Him. This gave
priests tremendous amounts of power which was often abused. The feudal
system existed not only on Earth but in heaven as well with different
classes of beings: angels and people. However, although the church was
dripping with deception and corruption, it did its fair share of good. The
church was not only the strongest organization in medieval Europe; it also
brought people closer together, for the Christian religion was the one
thing all Europeans had in common. The church also promoted learning and
culture. Most churchmen tried to reduce the suffering caused by feudal
warfare by preaching the Peace of God and the Truce of God. The church
also supported the ideals of chivalry - courtesy, charity, loyalty, purity,
temperance, courage, and justice. The church also tried to enforce the
idea of "just price" by insisting the cost of all goods should be based on
their material value. Clearly, medieval Europeans lived under the umbrella
of the church.
Although all the medieval institutions had their own separate
strengths and weaknesses, combined they created a diverse society both
exciting and secure... at least for a while.