Feudal transformations III

Bishop Ermengol of Urgell mistrusting a lay magnate doing homage to him, from the Liber Feudorum Maior

Victor Farias thinks the Catalan counts hold their power by an alliance with the small independent peasantry against the power-grabbing interests of the nobles who wish to subject them.1 Now a natural response is, but the counts are power-hungry nobles too, why aren’t they also subjecting the peasants? But he has an answer.

He says that the counts are pro-peasantry because as long as those peasants remain independent, they owe public services which go to the counts, but not other lords. And he says this falls apart, if I read him right, because counts retain the co-operation of the aristocrats by farming out public territories which tend to become hereditary, thus removing those subjects from the counts, and because military technology and technique improves so as to place the independent peasantry out of reach of effective self-defence. Another interesting thing about this theory, too, is that it makes the counts’ power partly dependent on the same equilibrium of open-frontier opportunity counteracting seigneurial subjection that is supposed to keep the peasants here independent for so long.2 (Though mainly the counts’ power is dependent on being hugely rich, I think, and on knocking down any nobles who start to get close to their level or nobbling their sons into service.3)

I don’t think he’s right, and I suspect a lot of this was in Bonnassie but spread out so thick that I didn’t get it quite so clearly.4 But this, again, is a much better feudal transformation than Poly & Bournazel’s. I still don’t think there really was a single process acting here with new things in it, but that’s another story and one I really have to write up in a paper some time.5

Matthew told me ages ago I’d worked out the feudal transformation, I very occasionally inch closer to thinking I know what he was talking about.

1. V. Farias, “Alous i dominis” in B. de Riquer i Permanyer (ed.), Història Política, Societat i Cultura dels Països Catalans volum 2: la formació de la societat feudal, segles VI-XII, ed. J. M. Salrach i Marès (Barcelona 1998), pp. 102-105, 107-111 & 113-116.
2. P. Freedman, The Origins of Peasant Servitude in Catalonia, Cambridge Iberian and Latin American Studies (Cambridge 1991).
3. J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia” (Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 2005), pp. 228-237, discusses the emblematic case of the vicar Sal·la of Bages and Count-Marquis Borrell II.
4. P. Bonnassie, La Catalogne du Milieu du Xe à la Fin du XIe Siècle: croissance et mutations d’une société (Toulouse 1975, 1976), 2 vols.
5. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power”, pp. 254-262, presents a preliminary version.


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