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Frank Kingdom - introduction to feudalism
In early VIth century German tribe of Franks united large part of the Western Europe. Under the Merowing dynasty (shortly called Merowings) they first conquered Northern France and Aquitaine (first Merowing king Clovis or Chlodwig), then his descendants conquered Southern France (ex. Burgundy) and large part of Western Germany. Here are a few basic reasons for success of Franks under the Merowing dynasty:
· Frank kingdom were middle-income state between half-barbarian territories of Germany and rich lands of Spain, Southern Gallia and Italy, therefore was not so intensively plundered as richer regions of former Roman Empire and thus the process of rebirth and military expansion started in Northern France earlier, when kingdoms of south were still in the phase of decline.
· Merowings were Catholics where Germanic rulers of southern kingdoms were Arians Christians (christianized by Arian missionaries before the fall of Rome) and thus were in conflict with old Roman (Catholic) noble elites. (Except Spain where Visigoths quickly melted with local inhabitants.) Therefore Franks could ally with Roman nobles and conquer southern kingdoms with ease. Sometimes such coincidences have a great importance in history.
In the second half of VIth century Frank Kingdom moved into a phase of feudal fragmentation. However Frank Kingdom still had all advantages of middle income country (mentioned above), and lost only some lands - no external enemy was strong enough to be a real treat for the existence of such large kingdom. (There were also other reasons, but this theory like the Theory of Gravity concentrates only on the strongest historic processes, so please forgive me some simplifications).
Merowing kings thinks about the kingdom as their private property, and divided the country between their sons. Moreover, having no money to pay state officials, rulers rewarded them with land. When king was strong, he could take off his reward (as today when government dismiss officials), but when ruler was weak, land became the private property of official who evolved into a class of feudals. Those feudals usually did the same as monarch, fragmenting country even further - and it was first of the processes that created the feudal fief system.
When king (or their feudal seigneur - land owner that was higher in hierarchy) was weak officials, and local land owners (like the Church) get immunities - they took over administrational, tax and court competencies of monarch in their domain (i.e. flef).
On the other hand, small land owners (farmers, poorer warriors) need some safety in times of continuous feudal wars and robbery raids, so they searched the protection of richer feudals. Times were so hard that many small land owners pass on tenures of their land to more powerful land owners only to get their protection. This way farmers became peasants, who had to pay for the privilege of cultivating their fields - this was the second process that created the feudal fief system.