1. DECLINE OF THE LESSER NOBILITY
A. EFFECTS OF THE REVIVAL OF COMMERCE AND TRADE
The feudal aristocracy, whose wealth was based upon land, fared poorly in the new
money economy that began to arise around 1000
1. LABOR COMMUTATION
The peasants found a cash market for their surplus production in supplying consumer
goods, mostly food, and manufacturing materials -- such as flax, wool, goose down,
plant and animal dyes, straw, wood -- to the cities and towns. There was a limited
variety of things that they could buy with their earnings, and so many arranged with
their lord to change the labor services they owed him or her into cash payments. Such
an arrangement -- the opposite of "hiring" -- is usually known as "commutation".
2. INFLATION AND LONG-TERM LEASES
The problem with that was that the value of money kept decreasing -- or prices kept
rising, if you prefer to look at it that way. More precious metals were converted into
coin, increasing the actual amount of money in circulation, and that money changed
hands more rapidly, increasing the amount of effective money in circulation.
This may be confusing. Money usually acts like other things. Diamonds are valuable
because they are rare. If there were suddenly twice as many diamonds available, their
value would drop by 50%. "Effective" currency works a bit differently. If everyone in
the world had one dollar and bought one thing with their money each day, and each
one earned a dollar from selling something to someone else, daily income would be
one dollar. But if everyone bought and sold something in the morning, and took their
dollar and did the same thing in the afternoon, daily income would be two dollars. The
faster money changes hands, the more of it there is "in effect."
At any rate, the real value of the noble's rent income dwindled steadily. Why didn't
they renegotiate? Well, the maximum life of a lease in our economy is generally
figured at 99 years. In the Middle Ages, it was seven generations, or about 230 years.
Tradition made it difficult for the nobles to alter the terms of their leases, and many
knightly families with small holdings eventually didn't have enough income to
maintain their station, and simply dropped out of the aristocracy. What did such knight
do? Well, many became mercenary soldiers, some married merchants' daughters, a
number became salaried servants of the king or some rich lord.
3. ADVANCES IN MILITARY TECHNOLOGY
This sort of thing continued. New and expensive types of armor, the use of Toledo and
Damascus steel for weapons, better (and more expensive) horses, and a number of
other things made it necessary for the noble who wanted to stay a fighting man to
spend a lot more money to outfit himself. Where did he get the money?
Stop and consider. The lords had depended on their peasant's labor to till the manor's