Love Poetry and Social Change
By the year 1000, things began to change. The Vikings and Magyars
converted to Christianity and their raids ceased. The Caliphate of Cordoba
disintegrated into several warring states, and the Saracen raiders were
virtually driven from the sea. The feudal aristocracy, that order of fighting
land-holders, had fulfilled its function and successfully defended Europe.
There was now no justification for the prestige and privilege it enjoyed nor
for its control of so much wealth. In the following centuries, the aristocracy
diminished in size and evolved into an hereditary nobility.
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".
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 a bit 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,