The Medieval Heritage
THE MEDIEVAL HERITAGE
Constance B. Bouchard
The European Middle Ages, the millennium now considered to have lasted roughly from 500 to 1500, has long been a difficult period for historians. Ever since the term "Middle Ages" was first coined during the Italian Renaissance, the period has generally been treated as an anomalous gap between antiquity and the birth of the "modern." Renaissance humanists of the fourteenth century rather self-righteously announced that they were reviving the learning and culture of classical Greek and Roman antiquity after centuries of neglect. However, scholars have come to agree that most classical learning and culture would not have been available for the Renaissance to embrace had they not been kept alive during the Middle Ages, and they put the break between the Middle Ages and the early modern period after the Renaissance rather than before it. As turning points, Columbus's voyages to America and the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation, respectively just before and just after the year 1500, are considered more significant than the writings of the humanists a century and a half earlier.
Nonetheless, the humanists' characterization of the medieval period as a time of ignorance and superstition has remained compelling. During the Enlightenment in eighteenth-century France, the church was identified as the source of many of humanity's worst problems, at the same time as Protestant countries feared the plots of Jesuits. It was then but a short step from despising the Catholic Church to assuming that everything one hated about it had also characterized the Middle Ages. America's Founding Fathers, themselves imbued with Enlightenment ideals, looked not to the Middle Ages but rather far earlier, to the Roman Republic (or at least, to the Roman Republic as seen by Renaissance humanists), for the model of what they were creating. Slaveholders who saw the conquest of "inferior" peoples as a desirable goal had no difficulty identifying with Roman society.
The first rehabilitation of the Middle Ages took place during the romantic movement of the nineteenth century. In France the churches that had been defaced during the Revolution were rebuilt and redecorated; the architect Viollet-le-Duc (1814–1879) in particular created new heads for the kings on the facade of Notre Dame of Paris and added the grotesque gargoyles. In England at the same time, poems and novels, such as Ivanhoe (1819) by Sir Walter Scott, were inspired by ruined abbeys and castles, and the Middle Ages were nostalgically depicted as a time of chivalric virtue, pure spirituality, and the birth of sturdy English liberties. This romantic image was so strong that practitioners of scientific history in the early twentieth century felt compelled to debunk it in turn, invoking once again an image of a stagnant and priest-ridden era.
In the late twentieth century, however, medieval scholars managed to go beyond the rather pointless argument as to whether the Middle Ages was a dark age of oppression and ignorance or instead a lost golden era of faith and honor. Instead, they came to a new appreciation of how much of what we take for granted in modern Western society was created by the complex, far from stagnant society that existed in Europe between the sixth and fifteenth centuries.
The significance of the Middle Ages has always been more self-evident to Europeans than to citizens of the United States, a country that from its origins believed that the liberty its people sought was not just freedom from tyranny but freedom from the past's hidebound traditions. In Europe, however, one cannot go about one's business without being constantly reminded of the links between present and past. Shoppers and professionals in the center of cities walk down streets that have had the same layout since the end of the Middle Ages, and people are baptized, married, and buried in churches that date to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Most of the villages that dot the countryside of England are mentioned in the great medieval survey, the Domesday Book of 1086, and both in England and on the Continent many hilltops are crowned with grim towers that have stood for over eight hundred years.
But there is more to the importance of Europe's Middle Ages than its physical remains. In antiquity Western civilization was focused on the Mediterranean, the "Roman lake" as it was sometimes termed. The rise of Islam in the seventh century shattered the cultural unity of the Mediterranean basin, and from the time of the emperor Charlemagne (742–814) the center of European civilization was north of the Alps, in France and Germany, which over a thousand years later became the locus of the European Economic Union. Even national boundaries have remained roughly the same since the late Middle Ages, whereas none of the European countries existed as political units at the beginning of the medieval period. Property rights, privileges, and in England the unwritten constitution itself are all still anchored in medieval law.
Modern Western urban civilization owes its origins not to antiquity, though indeed its great civilizations were city-based, but rather to the twelfth century. During the early Middle Ages, as Roman trade routes broke down and a much colder climate throughout Europe made regular harvests increasingly problematic, cities shrank drastically to little more than administrative centers for the bishops and the counts; most of the population scraped out a living in the countryside. Starting in the eleventh century, however, and picking up speed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, cities grew rapidly, even more rapidly than the overall population. In large part this urban growth was made possible by the warmer and drier climate, which meant that crops in the countryside could be harvested much more reliably. Thus overall population could rise, and farms produced enough excess beyond what a farm family or manor required for itself to allow selling to town.
The growth of the cities was due to immigration from the surrounding countryside. Young men especially came to town seeking their fortunes. Although the well-to-do, such as the guild-masters, set up houses for their families, most of the city population was initially male. Women could feel endangered in the rough-and-tumble environment of a rapidly growing city, and everyone agreed that, as chances for disease were much higher there, cities were poor places for small children. Indeed, well-to-do women living in town normally sent their infants out to wet nurses in the countryside. By the late Middle Ages most cities had something closer to a one-to-one sex ratio; nevertheless, there was always well-founded concern that cities were centers of infection—concerns that persisted until the development of modern urban sanitation in the nineteenth century.
In Italy, Spain, and France, the cities of the twelfth century grew out of the administrative units that were all that survived of the Roman capitals of antiquity. Germany, however, had never experienced Roman rule, and thus its cities had to be founded completely anew. In England the Roman cities, along with most other remnants of Roman civilization, had been overwhelmed by Anglo-Saxon settlement starting in the fifth century, and thus the medieval cities grew out of the burhs, military centers first established by the Anglo-Saxon kings in the ninth century.
Whatever their origins, medieval cities quickly became centers of trade, commerce, and law. Goods from all over Europe, including wool from England, iron from Germany, leather and horses from Spain, and finely dyed fabric from Italy, were traded in the cities along with produce from the local countryside and silks and spices from fabled Asia. Early forms of capitalist investment flourished: those mounting an expedition to buy luxury goods from the East sold shares so that if disaster struck the loss would be spread out, and if the expedition were hugely successful a great many could share in the wealth. Urban craftsmen made their living not from farming but from creating and selling specialized products, whether shoes or jewelry or weapons. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Europe's major urban centers, with few exceptions, continued to practice trade and commerce in the same locations as those established in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
FREEDOM AND SERVITUDE
The cities of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were also considered centers of freedom, where someone from the countryside could escape the burdens under which he was born and where the city fathers generally obtained a charter of liberties spelling out their right to self-rule. The mayors and elected city councils of these cities especially sought the right to administer justice themselves rather than having to defer to the regional duke or count or to the city's bishop.
The freedom that these cities proclaimed for their citizens highlights one of the curious aspects of medieval history: it was a period in which there was essentially no slavery, even though it was framed at one end by the slave-based society and economy of Rome and on the other by the development of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Roman slavery had been predicated on the steady acquisition of new prisoners to force into slavery, and once Roman conquests ceased so did the influx of new prisoners. Agricultural slavery, which in antiquity meant working slaves in large gangs, conditions under which they were very unlikely to reproduce themselves, thus became extremely uneconomical by the sixth century. Although Christianity did not condemn slavery per se, it did encourage freeing one's slaves and forbade enslaving a free person who was already a Christian. Thus by the seventh century slavery as an economic arrangement was essentially extinct in western Europe, although for the next two centuries household slaves might still occasionally be found.
With the decline of slavery in the early Middle Ages, the descendants of slaves mostly became serfs. Although serfs were considered to be born into a state of servitude, and had to gain approval from their masters for their marriages or even to move to another village, they were still substantially better off than slaves. They could not be bought and sold, were not subject to arbitrary commands, and more or less regulated their own lives, having their own families, houses, and plots of land. The rent they paid to their masters for these houses was a combination of money, produce, and the requirement that they work in the lord's fields two or three days a week.
Medieval serfdom has sometimes been termed feudalism by marxist scholars, but among medievalists of the late twentieth century the term has been jettisoned. After all, it is both confusing and misleading to use a single word to designate variously the agricultural practices of peasants in the sixth and seventh centuries; the landholding and ritualized loyalty of knights and lords of castles in the eleventh and twelfth centuries; and the legal privileges such as hereditary judgeships and noble dovecotes abolished in 1789 during the French Revolution, when the revolutionaries announced they were "ending feudalism." Moreover, the serfdom established to replace agricultural slavery at the beginning of the Middle Ages did not persist unchanged throughout the entire period. By the eleventh century many serfs found that the rapidly improving economy of the time provided an opportunity for greater freedom. Some simply slipped off to the city, as suggested above, for a society without good communication or identification methods had no ready way to apprehend them. More frequently, serfs bought their own freedom. In France and Italy serfdom was essentially gone by the twelfth century. Free peasants were still substantially lower on the social and economic ladder than wealthy lords or successful merchants, but no longer were they considered bound by servitude.
In England and Germany, by contrast, serfdom continued in at least some form through the rest of the Middle Ages. In Germany, however, some men who were legally serfs might be much better off than some freemen, especially the ministeriales, the "serf-knights" who in many cases actually became the de facto aristocracy of their regions by the late Middle Ages. In England servile status was evoked most commonly in the thirteenth century to argue that one's opponent in a legal case had no standing in court. In the fourteenth century, after the devastation and depopulation by the bubonic plague, many landlords attempted to impose harsh labor dues on any of the surviving peasants who they could claim were serfs. The resulting great peasants' rebellion of 1381, although quickly suppressed, became a model for subsequent peasant rebellions in the following centuries. Fifteenth-century English peasants, in fact, had greater liberty than their grandparents, liberty that was quietly granted them once the worst of the rebellions were put down.
Slavery at this point had been absent from western Europe for more than half a millennium. However, during the Italian Renaissance household slaves began appearing again in small numbers, generally purchased from the eastern Mediterranean. After all, Roman law had had a great deal to say about slavery, and a people who thought of themselves as continuators of Roman culture found the practice perfectly acceptable. In the sixteenth century, in the great age of exploration, Europeans discovered a number of peoples with whom they had so little in common that they were not even sure these people were entirely human, and began to enslave them with a brutality that medieval people would have found disquieting.
WOMEN AND THE FAMILY
Important developments also took place within the family during the Middle Ages, again creating institutions that we now accept as modern. The basic medieval family was founded on the nuclear unit of husband, wife, and children. Because child mortality was high in an era without modern medicine or infant formula, enough children died in their earliest years to drag down the life expectancy from the sixty or seventy years an adult could anticipate living—unless of course he or she died in war, in childbirth, or in an epidemic—to an average somewhere in the thirties. (An average life expectancy of thirty-five did not, of course, mean that people expected to die in their thirties; the number is the mathematical mean between those who died in infancy and the adults who lived to what the Bible termed a standard "three score years and ten.")
Scholars at one time assumed that parents faced with the deaths of so many young children must have been hardened to the experience, even to the point of not becoming attached to their children. However, scholars studying medieval records have found overwhelming evidence that parents cared deeply for their children and grieved bitterly when they died; indeed, children were not merely the objects of parental affection but potentially an economic advantage, given that Europe was underpopulated for most of the Middle Ages. It should also be noted that high levels of child mortality were not unique to the Middle Ages; infants died at a high rate in Europe and North America until the early twentieth century.
Women played a much more independent role within the medieval family than they had within the family of antiquity. Christianity had always stressed that everyone, men and women alike, were equal in the eyes of God, and a Christian Europe gave women greater scope for action. Beginning in the ninth century, the church argued that a valid marriage could not be arranged solely by the male relatives but required the free consent of both the man and the woman. This argument, initially made on behalf of highborn and visible women, gradually worked its way down the social ladder. By the twelfth century, when marriage had come to be treated as a sacrament, it was clear that the heart of the sacrament was not the words of the priest—whose presence was not required for a marriage to be valid—but rather the free oaths exchanged between the two principals.
Although married women with active husbands would not take the lead in dealing with the outside world, they nonetheless had property rights within marriage that were more extensive in the Middle Ages than they were subsequently in some parts of Europe, even in the nineteenth century. For example, in southern Europe even girls from modest backgrounds brought a certain amount of property, the dowry, to a marriage, and their husbands could not alienate it without their consent. North of the Alps, husbands normally fixed a certain amount of property, the bride-price, on their wives at the time of their wedding and were enjoined not to take it back.
In widowhood, a typical status for women given that men generally chose wives considerably younger than themselves, women had a great deal of autonomy in buying, selling, and even suing in court. Although inheritance of the family patrimony went preferentially to boys, in the absence of brothers girls could and did inherit everything from the family farm even to the Crown, and a girl with many brothers could still expect to receive something from her parents' inheritance. In the urban world of the late Middle Ages, wives and husbands normally worked side by side in guilds, and widows and daughters of guild-masters sometimes became guild-masters themselves.
LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE
Culturally, modern language and literature have their origins in the twelfth century. Those who know modern French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Icelandic can still read, with only some difficulty, literature written in the medieval version of those languages. The language of the poet Dante (1265–1321) is the basis of modern Italian. The English language developed somewhat more slowly than the languages of the Continent, as the Anglo-Saxon of the early Middle Ages and the French of the Normans who conquered England in 1066 did not fuse into a single tongue until the fourteenth century; but with a little practice modern English-speakers can still read the poems of Geoffrey Chaucer (1342–1400).
Vernacular literature first appeared in the twelfth century, initially as stories intended for the entertainment of those who did not know the Latin of the church and the law court, but soon taking on a robust popularity among persons of every level of education, even churchmen. Ancient Greece and Rome of course produced works of entertainment, but the genre had fallen into oblivion for over half a millennium. The epics and romances written in the twelfth century, however, established a long-running tradition. The direct descendant of medieval storytelling is the genre called fantasy—tales of swordfights and magic—which was demoted by the late-twentieth-century literary establishment to marginal status as a subgenre of science fiction. In the Middle Ages, however, fantasy constituted essentially all of literature.
By the thirteenth century, a somewhat rougher form of literature sprang up alongside the courtly literature evoking chivalric deeds and dangerous and honorable battles. Referred to as fabliaux, these tales often featured anthropomorphized animal characters and bawdy content. But high literature continued to be a literature of knightly culture, with romances and epics serving both as a critique of that culture and as examples of the kinds of virtue the authors wanted readers to emulate.
By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the most powerful nobles dearly wanted to imagine themselves as chivalric knights. While gunpowder and cannons came to dominate the battles of the final 150 years of the Middle Ages, converting the once formidable armored knight into a hopeless anachronism, leaders dreamed of the glorious days of King Arthur and began to form "orders of knighthood," designed to separate the most courtly and honorable from everyone else. It is ironic that the tournament, which had originally been a way to practice battlefield techniques, had by the end of the Middle Ages become very different from the reality of battle, being instead a ritualized activity in which knights, wearing the heavy plate armor that had recently been developed to withstand musket fire, thrust at each other with wooden lances and were scored on style.
Even after the end of the Middle Ages, the image of a lost but possibly still attainable chivalric golden age lingered. In the sixteenth century all kings owned fine suits of tournament armor, and one French king was killed in a tournament. Dreams of chivalry were still strong enough for Cervantes (1547–1616) simultaneously to ridicule and celebrate them in Don Quixote. And of course, as noted above, such images animated the romantic movement of the nineteenth century.
CULTURE: RELIGION AND THE UNIVERSITIES
One of the Middle Ages' greatest contributions to later culture is the creation of the university. Antiquity had nothing similar, but an entity resembling what we call a university (from the medieval Latin universitas, meaning something done collectively) does appear in the twelfth century. In France, for example, the schools attached to the various churches of Paris gradually merged into a single entity, its existence given formal recognition by a charter from the king in 1200. The titles still given to university officers, such as dean, chancellor, or provost, were originally the titles given to officers of the cathedral, and academic gowns are in origin priests' robes. The connection between training as a student and training for the priesthood persisted, even though most students never became priests. This connection meant that women, barred from the priesthood, were also barred from university training, a practice that persisted, both in Europe and in the Americas, until well into the nineteenth century.
With recognizable features such as a set curriculum and program of study, degrees granted to show mastery of complex subject matter, professionally qualified teachers, and even students drinking too much, getting into trouble with their landladies, and writing home with plausible stories explaining why they needed even more money for books, the medieval University of Paris seems familiar. Because classes were conducted in Latin, all students had to speak the language; it was also the only easy way for students from all over Europe to communicate. The area of Paris around the university is still called the Latin Quarter.
Universities quickly multiplied, each specializing in a certain subject at the graduate level, although one could receive a B.A. at any. Paris was the preeminent university for both philosophy and theology, where the writings of the ancient Greeks, especially Aristotle, were pored over, debated, and incorporated into such theological treatises as the Summa theologiae of Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). The University of Bologna in Italy was Europe's preeminent university of law, where students could earn a J.D. in Roman law, in church law, or, most commonly, in both. Medicine was studied at Montpellier (in France) and Salerno (in Italy), while the English universities of Oxford and Cambridge were founded by English teachers and students who preferred not having to cross the Channel to Paris.
It should be stressed that the theologians at the University of Paris did not simply discuss well-accepted "truths" about Christianity. Rather, they argued and debated, often rather heatedly, over exactly what those truths might be. This debate was by its very nature rational and analytic. Theology was considered a vibrant and exciting science, and issues concerning the nature of God and Christian salvation were debated using approaches and ideas borrowed from the pagan thinkers of antiquity, even from Jewish and Muslim philosophers. By the end of the thirteenth century, the bishop of Paris, worried that this openness might lead some undergraduates astray, drew up a list of works that were not to be taught to beginning students, though they were still read and discussed by the professors and advanced students.
These university-centered theological debates are but one of many indications that the medieval church and belief system were far from monolithic. Although by far the majority of the population was made up of baptized Christians, and kings felt that the protection and support of churches were sacred aspects of their rule, for the vast majority of the population no one either knew or cared exactly what they believed. Jews were tolerated, although by the later Middle Ages fairly grudgingly. For the most part, the only people accused of heresy were the learned and preeminent, who it was feared might infect others with their fallacious beliefs, or else those who tried to set up an entire alternative church, complete with its own bishops, as did the Albigensian heretics around the year 1200.
Even from among the most devout in the Middle Ages there emitted a fairly steady low-level criticism of the hierarchical church, on the grounds of lapses from the purity expected of leaders of organized religion. But just as, in the modern United States, those who believe most strongly in democracy may be the biggest critics of a particular government, this medieval criticism of the church should not be seen as a rejection of Christianity. The consensus was that the church hierarchy had become corrupt by the fifteenth century; Martin Luther was preceded by a long line of would-be reformers, though the Reformation he began in 1517 was spectacularly successful in a way previous attempts had not been.
LAWYERS AND GOVERNMENT
Another popular misconception about the Middle Ages is that it was a period when violence was the only law. In fact, some of the most important products of the universities were the lawyers. Law became a trained, well-paid profession for the first time. University-trained lawyers served both at medieval Europe's royal courts and at the court of the papacy. Indeed, from the second half of the twelfth century onward, virtually all the medieval popes themselves were trained at the University of Bologna.
In England, university-trained lawyers were employed as judges as the kings developed their system of common law, with the fundamental understanding that a crime was an offense against the Crown, not merely against the victim, and thus ought to be investigated and punished by the royal courts. Grand juries, so called in contrast to the "petit" juries which might decide a case, assembled both to give and to hear testimony of possible lawbreaking (in a system directly ancestral to that of the United States). In France in the thirteenth century, a somewhat similar function was served by the parlements, courts that might be attached either to the Crown or to a particular region. In all of Europe's countries, the kings assisted by lawyers were not gods as in the empires of antiquity, nor even rulers with the special favor of the Christian God such as ruled Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; rather, at least through the thirteenth century, they were men whose authority originated in the consent of the governed.
University-trained lawyers could also serve as bureaucrats and record keepers. No government can function without some sort of record keeping, which was particularly challenging in an age before the printing press. When the Crown wished to keep a record of a grant or privilege made to someone, a clerk wrote out a copy for the records by hand. A government that does not keep good records is bound to find itself embarrassed, unable to account for where money has gone, whether it is owed money, discovering that it has made contradictory rulings or promised the same office to two people. Although some record keeping has existed for as long as humans have used writing, the modern understanding that governments and judicial courts needed permanent staffs of bureaucrats dates to the Middle Ages.
Even operating under severe technical disadvantages, beginning around 1200 medieval courts managed to regularize their records. In France the decisive event was the disastrous Battle of Fréteval in 1194, in which the king lost not only his baggage train but all the royal records, which had customarily followed the king wherever he went. From then on he established a permanent group of administrators who kept the records in Paris. Similar developments took place in England and in the papal court. Even now researchers can peruse the registers that scribes struggled to keep tidy seven or eight centuries ago.
Economically and socially the final two centuries of the Middle Ages were a difficult time, marked by a cooler climate than that of the twelfth century. The cooling resulted in frequent famines; the bubonic plague broke out in the fourteenth century for the first time in western Europe in eight hundred years; and countries were torn by peasant unrest and governmental tyranny, as seen for example among the men who ruled the city-states of the Italian Renaissance. And yet, alongside the social and institutional innovations already noted, it was also a remarkably inventive period in the material realm.
Eyeglasses, which developed out of experiments with optics, first made their appearance at the end of the thirteenth century. Given that over half the modern Western population wears glasses, the development of this correction for nearsightedness was an important step forward, particularly for the literate. In the fourteenth century the invention of paper, which rapidly replaced parchment for all but the most formal documents, made books and writing substantially cheaper than they had been. The mechanical clock, developed around the same time and often equipped with dials for showing phases of the moon and of the zodiac as well as the hours, made it much easier for someone in business or a profession to plan and schedule his day. But perhaps the single most consequential invention of the fourteenth century was gunpowder. The Chinese had long used gunpowder for fireworks, but it took the West to find a way to use it to kill large numbers of people. As cannons were developed in the second half of the century, the face of war was transformed. No longer was fighting glorious and chivalrous, with a few well-aimed cannons capable of bringing down a whole row of charging cavalry. Instead, late medieval wars were increasingly fought by common footsoldiers forced into the army or by mercenaries.
The most significant invention of the fifteenth century was the printing press, developed by Johannes Gutenberg (1400–1468) in Germany. Again, the Chinese had already produced something similar, but they had carved an entire page out of one block of wood, whereas Gutenberg's invention featured movable type. With this type a whole page could quickly be set up using metal letters, and after as many copies as desired were printed, the page could be broken down and the letters reused. As a result of improvements in metallurgy in the preceding century, a by-product of the search for better cannons, this type was crisp and clear. In addition, printing presses lowered the price of books drastically because books could be reproduced far more quickly and easily than had ever before been possible. Whereas earlier every copy of every book had been at least slightly different from the next, all copies were now the same. With cheaper, more widely available books, literacy increased rapidly. From the end of the fifteenth century onward, someone trying to argue a point or to rally public opinion could do so in part through leaflets and booklets.
Finally, the fifteenth century invented much better rigging and shipbuilding techniques. By the end of the century European sailors were sailing hundreds and even thousands of miles down the coast of Africa in an attempt to find a passage to the East. By the time Christopher Columbus set off westward with the same purpose in mind, it was reasonable for him to expect his ships to hold together for weeks on the open ocean. But it was of course unreasonable for him to expect to find "India" as quickly as he did. Those who had mocked Columbus for his goal did so not because they expected him to fall off the edge of a flat Earth—the idea that Columbus's contemporaries thought the world was flat is a myth concocted in the nineteenth century. Both sailors and learned theorists in the fifteenth century knew that the Earth was a globe, as indeed had scholars in ancient Greece. What the naysayers believed, correctly, was that the globe was considerably larger than Columbus estimated, and they therefore feared that an insuperable twelve thousand miles of empty ocean lay before him to cross.
Although Columbus was convinced to the end of his life that he had in fact reached India, despite his frustration at never having found the silk and spices he expected, the Spanish Crown quickly realized he had discovered a hitherto unknown continent and claimed New Spain. The Middle Ages come to an end with Columbus, and with Europe's expansion into new territories a new era begins. But it was an era whose social expectations, government, and intellectual life had been formed in the Middle Ages.
See also other articles in this section.
Baldwin, John W. The Government of Philip Augustus: Foundations of French Royal Power in the Middle Ages. Berkeley, 1986. Details the development of administrative techniques by a medieval monarch.
Bouchard, Constance Brittain. Life and Society in the West: Antiquity and the Middle Ages. San Diego, Calif., 1988.
Bouchard, Constance Brittain. "Strong of Body, Brave and Noble": Chivalry and Society in Medieval France. Ithaca, N.Y., 1998.
Brown, Elizabeth A. R. "The Tyranny of a Construct: Feudalism and Historians of Medieval Europe." American Historical Review 79 (1974): 1063–1088. The article that effectively ended medievalists' use of "feudalism" to characterize their period.
Bumke, Joachim. Courtly Culture: Literature and Society in the High Middle Ages. Translated by Thomas Dunlap. Berkeley, 1991. Almost encyclopedic in coverage, with the focus on Germany.
Duby, Georges. The Chivalrous Society. Translated by Cynthia Postan. Berkeley, 1977.
Duby, Georges. The Early Growth of the European Economy: Warriors and Peasants from the Seventh to the Twelfth Century. Translated by Howard B. Clarke. Ithaca, N.Y., 1974.
Duby, Georges. Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West. Translated by Cynthia Postan. Columbia, S.C., 1968. The best introduction to the medieval rural economy.
Evergates, Theodore. Feudal Society in the Bailliage of Troyes under the Counts of Champagne, 1152–1284. Baltimore, 1975. Uses a close study of Champagne documents as a base for a clear statement of the nature both of knighthood and of peasantry.
Evergates, Theodore, ed. Aristocratic Women in Medieval France. Philadelphia, 1999.
Freed, John B. Noble Bondsmen: Ministerial Marriages in the Archdiocese of Salzburg, 1100–1343. Ithaca, N.Y., 1995. Discusses the aristocratic "serf-knights" of the Holy Roman Empire.
Freedman, Paul. The Origins of Peasant Servitude in Medieval Catalonia. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1991. Includes a good deal of information on the meaning of serfdom outside as well as within Catalonia.
Gold, Penny Schine. The Lady and the Virgin: Image, Attitude, and Experience in Twelfth-Century France. Chicago, 1985.
Hanawalt, Barbara A. The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England. New York, 1986. On family and childhood in the late Middle Ages.
Hilton, Rodney. Bond Men Made Free: Medieval Peasant Movements and the English Rising of 1381. New York, 1973.
Hyams, Paul R. Kings, Lords, and Peasants in Medieval England: The Common Law of Villeinage in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. Oxford, 1980.
Jaeger, C. Stephen. The Envy of Angels: Cathedral Schools and Social Ideals in Medieval Europe, 950–1200. Philadelphia, 1994.
Murray, Alexander. Reason and Society in the Middle Ages. Oxford and New York, 1978.
Pounds, N. J. G. An Economic History of Medieval Europe. 2d ed. London and New York, 1994.
Reynolds, Susan. Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted. Oxford and New York, 1994.
Rosenwein, Barbara H. Negotiating Space: Power, Restraint, and Privileges of Immunity in Early Medieval Europe. Ithaca, N.Y., 1999. Includes a discussion of the medieval roots of modern Anglo-American prohibitions on search and seizure.
Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians. New York, 1991. Disproves the hoary notion that fifteenth-century people thought the world was flat.
Thijssen, J. M. M. H. Censure and Heresy at the University of Paris, 1200–1400. Philadelphia, 1998.
Wemple, Suzanne Fonay. Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500 to 900. Philadelphia, 1981.
Wickham, Chris. "The Other Transition: From the Ancient World to Feudalism." Past and Present 103 (1984): 3–36.