English Common Law

This is not YOUR Government

I think it is important to define the terms that will be bandied about in this discussion of knights and chivalry.  One of things that we have to realize is that the style of English law at the time of the knights was not the same as it is now and certainly not anything like what people here in America are used to.  And with the presidential election cycle ending yesterday (early this morning) I thought it would be neat to look at the way that the English Common Law worked (in brief).  We are only going to focus on the pieces that have to due with knighthood and liege lords so don’t expect a paragraph on Ussery Laws and the suck.

English Common Law (ECL)

The first thing that you need to wrap your head around is that ECL is based of land.  It really is that simple and at the same time, that complicated.  The king, in ECL owns all the land.  He would set up fiefdoms for people in his family and the people that would become the noble and royal class.  The people of that class would then divide up the lands they held to the people that lived on their land so that those people would have land to farm and cultivate.  The people that farmed the land in these fiefdoms owed money to the liege lords that owned the land.  The owners of the fiefdoms then had to pay a tribute tot he king (read that as tax).  So, in this way, the king was able to make money.

This is also the same way that armies were raised.  The king decides to raise an army.  He sends out emissaries to the fiefdoms. Based on the size of the land they are in charge of these nobles would have to send a certain number of ‘soldiers’ to fight for the king.  The number would depend on the size of the war that the king was wanting to fight.  The theory was that the owners of the fiefdoms would come themselves but that obviously was not going to happen.  They would then go to the people that lived and worked their land and ask for them to send their families to go fight for the king.  This was the way that armies were raised for years.  The king and the liege lords passed the buck down to the common man to go fight their wars for them.

Next you find the knight and the raising of a standing army.  It became hard for the common man to fight against the trained soldiers of other countries.  Going to your fiefdoms and finding people to go fight, that knew they were going to die, was difficult.  The nobility was then responsible for helping to maintain this standing army.  The army would contain knights and the knights, whether they were born to it or they were dubbed in would find themselves with a small fiefdom of land due to the fact that they were now part of the nobility.  This did not apply to those people that joined knightly orders but to those that were born into the title or had a field-promotion.  The bad part about this is that these new members of the nobility had to have land.  Land was thusly divided and these knights were given ever smaller fiefdoms until they could not be given land anymore.  At that point the title of knight lost some of its shine.