Chapter 2: The Ring of Cities
In the last decades of the tenth century and the ﬁrst decades of the eleventh, a profound transformation began to spread across Western Europe. The most visible indication of the change was that the minor nobility started to build castles, ﬁrst of wood and later of stone. From there, they proceeded to dominate the peasants of the surrounding countryside, suppressing the previous distinction between free and servile status. Changes also took place within the family. In documents of the period, the surname or patronymic appeared for the ﬁrst time in European history. Usually the name was taken from the family’s principal estate.1 At the top of the social pyramid, primogeniture became the norm for transfer of property from one generation to the next, younger sons having to accept careers as warriors or priests. The new institution underlying this transformation is known as the seigneurie banale or feudal manor, and the social system itself is described as feudalism. Between the end of the invasions and the ﬁrst decades of the new millennium, this form of organization replaced the previous patchwork of great estates and free landholdings between the Pyrenees and the Rhine in Western Europe.2 In place of labor services, the feudal landholders collected rents for use of the new equipment they installed. Whatever their status, peasants were obliged to have their wheat ground in the lord’s mill and bake their bread in the lord’s oven.3 In Picardy, where this transformation came earlier than in many other regions, payments in kind...
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