Christianize! I work and I pay, I pray and I pay, I die and I pay. God wills it! Rich and poor alike in the Middle Ages were controlled by five specific institutions: the code of chivalry, the feudal system, Charlemagne, the manorial system and the Catholic Church. To encounter them was inevitable, to avoid them: impossible!Firstly, the code of chivalry was a code of behaviour for the upper class embodying all the qualities and characteristics of the ideal or perfect knight. He should be bold and brave, yet gentle, considerate, wise and courteous. Obviously, this perfect knight did not exist but gave people an icon to which they might aspire. This code of chivalry also included small acts of kindness and generosity to bind the men in the upper ranks of society by ties of property as well as loyalty. This way, men could rely on one another and feel a more firm sense of security and peacefulness.
Similarly, the feudal system was created early in the Dark Ages to secure a sense of safety among the upper class. The feudal system involved the granting of land or a fief by a lord to his vassal. The lords and vassals were exclusively the very wealthy and powerful with the king as the highest lord and the knight as the lowest vassal. The main purpose of the feudal system was to provide fighting men who could ensure protection. Feudalism was the first emergence of organized government in the Dark Ages.
Charlemagne was a born leader and a talented general, but also a man so convinced of the value of religion and education that he made a genuine attempt to revive the spiritual and cultural life in the Middle Ages.Charlemagne was a brilliant administrator by carefully selecting powerful Germanic nobles to help him and by creating the missi dominici. He was an ingenious educator creating a standard curriculum involving the quadrivium and trivium then putting them to practice in the schools he built and rebuilt. Also, he saved, preserved and copied as much classical information as possible. Finally, he was a brave soldier and conqueror. Between 768 and 814, he was involved in more than 53 military campaigns, 30 of which he lead in person. Charlemagne’s virtues, his charisma and enthusiasm may have been a model for the crusaders so many years later.
Unfortunately, one of the most influential factors in medieval Europe was also one of the most unjust. The manorial system broadened the gap between the rich and the poor beyond the point of repair. Like the feudal system, manorialism involved an agreement between two men, this time the lord and his serf. A serf’s obligations heavily outweighed those of his lord. As the serfs wallowed at the bottom of this oppressive system of governing, they started to think and those thoughts began togerminate: in 1381, thousands of serfs joined a protest march to London, exploding after generations of abuse. However, it still took an entire millennium before changes began to take place, during the Industrial Revolution in Europe.
Finally, the church was everywhere, doing everything! From taxes to crusades, the church involved itself in every aspect of medieval life. The church had its own laws (canon law), its own courts, its own taxes, and involved itself in political matters. People in the middle ages believed devoutly in the existence of God and of heaven and hell. Their fear of hell alone was what restricted many peoples’ actions. Also, people believed that their actions all had consequences both here and in the here-after. They wanted nothing more than to please God and be accepted into heaven as the stories told to them of hell were frightening and gruesome. The people believed that priests were God’s messengers chosen by Him. This gave priests tremendous amounts of power which was often abused. The feudal system existed not only on Earth but in heaven as well with different classes of beings: angels and people. However, although the church was dripping with deception and corruption, it did its fair share of good. The church was not only the strongest organization in medieval Europe; it also brought people closer together, for the Christian religion was the one thing all Europeans had in common. The church also promoted learning and culture. Most churchmen tried to reduce the suffering caused by feudal warfare by preaching the Peace of God and the Truce of God. The church also supported the ideals of chivalry – courtesy, charity, loyalty, purity, temperance, courage, and justice. The church also tried to enforce the idea of “just price” by insisting the cost of all goods should be based on their material value. Clearly, medieval Europeans lived under the umbrella of the church.
Although all the medieval institutions had their own separate strengths and weaknesses, combined they created a diverse society both exciting and secure… at least for a while.