Feudal Nobility, part 1

Fuedal nobility
Prior to the advent of Heraldry, symbols or devices provided three basic needs to tribes or groups in Europe. The tribe and its religion made use of devices of significance to the group as a whole; leading warriors used them on their shields or clothing and on their flags and ships; and, finally, personalized symbols were required as seals to facilitate legal transactions for commerce. The need for the use of these symbols increased with the beginning of the crusades in the 12th century. It was most likely that this, combined with the coming together of men from widely scattered parts of Europe for the first time, led to the adoption of a new and improved fashion of symbology. This resulted in the primitive symbology, within a century, to become the science of armory that we today know as Heraldry.

There was also another factor that had a very important bearing on these developments and that was an ethnological one. Europe had been overwhelmed in the preceding 2000 years by successive waves of Aryan tribes, predominantly of Nordic or Viking origin, who had conquered and settled in western and southern Europe, first as Celtic invaders, Latins and Hellenes, and later these would be defeated by the Gothic and Germanic tribes. They formed a conquering caste, as overlords, in certain areas such as Bavaria, Lombardy, Spain, Austria, and large parts of France. However in high density areas from northern Germany to Britain this was not the case. Ultimately, however, with the Norman invasion in the 11th century England would succumb to the same fate as the rest of Europe as the Norsemen, as frenchified Normans, came in as conquerors over their distant cousins the Anglo-Saxons.
William the Conquerer coat of armsEurope was under the heel of a conquering stock, sometimes different in race from the conquered, as in Spain and Portugal, sometimes of the same blood as in England, which formed an international fraternity. All of their pedigrees could be traced back to the same ancestors whether they were in the Holy Roman Empire, in France, in Italy or in the British Isles. This led to a clear division of society everywhere. There was the laborer or serf, descended from the conquered. There was the townsman who was often of the same pre-conquest period origins. Over and above these were the conquerors. These were divided into the descendants of the leaders of the conquests of Europe and their military following.

These two classes were freemen, and held their lands by rights of conquest and in the feudal system paid for them by military service. The others, the lower farmers, and all others down to the serfs were bound by servile tenure. Even centuries later this clear distinction between the freeman holding by military and the peasant holding by servile tenure remained, so that the gulf between the one and the other was far greater than that between the aristocracy formed from the leaders of the conquests and their military followers.

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