Medieval Background Information
Who should be King?
Before and during early Anglo-Saxon times Kings were warrior-leaders. Whoever could win battles and gain land held the power of kingship primarily based on force. Slowly this evolved and the King could nominate his successor. The right to rule changed and not only did the King hold power solely based on force, he had to be the legitimate inheritor. In the 7th Century when Christianity took root in Britain, Kings were presented to the people as God's chosen and were like priests in that they could bring God's blessing to the kingdom and its subjects.
To uphold their power Kings were supported by their Council. This usually consisted of leading nobles and churchmen who aided the King in putting down rebels and when summoned, advised the King and approved new laws. They were an extension of the King's authority.
The Norman Conquest/Feudalism
From the 11th Century onwards Kings ruled with full authority given the consent of their Council or barons. William I created the rank of baron when he conquered England (1066) and introduced feudalism. Barons were principal landowners who attended Council and who pledged loyalty to the King through ties of the feudal system.
The feudal system consisted of a lord or superior (King), a vassal (baron/knight) and a fief (land). The king was the sole landowner. He kept land for personal use and allocated part to the church. The remaining land was leased.
The King leased out land to vassals (barons). To become a vassal a baron had to complete a two act commendation of ceremony. The first act was the act of homage. The King and vassal (baron) entered into a contract where the vassal (baron) pledged to fight for the King in exchange for the fief (land). The second act was the Oath of Fealty. This sealed the vassal's (barons) faithfulness to the king. The King and vassal (baron) were then in a feudal relationship.
Barons had complete control of their land, they kept land for themselves and leased out some to knights. Knights had to fight and protect their baron in exchange for the land. Knights kept land for themselves and gave some to serfs. Serfs had to provide free labour, food and service on demand for their knight in exchange for the land. Serfs had no rights.
In this time period the Crusades began (1095) and lasted nearly 200 years. A Crusade being a "holy war" sanctioned by the Pope. European armies were sent to the Holy Land to regain control of the City of Jerusalem from the Saracens (Moslems). Crusaders took the Cross and went on pilgrimage to the Middle East, a holy journey of personal salvation.
Europeans were the victors of the First Crusade, crowning their own "King of Jerusalem" and establishing a territory called Outremer (French for "across the sea") or otherwise known as the Crusader States. These States were Antioch and Edessa. Their rule ended with the fall of Acre in 1291.
The Crusades had an important influence on Medieval Europe, they stimulated the economy, opened up Eastern trade routes and introduced Eastern culture to the West in areas of architecture, art, literature and education.