Adam Wayne Sijansky
University of North Texas: Master of Arts, May (2011)
Although developments in feudal law in the thirteenth century influenced the legal environment of Europe for centuries, much of past and current historical research of feudalism examines the social system anthropologically but neglects an in-depth analysis of feudal law codes. My research combines the social-anthropological approach with relevant customary codes to demonstrate the importance of feudal law to a thirteenth-century society plagued by war, economic and social instability, and competing powers of the monarchy, judiciary, and religion. The assessment of feudal law within each legal code highlights its prominence as an accepted category of jurisprudence. This thesis provides a new perspective on the influence of feudalism in the thirteenth century, demonstrating the significance of feudal law as a mode of maintaining peace and prolonging land tenure.
Feudalism is often described as a complex system that arose out of a simple need for protection. What began as a basic agreement between one who could provide protection from marauding invaders and one who could provide labor and service in exchange for that protection exponentially expanded into a superstructure that required written laws, judges, and enforcement. Historians such as Carl Stephenson, Marc Bloch, F.L. Ganshof, and David Herlihy approach feudalism by studying the way people lived their lives and evaluated feudalism through a mass of primary and secondary sources of chronicles, court records, and the publications of other historians. Studying the fundamental relationships that governed society is by no means fruitless; the bibliography of feudalism laid the foundation for future research of feudal law. One significant element missing from feudal discourse is feudal law. Sources and tracts on feudal law are almost limitless but are unknown or underused. Thus, feudal law remains an obscure and ignored component of feudalism and legal history. In this thesis, I demonstrate the significance of feudal law to European populations and how it functions as a source of maintenance of peace and stability of land tenure.