The Stirrup as a Revolutionary Device
Published Online (1990)
The eighth century was a turning point in Western European civilization. It opened with the Arabs crossing over to Spain, in 711, sealing off Western Europe from the Mediterranean commercially and culturally; it would end with the Viking onslaught on Scottish monasteries, 793 and 794, congealing the frightened natives of northern Britain into forming a united front of Pict and Scot.
In the centre of this cyclonic swirl of invasion stood the Frankish kingdom. Charles Martel, ruler of this kingdom in the first half of the eighth century, when faced with pressing needs of defence
against the Saracen advances in the south, promptly invented feudalism.
This, at least, is the time-honoured view of the origin of European feudalism, a view initially formulated in the nineteenth century and seconded in the twentieth by the late distinguished medieval scholar Lynn White Jr. Professor White’s thesis is presented in the context of an ancient world undergoing increased technological advances. We will look closely at his thesis and will, in particular, review the source material fundamental to its formulation.