the history of Wieringen

the middle ages

2. The Frisian / Frankish feudal system


In the 8th and 9th century the organisation of society was largely based on the Roman system of mansions. Settlements were large estates, called villa's, consisting of a mansion or hall where the lord of the estate resided and a number of smaller farms where free farmers and serfs lived.
Because the Roman roadsystem had been neglected for 4 centuries the long distance trade between countries or regions had collapsed. There was little more than regional trade of the bare necessities. After the cosmopolitic Roman days the people were thrown back to themselves. Agriculture lead to few surpluses, so there was not much room for population growth and large cities. Existing cities are the continuation of old Roman garrison cities or royal residences, such as Aachen and Nijmegen. New cities grew around the monasteries that were founded in the 8th and 9th century.

<-- Charlemagne is crowned as emperor in 800, according to a 14th century miniature

The most important change in this situation was a result of Charlemagne's politics of centralisation. In order to make his enormous empire better controlable, he introduced a system where large areas were given to trusted followers who were allowed to govern the area as they liked, as long as they stayed loyal to their lord and paid the taxes (most of the time a tenth of the profits). The new rulers, earls, dukes and counts, gave parts of their possessions to their vassals who in their turn gave areas in loan. The lowest level in this hierarchy was formed by the mansions, the old Roman villa's.
Because the free farmers had the same duties as the lords, that is pay taxes and fight in the kings army when summoned, most free farmers saw no other solution than to give up their land and work as a serf. Most of the time they had a little piece of land they could cultivate themselves, but most of the time they had to work for the lord of the estate.

Another development in the 8th and 9th century was the rise of the monasteries. In the 8th century the Frisians were converted to christianity by Willibrord and Bonifatius, Anglo-Irish monks, hired for this job by the pope. The Carolingian church that resulted put great value to donations to saints, represented on earth by monasteries and churches. If you doubted if your way of life would grant access to heaven, a generous gift could secure a seat. If you had no heirs, or would like to see your property not getting into the wrong hands, donation could be a solution as well. In this manner churches and monasteries accumulated great wealth and effectively controlled large pieces of land. Since the clergy had the virtual monopoly on the art of reading and writing, the propertylists made by eager monks are most of the time the only clues to how society was organised in these days.

Wieringen at the first millennium change      First mentions of Wieringen

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