So-called "Feudalism" was simply the extreme privatization of virtually all government services, including justice and defense. It was in the hands of nobles and to an extent not often appreciated, private entrepreneurs
. Here's an example:
In 1141 King Stephen of England was facing serious problems maintaining control of the country. One nobleman, Ranulf
of Chester, seized the city of Lincoln in a bid to extend his private control, assuming that since the king had no standing army there was nothing he could do about it. King Stephen fooled him by immediately raising what forces he could and marching to the relief of the citizens of Lincoln.
The force Stephen raised shows just how privatized national defense was. It consisted of Stephen's personal household guards, a force of powerful nobles and their household knights (answerable only to their lords, not the king), and a powerful force of mercenaries (the closest thing to professional soldiers in the army). When they arrived at Lincoln the city militia marched out to join them. Note that the militia was the closest thing to what we would understand as a national "army."
In the ensuing battle Stephen's mercenaries, by far the most effective of Stephen's troops, charged forward on one flank and smashed right through the enemy force in front of them. Turning around they saw their king (and employer) in the center battling a huge mass of Ranulf's
men. Instantly making the decision that they had earned their pay for the day and it didn't extend to getting themselves killed, the mercenaries kept right on riding, clear out of the battlefield.
Stephen was in so much trouble because the nobles and their private warriors on the other flank had taken one look at Ranulf's
men charging straight towards them with blood in their eyes, suddenly remembered they had other priorities and turned their horses and ran.
Poor old Stephen was left stranded with both his flanks gone and the enemy closing in on three sides. The only troops willing to stand firm were the Lincoln militia who, after all, were literally fighting for their homes. Most were slaughtered and Stephen was taken prisoner.
When he was finally released in a prisoner exchange Stephen decided that relying on private forces was not the way to go.
Well, as Seller and Yeatman would say, that's history as I remember it.
Labels: conservatives, medieval history, privatization