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'I will love what thou lovest; I will hate what thou hatest.' In his classic history, Marc Bloch quotes this oath as an example of the bond between lord and vassal known today as feudalism. The medieval world was held together by ties of loyalty between individuals, which formed a chain stretching from the highest to the lowest ranks. First published in English in 1961, this is a ground-breaking history of the people and institutions of medieval Europe up to the 13th century.
Feudalism developed towards the end of the first millennium AD, ‘in the fiery crucible of the German invasions’. Few kings had the resources to marshal an army, hence the growth of smaller armies of knights. In the absence of law and order, peasants gifted their lands to a lord, in return for protection and sustenance. Bloch analyses every aspect of feudalism and its contexts, from religion, economy, kinship and the judiciary to the subtler ways in which it moulded the medieval mind. There were terrible penalties for disloyalty; one knight was sent to a monastery for the rest of his life having killed his lord in battle – his sentence had been commuted from that of having his hands cut off. Chivalry and Christianity also informed the feudal relationship, and vice versa: ‘Before God, the good Christian in his inmost soul saw himself as a vassal bending the knee before his lord.’
One of the foremost French historians of the 20th century, Marc Bloch was a founding member of the Annales school of history, which emphasised the deep forces of social history rather than focusing on wars and politics. He was a professor of economic history at the Sorbonne until the outbreak of the Second World War, when he joined the French Resistance. Bloch was killed by the Gestapo in June 1944. This Folio Society edition is introduced by Professor Jacques Le Goff, the most prominent modern proponent of the Annales movement, whose Medieval Civilisation was published by The Folio Society in 2011. He praises his predecessor's book as 'a work of incalculable importance ... I am delighted that The Folio Society has chosen to publish a new illustrated edition in L. A. Manyon's magnificent English translation.'
Review by rgourley on 21st Apr 2013