I Believe in Isaac

The Dark Ages, pt. 2: The Final Chapter

Posted in Uncategorized by isaacmcphee on September 1, 2009

The Venerable Bede lived during the Dark Ages; and yet, this fact in no way detracted from his venerability.  If you had asked someone who had known him during the 8th-ish century – perhaps Phillip the Bold or John II Lackland (for these are the sorts of names that one might have been blessed with during this period) – you would surely stand in awe of their answer.  He was surely nothing that one would expect from a monk during the Dark Ages.  He was bold as a knight, witty as a jester, musical as a minstrel.  At least, that is what one is led to assume after having read his satirical/historical masterpiece “An Ecclesiastical History of the English People.”  It may sound dull, but it is truly nothing of the sort.

I say all of this not simply to endorse the works of Bede, but to wholeheartedly endorse the era which brought him to bear upon the unsuspecting world of scholarship.  The Middle Ages.  The Dark Ages.  Whatever you wish to call it, that is the era in which Bede lived.  An era which would, just a few centuries later, give rise to the feudal system – that much-maligned way of running things which held such prominence both in and out of Europe for so many centuries (and which still survives to this day on the tiny island of Sark in the English Channel – but that is a story for another time).

Very few have stepped up in recent years in order to defend the system.  Far more important, it seems, is the demonizing of the system in order to save face in today’s politically correct world, where Kings, Lords, Serfs and Vassals have no place; where they are tossed haphazardly onto the junk pile of history, with the flat-Earth theories and hereditary monarchies.

Such is my intent here.  Refutation of these nonsensically ignorant notions and defense of a system which clearly holds far more value than it is given credit for.

So, here is feudalism.

The King conquers land, usually by means of having a larger army than whoever had inhabited the land previously.  Fair enough.  It is unfair bringing in modern views of justice to such a situation, where a person’s hold on land was tenuous at best, where borders were painted with shades of gray and where treaties held less value than the parchment on what they were written, so we must simply accept the fact that kings took over land and had every right to do so.

Then the king built castles to protect himself and his army – mighty fortresses and strongholds against other kings bent on the same ends.

Now, after the king had conquered a territory he had a tremendous amount of land to deal with, so instead of trying to micromanage things (as is far too often done today), he hired a bunch of nobles to do it for him.  These were Lords; they were each given some land and told to manage it.

The Lords, in turn, divided up the land between various vassals, and the vassals got serfs to do the dirty work.  But being a serf wasn’t so bad – they weren’t slaves.  In exchange for working for a vassal they would be given food and shelter – far more than many people have even today.

So the feudal system worked pretty well.  Perhaps the time is not right to bring it back just yet, but it was a decent system.

But what of those other things credited with making the period so very “dark?”  Things like the plague?


Yes, the plague wiped out much of Europe and beyond.  Yes it was horrible.  Yes it caused people to go somewhat crazy and blame people who shouldn’t have been blamed.  Yes it is not something we should repeat today.  But here are the good things:

It helped us to recognize the value of quarantine.  Isolation kills disease – we didn’t know it before the plague, but after we had started to have some idea.  Also, so many died in Europe that great swaths of land were suddenly uninhabited.  Over-population was no longer a problem and for more than a century afterward, Europe thrived.  It seemed that nearly everyone had enough to eat and many who had not been landowners suddenly found themselves with land.  It was a terrible, wonderful time.

I’d like to move on in my thoughts now.  There is surely much more to say of the dark ages, but I am not the one to say it… just yet.  Perhaps I will return to the subject at a later dated (who am I kidding – it’s a subject I return to every few months whether I like it or not), but for now, I’ll just assume that I’ve changed a few minds about this rather fascinating era in human history.

Point made.


One Response

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  1. charatheos said, on September 1, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    I say, let’s watch a stupid tv show and get this fun-fest started…or, in the words of Kierkegaard, Wonderful!

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