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Jeruba's avatar

European jellies: what remnants of feudalism linger in your towns?

Asked by Jeruba (51559points) October 2nd, 2010

It’s hard for Americans to imagine what it’s like to live where the marks of history both go so deep and remain visible on the face of the land.

Last December I saw a jelly (German, I think) remark that as part of his holiday festivity, he had just come from Christmas at the castle. There was no follow-up, but it left me curious.

What relics of medieval feudalism, if any, are still apparent where you live?

•  Is there still a special relationship between an ancestral family home and the village or countryside?
•  Is the ancestral manor home, castle, or other residence still occupied?
•  Are there still ancient laws on the books that require a paying of fines to the lord of the manor for various infractions?
•  Are farmlands worked by individual small landholders, or are there still large tracts of property owned by the descendants of former lords?
•  Does the church figure prominently as a landowner and local power?
•  Are there many buildings, bridges, roads, and other structures that are centuries old? a thousand years?
•  Are there local customs and festivities that carry forward traditions dating from those times?

Forgive me if any of my questions are ignorant or based on wrong suppositions. I’m asking out of genuine interest.

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16 Answers

downtide's avatar

Where I live, in Manchester, there’s not much medieval history. Most of our history is from the Industrial Revolution, so we have mills and factories, but there’s not much left here of the medieval history. There are a couple of tudor halls datng from the 16th century (Ordsall and Bramhall) but neither of them are inhabited; I don’t think there are any manor houses still inhabited by their original families (most get sold and converted into luxury hotels). Most of the “old” buildings in Manchester are 150–200 years old or less, but there’s a little corner of town with the remains of a Roman fort, nearly 2,000 years old.

As for the way farming works round here, I have no idea. I don’t have any contact with the rural community any more. When I was a kid, growing up in rural Lincolnshire, farms tended to be passed down from father to son but I don’t know how many generations back these things went. The farm I knew the best was only second generation in its family. Most farms are owned by working class people, not many aristocratic landowners left.

The church doesn’t figure prominently as anything much any more. They certainly don’t own a lot of land, except that which churches happen to stand on. They can be a community focal point in some places. In some villages there is no social life outside the church; not because people are religious, but because it’s the only place to go.

No, there are no local laws anywhere that require payment to any lord of any manor. Although there are still some quirky laws that are never used but yet to be repealed. There’s an urban legend that says it’s still legal to shoot a Welshman with a longbow if you catch him inside the city walls of Chester after dark, but truth is that one went a long time ago.

There are lots and lots of buildings everywhere that are old. Just about every town has it’s share of terraced houses , the majority of which are small, low-cost and over 100 years old.

There are also lots and lots of places with local traditions dating back to medieval times or even earlier. Morris dancing, well-dressing, strange sports like cheese-rolling, to name just a few.

cazzie's avatar

Just because castles are around doesn’t mean there are Lourds ruling over.

There may be exceptions in England… ruling, landed gentry that still own large tracts of land that are sub-let… but I think this is now the exception, rather than the rule. Property tax and industrialisation pretty much ended a lot of the Gentry.

Here in Norway, sometimes your family name tells people where your ancestral home is and sometimes a person with that name can own property there and sometimes not, it depends on the circumstances. Taxed income is a form of public record, so if you have a persons full name and address you can look up how much income they claimed on their tax return. Transparency at it’s most equalising. So, if we are wondering about someone… we simply look them up on the tax register and find out what they are earning each year and paying tax on…..

ucme's avatar

Well Britain is positively saturated in such remnants. The most renowned of these, certainly near where I live in the North East, would be Hadrian’s Wall.‘s_Wall Edit : Yeah bit of a funny link, it’s insisting on adding ‘s Wall at the end, no idea why but there you have it at least!

Jeruba's avatar

Clarifying: I’m not looking for an overview of European history. I’m asking—what remnants of feudalism are there where you live? in your city or town? What reminders of your own local links to medieval times do you experience in your everyday life or in your seasonal celebrations?

@downtide‘s response is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for, specific to various other parts of Europe where flutherfolk reside.

ucme's avatar

Yeah for whatever reason that pesky link just shows Hadrian himself. For a better idea of what I was referring to, see here. Hadrian’s Wall is as near to my town as it’s geographically possible to get.

lloydbird's avatar

@Jeruba “It’s hard for Americans to imagine what it’s like to live where the marks of history both go so deep and remain visible on the face of the land.”

I take it that by “Americans” you mean Non-native “Americans”? And that when you say “history”, the reach of your question only extends to the Medieval period?

Otherwise, you have plenty of “deep marks” that are “visible on the face of (your) land”.

fundevogel's avatar

@lloydbird You kinda have to go out of your way to see that kinda thing. Jeruba seems interested in areas where people brush up against history in their day to day lives.

lillycoyote's avatar

@lloydbird While I would never dream of putting words in @Jeruba‘s mouth, because if there is anyone more than capable of speaking for herself, and often quite eloquently I would add, it is Jeruba, but I think @fundevogel is right regarding what she is interested in getting at with this question. Sadly, there are relatively few remnants of Native American culture left here, at least not very many that any of us might encounter on a daily or even regular basis. I also think any discussion of that monumental shame and tragedy is probably best left for another thread to give it the justice and attention that is deserves.

Jeruba's avatar

Thanks, @fundevogel.

Yes, @lloydbird, I was referring to people whose nationality is generally referred to as “American,” by which I mean citizens of the United States, however they may have come to be such. The United States does actually have native-born citizens. I was not anticipating that the term might be misunderstood, or I would have clarified.

I grew up in a part of New England that is saturated with colonial history. I know what it’s like to live surrounded by remnants of a past time. I was asking about lingering reminders of a particular past time in a particular part of the world.

Native American culture, to its credit, lay lightly on the land. No matter what remnants there might be, it has nothing to do with my question.

harple's avatar

I’ve been thinking about this on and off all day… I’ve lived in so many different places across the UK now, that I had to try and narrow down my thought field so that I could focus! I would say, generally, though, that many many towns here have churches built during the 14th/15th century, that we all take for granted as just being there. As @downtide said, the church generally only own the land that the church and maybe the vicarage is on.

However, this is a link to the “castle” in the nearest town to where I grew up, and was built during feudal times. It has always been present for me during my upbringing – both as a place to visit for the house, and as a place to go for a picnic in the gardens. They also have outdoor concerts there with fireworks at the end, which were always a highlight of my year. My oldest friend also had her wedding reception in the grounds here. As you can imagine, the photos are lovely!

One of the directors of the company I currently work for (only two weeks to go, yay!) is descended from a long family line, and lives in a very beautiful and large stately home. Although he is most certainly NOT lord of all he purveys, he still has the mannerisms of someone who would be… He frequently rubs his fellow directors up the wrong way for the way he talks down to them (despite their being his equal in the company).

There has been a lovely series on the BBC here that is a very, erm, quaint look back at life during the time of great landowners. It’s not going as far back as you are talking, but it’s beautiful none the less: Lark Rise to Candleford

cazzie's avatar

@Jeruba the city I live in goes back to the 900’s. The old ruling classes have come and gone, come and gone again… The plague and the reformation left a lot of the families and class systems non-existent, and the Danes came in and ruled Norway from 1536 to 1814. They lost their language. Only Danish and German were recognised so the Norwegian we speak and write today looks more like Danish than the old system of Rune characters that sounded more like the Icelandic as we hear it today. If you wanted an ‘education’ you when to Copenhagen (only men, of course, women were taken in and taught by nuns). Bergen (where the accent still sounds very different) was more of the trading capital then. There were families that were ‘favoured’ by whom ever ruled the area at the time….. and when spoils of war were divided, it depended on who was in favour as to who got titles and land, and it also caused rifts and intrigue and plots to overthrow. (a very good book to read about this time is Kristin Lavransdatter, but Sigrid Undset. There was constant fighting during this time as certain areas were run by those still opposed to Danish Rule. Allegiances that had been between families for generations couldn’t be stopped because someone drew lines on a map in Copenhagen.

Denmark lost their hold on Norway because they backed the wrong side in the Napoleon wars, and it had to be returned to Swedish rule in 1814.

If you want to learn more about this feudal time in Scandinavia… Wiki has a pretty good entry on it…

but it kind of skips over the reformation’s effect locally. One local story is that when the Reformers were coming, the Archbishop of Trondheim loaded a boat with all the churches riches and started rowing across the fjord to escape. The boat sunk and all the Catholic treasures, and the Archbishop, are still there on the bottom of the fjord.

There are families, one that I know personally, that have had their farm in their family since the 1300’s but I wouldn’t call them ‘Nobility’... ... just farmers.

Our surrounding churches and some buildings are from well before 1814… Check out our beautiful Cathedral….

Jeruba's avatar

Thanks, all, this is fascinating. Hoping for more.

I’ve been wondering whether we have any jellies in France I can’t remember hearing from any. I know we have some in Germany and the Netherlands.

@cazzie, I’ve read Kristin Lavransdatter and also The Master of Hestviken. They deserve their fame as great works. I’m still sad about how it turned out between Kristin and Erlend, though.

cazzie's avatar

Yeah, well… for all that… Erlend was just an ass.

Ummm… Jeruba… you know what happened to the nobility in France…. That fateful time, 1793 and 1794…la Terreur. The manors are still there and you can stay in them!

Jeruba's avatar

Thanks, @cazzie, yes, I do know. Once again, I am asking about the experiences of people who live among relics of feudal times in Europe. I’m asking for personal glimpses of the medieval world in current everyday life and not a short course in European history.

For example, if in your town there’s a May Day celebration that’s been enacted pretty much the same way for a thousand years, or the present offices of the telephone company used to be an ancient keep, or you do your grocery shopping in a mall whose parking lot is bounded by a wall built by a feudal lord to protect his lands, or you do attend a Christmas event held for the townsfolk at the nearest castle, that’s the kind of thing I’m asking about.

cazzie's avatar

Oh… You might be interested in our Olavsfest. Here is it’s historic relevance…(if you read Kristin Lavransdatter, you’d know this too. The festival is still held every year.)

Our current royal family doesn’t relate directly back in Norway.. we ‘pinched’ the second son of a Danish king when we became independent of Sweden. But, they are a lovely family, as far as royals go.

mattbrowne's avatar

In Germany I haven’t found any relics of medieval feudalism. There are some ancestral manor homes, castles, and other residences still occupied, but often the owners need taxpayer support to maintain them. There’s no inexpensive legal work force available. The following article explains how the system works, including the subsidy part

There’s also

but it seems a bit more general.

Modern feudalism can be created by an overemphasis of the shareholder value approach.

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