Lordship and Feudality

The ecclesiastical seigniory & lordship

In the other territories under Norman control in the Anglo-Norman sphere of influence, the lay seigniory operated alongside the large ecclesiastical seigniories. There were many monastic foundations richly endowed by the local dukes or lords. The monasteries exercised economic control over the land they owned and social and legal control over the men who worked that land or came to be dependent on them. Similarly, there were ecclesiastical baronies for which the prelate in charge owed feasance (feudal service) to his duke.

But things were different in Norman Italy. Before the conquest, the network of dioceses was in disarray after the disturbances of the earlier period, and not many monasteries could compare with the large abbeys of Normandy. A few however owned land and enjoyed considerable prestige, the mains ones being the monasteries of St Benedict at Monte Cassino, St Vincent at Volturno, St Clement at Casauria and Holy Trinity at La Cava… But the way they asserted their power was purely symbolic, and the land, castles and churches belonging to the monastery might be depicted on the monumental bronze doors of the abbey churches, as at Monte Cassino. The monastery at Monte Cassino was thus a whole vast unit called the Land of St Benedict. The abbots, notably Desiderius, who founded this power base at the start of the Norman period, were princes of their time, treating the Norman conquerors as their equals, but they also came under constant threat of encroachment by lords rebelling against the central authority.

By and large however, the secular church had little temporal power and, apart from a few charismatic personalities, their crumbling dioceses prevented the bishops from playing anything like the major role they played in Normandy and England. The temporal power of the churches was in fact mostly built up during the Norman period and remained under the new authority’s control, leading to a flurry of building work..

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