Lordship and Feudality

Secular rule

Norman rule was exercised within new territorial divisions: the comtÚs (earldoms). In the Lombard principalities, a similar institution (counties, duchies, small principalities) already existed into which the Norman conquerors settled by alliance, by marriage or by force. The more enterprising managed to build up vast estates by merging their seigniories (the comtÚ of the Principate in the Salerno area, the comtÚ of Molise, the comtÚ of Loritello).
In other regions of the conquest, the comtÚ was an innovation, and the imported feudal hierarchy was ill-suited to the Byzantine provincial administrations and the old towns. This was especially the case in Apulia where the comtÚs were established haphazardly, with scattered seigniories gathered together in "leopard skins".

In Calabria and Sicily, the duke and later the Norman king exercised more direct control, and once the monarchy was firmly established we see them intervening in the feudal hierarchy throughout the Norman Mezzogiorno in a very different way from that of any other western monarchy. Not only did the king seek to limit the extent of the seigniories and counties, but after 1130, he endeavoured to impose his rule through his judges and tax officials. The king tended to organize the hierarchy of the counts, all related to the Hauteville family, the barons and lower ranking lords, and to turn it into a kind of civil service. He had no hesitation in revoking disobedient lords, even at the cost of revolts and risings. This is one of the more unusual features of the feudal system in Norman Italy.

In the early days, the Hautevilles had sought to legitimatize their conquests by oaths of vassalage, notably to the Pope. Later however, these Norman kings, drawn from a dynasty of mercenaries who had made their fortune precisely by seizing lordly power for themselves, tried to regain control of that power in the service of a centralized view of the State.


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