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Lordship and Feudality

The life of a lord

In addition to his monopoly on soldiering from his privileged place of residence, the castle, the Norman lord was also alone in levying taxes and controlling local government, primarily in judicial matters. After the period of the conquest (late 11th c.), what characterizes the Norman rule was the takeover of these tax and judicial rights by the royal power, either through its agents, or by incorporating the local lords into the power structure. But the lord does seem to have continued to collect taxes on exchanges and especially levies on goods passing through.

Like everywhere else in the west during the Middle Ages, the lordís lifestyle involved appropriating the fruit of other peopleís labours. Still he did need to know how to manage his domain and draw a profit from his income, in particular from cash crops, vineyards, olive-trees, fishing or stock farming rights, essential for the cavalry and his own domestic needs. Rights over the forests and pastureland meant that the lord was a major player in this activity.

The Norman lords living off the land would hunt on it, to put food on their table, to practise for war, and for the pure pleasure of indulging in a sport reserved for the aristocracy. This was not entirely risk-free. They hunted big game, deer and stags, also wild boar and even bears. Lastly, in Norman Italy, although not unknown elsewhere in the West, the art of falconry was a real passion, perhaps influenced by the Arabs, who were skilled practitioners; that most oriental of Norman sovereigns, Frederick II, wrote a famous treatise on the subject.

At the start of the conquest, the new lordly class was mostly Norman in origin, although the term Norman should be extended to include the "Franks", since, as in England, the "Normans from Normandy" brought along with them warriors from various origins, drawn by their successes. They might live alongside or form marriage connections with the local aristocracies, particularly the Lombard families, but everywhere they rose to the top. Outside the cosmopolitan circles at the court of Palermo described in the chronicles, we know very little about the everyday life and leisure of this lower and middle lordly class. It may for example be responsible for the dissemination of the epic cycles, particularly the Song of Roland, which have even survived in Neapolitan and Sicilian folklore
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