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The Song of Roland: Lord and Vassal Relationships

Autor:   •  March 15, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,601 Words (7 Pages)  •  3,319 Views

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"Beloved Roland, I shall return to France; When I am in my chamber in Laon, foreigners will come from many kingdoms. They will ask: 'Where is captain count?' I shall tell them he has died in Spain; henceforth I shall rule my kingdom with great distress. No day will dawn without my weeping and lamenting" .

This excerpt from The Song of Roland is one of the most poetic and dramatic depictions of a lord's bond with his vassal, and particularly that between Count Roland and Charlemagne. But how did this culture of honor and loyalty on such a personal level come about? A brief examination into the preceding events that shaped European society in the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries is essential to fully appreciating the lord/vassal relationship. The Song of Roland is full of rich examples of how loyalty, feudalism, and even divine intervention relate to one's allegiance to God, king and country.

Even the earliest observations of Germanic societies indicate that the Franks had always promoted accomplished warriors to leadership positions . Such an infrastructure may have served as a convenient cultural foundation to Feudalism in years to come. At the time The Song of Roland was written, Feudalism had clearly become a cornerstone of European society. But this culture surrounding the relationship between a lord and his vassal was much more developed by the 12th century than it was three hundred years prior, at the time of Charlemagne's rule . Critical changes in central government after King Charles's death provide the contextual background that is essential to understanding why loyalty in feudalism became so important.

When Charlemagne came to the throne in 768, the kingdom was already under threat of breaking apart into its three hostile regions: Austrasia, Neustria, and Aquitaine . It was only by an impressive campaign of military conquests that Charlemagne was able to truly unite the Franks, and expand the kingdom over most of what was the former Roman Empire . Such an accomplishment is praiseworthy to say the least, but this aggressive expansion left Charlemagne's successor, Louis the Pious, with a new world of complications to be dealt with. Due to limited resources, and a halt of further expansion, Louis was unable to continue this rate of growth, which had elevated his father's nobles to startling heights of wealth and prestige. Louis was seen by nobility and the general public as weak and incapable of looking after such a large kingdom. Inter-regional hostilities soon broke out, and a series of invasions from surrounding provinces devastated what little national unity that remained . Louis the Pious retained control over the eastern third of the fallen Carolingian Empire, but this region was largely fragmented into the individual territories owned by nobility.

At this point there was a massive distribution of administrative power from one central entity to various


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