Reading a Document

Below is a portion of an edict issued by Emperor Conrad II in 1037. Suppose that you were a learned counsellor of the period and that either one of lords or one of the knights came to you asking for an explanation of just what the document means to him. We leave to your (disciplined) historical imagination what the person's particular concern might be. Write a concise 500-word opinion for your client, drawing your interpretation from what the document as a whole says both directly and indirectly. In particular, has anything of importance been left unsaid, and is it immediately clear who all the interested parties are and what they have at stake? Remember who your supposed audience is. You are not writing for your preceptor, but for someone whose life is affected by what Conrad has decreed.

The essay is due by 3:00 PM Monday, 29 September, in your preceptor's box in the History Department Office, 129 Dickinson Hall.

Edict of Conrad II, 1037

1) ...We firmly order that no knight of a bishop, abbot, count, or margrave ... who now holds, or had held and lost unjustly, a fief [benefice] from our lands or those of the Church ... shall lose his fief without clear and manifest fault, and in accordance with the laws of our ancestors and the judgment of his peers.

2) If there is contention between lords and knights, even if the peers judge that the knight should lose his fief, if the knight says that the sentence was unjust and caused by prejudice, he shall keep his fief until he and his lord, with his peers, come before our court where the case will be decided justly. ...

3) ... When a knight dies ... his son shall have the fief. If he has no son, but leaves a grandson born of a son, the grandson shall have the fief. ... If he leaves no such grandson, but has a legitimate brother on his father's side and if this brother ... wishes to be vassal of the lord, he shall have the fief. ...

4) Moreover, we absolutely forbid any lord to exchange or alter the character of a fief of his vassals without their consent. ...

(Source: Joseph R. Strayer, Feudalism [Princeton: D. van Nostrand, 1965], 123-4)