Chapter 7

The Allodial Government

by Adam Smith Icon

The government which succeeded the fall of the Roman Empire was similar to Mongols. Germans and other groups conquered the the western countries. Compared to the Mongols, they=

  • had better notions of property, and
  • were a little more used to the division of lands.

The conquering king and the other chieftains would naturally=

  • take more land and distribute it among their vassals and dependents, and
  • leave only a tiny share to the ancient inhabitants.

However, they did not exterminate them entirely but still paid them some little regard. Among the Franks who took Gaul, the person who killed a Frank paid only five times the fine which was payable for killing one of the old inhabitants.

These nations were almost lawless and all kinds of commerce was stopped.

The allodial government arose because of this. It introduced an inequality of fortune. All these chieftains held their lands allodially, meaning without any burden of tax, rent, wardship, etc. One of these great lords had land near the size of a county. But he was unable to reap any advantage from so much of it so he parceled it out among vassals, who=

  • paid a certain annuity,
  • attended him in war, or
  • performed some service of this nature.

Through this, his incomes became so great. But he could only consume them by maintaining many retainers around his house, as there was then no domestic luxury.

His dependents increased his authority and secured domestic peace because they kept the tenants in awe and were kept in awe by the tenants.

  • The authority of these lords was so great, that if anyone claimed a debt from any of their vassals, he could not ask the king to send a messenger into the lord’s dominions to force payment as he had no power over them.
  • He could only apply to the lord and desire him to do justice.

The lords also were the last resort in=

  • judging of all property under their own jurisdiction,
  • the power of=
    • life and death,
    • coining money, and
    • making by-laws and regulations in their own territories.

This power of government was between the king and the great lords. This power was only maintained by balance.

Besides the allodial lords, there were many free people who were allowed to consult about justice in their own spheres. Every county was divided into hundreds which were subdivided into tens.

  • The hundreds had a hundred court
  • The tens had a decennary court

Over those was placed the Wittenagemot or assembly of the whole people. Appeals were brought from the ten to the hundred, then to the county court. An appeal could be brought to the king’s court in case the inferior court denied justice by refusing to hear a cause, or if it was protracted by unreasonable delays. Appeals were also sometimes carried to the Wittenagemot.

It was made up of the king, allodial lords, aldermen or earls, bishops, abbots, etc. This was the first form of government in Western Europe, after the fall of the Roman Empire.

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