Sauce For The Gander Is Sauce For The Goose

In the beginning was the Standard Model of “feudalism,” according to which a 12th-century lord received lands from the king on condition of future military and other service. This was challenged first by Elizabeth Brown and later also by Susan Reynolds, both of whom believed that this feudal contract was an ex post facto construction on the part of early-modern jurists. Reynolds argued that the grant of land was not conditional on future service, but was a reward for past service. Lords therefore supported the king, not because they had contracted to do so in return for the piece of the realm whose revenues they were now enjoying, but in the hope of receiving such a piece in the future.

While I wholly concur with Brown’s key argument that the concept of public government was not as dead as the Standard Model would have it, and that people obeyed the king because he was the king and not solely because they had been given goodies, Reynolds’ argument struck me as being in conflict with all the primary sources I have ever read. Which are not nearly as many as she has read; but even so, I wondered whether her position might not suffer from unconscious bias. The ad hominem deconstruction is all the rage nowadays, at any rate when applied to scholars of the male persuasion, so it is only fair that I try it on a female historian.

I might suggest, then, that the issue of past contra future service in feudalism reflects the basic structure of female reproductive strategy. This structure itself contains two levels: first the basic exchange of sex for another good, and second the narratives that women create about the exchange ex post facto, for tactical reasons. Equivalent to the Standard Model of the feudal contract is the Draconicide Model of the sexual exchange. That is, the man kills the dragon and the woman grants him her body. For the service of killing the dragon, we may also read whatever other beneficium she is interested in, such as dinner, diamonds or devotion.

Now, the big question is just the same – which comes first? Women give the impression that if you give them enough attention and devotion, they will sleep with you. In reality, of course, this is fraudulent misrepresentation; for if you give them these things first, they have no reason to sleep with you. They can then pretend that the beneficia were a free gift, and tell you that they aren’t that sort of girl. It is only for the men who are too canny to donate the goods upfront that they actually have to pony up.

Now, back to the feudal contract. If we model the king as the man and the baron as the woman in this transaction, then Reynolds seems to have a point: for the king to grant the baron a powerful revenue stream on which to base an independent military power, in return for only a promise of future service, would indeed seem unwise. The baron can simply take the money and run. Better, therefore, to grant it only after service that has been safely received.

However, I am not convinced that this is what actually happened. The medieval king did not in fact behave like a canny male who makes it clear upfront that girls get mink in the same way as minks get mink; he often seemed to have a touching faith in the power of the act of homage and fealty to bind the baron to him even after the granting of the fief. If we deconstruct Reynolds in the same way as men are traditionally deconstructed, therefore, we might be conclude that her account of feudal relations is tactical disinformation, the fallacious projection onto the male world of how her own sex operates.

Posted on April 10, 2011 at 11:03 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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