Constitutio de feudis

The Constitutio de feudis ("Constitution of Fiefs"), also known as the Edictum de beneficiis regni Italici ("Edict on the Benefices of the Italian Kingdom"), was a law regulating feudal contracts decreed by the Emperor Conrad II on 28 May 1037 (Pentecost Eve) at Pavia,[1] during his siege of Milan. It "had wider and more lasting effects on Italian society than any other piece of imperial legislation," and by "attract[ing] to the cities [the moderately-wealthy landowner, it] built a bridge at a high social level between city and countryside."[2] According to Susan Reynolds, it "mark[s] the foundation of the academic law of fiefs", as it formed the basis for the Libri feudorum.[3]

The law was based, in its own words, on the "legal code of our predecessors" (constitucio antecessorum nostrorum). It specified that "no knight [miles] who was the tenant of a bishop, abbot, marquis, count or any other might be deprived of his fief unless he were convicted" of a legal offense "by the judgement of his peers", and the right of a knight to appeal to the emperor or to an imperial representative was granted. One historian has described Conrad as satiating the vavassores’ "hunger for law".[4] The emperor also limited his own right to fodrum, a tax in money levied whenever the emperor visited Italy, in order to please the greater feudatories whose rights over their knights he had just limited.[4] It is not clear whether the knights who gained these rights were noblemen. They were sword-bearers, but they lacked prerequisites of legal freedom, such as judgement by one's peers and the right of appeal.[3]

The Constitutio was ratified by Henry III of Germany, Conrad's son and heir, and, in 1040, by Archbishop Aribert II of Milan.[1] It ensconced the vavassores in their benefices for life and made them hereditary, abrogating their dependence on the capitanei and thus amalgamating the two feudal classes into one broad land-owning class. This was Conrad's intention, as the preamble to the Constitutio states: "to reconcile the hearts of the magnates and the knights [milites] so that they may always be found harmonious and may faithfully and constantly serve us and their lords with devotion".[4]



  1. 1 2 Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton University Press, 1983), 156–58.
  2. John Kenneth Hyde, Society and Politics in Medieval Italy: The Evolution of the Civil Life, 1000–1350 (New York: St Martin's Press, 1973), 28.
  3. 1 2 Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001), 44.
  4. 1 2 3 H. E. J. Cowdrey, "Archbishop Aribert II of Milan", History 1966 51(171): 10–11.
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