Medieval History

Selected Sources Full Text Sources Saints' Lives Law Texts Maps Medieval Films Search Help

Selected Sources Sections Studying History End of Rome Byzantium Islam Roman Church Early Germans Anglo-Saxons Celtic World Carolingians 10 C Collapse Economic Life Crusades Empire & Papacy France England Celtic States Nordic Europe Iberia Italy Eastern Europe Intellectual Life Medieval Church Jewish Life Social History Sex & Gender States & Society Renaissance Reformation Exploration
IHSP Credits

Internet Medieval Sourcebook

Peasant Servitude and Obligations (12th Century)

Rulings by Louis VI and Louis VII of France


1. King Louis VI Rules on Serfs' Ability to Testify Against Free Men, 1108 
2. Louis VI Rules on the Marriage of Serfs, 1124 
3. Louis VI Rules on the Status of Henry of Lorraine, 1112 
4. King Louis VII Rules on the Division of the offspring of Serfs, 1139-1140 


1. King Louis VI Rules that Ecclesiastical Serfs Shall Be Able to Testify Against Free Men, 1108

That Ecclesiastical Serfs Shall Be Able to Testify Against Free Men

Louis, by the grace of God King of the French, to all the faithful of Christ.  Since according to the instructions of the most sacred laws, the royal power, by virtue of the office enjoined on it, ought to devote itself especially to the honor and defense of churches, it is a worthy task that those, to whom such great power has been permitted by God, provide solicitous care for the more attentive peace and tranquility of those churches. It is also worthy that kings adorn churches and their goods with specific privileges of honor in praise of almighty God, through whom kings rule. In this way they shall perform the customs of kings through good deeds and shall indubitably receive the heavenly reward in compensation.  Therefore let all know that the holy convent of the church of Paris [that is, Notre-Dame of Paris] came into our presence, showing by requesting and requesting by showing how the serfs of the said church were held in such great contempt by secular persons that in public and in civil court cases or hearings they are in no way received as witnesses against free men, and how ecclesiastical ‘slaves’ [mancipia, here prob. meaning serfs] are preferred to secular serfs in almost no case.  Due to this state of events the ecclesiastical order has not only been vilified due to the disgrace of this great shame, but it also incurs the greatest injury by being diminished daily.

Having learned of these complaints made by the church, and having been moved both by their arguments and by love for them, I considered what was necessary [to do] in order to entirely remove such great scandal from the Parisian church, which was most familiar to us among the others, and in order to elevate the royal seat through a royal grant.

I, Louis, king of the French by the clemency of God, with the common counsel and assent of our bishops and leading men [proceres], decree, institute, and ordain by royal authority that the serfs of the church of Paris, namely those who belong to the property of the canons, shall have free and complete license to testify and fight judicial duels against all men, whether free or serf, in all cases, hearings and negotiations.  And no one who raises the fact of [their] serfdom against them shall presume to make any complaint concerning their testimony. And for this reason we concede to them the license of testifying to those things which they shall see or hear, so that if in some case a free man shall want to prove false testimony against them or contradict them in any way, let such a man either complete his accusation through a duel, or, if he has received an oath from the serf, let him accept the serf’s testimony.  And if anyone shall refute or dispute with haphazard presumption the testimony of these serfs in any matter, not only let him become the prisoner of the royal authority and the public power, but let him irrecoverably lose the complaint of his business or legal case such that the presumptuous accuser shall not be heard [in court] concerning any further quarrel that he may be prosecuting and that if anything more is sought from him, he shall be held wholly convicted and guilty in that matter.  We ordain another thing, moreover, that the said accuser, unless he shall make amends to the church of Paris for his great guilt, shall be held on the sword’s point of excommunication and shall henceforth not be permitted to give testimony.

And so that this edict of our instruction might be held strong as a privilege of perpetual strength, we commanded the present charter be drawn up; this charter entrusts the completion of our authority to the memory of posterity, and excludes in perpetuity the occasion of any retraction.  We decreed moreover that the names of the bishops, counts, and leading men [proceres] who were present at the affirmation of this charter be justly inscribed on it as testimony of the truth, and finally we signed the same charter with the seal of our image and corroborated it with the characters of our name, with those present from our palace whose names and signa are listed below:

 Signum of Anselm de Garlande, at that time our seneschal
 Signum of Hugh who is nicknamed Strabo, at that time our constable
 Signum of Guy son of Guy de Turre, at that time our butler
 Signum of Guy our chamberlain
 Signum of Walo, bishop of Paris
 Signum of Ivo, bishop of Chartres
 Signum of John, bishop of Orleans
 Signum of Manassas, bishop of Meaux
 Signum of Odo, count of Corbeil
 Signum of Matthew count of Beaumont
 Signum of Louis the king

Done at Paris publicly, in the king’s palace, in the year 1108 of the Incarnation of the Lord, in the 1st Indiction, in the 1st year of our reign.  Stephen the chancellor, in re-reading [it], subscribed it.

SOURCE: Cartulaire général de Paris, v. 1, ed. Robert de Lasteyrie (Paris, 1887), no. 150, pp. 169-171.  Translated from the Latin by Richard Barton.

2.  King Louis VI Rules on the Marriage of Serfs, 1124

+ In the name of the Holy and Individual Trinity. Since, after the prophet, the honor of king has to prepare the directions for judgment and justice, I, Louis, by the grace of God king of the French, want it to be made known to those in the future and those in the present that lord Stephen, dean of Sainte-Geneviève, together with the convent of canons of his church humbly besought our serenity and asked that a certain custom that used to be observed be re-instituted in the future and confirmed in eternal stability between those of our men living in three villas, namely Villeneuve, Moncius, and Chaillot, and the men of Sainte-Geneviève.  This is the custom, which is called befeht in the vulgar, according to which women of whichever of the aforesaid villas who shall be given in marriage to men shall remain in the servitude of their husbands wherever they might be, having thus wholly abandoned their natal servitude; not only these women, but also all infants of whatever sex who are brought forth [from these unions shall be held in the servitude that applies to their fathers]. We strengthen this custom by affirming it and confirm it by strengthening it through the precept of the present charter; and we corroborated it with the seal of our image and by the characters of our name, and we commanded it be confirmed by the names and signa of the leading men of our palace.

Done publicly in Paris in the year 1124 of the Incarnation of the Word, in the 16th year of our reign, with those present in our palace whose names and signa are listed below:

 Signum of Stephen the seneschal
 Signum of Gilbert the butler
 Signum of Hugh the constable
 Signum of Alberic the chamberlain
 Given by the hand of Stephen the chancellor

SOURCE: Cartulaire général de Paris, v. 1, ed. Robert de Lasteyrie (Paris, 1887), no. 202, pp. 221-222.  Translated from the Latin by Richard Barton.

3. King Louis VI Rules on the Status of Henry of Lorraine, 1112

Charter which speaks of Henry the Lotharingian, and of his freedom

In the name of the Holy and Individual Trinity, Amen. I, Louis, by the grace of God king of the French, want it to be known as much to those who come after as to those in the present that it was intimated to the ears of our majesty through the envious report of certain men that a certain individual, namely Henry, who is called of Lorraine, ought to be our serf. Even though his mother was living as a free woman, he had nevertheless contracted the stain of servitude from his father. But, since the king’s honor loves justice, we placed this quarrel and case into judgment and appointed a day for it [to be heard]. On the appointed day, all our friends and vassals gathered as one in our palace, and we advised the said Henry that, because he was our serf and was born to one of our serfs, as had been told to us, he ought to deliver the service of serfdom to us. But truly Henry denied entirely that he or his father were or ought to be our serf, and was ready to defend himself and his father from any serfdom at our judgment.  But since the witness of the alleged serfdom had departed, the accuser failed, and by common counsel it was decided that this Henry could act as oath-swearer [jurator] and witness [comprobator] to his own freedom and that on his oath we would render him free and wholly quit of this suspicion.  This was done.  He swore in our presence that not only he himself, but also his father and grandfather had been free, and had been born of free men, and had remained in freedom for as long as they had lived.  Once this oath was sworn, in order that Henry and his sons or daughters would not incur any other accusation concerning serfdom, we commanded that this charter - a charter not of the donation of freedom but of the proof of freedom - be made; and we signed it with the seal of our majesty, with those present from our palace whose names and signa are listed below:

         Signum of Anselm, at that time our seneschal
         Signum of Gilbert the butler
         Signum of Hugh the constable
         Signum of Guy the chamberlain

Done in Paris in the public palace in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 1112, in the 4th year of our consecration. These [men] offered testimony: William de Garlande, Froger of Chalons, Pagan de Turota, Peter the orphan, Matthew the count of Beaumont, Bouchard de Montmorency, Herluin the master, Nivard de Poissy, Berner the dean of Notre Dame of Paris, Girbert the archdeacon, Rainaud the archdeacon, Theobald de Villariis, Durand.

Stephen the chancellor, after re-reading it, wrote this.

SOURCE: Cartulaire général de Paris, v. 1, ed. Robert de Lasteyrie (Paris, 1887), no. 160, pp. 184-185.  Translated from the Latin by Richard Barton.


4. Louis VII Rules on the Division of the Offspring of Serfs, 1139-1140

Charter concerning a certain man of Charonnes, one of our serfs, who married a woman born of the royal household

In the name of the highest God. I, Louis, by the grace of God King of the French and duke of the Aquitanians. It seems worthy to commend to the notice of the faithful a certain agreement formed a little while ago between our most pious father, Louis, King of the French, and the venerable Winebald, abbot of Saint-Magloire, which was confirmed by us in the third year of our reign [ie., 1139-1140] to the most reverend father Robert of the same monastery; moreover, the agreement of this confirmation was written down and was signed and corroborated by the impression of our seal.  Indeed, in the time of the said Abbot Winebald a certain man named Guoinus from the household [familia] of Saint-Magloire, from the villa of Charonnes, married a woman named Sehes, who was born into the royal household [familia].  The fact that a man from their jurisdiction [sui juris] had chosen for himself a wife from another household greatly displeased the abbot and the monks, since from this marriage a great many disputes might arise, and the church would be deprived of the fruits of procreation which were owed to it. And when this complaint had been tossed around, it came to the ears of our most pious father, who, not wanting the church to be wholly destitute of the fruit of its household, took pains to decree that the propagation of both spouses be divided equally, so that one part would remain the perpetual possession of the royal dignity, while the other part would be perpetually possessed by Saint-Magloire.  Therefore this which our glorious father, having taken wise counsel, had conceded long ago, we also confirmed benignly for the good of the church.  So that it might obtain the strength of perpetual stability, we affirmed this confirmation below with the authority of our seal and the letters of our name.

Done in Paris in our palace in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 1139, in the third year of our reign, with these present in our palace whose names are noted below:

        Signum of Ralph, count of the Vermandois and our seneschal
        Signum of William our butler
        Signum of Matthew the constable
        Signum of Matthew the chamberlain

Given by the hand of Algrinus the chancellor.

SOURCE: Cartulaire général de Paris, v. 1, ed. Robert de Lasteyrie (Paris, 1887), no. 280, pp. 271-272.  Translated from the Latin by Richard Barton. 

Source: See each document above. ©Translations by Richard Barton Permission given for use at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history. Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

Paul Halsall, February 2023

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook is part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project. The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.   Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 3 May 2024 [CV]