Montesquieu
 

XXXI.23 That free men became qualified to own fiefs

I have said that free men went to war under their count and the vas­sals under their lord. In that way, the orders of the state coun­ter­ba­lan­ced each other ; and although the leu­des had vas­sals under them, they could be contai­ned by the count, who was at the head of all the free men in the monar­chy.

At first these free men could not peti­tion for a fief, but later on they could1 ; and I find that this change took place in the inter­val bet­ween the reign of Gotram and that of Charlemagne. I will prove it by the com­pa­ri­son we can make of the Treaty of Andely2 made bet­ween Gontram, Childebert, and queen Brunhilde, the divi­sion3 made by Charlemagne to his chil­dren, and a simi­lar divi­sion made by Louis the Debonaire. These three acts contain approxi­ma­tely the same pro­vi­sions with res­pect to vas­sals ; and as they are set­tling the same points, and more or less in the same cir­cum­stan­ces, the spi­rit and the let­ter of these three trea­ties turn out about the same in this regard.

But inso­far as free men are concer­ned, there is a capi­tal dif­fe­rence bet­ween them. The treaty of Andely does not say that they could peti­tion for a fief, whe­reas we find in the divi­sions of Charlemagne and Louis the Debonaire express clau­ses autho­ri­zing them to peti­tion for them : which shows that since the treaty of Andely a new prac­tice was being intro­du­ced by which free men had become eli­gi­ble for this great pre­ro­ga­tive.

This must have hap­pe­ned when, Charles Martel having dis­tri­bu­ted Church pro­per­ties to his sol­diers, and having given them partly as fief and partly as allod, a sort of revo­lu­tion took place in feu­dal laws. It is likely that the nobles who already had fiefs found it more advan­ta­geous to receive new pre­sents as allods, and that free men found them­sel­ves still only too happy to receive them as fiefs.

See what I had said above in book XXX, last chapter, towards the end.

In the year 587, in Gregory of Tours, book IX.

See the following chapter where I speak more at length on these divisions, and the notes where they are cited.