Feudalism in the Middle Ages
Written by Simon Newman
History - Middle Ages
In order to attain security after the fall of the Roman Empire, against Germanic barbarians, Islamic invaders, and pagan enemies, European kingdoms gradually accepted the customs of feudalism. The feudalistic set up of European Middle Ages was also strengthened by the emergence of Christian religious revolutions. Historians often describe feudalism as the military and judicial customs of Middle Ages that were established during the 9th and 15th centuries.
Aspects of Feudalism in the middle ages
Feudalism in Middle Ages was a social, political, and religious structure which was based on the exchange of land for military services and or cash rent. In England, William the Conqueror established the Mormon feudalistic system after defeating the English army. After his victory, he awarded all his supporters, who fought for him, with big portions of land which were known as manor or Fief. The lords of the fief were required to take an Oath of allegiance for the King and they were expected raise trained troops to help the king at the time of need and it was termed as feudal levy.
According to the provision of feudal levy, men were required to fight for a limited period of 40 days. In certain conditions, this limit could be raised to 90 days. The lords, barons and other nobles of medieval period were expected to provide trained soldiers for the king and they were also expected to provide food and clothe for the soldiers. In order to be able to do so, the feudal lords used to ask for taxes from the serfs and peasants of their manors and they also took rent from the peasants for using the land for agricultural purposes. The feudal levy had a limited period of service and this was designed to ensure that the agricultural land may not remain neglected for longer periods.
The ranks of feudalistic system
The feudal system of the Middle Ages was like a pyramid of power with specific hierarchy. At the bottom of the pyramid, there were serfs, peasants and villeins. The descending order of the pyramid of power of feudal system was the king, members of nobility, knights, archbishop, freemen, yeomen, servants, serfs, peasants, villeins.
However, it was possible, but very rare, for anyone of any class to attain higher ranks. Medieval squires, freemen and yeomen aspired to become knight. On the other hand, a knight who could prove his valiant attitude during a war or tournament could become so rich and strong that he could join the nobility. In addition, the most powerful and resourceful members of nobility could aspire to become kings through coups.
Feudalism in England
In the year 1066 A.D., the Norman king William the Conqueror defeated the English Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings. King William established feudalism in England since then. In order to appreciate the support of his Norman allies, he divided the land of England in various big sized manors and distributed those manors to his allies, making them the lords. Each lords got a piece of land that was around 1200 to 1800 acres big and included a forest, a village, a manor house, and a church.
The lords were provided special judicial and hunting privileges and they used to collect taxes and rents from the peasants and serfs for using their land for living and agriculture. Lords had specific duties towards the king. They were required to offer taxes and troops for the king whenever required and demanded.
Under feudalism, every person was expected to pay for the land either in form of taxes and rent, or by working as servant for various chores of the manor. In addition, a person could also provide equipments, weapons or clothes for the soldiers, or could serve as a soldier.
Feudalism and Manorialism
During the times of wars and invasions, troops were raised by Lords and were provided to the king as feudal levy as they had to fulfill their oath of fealty towards the king. Feudalism can be explained as the bigger web of exploitation of serfs and peasants as the king indirectly exploited all serfs with the help of the lords for his own military gains.
Manorialism represented the economic aspect of feudalism as it was the way to strengthen the feudal state economically. While feudalism explains the political relationship between the king and various lords and members of nobility, manorialism significantly explains the relationship between the Lords and their serfs that were living in his manor as tenants.
Classical feudalism and Vassalage
The classical feudalism was based on a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warriors of nobility. This system was the direct result of a need of security for the members of nobility, but for the serfs as well against the invasions and attacks by barbarians, pagans and Islamic invaders. Each warrior member of nobility was bound to offer help for other members during the time of wars and invasions.
In order to raise troops and other necessities for keeping an army, lords often used to provide land for individuals whom they could trust upon. However, a lord could grant a piece of land to anyone only after declaring him as a vassal. A person could be declared as a vassal by a lord through the commendation ceremony during which, the person aspiring to be a vassal had to pay homage and oath of fealty towards the lord.
Life in a feudal society was very difficult. The members of nobility were expected to provide security for their serfs and they were also expected to provide troops and cash for the king to fulfill their oath of fealty, but this protection was for their own interest as they needed people to work the land.
Members of nobility were rich and during the time of peace, they used to enjoy a leisure life. On the other hand, the peasants and serfs had a troublesome life as they had to work hard and all day long to earn a living and pay the taxes and rents for their lords.