Fief in the Middle Ages
Written by Simon Newman
History - Middle Ages
In the middle ages, land was known as fief. The Lord or the king in exchange of services gave fief to him, and this was known as the medieval feudalism or the feudal system. This concept involved the provision of land (fief) for military services. The fief came with labor from peasants who were supposed to cultivate the land.
Additionally, the fief came with rent, dignities and offices. The person who was given the fief was called a Vassal, and he acted as a knight for the King. The Vassal usually was a free man. His duty was to protect the King, and he fought in the military. He was of a rank of a Lord of the Manor, who was lesser than a Noble or the King.
Among the people who used this concept of feudalism was King William. He used the concept of feudalism in capturing England. He would award fief to young Norman supporters who helped him in the conquest of England. Under the rule of feudalism, everyone owed allegiance to the king.
In additional to this, it was expected that everyone pay for the land (fief). This was done by doing chores for the king. Such chores involved the provision of food and clothing for the king’s soldiers, and provision of more soldiers to fight for the king. Fief in the middle ages was a source of income, and anyone who was lucky enough to own one lived a better life than the ordinary citizen did.
Distribution of Fief
Under this medieval feudalism, the fief was given to the Vassal following a Commendation Ceremony. This ceremony had the purpose of creating a life-long relationship between the Vassal and his lord. In this ceremony, the Vassal took an oath of Fealty to forever be loyal to his Lord. The ceremony was celebrated by paying homage, and after the celebrations, the Vassal was forever joined to his lord.
When the celebration of the Commendation Ceremony was over, another ceremony followed. This ceremony was known as Investiture Ceremony. In the Investiture Ceremony, the king or the Lord gave the fief to the Vassal. When the land was handed over to the Vassal, certain privileges came with it. These privileges were, but not limited to: hunting in the fief; judicial rights over the ordinary people (peasants) living in the fief and the rights over the land. Once the fief had been given to the Vassal, it was named a Manor. The Vassal was also given the title of Lord of the Manor after acquiring the land or fief.
Establishment of Feudalism In England
In 1066, after the Norman Conquest, England came under the rule of William the Conqueror. What followed was the distribution of land to the Norman vassals. This was a reward for the soldiers for helping William in the battle for England. The battle for England was ruthless. Many people lost their lives and land.
This was how fief in the Middle Ages was acquired. All of the Englishmen who did not surrender lost their lives, and it was only two Englishmen who were left alive, and retained their lands as they betrayed their county men. Immediately after the capture of England, feudalism was established. As stated above, the Vassals acquired the land, and were given new titles as the Lords of the Manor.
While acquiring ownership of the fief in the middle ages, there were restrictions that came with it. For instance, the Vassal could not sell the land; he could only offer it to his son as inheritance. Fief during this period was more than land. It was valued and it was subdivided into parts. Each fief came with a village, huts for serfs, the manor house or a castle, and lands, which provided an area to cultivate food, pasturelands and the woods for hunting.
Life In The Fiefs
The fiefs that came with a stream or a river were highly valued in the middle ages. This was because the stream or the river would provide a source of drinking water and a fishing ground. The only people who were allowed into the fiefs were peasants. In theory, they were freemen but in reality, they were bound to the soil and the lord.
Medieval times were a period of great turmoil, and living in the village in the fief was the peasants’ only source of protection. They were g in the middle ages given a small piece of land in the fief to build their house, and this is how villages emerged in the fief.
If a noble died without an heir to inherit the land, his family was evicted, and the land given to a new vassal. The Frankish kings were in favor of this move, and one of the notable kings who lived to this idea was Charles Martel, Charlemagne's grandfather. The serfs however remained and continued working in the fief. The new owner simply continued to give them food and protection as the previous owner did.
In spite of the obligations of feeding and offering protection to the serfs, fief in the middle ages came with additional obligations. These obligations were: the owner had to pay loyalty to the King or Lord; he had to provide military assistance, by this, he did not have to personally fight in the military, but he had to provide men if the need arose; he had to host the King or the Lord when he visited; he contributed funds when the Lord or the King was captured, and provided gifts or money when the king was celebrating an occasion such as a wedding.
Fief in the middle Ages was also given to counts and local officials. There was a lot of land available, because after every war, those who lost at battle were killed and their land was taken. As such, the victors were left with the land, which was then subdivided into different fiefs. The fiefs were later given to the Vassals, counts or the local officials.