Learning Objective

Recall the framework of the feudal state and the responsibilities and also obligations of every level of society

Key Points

Feudalism grew in Europe between the 9th and also 15th centuries.Feudalism in England established the framework of society around relationships obtained from the holding and also leasing the land, or fiefs.In England, the feudal pyramid was comprised of the king in ~ the optimal with the nobles, knights, and vassals listed below him.Before a lord can grant land come a tenant the would have to make the a vassal at a official ceremony. This ceremony tied the lord and vassal in a contract.While modern writers such together Marx point out the negative qualities of feudalism, such together the exploitation and lack of society mobility because that the peasants, the French historian Marc Bloch contends the peasants were component of the feudal relationship; while the vassals performed military organization in exchange because that the fief, the peasants perform physical labour in return for protection, thereby obtaining some advantage despite their limited freedom.The 11th century in France observed what has actually been called by historians a “feudal revolution” or “mutation” and also a “fragmentation of powers” that enhanced localized power and autonomy.

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In the Middle eras this was the consciousness in which a feudal tenant or vassal pledged reverence and also submission come his feudal lord, receiving in exchange the symbolic title to his new position.


An oath, indigenous the Latin fidelitas (faithfulness); a pledge the allegiance of one person to another.


Persons who entered into a shared obligation come a lord or monarch in the context of the feudal device in medieval Europe.


Heritable building or civil liberties granted by an overlord to a vassal.

mesne tenant

A lord in the feudal system who had vassals who organized land native him, but who was self the vassal that a greater lord.


Feudalism was a set of legal and military personalizeds in medieval Europe the flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries. It deserve to be extensively defined together a mechanism for structuring culture around relationships obtained from the stop of land, well-known as a fiefdom or fief, in exchange for business or labour.

The classic version of feudalism defines a set of reciprocal legal and also military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving about the three an essential concepts the lords, vassals, and also fiefs. A mr was in broad terms a noble who organized land, a vassal to be a human being who to be granted possession the the land by the lord, and also a fief was what the land was recognized as. In exchange for the use of the fief and also the protection of the lord, the vassal would administer some type of business to the lord. Over there were many varieties that feudal floor tenure, consisting of military and also non-military service. The obligations and also corresponding rights in between lord and vassal concerning the fief developed the basis of the feudal relationship.

Feudalism, in its miscellaneous forms, usually emerged as a result of the decentralization of one empire, specifically in the Carolingian empires, which short the bureaucratic infrastructure vital to support mounties without the ability to allocate land come these placed troops. An installed soldiers started to certain a mechanism of hereditary preeminence over their allocated land, and their power over the territory pertained to encompass the social, political, judicial, and economic spheres.

Many cultures in the Middle periods were characterized by feudal organizations, including England, which to be the most structured feudal society, France, Italy, Germany, the holy Roman Empire, and Portugal. Every of this territories developed feudalism in distinctive ways, and the means we understand feudalism as a unified concept today is in big part as result of critiques ~ its dissolution. Knife Marx theorized feudalism as a pre-capitalist society, identified by the power of the ruling course (the aristocracy) in their manage of arable land, bring about a class culture based top top the exploitation of the peasants who farm this lands, commonly under serfdom and also principally by method of labour, produce, and money rents.

While contemporary writers such together Marx suggest out the an unfavorable qualities that feudalism, the French historian Marc Bloch contends that peasants were an integral component of the feudal relationship: if the vassals perform military organization in exchange for the fief, the peasants perform physical work in return for protection, thereby obtaining some benefit despite their limited freedom. Feudalism was therefore a facility social and also economic system defined by inherited ranks, each of i m sorry possessed innate social and also economic privileges and obligations. Feudalism permitted societies in the Middle eras to retain a relatively stable politics structure even as the central power that empires and also kingdoms began to dissolve.

Structure of the Feudal State in England

Feudalism in 12th-century England was amongst the far better structured and established solution in Europe at the time. The king to be the pure “owner” of floor in the feudal system, and all nobles, knights, and other tenants, termed vassals, simply “held” land indigenous the king, who was hence at the peak of the feudal pyramid.

Below the king in the feudal pyramid was a tenant-in-chief (generally in the type of a baron or knight), who was a vassal the the king. Holding native the tenant-in-chief was a mesne tenant—generally a knight or baron that was occasionally a tenant-in-chief in their volume as holder of other fiefs. Listed below the mesne tenant, more mesne tenants can hold native each various other in series.


Before a lord can grant soil (a fief) come someone, he had actually to do that human a vassal. This was done in ~ a formal and also symbolic ceremony dubbed a commendation ceremony, which was written of the two-part action of homage and also oath that fealty. During homage, the lord and also vassal entered into a contract in i beg your pardon the vassal promised to fight because that the mr at his command, while the lord agreed to protect the vassal from outside forces.


Roland pledges his fealty to Charlemagne. Roland (right) receive the sword, Durandal, indigenous the hands of Charlemagne (left). From a manuscript that a chanson de geste, c. 14th Century.

Once the commendation ceremony to be complete, the lord and vassal to be in a feudal relationship with agreed duties to one another. The vassal’s primary obligation come the lord was “aid,” or armed forces service. Utilizing whatever tools the vassal could achieve by virtue the the profits from the fief, he to be responsible for answering calls come military service on instead of of the lord. This defense of military assist was the main reason the lord gotten in into the feudal relationship. In addition, the vassal could have various other obligations to his lord, such as attendance at his court, whether manorial or baronial, or in ~ the king’s court.

The vassal’s obligations could likewise involve offering “counsel,” so that if the lord faced a major decision he would summon every his vassals and also hold a council. In ~ the level of the manor this might be a reasonably mundane matter of agricultural policy, but could additionally include sentencing by the mr for criminal offenses, including resources punishment in some cases. In the king’s feudal court, together deliberation might include the question of proclaiming war. These are just examples; depending upon the period of time and also location in Europe, feudal customs and also practices varied.

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Feudalism in France

In the origin, the feudal provide of land had actually been checked out in terms of a an individual bond in between lord and vassal, but with time and the transformation of fiefs into hereditary holdings, the nature that the system happened seen as a type of “politics of land.” The 11th century in France observed what has actually been referred to as by historians a “feudal revolution” or “mutation” and a “fragmentation the powers” the was unequal the advancement of feudalism in England, Italy, or Germany in the same duration or later. In France, counties and duchies began to breakdown into smaller holdings as castellans and also lesser seigneurs took manage of local lands, and also (as comital family members had done prior to them) lesser lords usurped/privatized a wide variety of prerogatives and rights that the state—most importantly the highly rewarding rights of justice, but also travel dues, market dues, fees for making use of woodlands, obligations to use the lord’s mill, etc. Power in this period became more personal and decentralized.