Feudalism was a set of legal and military personalizeds in middle ages Europe that was figured out by the ownership of land.

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Learning Objectives

Recall the structure of the feudal state and the responsibilities and obligations of every level that society

Key Takeaways

Key PointsFeudalism prospered in Europe in between the 9th and also 15th centuries.Feudalism in England figured out the structure of culture around relationships obtained from the holding and 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 could grant land come a tenant he would need to make that a vassal in ~ a official ceremony. This ceremony tied the lord and vassal in a contract.While contemporary writers such as Marx point out the an unfavorable qualities the feudalism, such as the exploitation and lack of social mobility because that the peasants, the French chronicler Marc Bloch contends that peasants were component of the feudal relationship; if the vassals carry out military organization in exchange because that the fief, the peasants perform physical work in return because that protection, thereby obtaining some benefit despite their minimal freedom.The 11th century in France experienced what has actually been called by chroniclers a “feudal revolution” or “mutation” and also a “fragmentation the powers” that increased localized power and also autonomy.Key Termsmesne tenant: A lord in the feudal device who had vassals who hosted land indigenous him, yet who was self the vassal that a greater lord.vassals: people who entered into a shared obligation come a lord or king in the context of the feudal system in middle ages Europe.fiefs: Heritable building or rights granted by an overlord to a vassal.homage: In the Middle ages this to be the awareness in i beg your pardon a feudal tenant or vassal pledged reverence and submission come his feudal lord, receiving in exchange the symbolic title to his new position.fealty: an oath, native the Latin fidelitas (faithfulness); a pledge that allegiance the one human being to another.


Feudalism was a set of legal and also military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries. It deserve to be broadly defined as a device for structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land, well-known as a fiefdom or fief, in exchange for business or labour.

The standard version of feudalism describes a collection of mutual legal and military obligations amongst the warrior nobility, revolving roughly the three key concepts that lords, vassals, and also fiefs. A lord was in broad terms a noble who organized land, a vassal was a person who was granted possession of the floor by the lord, and also a fief to be what the floor was well-known as. In exchange for the use of the fief and also the defense of the lord, the vassal would provide some kind of company to the lord. Over there were countless varieties of feudal floor tenure, consisting of military and non-military service. The obligations and corresponding rights in between lord and vassal worrying the fief formed the basis of the feudal relationship.

Feudalism, in its assorted forms, usually emerged as a result of the decentralization of one empire, particularly in the Carolingian empires, which lacked the governmental infrastructure necessary to support cavalry without the capability to clues land to these mounted troops. An installed soldiers started to for sure a mechanism of hereditary dominion over your allocated land, and also their strength over the territory concerned encompass the social, political, judicial, and also economic spheres.

Many societies in the Middle periods were defined by feudal organizations, consisting of England, which to be the most structured feudal society, France, Italy, Germany, the divine Roman Empire, and Portugal. Each of these territories developed feudalism in distinctive ways, and the way we recognize feudalism together a unified concept today is in big part because of critiques after its dissolution. Knife Marx theorized feudalism together a pre-capitalist society, identified by the strength of the ruling class (the aristocracy) in their manage of arable land, bring about a class culture based upon the exploitation of the peasants that farm these lands, frequently under serfdom and principally by method of labour, produce, and money rents.

While contemporary writers such together Marx allude out the an adverse qualities of feudalism, the French historian Marc Bloch contends that peasants to be an integral component of the feudal relationship: if the vassals carry out military organization in exchange for the fief, the peasants carry out physical work in return because that protection, thereby acquiring some advantage despite their minimal freedom. Feudalism was therefore a complex social and also economic system characterized by inherited ranks, every of which possessed inherent social and economic privileges and obligations. Feudalism allowed societies in the Middle ages to retain a fairly stable political structure also as the centralized power of empires and kingdoms began to dissolve.

Structure the the Feudal State in England

Feudalism in 12th-century England was amongst the better structured and also established systems in Europe in ~ the time. The king was the absolute “owner” of soil in the feudal system, and all nobles, knights, and also other tenants, termed vassals, simply “held” land indigenous the king, that 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 that the king. Holding native the tenant-in-chief to be a mesne tenant —generally a items or baron that was sometimes a tenant-in-chief in their capacity as holder of various other fiefs. Listed below the mesne tenant, additional mesne tenants might hold indigenous each other in series.


Before a lord can grant floor (a fief) come someone, he had actually to make that person a vassal. This to be done at a formal and symbolic ceremony called a commendation ceremony, i m sorry was written of the two-part act of homage and oath that fealty. Throughout homage, the lord and vassal gone into into a contract in i beg your pardon the vassal promised come fight because that the mr at his command, when the mr agreed to defend the vassal from exterior forces.


Roland pledges his fealty to Charlemagne: Roland (right) obtain the sword, Durandal, indigenous the hand of Charlemagne (left). Native a manuscript the a chanson de geste, c. 14th Century.

Once the commendation ceremony was complete, the lord and vassal were in a feudal connection with agreed duties to one another. The vassal’s major obligation to the mr was “aid,” or armed forces service. Using whatever devices the vassal could obtain by virtue of the revenues from the fief, he was responsible for answering calls to military business on instead of of the lord. This protection of military aid was the major reason the lord entered into the feudal relationship. In addition, the vassal might have other obligations to his lord, such together attendance at his court, whether manorial or baronial, or at the king’s court.

The vassal’s duties could likewise involve giving “counsel,” so the if the lord faced a major decision he would summon all his vassals and hold a council. In ~ the level of the manor this can be a relatively mundane matter of agricultural policy, however could also include sentencing through the mr for criminal offenses, including capital punishment in part cases. In the king’s feudal court, together deliberation might include the concern of proclaiming war. These are just examples; relying on the period of time and also location in Europe, feudal customs and practices varied.

Feudalism in France

In that origin, the feudal give of land had been seen in regards to a an individual bond between lord and also vassal, however with time and also the change of fiefs into hereditary holdings, the nature of the system came to be seen as a kind of “politics that land.” The 11th century in France witnessed what has been referred to as by chroniclers a “feudal revolution” or “mutation” and a “fragmentation that powers” the was uneven the breakthrough of feudalism in England, Italy, or Germany in the same duration or later. In France, counties and also duchies started to failure into smaller sized holdings as castellans and lesser seigneurs took control of regional lands, and (as comital households had done prior to them) lesser lords usurped/privatized a wide selection of prerogatives and also rights that the state—most importantly the highly rewarding rights that justice, but likewise travel dues, industry dues, fees for using woodlands, responsibilities to use the lord’s mill, etc. Strength in this period became much more personal and decentralized.

The Manor System

The manor device was an aspect of feudal society in the center Ages identified by the legal and economic power of the mr of a manor.

Learning Objectives

Illustrate the pecking order of the manor device by describing the roles of lords, villeins, and also serfs

Key Takeaways

Key PointsThe lord of a manor was sustained by his soil holdings and contributions indigenous the peasant population. Serfs who populated land belonging to the lord were compelled to work the land, and in return received certain entitlements.Serfdom to be the condition of peasants in the manor system, and also villeins to be the most common form of serf in the center Ages.Villeins rented small homes v or there is no land; as part of their contract with the lord they were meant to spend some time working the land.Villeins can not relocate away there is no the lord’s consent and also the acceptance of the new lord whose manor they to be to move to. Because of the defense villeins got from the lord’s manor, that was usually not favorable to move away unless the landlord verified to be especially tyrannical.The manor mechanism was consisted of of three types of land: demesne, dependent, and totally free peasant land.Manorial structures could be discovered throughout middle ages Western and Eastern Europe: in Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Baltic nations, Holland, Prussia, England, France, and also the german kingdoms.Key Termsvillein: The most common kind of serf in the middle Ages. They had much more rights and also a higher status 보다 the shortest serf, however existed under a variety of legal constraints that differentiated them from freemen.demesne: every the land, no necessarily all physically associated to the manor house, the was kept by the mr of a manor for his very own use and also support, under his very own management.serfs: Peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to manorialism. It to be a condition of bondage that developed primarily during the High Middle ages in Europe.freemen: guys who were no serfs in the feudal system.

Manorialism was critical element of feudal society and was the organizing principle that rural economic climate that source in the villa system of the Late roman inn Empire. Manorialism was widely exercised in medieval Western Europe and also parts of main Europe, and also was gradually replaced by the advent of a money-based market economic situation and new forms of agrarian contract.

Manorialism was identified by the vesting that legal and also economic power in the mr of a manor. The mr was supported economically from his own straight landholding in a manor (sometimes dubbed a fief), and from the obligatory contribute of the peasant populace who fell under the jurisdiction that the lord and his court. These obligations can be payable in several ways: in labor, in kind, or, on rare occasions, in coin. Manorial structures might be found throughout middle ages Western and also Eastern Europe: in Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Baltic nations, Holland, Prussia, England, France, and also the germanic kingdoms.

The main reason for the advancement of the system was perhaps additionally its best strength: the stabilization of society during the damage of Roman royal order. With a declining birthrate and population, job was the key factor of production. Successive administrations tried to stabilize the imperial economic situation by freeze the society structure right into place: sons were to succeed their fathers in their trade, councilors were forbidden come resign, and also coloni, the cultivators of land, were no to relocate from the soil they were attached to. The workers of the land to be on their way to coming to be serfs. Together the german kingdoms succeeded Roman authority in the West in the fifth century, roman landlords were often simply replaced by Gothic or germanic ones, with small change come the underlying case or displacement of populations. Thus the system of manorialism came to be ingrained into medieval societies.

The Manor System

Manors each consisted of three classes of land:

Demesne, the part directly controlled by the lord and used for the benefit of his household and also dependents;Dependent (serf or villein) holdings moving the responsibility that the peasant family members supply the mr with stated labor services or a component of that is output; andFree peasant land, without such obligation yet otherwise subject to manorial jurisdiction and also custom, and owing money rent addressed at the time of the lease.

Additional resources of revenue for the lord had charges for use of his mill, bakery, or wine-press, or for the ideal to hunting or come let pigs feeding in his woodland, as well as court revenues and solitary payments top top each readjust of tenant. ~ above the various other side of the account, manorial management involved far-reaching expenses, maybe a factor why smaller estates tended come rely much less on villein tenure.


Serfdom to be the standing of peasants under feudalism, particularly relating come manorialism. It to be a condition of bondage that developed primarily throughout the Middle ages in Europe.

Serfs who inhabited a plot of soil were compelled to occupational for the mr of the manor who owned the land, and also in return were entitled come protection, justice, and also the right to exploit particular fields in ~ the manor to preserve their own subsistence. Serfs were often required to work-related on not just the lord’s fields, but likewise his mines, forests, and roads. The manor formed the basic unit of feudal society, and the mr of a manor and his serfs to be bound legally, economically, and also socially. Serfs formed the lowest class of feudal society.


A serf digging the land, c. 1170 CE: “Digging,” information from the Hunterian Psalter, Glasgow university Library multiple sclerosis Hunter.

Many of the an unfavorable components the manorialism, and feudalism in general, revolve roughly the bondage the the serf, his absence of social mobility, and his low position on the society hierarchy. However, a serf had some freedoms within his constraints. Though the typical wisdom is that a serf owned “only his belly”—even his clothing were the property, in law, of his lord—he might still accumulate an individual property and also wealth, and some serfs ended up being wealthier than their cost-free neighbors, back this occurred rarely. A well-to-do serf could even have the ability to buy his freedom. A serf might grow what crops he witnessed fit top top his lands, back a serf’s taxes frequently had to be paid in wheat. The surplus crops he would sell at market.

The landlord can not dispossess his serfs without legal cause, was supposed to defend them from the depredations of robbers or other lords, and also was meant to support them by charity in time of famine. Plenty of such rights were enforceable by the serf in the manorial court.


A villein (or villain) to be the most common type of serf in the center Ages. Villeins had more rights and also a higher status than the lowest serf, but existed under a variety of legal constraints that distinguished them native freemen. Villeins usually rented small homes through or without land. As component of the contract through the landlord, the lord of the manor, lock were intended to spend few of their time working on the lord’s fields. Contradictory to renowned belief, the necessity was not regularly greatly onerous, and was often only seasonal, together was the duty to aid at harvest-time, for example. The remainder of villeins’ time was invested farming their own land because that their own profit.

Like other species of serfs, villeins were compelled to administer other services, perhaps in enhancement to paying rent the money or produce. Villeins were tied come the land and also could not relocate away without your lord’s consent and also the acceptance of the mr to whose manor lock proposed to move to. Villeins were generally able to organize their very own property, unlike slaves.

Villeinage was not a purely uni-directional exploitative relationship. In the center Ages, land within a lord’s manor listed sustenance and also survival, and being a villein guaranteed accessibility to land and also kept crops secure indigenous theft by marauding robbers. Landlords, also where legally entitled to carry out so, rarely evicted villeins, due to the fact that of the value of their labour. Villeinage to be preferable to being a vagabond, a slave, or an un-landed laborer.

In many medieval countries, a villein could gain freedom by escaping native a manor come a city or borough and living over there for more than a year, but this action involved the ns of land civil liberties and farming livelihood, a prohibitive price unless the landlord was especially tyrannical or problems in the town were person who is abnormal difficult.


Plowing a French ar (French ducal manor in in march Les Très wide range Heures du Duc de Berry, c.1410): In the foreground, a farmer plowing a ar with a plow pulled by two oxen; male the leader through a lengthy pole. Winemakers prune the vine in a pen and also till the soil with a hoe come aerate the soil. ~ above the right, a man leans on a bag, may be to draw seeds that he will then sow. Finally, in the background, a shepherd bring away the dog that keeps his flock. In the background is the castle of Lusignan (Poitou), home of the fight it out of Berry. Checked out on the ideal of the picture, above the tower Poitiers, is a winged dragon representing the fairy Melusine.

Trade and Commerce

Trade began to expand throughout the late-13th and also early-14th centuries as creates of partnerships and financing began to appear.

Learning Objectives

List the factors that led to a adjust in commerce and also trade in the Late center Ages

Key Takeaways

Key PointsExplorers opened up new trade courses to the south of Africa, India, and America due to the dominant position the the Ottoman empire impeding trade routes to the west.The Commercial transformation began in the late-13th and early-14th centuries through the rise of insurance allowance issuing, develops of credit, and new forms of accounting allowing for better financial oversight and accuracy.In England, the situations caused by the great Famine and the Black death from 1290–1348, as well as subsequent epidemics, developed many obstacles for the economy, culminating in the Peasant ‘s Revolt.The English farming economy remained depressed transparent the 15th century, with development coming native the greatly increased English towel trade and also manufacturing.Fairs flourished in popularity, getting to their heyday in the 13th century, together the international wool profession increased. Despite an overall decrease after the 14th century, the an excellent fairs continued to play critical role in exchanging money and regional commerce.In cities linked to the north Sea and also the Baltic Sea, the Hanseatic League arisen as a profession monopoly.Key Termsguild: association of artisans or vendors who controlled the exercise of your craft in a specific town. They were organized in a manner similar to something between a experienced association and a trade union.usury: The exercise of do unethical or immoral financial loans to plan to unfair enrich the lender.bullion: gold bars, silver- bars, and also other precious metals bars or ingots.Ottoman Empire: empire founded through Oghuz Turks under Osman Bey in northwestern Anatolia in 1299 and also dissolved in 1923 in the aftermath of world War I, creating the brand-new state of Turkey.

During the Late center Ages, the increasingly dominant position the the Ottoman realm in the eastern Mediterranean gift an impediment to profession for the Christian nations of the west, that started looking for alternatives. Portuguese and also Spanish explorers found new trade routes south the Africa to India, and across the Atlantic s to America.

Start the the advertisement Revolution

In the late-13th and also early-14th centuries, a procedure took place—primarily in Italy yet partly likewise in the holy Roman Empire—that historians have termed a “commercial revolution.” amongst the innovations of the period were brand-new forms of partnership and also the issuing that insurance, both of which contributed to reducing the threat of advertisement ventures; the invoice of exchange and also other develops of credit that circumvented the canonical legislations for gentiles versus usury and eliminated the dangers of delivering bullion; and brand-new forms of accounting, in certain double-entry bookkeeping, which permitted for better oversight and also accuracy.


With the financial expansion, trading rights were an ext jealously guarded through the commercial elite. Communities saw the cultivation power that guilds that arose in the 14th century as craftsmen uniting to defend their common interest. The figure of the european guilds to be tied come the emergent money economy and also to urbanization. Prior to this time it to be not feasible to operation a money-driven organization, as commodity money to be the normal means of act business.

In medieval cities, craftsmen started to type associations based upon their trades. Confraternities the textile workers, masons, carpenters, carvers, and glass workers, all regulated secrets of traditionally imparted technology—the “arts” or “mysteries” of your crafts. Commonly the founders were free independent grasp craftsmen who hired apprentices. These guilds were arranged in a manner similar to something between a professional association, a trade union, a cartel, and a mystery society. They often depended upon grants of letters patented by a king or other authority to enforce the flow of profession to their self-employed members, and to retain property of tools and also the supply of materials. A lasting heritage of traditional guilds are the guildhalls constructed and used as meeting places.

Where guilds were in control, they shaped labor, production, and trade; lock had solid controls over instructional capital, and also the contemporary concepts the a lifetime progression the apprentice to craftsman, and also then from journeyman at some point to widely recognized master and also grandmaster, began to emerge. Europe guilds implemented long standardized durations of apprenticeship and made it difficult for those lacking the capital to set up because that themselves or there is no the approval of your peers to gain access to materials or knowledge, or to sell into specific markets, one area that equally conquered the guilds’ concerns. These room defining qualities of mercantilism in economics, which conquered most european thinking about political economic situation until the increase of classical economics.

Hanseatic League

In cities linked to the phibìc Sea and the Baltic Sea, the Hanseatic League developed as a profession monopoly. This helped with the growth of trade among cities in near proximity come these 2 seas. Long-distance trade in the Baltic intensified as the major trading towns came together in the Hanseatic organization under the management of Lübeck.

The Hanseatic league was a organization alliance of commerce cities and their guilds that conquered trade follow me the coast of north Europe and flourished from 1200–1500, and also continued v lesser prestige after that. The chief cities were Cologne ~ above the Rhine River, Hamburg and Bremen top top the north Sea, and also Lübeck on the Baltic Sea. The Hanseatic urban each had actually their own legal system and a degree of political autonomy.

The league was started for the function of joining pressures for cultivating mercantile interests, protective strength, and political influence. By the 14th century, the Hanseatic League held a near-monopoly on trade in the Baltic, specifically with Novgorod and also Scandinavia.

English Economy

The dilemmas caused by the an excellent Famine and also the black Death in between 1290 and also 1348, and also subsequent epidemics, developed many difficulties for the English economy. The Peasant’s rebellion of 1381 had various causes, consisting of the socio-economic and political tensions produced by the Black death in the 1340s, the high taxes result from the dispute with France during the hundred Years’ War, and instability in ~ the local management of London.

Although the rebellion was suppressed, that undermined plenty of of the vestiges of the feudal economic order and also the countryside ended up being dominated by mansions organized as farms, frequently owned or rented by the brand-new economic class of the gentry. The English agricultural economy remained depressed throughout the 15th century, with growth coming native the greatly increased English fabric trade and also manufacturing.

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From the 12th century onwards, plenty of English towns obtained a charter from the Crown allowing them to hold an yearly fair, commonly serving a local or regional customer base and also lasting for 2 or 3 days. Fairs thrived in popularity, reaching their heyday in the 13th century, together the global wool trade increased. The fairs permitted English wool producers and ports top top the east shore to connect with visiting international merchants, circumnavigating those English sellers in London keen to make a profit as middlemen. In ~ the exact same time, rich magnate consumers in England began to usage the new fairs as a way to buy products like spices, wax, kept fish, and also foreign towel in bulk from the global merchants in ~ the fairs, again bypassing the usual London merchants.