AN03d4_Ch13-European Middle Ages: Feudalism in Europe
Timeline: 9th – 11th C FQ: Why did a feudal society emerge in Western Europe during the Middle Ages?
Main Idea: The exodus of urban populations after the collapse of Rome and the internal movements of people caused by marauding Vikings created a situation ‘crying’ for stability. Medieval Europe needed a stabilizing social system that ensured security by ‘fixing’ Europe’s population. Feudalism, a political and economic system based on land-holding and protective alliances, emerges in Europe.
A socio-economic system based on the ownership of land. Bonds of loyalty/ service are derived from such ownership. Loyalty to polis or empire (or any other centralized political entity) disappears. ‘Public’ affairs become ‘private’. The Church and “State” become linked politically, socially, and economically.
A. Not the same throughout Europe. Iberia, England, Frankish Kingdom, and Italy have varying forms of this system. There were some general traits that are held in common, however.
1. Local Protection emphasized rather than a centralized military
2. Local ‘Provincial’ government rather than a centralized government
3. Self-Sufficiency rather than reliance on trade
4. Population is ‘fixed’ to a locale (Inhibits movement).
B. Feudal Hierarchy
1. Lord – Vassal: The bond of vassalage is built upon the investiture of a fief. The ritual of investiture, like that conducted by Charles and Rollo, is a public and solemn act. It involves taking a loyalty oath and the ritualistic transfer of land. The aristocracy provided the soldiers, while the land generated the income needed to acquire and maintain military equipment and fund training. The aid provided by the vassal didn’t always have to be military in form. In times of financial need, the lord could ask for financial aid.
The occasions when such aid was expected included:
a. The knighting of the lord’s eldest son. b. The lord’s eldest daughter gets married. c. To pay the ransom of a captured lord.
In addition to this aid, a lord expected a degree of hospitality whenever he was in the vicinity of a vassal’s manor/ estate.
2. King: The title usually granted to the feudal lord with the greatest amount of land, and thus capable of awarding the most fiefs.
3. Knight: Vassals whose fiefs are too small to subdivide into additional fiefs. An inherent weakness in the system is when a knight might swear loyalty to two or more lords in order to get more fiefs. If those lords ever become enemies and call upon this knight for service, the trouble that would raise are clear.
4. Serf and Free Peasant: Technically, this group of people was not part of the feudal order because they had no land to dispose of in a ‘feudal contract’. However, their labors are integral to the viability of the system. [Refer to the section on Manorialism, below]
5. The Clergy/ Church: Collectively, the Roman Catholic Church was one of the largest landowning entities in Medieval Europe. The land could have been acquired via a final bequeath by dying Christians. Also, bishops could receive fiefs from lords as part of the office (Lay Investiture). The clergymen don’t have to fight when the lord summons them, given the nature of their occupation. But, in their stead, a vassal of the bishop would answer the call. Interestingly enough, some bishops have been known to fight as warriors, as have some popes.
6. Some women may, via issues of inheritance, find themselves as vassals. They would their vassals answer the lord’s call to combat. Other, Non-warrior vassals could provide secretarial services, legal aids, or act as chroniclers.
C. The Manor and Manorialism The economic heart of the Feudal system was the Manor. The principles under which it operated and supported the feudal order is called Manorialism.
1. The Manor’s Design
a. May be comprised of the entire fief or a portion thereof. b. Often had a body of water (pond, stream, river, etc.). This served as a food & water source, as well as a power to run the lord’s mill. c. Portion was designated as crop land. d. Portion was designated as pasture. e. Portion designated as forest. f. Early in the Middle Ages, a tower built on a patch of high ground surrounded by a ditch and wall served as the ‘castle’. In times of crisis, it was behind these walls that the manor’s inhabitants would flee to. Later in this period, the economic resources and political needs of kings results in the ‘castle’ many of us have come to envision from myth and lore.
2. The Manor’s Labor
The peasant labor produced most of the manor’s needs. Exceptions included salt, iron, millstones, etc. The quest for self-sufficiency contributes to the ‘fixing’ of populations.
a. Free Peasants
– Were not ‘tied’ to the land.
– Could become serfs in times of crisis. For example, in exchange for protection and/ or, a peasant could exchange his and his descendants’ freedom.
– Were ‘tied’ to the land of ‘birth’.
– Ponder: Which applies best to the serf’s circumstance
– You cannot leave the land of your birth
– You have the right to live your life on the land of your birth.
– Is this an issue of ‘The Right to Stay” or “Freedom to Leave”?
– Could not be Bought/ Sold
– Tax fee had to be paid when serf married.
c. Both Free Peasants & Serfs
– A percentage of the crops and livestock would be given to the lord each year in exchange for the use of the land.
– They had to work on the lord’s personal land to produce crops for the lord’s exclusive use.
– Crops were commonly=> wheat, Barley, Oats, and Rye. Very little meat was included in the diet.
– Crop land was usually plowed in narrow strips (the plow made ‘turns’ difficult).
– Tax fee had to be paid for use of lord’s mill and ovens. Any effort to bypass this would be tantamount to a crime.
– 10% tithe to be paid to Church.
3. The Village/ Town
a. Served as the home for permanent and transient artisans/ craftsmen/ tradesmen whose skills were needed on the manor. b. Center of commerce that brought to the manor the few items that were not produced by the manor’s labor. c. Its walls was the first line of defense in times of attack.
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– Slide Presentation