Feudalism / Manorialism 101

Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 AD), Western Europe became a land ruled by local kings. As the kingdoms grew and shrank, fought amongst each other, and endured invasions from the Vikings and other warrior peoples, kings began to need a rigid structure to hold their kingdoms together. Over time, the social structure evolved into what many call feudalism.

At its core, feudalism was simply a system of rights and responsibilities between land owners and those who looked after it. The goal of feudalism was to protect the land from invasion and to provide the landowners with a stream of income (harvested crops). During the Middle Ages, the real measure of wealth was land ownership. Feudalism was a system designed to protect that wealth.

Land owners generally had too much land to take care of by themselves. Under feudalism, the king or noble that owned the land divided it into smaller, more manageable chunks called fiefs. The fiefs were then given to nobles of lower rank called vassals. As payment for the land, the vassal pledged his loyalty to the king or noble above him. If the king should ask, the vassal also had to pay taxes to him and provide armies in the event of war.

Sometimes, the fief was still to large to be maintained by one vassal. In that case, the vassal would divide his land into smaller fiefs and distribute it to other nobles. These sub-vassals then had to pledge their loyalty, taxes, and armies to the noble that granted the fief and also to the king.

Manorialism is a term often used interchangeably with feudalism. Manorialism is basically the social system used to regulate the relationship between the vassals and the peasants or serfs that worked on their fiefs.

Peasants were lower class people that agreed to work the vassals' land in exchange for a small part of the crops and other harvested resources. Serfs were one step below peasants. Serfs were essentially slaves to the land. If the land changed hands, the serfs went with it to the new owner.

In some ways, the systems of feudalism and manorialism are kind of like the structure of modern businesses. Today, a large company generally has a president. The president has vice presidents in charge of smaller departments, and the vice presidents have managers heading up various parts of those departments.

In other ways, feudalism and manorialism are like modern pyramid schemes. In a pyramid scheme, those at the top, the kings, simply sit around and collect the income generated by those at the bottom of the pyramid. The further down the pyramid you are, the harder you work. Those at the bottom also almost always make the least money.

The beginning of the end for feudalism in Europe came with the Black Plague. After the Plague claimed about 1/3 of the populated of Europe, nobles were in dire need of peasants to work their land. To meet this demand, peasants demanded better pay, more rights, and better living conditions.

While many people generally associate feudalism/manorialism with Medieval Europe, it existed in other parts of the world as well such as Japan, India, and other areas. In some parts of the world, feudalism is still in existence.

Examples of feudalism

No comments:

Post a Comment