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The Feudal System And Society

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Published: Thu, 18 May 2017

Feudalism was the prevailing form of political organization in the western and central Europe. It was a system which was managed well with a small number of people; where order was able to stand its ground in the local environment. Unfortunately it didn’t favor such a large number of people. Loyalty was only kept between the government and those individuals who had the military power and wealth. This could be seen as partial to the rest of the society because they were considered less important than those in authority.

The Feudal System and the Feudal society

Introduction

According to Platt and Matthews (2000), Feudalism is “a military and political system based on personal loyalty and kinship”. It was the type of government that existed in some parts of Europe where political power is exercised locally by private individuals rather than through the bureaucracy of a centralized state. Feudalism was adopted in the early middles ages under the Franks to help stabilize Western Europe and expanded under Charlemagne. It is seen as a transitional stage which may follow the collapse of a unified political system. The term has been used to describe political practices in various areas and times in world history for instance in ancient Egypt and in twelfth-century Japan, but the most famous of all feudal patterns emerged in France following the collapse of Charlemagne’s empire (Platt and Matthews, 2000).

The Feudal System

Over the generations, feudalism became a complex web of agreements, rituals and obligations. In general, there are two tiers in the feudal system namely, the lord and the vassal. A written agreement outlined the duties and obligations of the lord and vassal. Typically, the former gave military protection to his vassals and settled disputes among them. The latter in turn offer financial and military aid to the lord. The former usually has massive feudal wealth that includes lands, manor houses and the serfs, collectively called the feudal estates (fief). The feudal lord gives the vassals the feudal estates to supervise as one of the obligations of vassalage. The contract entered into by lord and vassal was usually considered sacred and binding upon both parties (Platt and Matthews, 2000).

Origin and Foundation of the Feudal System

Feudalism was founded on the relationship between the lord and the vassal, even though the form of the institution varied geographically. The first type of feudalism was observed in northern France, around Paris. The various parts of Europe that practiced this feudal system of government adopted the French version and modified it to fit their local needs. Those who profited from feudalism retained the institution as long as possible, so that well into the twentieth century its vestiges were evident in central Europe and Russia (Platt and Matthews, 2000). Feudalism existed in those areas until the emergence of revolution wiped it off.

The chivalric code

In the early eleventh century, the chivalric code was used to define the hierarchical feudal social order. The chivalry was a warrior code that was rooted in Christian values. It was an ideal that urged the vassals respect one another and honor their lord. The vassals were expected to be brave, strong and honest and to protect the weak from danger. However, the French clergy modified the code by initiating the Peace of God, a call for an end to fighting at specified times. The clerics also advised the vassal to treat women and peasants carefully. Both the Peace of God and the notion of protected classes were incorporated into the heart of a refined version of the chivalric code by the twelfth century (Platt and Matthews, 2000).

The Peasants

Chivalry and feudalism protected the interests of the peasants, who constituted the vast majority of the population. The peasants were divided into two categories namely: the serfs and the slaves. The latter was considered to be the personal belongings of the lord, whereas the former was not. In order to live on the lord’s land, the serfs worked for him. Nevertheless, the serfs had a few legal rights, especially in France and England (Platt and Matthews, 2000). The teachings of the church on the inhumanity of slavery in the eleventh-century Europe helped abolish the practice, but serfdom was deep-rooted.

Conflict with the Feudal System

Towards the beginning of High Middle Ages, a new trend started to oppose the dominance of the feudal system. Free individuals from many parts of Europe began to pursue their economic goals in various towns. A lot of Europeans migrated to the new urban areas and the population there increased over time. As the towns grew larger and urban life became competitive, the residents formed associations, called guilds, for example, the artisan and crafts guilds. The primary role of these groups is to protect the interests of the town dwellers. The vibrant urban economic life gradually started to clash with the interest of the feudal system. With the objective of preventing the intrusion of the feudal system, urban dwellers founded self-governing towns, called communes. The political independence of the towns stimulated economic growth.

Conclusion

Feudalism was adopted in the early middles ages under the Franks to help stabilize Western Europe and expanded under Charlemagne. The feudal system was divided mainly into the lord and the vassal. The duties and obligations of the lord and vassal were outlined by a written agreement. Feudalism itself was founded on the relationship between the lord and the vassal. Feudalism was first observed in northern France, around Paris.

The chivalry was a warrior code that was rooted in Christian values; it was an ideal that urged the vassals respect one another and honor their lord. This code was later modified by the French clergy in order to pronounce a call to end of fighting. The peasants were a group of people that constituted a large part of the population; they were divided into serfs and slaves and their interests were protected by Chivalry and feudalism.

As the towns grew larger and urban life became competitive, the residents formed groups and the primary role of these groups was to protect the interests of the town dwellers. Gradually the feudal system started to vanish as well as the lively economic life the urban had which later gave birth to political independence in the towns.


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