History 1002 – Essay 3
A Feudal Society without the Feud
The Middle Ages were characterized by a chronic absence of effective central government and the constant threat of famine, disease, and foreign invasion. In this state of affairs, the weaker sought the protection of the stronger; and the true lords and masters became those who could guarantee immediate security from violence. The feudal society was an institution of the Middle Ages that grew out of the miseries and robberies that succeeded the fall of the Roman Empire in the ninth century. Feudalism is a situation where there is no dominant political power or effective central leadership. In a feudal society, power is treated as a private possession; there is no effective state. The feudal system was designed to do a number of things, including participation in local government and military support of the king. Feudalism is based on mutual obligations. The feudal system was not planned but, rather grew and developed in response to the social chaos that followed the fall of the Western Roman Empire. It provided order where there no longer was any, and it created new chains of command to replace those that were gone. In exchange for military protection, a lord or landowner granted land, which was called a fief. The person receiving the fief was called a vassal. This was a great concept when considering the need for self-sufficiency; moreover, a basic government was forming. The lords of the lands would provide all of the necessary means of survival, which led to a strong sense of loyalty between the nobility and their vassals. It was this bond that made protection of the land, harvesting and dispensing of food, and ultimately life possible after such a harsh period before this society. Mutually beneficial relationships evolved into long-term loyalty and attempted to set the precedent of reliability from the kings all the way down to the serfs.