Feudalism has historically been a major source of debate and controversy among historians. The main issue is the ambiguity of the term. There is no accepted definition of what the term feudal is, how this differs from feudalism and what constitutes a feudal society. In this essay I will initially focus on the different definitions of the word and consider whether feudalism actually existed and was there such thing as a feudal' society. I will then spend the second part of the essay arguing whether this can be applied to medieval Europe and how uniform was the spread.
The classical definition was proposed by François-Louis Ganshof in his book Feudalism. He saw feudalism narrowly in legal and military terms, arguing that relationships only existed within the nobility. Simply, a Lord would grant a fief to a vassal, which was usually but not explicitly land, and in return the vassal would offer military assistance when requested by the Lord.
Marc Bloch in his book published in 1961 viewed feudalism in a broader sense, looking at it from a sociological angle. He saw an additional relationship between peasants and lords whereby they would provide labour service or part of their farming output in return for land and protection given to them by the lord. Thus because of the absence of a strong central authority, a system of feudal government This was what Bloch defined the concept of a 'feudal' society as, including all aspects of life like government, the church structure and the economy.
This hypothesis was accepted by many until Elizabeth A. R. Brown published her article in 1974. She argued that that feudalism as a concept was invented well after the middle ages and was never challenged and therefore historians began to accept the concept of a uniform feudal government and to concentrate on the system, the construct, instead of investigating the various social and political relationships found in medieval Europe'.# As...