Describe the Political and Economic Characteristics of Feudalism
Feudalism is a term that refers to a decentralized political system that emerged in Medieval Europe due to a need for order in society. While the definition of feudalism varies among historians, there are certain characteristics that define feudalism as a whole. We can divide these ideas into governmental and economic characteristics.
The basic structure of government in a feudal system involves the exchange of land for military service. A hierarchical ranking system was developed with men ranked by military power. At the center of this system was the king. The nobility was essentially a military class. The king granted ownership of land to lords who in return provided warriors. These knights or vassals swore allegiance to their lord who provided protection and justice. Originally, the fief (in this case land), had to be renewed upon the death of the lord or vassal. Gradually, renewal by heir became prominent and local control became driven by personal and hereditary factors.
The economy of the feudal system was agricultural with little to no outside trade. Religious beliefs discouraged trade for profit and accumulation of private wealth. For this reason, the economy was based on self-contained estates which were dominated by
locally- powerful landowners who provided most of their own domestic production. These estates often housed serfs who were peasants tied to the land and lord. They offered their services or rent in order to work the land or receive some of the benefits that the land produced. They were also provided protection by their lord. There was very little social mobility in a feudal system with nobility eventually entitled by birth.
In summary, feudalism was characterized by a system of loyalties and protection with a ruling military class in Medieval Europe. It offered little to no movement for the lower class and wealth was based on power.
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