To what extent did feudalism affect the societies in the Middle Ages?
Plan of Investigation
The investigation assesses the significance of the feudal system in the middle ages. In order to evaluate the feudal system’s significance, the investigation evaluates each role of the social classes in a Middle Ages society. This includes the kings, nobles and lords, knights, and peasants and serfs. Articles and secondary sources are mostly used to evaluate the feudal system’s significance. Two of the sources used in this essay, Feudalism by Joseph R. Strayer and Social Classes: The Middle Ages by William Chester Jordan are then evaluated for their origins, purposes, and limitations.
The investigation does not assess feudalism in the Japan societies including Kamakura, Kemmu, Muromachi, Sengoku, and Azuchi-Momovama.
Summary of Evidence
Prior to the eleventh century, major distinctions between social classes did not exist in the western European societies, and in the later Middle Ages, clearer social classes developed. In the Middle ages, feudalism was the basis by which the upper nobility class maintained control over the lower classes, as a result of the collapse of the Roman Empire. It was an economic, and social system in which the king gave a portion of his land and protection to a peasant in return for the service on the manor. The system came about, for the most part, because during his reign of England, King William had two major hardships: he couldn't keep the people from rebelling and he couldn't take care of all the land.
This social structure became known as the feudal system. In most of medieval Europe, society was dependent on the feudal system. It typically consisted of kings, lords, peasants, and others who held influence in the kingdom. The king claimed ownership of the land, and provided fiefs (land) to nobles, called lords, in exchange for loyalty to the King. Lords lived on a manor and controlled a large amount of land. They provided income and soldiers, called vassals. The vassals also agreed to fight in exchange for land. They started training as a Paige at the age of seven, became a Squire at thirteen, began Knighthood at eighteen years old, and lived by the code of Chivalry for the rest of their life. The land was worked by the peasants or serfs. They belonged to the land, and had no rights, thus becoming property to the king. The clergy served a lord and a manor. They lived in monasteries, or churches, and focused on serving the church.
However, the peasants did not receive the same respect as the people in higher social classes, and did not belong to themselves. Everything they owned, their food, homes, and animals all belonged to the lord of the manor. Also known as serfs, peasants were required to worked for their lord and in return were allowed to farm their own piece of land. Many struggled to produce enough food to feed their families, much less fulfill the duties required from their lord. The peasants were not free to leave the manor and were required to ask for permission, if they wanted to do so. To gain freedom a peasant had to save money for his own land, or marry a free person. Peasants were divided into several groups: independent plowmen who lived and worked on their own land; laborers who worked on the land of others for wages, and serfs who were compelled to the land as tillers of the soil. Peasants worked the land and produced the goods that the lord and his manor needed. They were heavily taxed, were required to give away most of their crops, and did not have many rights.
Unless you were a king in society it looked as if you had no power, but there were many positive aspects of living on a manor. For example, it was possible for everyone to move higher up in the ranks of society, and that is what everyone aspired to do, although it was very unlikely. A knight who proved that he was brave in a battle or was successful at jousting in tournaments could become...
Bibliography: “Feudalism.” Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Ed. Joseph R Strayer. New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1989. Gale World History In Context. Web. 6 Dec. 2010.
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“Social Classes” The Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia for Students. Ed. William Chester Jordan. Vol. 4. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1996. 83-86. Gale World History In Context. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.
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