feudalism n.
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  1. FEUDALISM • Feudalism is a vague term invented by modern historians to describe a complicated pattern of social, military, and political arrangements that developed during the early Middle Ages • Term is derived from the medieval Latin word feudum • Meant fief (an estate of land given by a lord to a supporter in return for military service) • A feudal society is therefore one in which nearly all land is held in the form of fiefs

  2. IMPLICATIONS • Feudalism had broad implications for all of society • Since all wealth consisted of land and agricultural products, feudalism determined the distribution of wealth within society • Person who held fief was the vassal of the lord who gave it to him • ie., he was bound to the lord by special oath of loyalty • Feudalism therefore determined social relations within society • Vassal also governed his fief so feudalism also determined the structure of local government in society • Feudalism, in short, dominated the economic, social, and political structures of medieval Europe after the year 1000

  3. ORIGINS • Origins of various aspects of feudalism can be traced back to barbarian invasions of Western Roman Empire during 5th century AD • Swearing oath of loyalty was an old German practice • Receiving land in return for service came from Late Roman Empire land law • But for a long time these elements existed independently from one another and did not come together to form a complete system

  4. WHAT CAUSED FUSION? • During time of Charles Martel, Franks began to fight on horseback • Due to invention of stirrup • Protected by armor and a shield and armed with sword and lance • Very expensive and required lots of practice • Soldiers had to be rich enough to own a horse, necessary equipment, and have the free time to train • Solution was to give warriors land and the labor to work the land and thereby give them the economic base and free time to serve him

  5. MARTEL’S SYSTEM • Martel devised a system based on customs and conditions of the time • Enlisted able-bodied warriors into his cavalry and had them swear absolute loyalty to him • They became his vassals • Then he granted them an estate large enough to support the warrior as long as he loyally served Martel • Fief returned to Martel when warrior died or proved to be disloyal • Tied together vassalage and fief-holding in one system

  6. THE KNIGHT • Savage civil wars and Magyar, Arab, and Viking invasions produced terrible anarchy in which armed force was only effective law • Heyday of the warrior • And the warrior that was in most demand was the armored horseman • Chevalier in French • Knight in English

  7. SPREAD OF FEUDALISM • To get the most, and best, knights, rulers continued Martel’s practice of giving them land in exchange for their loyalty and military service • Some warriors given thousands of acres in exchange for promising to provide 50 knights • Provided for these knights by dividing his fief into subunits and giving them to his vassals in exchange for loyalty and military service • Feudalism spread during chaos of 9th and 10th centuries • An increasingly complex system in which vassals of a ruler had their own vassals • And these vassals had their vassals and so on down the line • Everyone in this expanding system was both someone’s vassal and someone’s lord • Except those at the very bottom and the king at the top

  8. LOCAL DEFENSE • Frankish traditional warfare consisted of the king calling his warriors together in the spring and then the army would go off and fight • Didn’t work against the Vikings • They struck so fast that by the time the king got an army together, they were gone • Defense had to be improvised against them • Situation increased the prestige and power of local lords at the expense of royal power • People stopped looking to the king for protection and turned to their local nobleman

  9. TRENDS • Although vassal of the king, the local nobleman often acquired independent political control of his fief • Simply because he was there and the king was not • Nobles did not provide protection to local people for nothing • In exchange, free peasants had to give him their land and smaller knights had to become his vassals • Feudalism, which had been originally designed to aid the king, encouraged political decentralization which weakened the king

  10. TRANSFORMATION OF FIEFS • Fiefs were gradually transformed from being a revocable grant to a hereditary estate • Fiefs were originally only granted for the lifetime of a vassal and Martel had reserved the power to revoke a fief at any time • Situation began to change during reign of Charles the Bald • By the year 1000 most fiefs had become hereditary • Passed from father to son through primogeniture

  11. RAMIFICATIONS • When fiefs became hereditary, obligations between lord and vassal became governed by a mutual contract that neither side could alter • Lord could now only revoke a fief if the vassal had violated a specific provision of the contract • Power of vassal increased • Lords could no longer act in arbitrary manner • Had to call vassals together and ask their advice and consent before making a major decision • Could no longer interfere in the way vassals ran their fiefs • As long as a vassal upheld their end of the contract, he could do what he wanted within his fief

  12. FEUDAL OBLIGATIONS I • Basic purpose was cooperation in war • Lord had to protect vassals and their land • Vassals had to serve in lord’s army • Originally, vassals had to serve for as long as the lord needed them • Vassals later distinguished between two types of war • If lord was attacked, vassals immediately came to his aid and stayed for as long as they were needed • But it the war was not defensive, vassals limited their military service to 40 days a year

  13. FEUDAL OBLIGATIONS II • Vassals was obligated to act as member of garrison in lord’s castle • Castles were crude at this time • Made by digging a circular ditch about ten feet deep and 30 feet wide • Excavated dirt piled into large mound in center • Edge of ditch surrounded by wooden wall and another wall built around center mound • Wooden tower built in top of mound • Length of service in castle evolved with time from unlimited service to a 30 day a year limit

  14. FEUDAL OBLIGATIONS III • Vassal had to attend lord’s court when he was summoned • Important because lord and vassal saw themselves as partners and neither would make an important decision without consulting the other • It was customary for a lord to consult his vassals before he made a decision that might directly or indirectly affect them • This was especially crucial if he wanted to embark on a project that required their assistance • Vassal obligated to give honest advice to his lord

  15. FEUDAL OBLIGATIONS IV • Chief officers of lord’s household sometimes given fiefs as compensation for their services • Constables, marshals, chamberlains, and sometimes head servants and even cooks • These individuals had the obligation to perform their specified functions at the lord’s court

  16. FEUDAL OBLIGATIONS V • Vassals had two economic obligations • Relief • Paid to a lord whenever a vassal died and his son inherited the fief • Amount was usually about one year’s revenue from the fief • Aid • Supplementary revenue in emergency situations • Knighting, marriage, new projects, etc. • By 1000, aid had become divided into two groups • Demands that had to be met without question • Demands which required approval of assembled vassals before they would pay anything

  17. THE RIGHTS OF LORDS • All vassals had to get their lord’s approval of their future son-in-laws before marriage could take place • When a vassal died and left behind a minor as heir, lord or his agent would manage fief until heir was old enough to run it himself • When vassal died with no heirs at all, the fief reverted back to lord

  18. THE DUTIES OF LORDS • Had to protect vassals from all enemies • Also bound to “do justice” to vassal • If vassal believed he was being mistreated he could demand hearing before court of fellow vassals • Very common for a vassal to renounce a lord for failing to protect him or because he was denied “justice”

  19. FIDELITY AND HOMMAGE • Relationship between lord and vassal inaugurated in solemn ceremony known as swearing fidelity and doing hommage • Vassal would kneel before lord and swear to be a faithful vassal and perform all services due from his fief • Two men would then kiss and lord would give vassal clod of earth • Symbolized his fief

  20. LIEGE HOMMAGE • As time went on, vassals began to have multiple lords • Held different fiefs from different lords and owed each customary service and obligations • Caused a great deal of confusion • Practice of liege hommage developed in response to this situation • Vassal owed personal military service only to liege lord—and only to him

  21. PROBLEM AT THE TOP • King was at top of feudal pyramid • Weak position • Since he had no independent army, he needed cooperation of his vassals to do anything • Difficult to get all of them to cooperate on anything • Vassals hesitated to side with king against disobedient vassal because they might be in same position themselves some day • Made king a figurehead and a prisoner of his vassals

  22. REAL POWER • Real power rested with man who had a manageable number of vassals (concentrated in a specific geographic area) and who had resources to build and maintain a castle • Put him a near invulnerable position • Called barons by the 11th century • Began to develop independent states, ignoring their obligations to the king

  23. LONG-TERM DEVELOPMENTS • Political decentralization, represented by the rise of barons, would be a major characteristic of the Middle Ages • Would cause continual, and often bloody, struggle between king, who wanted to bring all the territories in his theoretical kingdom under his direct control, and barons, who fought to maintain their local power and independence • Barons had a lot in their favor • Hereditary fiefs • Loyalty of local knights • Other vassals of the king hesitated to fight one of their own • Castle was hard to capture • Kings would ultimately win this struggle but it would take almost 600 years to do so and would destroy the feudal system they had invented in the process