Feudalism was a social system in which all land originally belonged to a lord, who was usually the king. This land was then allocated to various barons and nobles in exchange for various services. This enabled the king to gather up forces, raise money, and perform other tasks with the help of his barons.
The Feudal system originated in Europe after the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire. Its early forms can be traced to the 9th century. It remained in effect all the way until the 15th century. By then, the monarchical powers had grown too much so that the powers of the nobility diminished in comparison. For medieval Europe, feudalism would serve many vital purposes.
After the Western Roman Empire fell, its territories splintered into various small spheres of influence and power. These smaller territories lacked the means to pay or support the cavalry. So there was a need to offer an alternate form of incentive in order to help the cavalry. This was achieved through feudalism.
Feudalism allowed the allocation of lands to mounted cavalry soldiers so that they could support their horses and stay battle-ready for their lord. The allocation of land served as the key incentive. In time, the soldiers who were allocated lands sought to make their rule on that land hereditary and this laid the foundations of feudalism.
Populations in Western Europe declined after the fall of the Roman Empire. Many notable cities and towns were abandoned, new ones established, and there was political and social upheaval in general. At this time, the new rulers in smaller splintered territories felt a need to consolidate their power. They couldn’t assert direct control over the lands as they lacked the manpower and resources.
Feudalism offered a more effective way of asserting this control through proxies, or the nobles. This helped the rulers, or kings, assert their authority at a time when the conventional ways of power consolidation tended to fail.
The lord or king was at the top of the social hierarchy in the feudal system. Under him stood the barons, then knights, and then the peasants or serfs. Each class served a specific purpose and was vital for the overall functioning of society.
The existence of this social hierarchy was also critical in bringing stability to Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Feudalism is credited with establishing this social hierarchy with clearly defined roles and then entrenching it in European society.
Feudalism was a means to ensure the loyalty of the nobles to their lord, the King. Nobles were often notoriously fickle and would change sides at opportune moments. By giving lands from his hand and helping nobles achieve wealth and status, the King often guaranteed that these nobles would stay loyal to him.
As the land ultimately belonged to the King in principle, the nobles were often bound to follow his lead and express fealty to him.