What is Feudalism?

Introduction to Feudalism – What is Feudalism?

Feudalism was a kind of social system which became widespread in Europe from 9th century onward. It remained in force all the way until the 15th century. It was born at a time of lawlessness and decline.

The Western Roman Empire had fallen and in its place, many small entities had come into being. There was no central government or power, lands and roads were unsafe, populations were declining with invaders threatening from the East, and a number of other risks.

It was at such a time that the feudal system emerged as a kind of social solution to these problems. However, it had its pros and cons and it both helped and hindered the people. Following is a look at both aspects.

Feudalism The Feudal Pyramid Image - What is Feudalism?

Feudalism in Europe image showing the Hierarchy of the Feudal system

Feudalism – Centralization of Power

Feudal system helped lords establish a sort of central power after the end of Roman Empire. The lords lacked the means and resources to directly assert their authority over the lands.

So they used the feudal system as an alternate way of asserting this authority. Europe was also besieged by various invaders from the East.

There was a desperate need for the lords, such as those of the Carolingian Empire, to muster enough force to counter these invaders. Feudalism played an instrumental role in making this possible.

When did Feudalism begin?

Feudalism began at the start of the 9th century in Medieval Europe and began more structured with more rigid rules as the middle ages progressed.

Feudalism ended with the medieval period as the Renaissance started to begin in Europe around the 15th and 16th century.

Restoration of Peace

After Roman Empire fell, Germanic tribes from the East came wave upon wave into the Western Europe. This led to a rapid disintegration of the previous infrastructure including roads and bridges. At the same time, lawlessness became rampant due to a lack of centralized authority. Bandits ruled the routes and trading caravans had a hard time in making journeys.

Feudalism changed this by creating a social hierarchy. Knights imposed a kind of law on the land, and the lords undertook efforts to rebuild the infrastructure. These measures ultimately played a key role in reviving the society.

Feudalism – Lack of Unity

A key problem with the feudal system was that it hindered the true consolidation of power. The king or the lord didn’t have absolute or direct power over all land. Instead, he had to rely on the lords who in turn owned this land.

Similarly, the king couldn’t field a large enough army on his own and depended on his lords or nobles. This lacks a true consolidation of authority in medieval Europe, preventing the initiation of any large-scale projects which someone like a Roman emperor could have undertaken.

Social Disparity

The feudal system notoriously supported a distinct class system. This was because feudal system couldn’t work without such a system. This class system led to injustice and lop-sided laws.

The powerful could persecute the weak and the poor with immunity. Similarly, the king would impose harsh laws on the vassals without any resource for the latter.

This disparity ultimately led to events like the Barons’ Wars in England. It also led to a struggle for a more just and equal distribution of power, laying the foundations of the modern democracy in Europe.

Feudal system fast facts

  • The feudal system helped lords establish a central power after the collapse of the Roman Empire.
  • The feudal system was established in countries such of France many years before it was established in England.
  • The King granted Land to lords and nobles in return for loyalty and forces in times of war.
  • The feudal system was a distinct class system with the king at the top and peasants at the bottom.
  • The unfairness and inequality of the feudal system led to major events such as the Barons war in England.
  • The power of the feudal system begin to wane under the period of the Tudor dynasty.
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