Many think the medieval ages was a time where one king ruled the land as a tyrant; this is not the case. These kings did have control but they gave their land away to lords in order to have an army, maintain order and be able to manage his kingdom. These lords then had a contract not only with the king but with their own vassals or servants. This system of governance is known as feudalism. This system of government which started in France changed the political, military and socioeconomic environment of Europe forever.
Feudalism was created by the Frankish king Charles Martel. He created the system because the franks were under threat of invasion from the Muslims who had already conquered Spain. The Franks needed an army, yet they had limited resources to spend on the army. The solution that Martel came up with was to give the wealthy upper class gifts of land as long as they pledged military service. This created a social class much like the Germans had; they were known as the Comitatus. These warriors swore an oath of allegiance to the chief or lord to fight for them and follow their orders. This was the creation of the vassal-lord system, also known as the feudal system. (McGill September 2009)
The basis of feudalism is the vassal-lord relationship. This is the basis for the entire system of feudalism, it is based on the ideas that the vassals pledge their allegiance and services to the lord in exchange for a fife. This fife is an amount of land which the vassal will either divide among their vassals or will work the land if they are at the bottom of the hierarchy. The Lord will also provide protection of the vassal and his land. The system was one of inheritance therefore the eldest son will inherit any vassals or lords; if the presents were free they could choose to leave yet the land would be given to another vassal. The vassal-lord system is “to be an institutional structure which regulated the retainer’s obligations, service, and loyalty, to the lord and the lord’s obligations, protection and maintenance, to the retainer.” (Dumolyn June 2007) The “lords possessed of powers to command, judge, and tax were deemed noble ipso facto.” (Bisson, Medieval Lordship 1995) All of these aspects of the system the government was based upon mad the political system very delicate.
There were many implications of this feudal system, one was a very delicate and fragile political system. One of these is the complexity of the layers which the lords had created by having their own vassals. “Kings granted their vassals very large tracts of land. In turn, these vassals granted parts of their own fiefs to sub-vassals, who swore loyalty and military service to the vassals.” (McGill September 2009) All lords just wanted more money the way they obtained this was “to convert their tenants into abject serfs or slaves, and make them mere appendage of the soil, and to be kept forever in a condition of hopeless vassalage, without a prospect of relief.” (The Injustice of Tenant Farming 1844) Due to the perks the job of being a lord brought you it was widely known that many wanted to become lords. In fact “the early crusades, one might almost say, were concocted for men in search of lordly reputation.” (Bisson, Medieval Lordship 1995) These lords need their political power and economic power to raise and maintain an army which can assist in the protection and expansion of lands.
The military was raised by each individual lord and they were at the disposal of the King if he desired to call upon them. Most of the time the King did not require the army so they were used as a means to collect the taxes from the peasants and to expand the lords lands by fighting against other lords. “The feudal system created a wealthy class of land-owing barons. These barons had their own standing armies and controlled politics in their respective regions. These families battled one another over feudal disputes.” (McGill, Survey of the Magna Carta September 2009) The “feudal armies were predominantly instruments for the subjection of the peasantry.” (Barendse 2003) The lords used castles as their residences and to house their army, most of the peasants lived and worked near the castle. Although “erected castles, were not so much built to withstand invasions but to subdue the peasantry by “plunder, rape and armed assault” (as the sources say).” (Barendse2003) The armies were also used to put down any insurrections the peasants may start.
The economy was not centralized around the lords like the politics and the military were. The socioeconomics of the medieval age were centralized around the present family. The “peasant household production: that is, a way of agrarian production where the family is the basic unit of production.” (Barendse2003) The clash between lords was not the only battle that was occurring. “But unlike what Bison argues-The feudal mutation was exclusively a struggle for power within the elites- it was not merely that but a struggle between opposed classes, too.” (Barendse 2003) Although despite the battles within and between classes. “The tenth and eleventh centuries witnessed a great jump forward in trade, agricultural techniques, the diffusion of crops, and an overall rise of agricultural productivity, in western Europe.” (Barendse 2003) The benefits of the feudal system is it was a large step in centralizing Europe’s population, by bringing the rural peasants together. “Hunter-gathers or smaller “tribal” peasant groups were increasingly pushed our of agrarian core lands.” (Barendse 2003) It was also beneficial when the lords concentrated their vassals for easier control and access. Due to the lords lack of economic vision they frequently put themselves in position where they have to sell land or raise taxes, in order to fund their extravagant lifestyles. “Lacking a long term economic vision, many lords neglected, split up and often sold or gave away their demesnes.” (Dumolyn June 2007) The conditions of the socioeconomic climate within Europe at the medieval time period created a very large dichotomy between the socioeconomic classes that still exists today in some countries.
So while this is system of government was not perfect it did allow large nations to be ruled effectively. Wither or not they were ruled justly or unjustly is another conversation but the lords had stability and control over their assigned lands. Feudalism did create several large socioeconomic classes that still exist. Although the populations became more centralized and the overall agricultural output went up under feudalism. It also produced the Magna Carta. So while Feudalism was not perfect and probably an unjust form of governance it was beneficial to the continued development of the society as a whole. It provided a hatred of tyrants that produced the government specifically designed to prevent tyrants from coming to power. So it was a beneficial and necessary step in the development of government.
Barendse, R. J. "The Feudal Mutation: Military and Economic Transformations of the Ethnosphere in the Tenth to Thirteenth Centuries." Journal of World History 14, no. 4 (December 2003): 503-529.
Bisson, Thomas N. "Medieval Lordship." Speculum (Medieval Academy of America) 70, no. 4 (October 1995): 743-759.
Dumolyn, Jan. "The Political and Symbolic Economy of State Feudalism: The Case of Late-Medieval Flanders." Historical Materialism 15, no. 2, June 2007: 105-131.
McGill, Sara Ann. "Survey of the Magna Carta." History Reference Center, September 2009: 1-2.
McGill, Sara Ann. "The Feudal System." History Refrence Center, September 2009: 1-2.
"The Injustice of Tenant Farming." Documents of the Assembly of the State of New-York, 67 Session, 1844, Vol. VII, No. 189.