FEUDALISM was a combination of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.
Although derived from the Latin word feodum or feudum (fief), then in use, the term feudalism and the system it describes were not conceived of as a formal political system by the people living in the Middle Ages. In its classic definition, by François-Louis Ganshof (1944), feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility revolving around the three key concepts of lords , vassals and fiefs .
A broader definition of feudalism, as described by Marc Bloch (1939), includes not only the obligations of the warrior nobility but also those of all three estates of the realm : the nobility, the clergy , and the peasantry bound by manorialism ; this is sometimes referred to as a "feudal society". Since the publication of Elizabeth A. R. Brown 's "The Tyranny of a Construct" (1974) and Susan Reynolds 's Fiefs and Vassals (1994), there has been ongoing inconclusive discussion among medieval historians as to whether feudalism is a useful construct for understanding medieval society.
* 1 Definition * 2 Etymology
* 3 History
* 3.1 Classic feudalism * 3.2 Vassalage * 3.3 The "Feudal Revolution" in France * 3.4 End of European feudalism
* 4 Feudal society
* 5 Historiography
* 5.1 Evolution of the concept
* 6 See also * 7 References
* 8 Further reading
* 8.1 Historiographical works
* 8.2 End of feudalism
* 8.2.1 France
* 9 External links
There is no commonly accepted modern definition of feudalism, at least among scholars. The adjective feudal was coined in the 17th century, and the noun feudalism, often used in a political and propaganda context, was not coined until the 19th century, from the French féodalité (feudality), itself an 18th-century creation.
In a classic definition by François-Louis Ganshof (1944), feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lords , vassals and fiefs , though Ganshof himself noted that his treatment related only to the "narrow, technical, legal sense of the word".
A broader definition, as described in Marc Bloch 's Feudal Society (1939), includes not only the obligations of the warrior nobility but those of all three estates of the realm : the nobility, the clergy , and those living by their labour, most directly the peasantry bound by manorialism ; this order is often referred to as "feudal society", echoing Bloch's usage.
Since the publication of Elizabeth A. R. Brown 's "The Tyranny of a Construct" (1974) and Susan Reynolds 's Fiefs and Vassals (1994), there has been ongoing inconclusive discussion among medieval historians as to whether feudalism is a useful construct for understanding medieval society.
Outside a European context, the concept of feudalism is often used
only by analogy (called semi-feudal), most often in discussions of
feudal Japan under the shoguns , and sometimes medieval and Gondarine
The term feudalism has also been applied—often inappropriately or pejoratively—to non-Western societies where institutions and attitudes similar to those of medieval Europe are perceived to prevail. Some historians and political theorists believe that the term feudalism has been deprived of specific meaning by the many ways it has been used, leading them to reject it as a useful concept for understanding society.
The term "féodal" was used in 17th-century French legal treatises (1614) and translated into English legal treatises as an adjective, such as "feodal government".
In the 18th century,
The term "feudal" or "feodal" is derived from the medieval Latin word
feodum. The etymology of feodum is complex with multiple theories,
some suggesting a Germanic origin (the most widely held view) and
others suggesting an
The most widely held theory is put forth by Marc Bloch . Bloch said it is related to the Frankish term *fehu-ôd, in which *fehu means "cattle" and -ôd means "goods", implying "a moveable object of value." Bloch explains that by the beginning of the 10th century it was common to value land in monetary terms but to pay for it with moveable objects of equivalent value, such as arms, clothing, horses or food. This was known as feos, a term that took on the general meaning of paying for something in lieu of money. This meaning was then applied to land itself, in which land was used to pay for fealty, such as to a vassal. Thus the old word feos meaning movable property changed little by little to feus meaning the exact opposite: landed property. This Germanic origin theory was also shared by William Stubbs in the 19th century.
Another theory was put forward by
Archibald R. Lewis . Lewis said
the origin of 'fief' is not feudum (or feodum), but rather foderum,
the earliest attested use being in
Another theory by Alauddin Samarrai suggests an
Harold Sacramentum Fecit Willelmo Duci ( Bayeux Tapestry )
* Overlord * Vassal
* v * t * e
Feudalism, in its various forms, usually emerged as a result of the
decentralization of an empire: especially in the
These acquired powers significantly diminished unitary power in these empires. Only when the infrastructure existed to maintain unitary power—as with the European monarchies—did Feudalism begin to yield to this new power structure and eventually disappear.
The classic François-Louis Ganshof version of feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lords , vassals and fiefs . A lord was in broad terms a noble who held land, a vassal was a person who was granted possession of the land by the lord, and the land was known as a fief. In exchange for the use of the fief and the protection of the lord, the vassal would provide some sort of service to the lord. There were many varieties of feudal land tenure , consisting of military and non-military service. The obligations and corresponding rights between lord and vassal concerning the fief form the basis of the feudal relationship.
Homage of Clermont-en-Beauvaisis
Before a lord could grant land (a fief) to someone, he had to make
that person a vassal. This was done at a formal and symbolic ceremony
called a commendation ceremony , which was composed of the two-part
act of homage and oath of fealty . During homage, the lord and vassal
entered into a contract in which the vassal promised to fight for the
lord at his command, whilst the lord agreed to protect the vassal from
Once the commendation ceremony was complete, the lord and vassal were in a feudal relationship with agreed obligations to one another. The vassal's principal obligation to the lord was to "aid", or military service. Using whatever equipment the vassal could obtain by virtue of the revenues from the fief, the vassal was responsible to answer calls to military service on behalf of the lord. This security of military help was the primary reason the lord entered into the feudal relationship. In addition, the vassal could have other obligations to his lord, such as attendance at his court, whether manorial, baronial, both termed court baron , or at the king's court. France in the late 15th century: a mosaic of feudal territories
It could also involve the vassal providing "counsel", so that if the lord faced a major decision he would summon all his vassals and hold a council. At the level of the manor this might be a fairly mundane matter of agricultural policy, but also included sentencing by the lord for criminal offences, including capital punishment in some cases. Concerning the king's feudal court, such deliberation could include the question of declaring war. These are examples; depending on the period of time and location in Europe, feudal customs and practices varied; see examples of feudalism .
THE "FEUDAL REVOLUTION" IN FRANCE
In its origin, the feudal grant of land had been seen in terms of a personal bond between lord and vassal, but with time and the transformation of fiefs into hereditary holdings, the nature of the system came to be seen as a form of "politics of land" (an expression used by the historian Marc Bloch ). The 11th century in France saw what has been called by historians a "feudal revolution" or "mutation" and a "fragmentation of powers" (Bloch) that was unlike the development of feudalism in England or Italy or Germany in the same period or later: Counties and duchies began to break down into smaller holdings as castellans and lesser seigneurs took control of local lands, and (as comital families had done before them) lesser lords usurped/privatized a wide range of prerogatives and rights of the state, most importantly the highly profitable rights of justice, but also travel dues, market dues, fees for using woodlands, obligations to use the lord's mill, etc. (what Georges Duby called collectively the "seigneurie banale" ). Power in this period became more personal.
This "fragmentation of powers" was not, however, systematic throughout France, and in certain counties (such as Flanders, Normandy, Anjou, Toulouse), counts were able to maintain control of their lands into the 12th century or later. Thus, in some regions (like Normandy and Flanders), the vassal/feudal system was an effective tool for ducal and comital control, linking vassals to their lords; but in other regions, the system led to significant confusion, all the more so as vassals could and frequently did pledge themselves to two or more lords. In response to this, the idea of a "liege lord " was developed (where the obligations to one lord are regarded as superior) in the 12th century.
END OF EUROPEAN FEUDALISM
Further information: Abolition of feudalism in France
Feudalism itself decayed and effectively disappeared in most of
Western Europe by about 1500, partly since the military power of
kings shifted from armies consisting of the nobility to professional
fighters (effectively reducing the nobility's power), but also because
However, even when the original feudal relationships had disappeared, there were many institutional remnants of feudalism left in place. Historian Georges Lefebvre explains how at an early stage of the French Revolution , on just one night of August 4, 1789, France abolished the long-lasting remnants of the feudal order. It announced, "The National Assembly abolishes the feudal system entirely." Lefebvre explains:
Without debate the Assembly enthusiastically adopted equality of taxation and redemption of all manorial rights except for those involving personal servitude — which were to be abolished without indemnification. Other proposals followed with the same success: the equality of legal punishment, admission of all to public office, abolition of venality in office, conversion of the tithe into payments subject to redemption, freedom of worship, prohibition of plural holding of benefices.... Privileges of provinces and towns were offered as a last sacrifice.
Originally the peasants were supposed to pay for the release of seigneurial dues; these dues affected more than a fourth of the farmland in France and provided most of the income of the large landowners. The majority refused to pay and in 1793 the obligation was cancelled. Thus the peasants got their land free, and also no longer paid the tithe to the church.
Main article: Manorialism Depiction of socage on the royal demesne in feudal England, c. 1310
The phrase "feudal society" as defined by Marc Bloch offers a wider definition than Ganshof's and includes within the feudal structure not only the warrior aristocracy bound by vassalage, but also the peasantry bound by manorialism, and the estates of the Church. Thus the feudal order embraces society from top to bottom, though the "powerful and well-differentiated social group of the urban classes" came to occupy a distinct position to some extent outside the classical feudal hierarchy.
The idea of feudalism was unknown and the system it describes was not
conceived of as a formal political system by the people living in the
EVOLUTION OF THE CONCEPT
The concept of a feudal state or period, in the sense of either a
regime or a period dominated by lords who possess financial or social
power and prestige, became widely held in the middle of the 18th
century, as a result of works such as Montesquieu\'s De L'Esprit des
Lois (1748; published in English as
The Spirit of the Laws ), and
Henri de Boulainvilliers ’s Histoire des anciens Parlements de
France (1737; published in English as An Historical Account of the
Ancient Parliaments of France or States-General of the Kingdom, 1739).
In the 18th century, writers of the Enlightenment wrote about
feudalism to denigrate the antiquated system of the
He also took it as a paradigm for understanding the
power-relationships between capitalists and wage-labourers in his own
time: ‘in pre-capitalist systems it was obvious that most people did
not control their own destiny — under feudalism, for instance, serfs
had to work for their lords.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
John Horace Round and
Frederic William Maitland , both historians of medieval Britain,
arrived at different conclusions as to the character of English
society before the
In the 20th century, two outstanding historians offered still more widely differing perspectives. The French historian Marc Bloch , arguably the most influential 20th-century medieval historian., approached feudalism not so much from a legal and military point of view but from a sociological one, presenting in Feudal Society (1939; English 1961) a feudal order not limited solely to the nobility. It is his radical notion that peasants were part of the feudal relationship that sets Bloch apart from his peers: while the vassal performed military service in exchange for the fief, the peasant performed physical labour in return for protection – both are a form of feudal relationship. According to Bloch, other elements of society can be seen in feudal terms; all the aspects of life were centered on "lordship", and so we can speak usefully of a feudal church structure, a feudal courtly (and anti-courtly) literature, and a feudal economy.
In contradistinction to Bloch, the Belgian historian François-Louis Ganshof defined feudalism from a narrow legal and military perspective, arguing that feudal relationships existed only within the medieval nobility itself. Ganshof articulated this concept in Qu'est-ce que la féodalité? ("What is feudalism?", 1944; translated in English as Feudalism). His classic definition of feudalism is widely accepted today among medieval scholars, though questioned both by those who view the concept in wider terms and by those who find insufficient uniformity in noble exchanges to support such a model.
Although he was never formally a student in the circle of scholars
Marc Bloch and
CHALLENGES TO THE FEUDAL MODEL
In 1974, U.S. historian
Elizabeth A. R. Brown rejected the label
feudalism as an anachronism that imparts a false sense of uniformity
to the concept. Having noted the current use of many, often
contradictory, definitions of feudalism, she argued that the word is
only a construct with no basis in medieval reality, an invention of
modern historians read back "tyrannically" into the historical record.
Supporters of Brown have suggested that the term should be expunged
from history textbooks and lectures on medieval history entirely. In
Fiefs and Vassals: The
The term feudal has also been applied to non-Western societies in which institutions and attitudes similar to those of medieval Europe are perceived to have prevailed (See Examples of feudalism ). Japan has been extensively studied in this regard. Friday notes that in the 21st century historians of Japan rarely invoke feudalism; instead of looking at similarities, specialists attempting comparative analysis concentrate on fundamental differences. Ultimately, critics say, the many ways the term feudalism has been used have deprived it of specific meaning, leading some historians and political theorists to reject it as a useful concept for understanding society.
Richard Abels notes that "Western Civilization and World Civilization textbooks now shy away from the term 'feudalism'."
English feudal barony
Feudalism in the Holy Roman
* ^ feodum – see The Cyclopedic Dictionary of Law, by Walter A.
Shumaker, George Foster Longsdorf, pg. 365, 1901.
* ^ Noble, Thomas (2002). (36)chapter-format= requires
chapter-url= (help ). The foundations of Western civilization.
Chantilly, VA: Teaching Co. ISBN 978-1565856370 .
* ^ A B C D E F
François Louis Ganshof (1944). Qu'est-ce que la
féodalité. Translated into English by
Philip Grierson as Feudalism,
with a foreword by
F. M. Stenton , 1st ed.: New York and London, 1952;
2nd ed: 1961; 3d ed: 1976.
* ^ A B C D E F "Feudalism", by
Elizabeth A. R. Brown .
Encyclopædia Britannica Online .
* ^ A B C D Brown, Elizabeth A. R. (October 1974). "The Tyranny of
Feudalism and Historians of
* Bloch, Marc, Feudal Society. Tr. L.A. Manyon. Two volumes.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961 ISBN 0-226-05979-0
* Ganshof, François Louis (1952). Feudalism. London; New York:
Longmans, Green. ISBN 0-8020-7158-9 .
* Guerreau, Alain, L'avenir d'un passé incertain. Paris: Le Seuil,
2001. (Complete history of the meaning of the term.)
* Poly, Jean-Pierre and Bournazel, Eric, The Feudal Transformation,
900–1200., Tr. Caroline Higgitt. New York and London: Holmes and
* Reynolds, Susan, Fiefs and Vassals: The
* Abels, Richard. "The Historiography of a Construct: 'Feudalism'
END OF FEU