Feudalism In Medieval Europe Essay

Essay on Feudalism

446 Words2 Pages


Western Europe suffered numerous hardships through the ninth and tenth centuries and this was the ultimate reason they established a new political organization which was known as feudalism. By providing honor, protection, and a sense of control, this new social system revived peace and order in Western Europe after the fall of the Carolingian Empire. Feudalism was a necessary ingredient to yield stability in during these times of calamity. The primary motive behind creating this organization was to render protection to the people since the government was unable to do so. Instead of depending on the Government as their defense, people resorted to finding a powerful lord who could grant protection in exchange for…show more content…

Then they would grant portions of this land to vassals who in return would fight for their lord. The relationship between the lord and vassal became official by having a public ceremony. In the ceremony the vassal would perform an act of homage to his lord. This alliance was based on loyalty. During the ninth century, the land that was granted to a vassal was now known as a fief. After owning the land for a while, many vassals would possess the power to exercise rights of jurisdiction or political and legal authority within their fiefs. When the Carolingian political system began to fall, because of numerous invasions and internal differences, various powerful lords arose. Now it was the people’s job to keep order, they could no longer depend on the government. Since number of lords substantially increased, the number of vassals multiplied also. This abundant increase brought about the development of subinfeudation. This is where fief-holding became complicated. Vassals of a king might also have vassals who might owe them military service for land that was granted to them. These vassals sometimes also had other vassals under them who might only have enough land to provide their equipment. Even though this system brought about greater and lesser landowners, this relationship was still honorable. Since this was a willing relationship between free men, it was not based on servitude. This

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From the ninth to the early eleventh centuries, invasions of the Magyars from the east, Muslims from the south, and Vikings from the north struck western Europe. This unrest ultimately spurred greater unity in England and Germany, but in northern France centralized authority broke down and the region split into smaller and smaller political units. By the ninth century, many knights and nobles held estates (fiefs) granted by greater lords in return for military and other service. This feudal system (from the medieval Latin feodum or feudum, fee or fief) enabled a cash-poor but land-rich lord to support a military force. But this was not the only way that land was held, knights maintained, and loyalty to a lord retained. Lands could be held unconditionally, landless knights could be sheltered in noble households, and loyalties could be maintained through kinship, friendship, or wages.

Mounted armored warriors, or knights (from the Old English cniht, boy or servant), were the dominant forces of medieval armies. The twelfth-century Byzantine princess Anna Komnena wrote that the impact of a group of charging French knights “might rupture the walls of Babylon.” At first, most knights were of humble origins, some of them not even possessing land, but by the later twelfth century knights were considered members of the nobility and followed a system of courteous knightly behavior called chivalry (from cheval, the French word for horse). During and after the fourteenth century, weapons that were particularly effective against horsemen appeared on the battlefield, such as the longbow, pike, halberd, and cannon. Yet despite the knights’ gradual loss of military importance, the system by which noble families were identified, called heraldry, continued to flourish and became more complex. The magnificence of their war games—called tournaments—also increased, as did the number of new knightly orders, such as the Order of the Garter.

Michael Norris
Department of Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2001


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