FEUDALISM in the Middle Ages [Características] –

The change from an Empire such as the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages not only brought a new political or administrative system, but also the emergence of a new organizational system based on vassalage and servility. It was the birth of Feudalism. In this post we are going to explain everything related to Feudalism in the Middle Ages: characteristics and background of a system that spanned from the 9th century to the 15th century.

The importance of feudalism

To understand the importance of feudalism we must place ourselves in the mentality of yesteryear, go back to those times but also its effects last us in the present moment. And it is that the concept of feudalism is nothing more than the exchange of land for work. In other words, you work for me, since I am a more or less powerful man (I simply have land) and, in exchange, I offer you part of my land.

However, the feudal system goes further, because it involved a social hierarchy. In a hostile environment, people needed protection. They were willing to offer their services or properties as a reward to whoever gave them that defense.

It was based on a fundamentally agricultural system, since it meant a return to the countryside after the fall of the Roman Empire, which was sustained mainly by the city. The peasant works the land, offering food and products to a superior who offers him protection or simulates it.

Charlemagne and feudalism

To speak of the Middle Ages is necessarily to speak of Charlemagne, as he is considered one of the most important historical figures of this period. Not for nothing, the emperor is known as the father of medieval Europe. And why is this? Well let’s see.

First, it created the first power since the fall of the last Roman emperor. To this we must add the fact that he managed to absorb the Germanic peoples so that they were also part of the European feudal society.

And what else happened? It turns out that the conquered territory was so vast that he couldn’t control it alone, so he had to invent a way to do it. That was how created the feudal system and vassalage was imposed as an effective way of working.

Charlemagne marked a transition in history giving entrance to the medieval stage. It was Pope Leo III who named Charlemagne emperor in exchange for receiving his protection after suffering an assassination attempt. The religious needed refuge and defense, while the emperor needed the moral authority to be able to exercise control over the territories that he was conquering. It was pure convenience, allowing one to maintain his authority over the empire and the other to restore the power of Western Christianity that had been diminished by the power of Constantinople.

Charlemagne allowed Leo III to re-establish himself as Pope. And this allowed Charlemagne to be the new Roman Emperor. With this authority, the emperor placed himself above the nobility and could rule over her.

Charlemagne died in the year 814 and with his death the Carolingian empire collapsed, but his figure was already admired and would be remembered as a reference.

Purpose of feudalism

The purpose of feudalism is to create a society that was sustainable based on the exchange of services. That is, the nobles wanted to expand their lands, but they needed help to protect and keep those territories controlled. This is where the vassals come into play, who work the lands of the nobles and offer them protection.

A hierarchy was established in which the kings had the dukes as vassals. These had as vassals the counts and marquises, who had the services of the barons. Finally these received the labor of the peasants. They all helped each other in exchange for land or protection.

What is Feudalism

Feudalism is a system by which an obligation of obedience and service is created on the part of a free man who is called Vassal, to another free but more powerful man called Lord. Normally the vassal had to fulfill obedience and service in military matters. In exchange, the lord must protect and maintain the vassal, most of the time through a land grant for your sustenance, this concession was called Feudo.

The feudal system which was originally military Character, It ended up being a system in which it was the lord who dispensed justice, led the military, managed the administration of his fiefdom and collected tribute from the vassals, who ended up cultivating their fields and paying in exchange for protection.

The term feudalism comes from the word fief, which was the name given to the territories that the medieval kings gave to the nobles in exchange for their services.

When we talk about feudalism we refer to political, social and economic system that arose in Western Europe from 9th century and that was fully consolidated between the 10th century and the 14th century. From the fifteenth century, a transition periodwhere many features of the feudal system at the same time that the conditions were developing for the subsequent emergence of the capitalist system. Let us now see what exactly the feudal system consists of.

Look at the summarized syllabus for second year of ESO about feudalism and the Middle Ages:

Background of feudalism

To learn more about what feudalism was and meant in the Middle Ages, we should go back a little in time, really until the fall of the Roman Empire. An empire that fell as a result of its own size, given the inability of the Emperor to control all his provinces, added to the constant barbarian incursions, caused the Empire was forced to hire knights and nobles to defend the borders.

With the fall of the Empire, in the 10th century, Europe found itself with a great power vacuum, the kings simply had their divine character, but lacked political power. Knights and aristocrats who during the Roman Empire had served the Emperor militarily, now they had almost absolute power. The king did not rule, he was maintained thanks to the pacts signed with the great lords in exchange for protection, and it was these who really chose which king should reign or which dynasty.

It is at this moment when the Catholic Churchalready well established in Europe and aware of the fragility of kings and the enormous power that great lords had, decided to grant the gift that they lacked but that kings did have, the divine gift. After various councils, the prelates and lords become social bosses, From this moment the lords receive “the power of God.” In this way, through a series of Oaths that had to be renewed each generation, the Catholic Church had its own support and army, in exchange for divine protection.

The feudal system

Feudalism was based on a system of Vassalage and Fief, or what is the same in a legal-political relationship on the one hand and as an economic-social relationship.

Feudal systems started from an initial relationship where the king granted fiefdoms to his vassals, in this case nobles. These nobles in turn also granted fiefdoms to other vassals, becoming lord.

On the other hand we have to explain that the granting of fiefs or territories that the monarch granted to the nobles or vassals who had distinguished themselves in the war or in another form of service was common and the way to recognize the value of the knights or nobles who went to battle. This donation was not only due to the generosity of the sovereigns, but it was a way to ensure the defense and union of the kingdom. His delivery was signed during the performance of an act of great solemnity that was divided into three stages: tribute, oath of fidelity and investiture.

The vassals

It was a kind of contract by which the lord provided protection and maintenance to the vassal in exchange for help and advice. The help was always of a military nature, helping his lord in battles, as well as defending the properties and property of his vassals. The great lords were possessors of numerous vassals, so they had large forces for defense.

This military service carried out by the vassals was claimed when the lord needed help, the vassals had to present themselves with armor and mount, at the service of their lord.

when a gentleman he fell prisoner, vassals they had to pay the ransom for their releaseThey also had to contribute to the armor of the lord’s eldest son when he was knighted, or to marry off the eldest daughter or contribute to pay for incursions into the Holy Land.

Actually the vassalage was a relationship between two gentlementhat yes of different categories, where the lord of higher category became lord and the one of lesser category became a vassal.

The Fiefdoms

Fiefs could be rights granted by a lord O well could be arable land, forests, villas, farms, towns or villages, etc. In the Middle Ages the fiefdoms were delimited by fortresses or castles. True complexes made up of workshops, stables, ovens, mills, patios, warehouses, etc.

The fiefdoms were conceived as economic and production unit. In this case the vassal received the name of serfs. It was a contract, by which the lord offered protection to the servant in exchange for the latter working the land, being submissive and obedient.

So we have two types of vassals: The noble vassals, who in turn were lords of the serfs, and the serfs, who were mere workers on their lord’s land.

One of the features that characterizes the feudalism is that the nobility (the ruling social class) exercises an exclusive monopoly on law and justice. This means that only members of the nobility They could impose the law and justice. On the other hand, peasants could not access these privileges.

Tribute and Investiture

The homage was a ceremony for which the vassalkneeling before his lord, jure fidelity and promise to render military and court services to his lordIn exchange, the lord granted him a fiefdom and protection.

The homage ceremony became increasingly important, assigning the most solemn and noble places of the castles, in his tower. Both the lord and the vassal participated in the ceremony, the latter kneeling, with his hands joined and unarmed, waiting for his lord to lift him up, giving with this gesture an acknowledgment of mutual support followed by an oath of fidelity. This oath was irrevocable and for life. It is at this time that the lord grants him a fief in gratitude for his future loyalty and fidelity. Those fiefdoms used to be large tracts of arable land.

the moment of the surrender of the fief it is what it’s called investiture and it always preceded the moment of Tribute. Legally, the delivery of the fief is in usufruct for life, which means your right to use the assets of the lord and enjoy the benefits they give, always with the obligation to care for and preserve them as if they were yours. This right in principle disappeared…