Thesis: Feudalism Is the Direct Result

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Feudalism is the direct result of a lack of effective governmental control. During the Middle Ages, feudalism became a popular way of dealing with this lack though a state of affairs that was based upon strength and power. In other words, those that could offer protection were often served by those who needed protection but this service came about in different ways. Lords, who had land and power, were often in need of those who could serve him and the land. In essence, feudalism is a system of rights and responsibilities that proved to be successful for many centuries. Feudalism demonstrates how men can come together on a certain level and help each other out when they need to do so. While feudalism is not the best way of life by far, it served it purpose when the people needed something they could depend upon since their government had failed. Feudalism gave way when a better way of running things and the notion of capitalism became popular.

Albert Craig notes that the earliest sign of feudalism can be seen in the "divisions and conflicts" (334) of the Merovington society of the fifth and sixth centuries. At this time, individual men who were free by law began "placing themselves under the protection of more powerful freeman" (334). This process allowed armies to be built up over time and this helped individuals with the simple task for staying alive. Freeman who were loyal to others were known as "ingenui in obsequio" (334), meaning they were in a contractual arrangement and those who declared to be loyal to the king were referred to as "antrustiones" (334). All of these men were called vassi, from which we have the terms vassal. Stanley Chodorow writes that feudalism derived from the notion of the Roman law of property where a person could "grant land as a benefice, under which the grantee held the land on very favorable terms" (Chodorow 306). Sarah McGill writes that in its most simplistic sense, feudalism was the "foundation of the region's early society and politics" (McGill). In addition, it "created a mutually beneficial contract between landowners and the lesser nobility, and affected most of medieval history, from the time of Charlemagne until the end of the Crusades" (McGill). While feudalism did fill a need for the people, it can sometimes be a complicated matter.

William Duiker agrees with the former assertions, noting that feudalism emerged in Europe as a result of the government's inability to defend the people after the disintegration of the Carolingian world. Suddenly, powerful lords became important because they could provide protection. Since the government was struggling, these powerful lords simply took control of large areas of land. The needed men to fight for them and protect the land to a certain degree and these came to be known as vassals. In return for their protection, these lords would require certain service to be rendered. The contract between a lord and the one whom he was protecting became the accepted form of social organization that lasted for centuries. Those protected were vassals and by the ninth century, a grant of land made to a vassal was known as a fief. Feif-holding was characterized by practices that the lord and the vassal agreed upon with the major obligation of a vassal was military service, which was, according to Duiker, about 40 days out of the year.

Feudalism can also be defined as a "social and political system wherein public responsibilities and powers that had fallen into the hands of private individuals were fulfilled by men who had sworn personal fidelity to one another" (Noble 353). Noble explains that by "solemn acts of homage and fealty" (353), a vassal pledged never to do anything that might damage his lord or his interests. This act of loyalty also included certain services as well. These services were generally militaristic but on occasion, a vassal might be required to appear at his lord's court where "important judicial cases would be decided and political decisions made" (353). In return for these services, the lord provided physical, legal, and political protection. On occasion, the lord might seek advice from a vassal. Craig notes that there were also "money fiefs" (Craig 334) which empowered a vassal to received "regular payments" (334) form the lord. It should be noted that this type of fief "created potential conflicts" (334) because they made it possible for one country to have vassals from the nobility of another. Normally, this fief consisted of landed estates but occasionally it could also be in the form of a castle.

Another sense of what feudalism was like can be seen in literature from that day. In 1020, Duke William of Aquitaine asked Bishop Fulbert to explain the concept and nature of fealty and Fulbert explained that those sworn to their lord had six things in mind. These six things are what is harmless, safe, honorable, useful, easy, practical" (Robinson qtd. Noble 354). In addition, the lord "ought to act toward his faithful vassal reciprocally in all these things for if he does not do these things he shall rightly be considered guilty of bad faith" (354). Chodorow explains the process of becoming a vassal, which was more like a ceremony in its day. This process involved the lord asking the vassal if he "wished to become his man without reserve" (Chodorow 306). The vassal, if her answered that he did, would hold the lord's hand and the "bound themselves to each other with a kiss" (306). Then the vassal would pledge his faithfulness to the lord, who would then promise security.

Chodorow maintains that we should be careful when we use the word feudalism when we talk about medieval society because the entire medieval society did not operate under this type of organization. Instead, he states that we should recognize that feudalism was a part of this society, however small a part it might have been. Feudal systems were linked primarily with the aristocratic class in the earlier centuries. These institutions were also based upon the notion of "tenure" (Chodorow 305), which basically means that one has the right to own land. Villenage was "hereditary tenure" (305) and is important because many farms and mills during medieval times were subject to tenure. In other words, they were own by one person who held it in tenure and so on. Those who did not own land were called "cottagers" (305), according to Chodorow because they lived in small cottages that belonged to someone else. The cottagers generally worked this land to pay rent but they were subject to the laws set forth by the lords.

Duiker maintains that between 800 and 1500, different forms of feudalism emerged in many different parts of the world. In Japan, feudalism was much like the feudalism in Europe. By the end of the ninth century, powerful nobles began to "exercise political and legal power in their own extensive lands" (244), while they were still loyal to their Japanese emperors. To protect their land, these nobles retained samurai who were "warriors who owed loyalty to the nobles and provided military service for them' (244). The samurai were much like the European knights in that they followed a warrior code. Duiker also points out that in the fifth century, many Indian states took on the characteristics of the typical feudal system. Indian rajas, like European lords, were vassals of the king but unlike European feudalism, the relationship was not a "contractual" (244). In Mexico, between 1300 and 1500, the Aztecs developed a political system similar to the European, Japanese, and Indian feudal systems. In this system while the Aztec king was always in control, there were many rulers outside the capital city that were granted "considerable freedom" (244). They paid tribute to the kind like their European counter parts as well as provided him with military force when necessary.

Chodorow points out that feudal tenure was "one of the many types of tenure, but the system that historians cal 'feudalism' included aspects of social and political relationships that had little to do with tenure" (305). There were three primary foundations of feudal institutions, which were the relationship between the lord and the vassal, the disintegration of public power, and the decentralization of public authority into private hands. It is important to note that these foundations all developed separately. Noble notes that from the tenth century on, a lord's gifts were generally a "landed estate" (353) or a fief. These land-holding nobles were considered a "military elite" (263) and their land was maintained by peasants. This system was referred to as the Manorial System. The peasants on the land were known as serfs because they were "bound to the land and required to produce labor services, pay rents, and be subject to the lord's jurisdiction. According to Duiker, by the ninth century, about 60% of the population in Western Europe was serfs. Serfs were legally bound to the land and could not… [END OF PREVIEW]

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