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Feudalism in the Middle Ages

The concept of Feudalism in the Middle Ages is entirely unique to the area of Europe in which it was found. Feudalism made life difficult for peasants, the poor, and those who were not of noble descent or royalty and were unable to gain favor with the King.

Feudalism in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages or medieval period, which took place from approximately 500 A.D. (following the fall of Rome) and lasted until around 1500 A.D., was a time period characterized by hardship and strict class structure. A strong class of warriors had established kingdoms throughout Western Europe to fill voids left by the collapse of Rome. Throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, the word of the popes, kings, and those in power ruled supreme. Feudalism was a concept that contributed greatly to the social stratification in the Middle Ages and it was part of what made life hard for the peasants.

What Was Feudalism?

To understand feudalism in the Middle Ages and why it made life hard for peasants, it is important to understand what feudalism was. In general, feudalism was the idea that individuals would exchange land or the ownership of a piece of land for military service by that individual.

So, for example, an individual who wanted to become a land owner would give his services over a period of time to a king or other land owning individual. Once his service contract had ended, he would be able to own the piece of land that he had been promised. This would make him a land owner and would improve his status in life as a result of having moved from the peasant class of non-land owning individuals into the landed gentry class of people.

Peasants and Feudal Lords

The land-owning individual would owe his loyalty and allegiance to the king or to whomever he had worked with in military service prior to receiving his land. Then, in turn, he would own land where peasants and others would live. These would then owe their allegiance to him for providing them with protection in the form of walls or an army that kept them safe from enemies.

The landowner might provide land to the peasants to help himself with his own military support, but, in general, he would not have to do this because he would be protected by the king's troops (of which he was one). The land-owning individual who lived on land granted by the king would offer the protection of his own troops and his own government to the peasants who lived on and farmed his land.

In exchange for these types of protections, the peasants would do the work of farming and producing on his land, so the land-owner would make money and have supplies without having to do all of the work himself.

Feudalism and the Feudal system can be looked at as a version of a top-down power system and feudalism in the Middle Ages can be understood by considering the connections and relationships among the people involved. The power started at the top of the Feudal system with the king himself, then under him were his nobles, such as members of his family whom he had given royal titles or positions to, then the knights, or the warriors of his kingdom.

Underneath them were the archbishops, a combination religious and political position that allowed them to work as members of the church as well as quasi royalty. Beneath the archbishops, the freemen, yeomen, and servants all served the landowner and, underneath all of these classes, were the peasants, whose lot in life was simply to perform work for the land owner and all of the others who were above.