What is meant by the term feudalism, and what did refer to?


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Abi Ainscough answered
Between the ninth and fifteenth century medieval Europe, there occurred a 'feudal society', having major impact in England upon the conclusion of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest in 1066. It refers to a form of social hierarchy in which land equaled power. The Lords who owned the majority of land, referred to as 'fief' or 'property', were in control of the 'Vassels': Knights or lesser Lords that had sworn an oath of fealty to those with most power.

  • What exactly was involved within feudalism?

In order to be granted fief and protection, the vassels would pay extensive taxes and provide some form of service to the Lord, whether military or non-military, following a formal and symbolic ceremony. Services could include security, hard labor or simply council in times of distress within the land.

As feudalism began to take hold of Europe, the power of the Lords moved past fief, as they gained control of the political, social, judicial and economic aspects of the country they inhabited.

  • Advantages and disadvantages of feudalism

Society seemed to be safer for civilians as wars involved only the nobles and knights. There was little chance of land being taken away once granted and taxes were lower than during the Roman Empire.

However, times were extremely difficult for those at the bottom of the hierarchy, the peasants, as they had no power whatsoever but belonged to the land they worked on. Their hard labor was exploited, as little was given in return. Equality did not exist.

  • Why is modern society no longer 'feudal'?

Land no longer necessarily means power and, consequently, society has moved on from land based economy to money economy. A centralized government was developed meaning feudalism had died out by the 17th century. However, Marxists would argue that feudalism resembles capitalism, as those in power, otherwise known as the 'bourgeoisie', exploit the labor of the working class, the 'proletariat' maintaining the social hierarchy found in medieval Europe.

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