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Feudalism

Feudalism

Overview
Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.

Although derived from the Latin word feodum (fief), then in use, the term feudalism and the system it describes were not conceived of as a formal political system by the people living in the medieval period.
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Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.

Although derived from the Latin word feodum (fief), then in use, the term feudalism and the system it describes were not conceived of as a formal political system by the people living in the medieval period. In its classic definition, by François-Louis Ganshof
François-Louis Ganshof
François-Louis Ganshof was a Belgian medievalist. After studies at the Athénée Royal, he came to the University of Ghent, where he came under the influence of Henri Pirenne. After studies with Ferdinand Lot, he practiced law for a period, before returning to the University of Ghent...

 (1944), feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lord
Lord
Lord is a title with various meanings. It can denote a prince or a feudal superior . The title today is mostly used in connection with the peerage of the United Kingdom or its predecessor countries, although some users of the title do not themselves hold peerages, and use it 'by courtesy'...

s, vassal
Vassal
A vassal or feudatory is a person who has entered into a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The obligations often included military support and mutual protection, in exchange for certain privileges, usually including the grant of land held...

s, and fiefs.

There is also a broader definition, as described by Marc Bloch
Marc Bloch
Marc Léopold Benjamin Bloch was a French historian who cofounded the highly influential Annales School of French social history. Bloch was a quintessential modernist. An assimilated Alsatian Jew from an academic family in Paris, he was deeply affected in his youth by the Dreyfus Affair...

 (1939), that includes not only warrior nobility but the peasantry bonds of manorialism
Manorialism
Manorialism, an essential element of feudal society, was the organizing principle of rural economy that originated in the villa system of the Late Roman Empire, was widely practiced in medieval western and parts of central Europe, and was slowly replaced by the advent of a money-based market...

, sometimes referred to as a "feudal society". Since 1974 with the publication of Elizabeth A. R. Brown
Elizabeth A. R. Brown
Elizabeth Atkinson Rash Brown born in Louisville, Ky., is a Professor Emerita of History at Brooklyn College, of the City University of New York, a scholar and published author, known for her writings on Feudalism. She received her B.A. from Swarthmore College and and A.M. and PhD. from Radcliffe...

's The Tyranny of a Construct, and Susan Reynolds
Susan Reynolds
Susan Reynolds is a British medieval historian whose 1994 book Fiefs and Vassals: the Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted was part of the attack on the concept of feudalism as classically portrayed by previous historians such as François-Louis Ganshof and Marc Bloch.She believes that the technical...

' Fiefs and Vassals (1994), there has been ongoing inconclusive discussion
Historical revisionism
In historiography, historical revisionism is the reinterpretation of orthodox views on evidence, motivations, and decision-making processes surrounding a historical event...

 among medieval historians as to whether feudalism is a useful construct for understanding medieval society.

Definition


There is no broadly accepted modern definition of feudalism. The adjective feudal was coined in the 17th century, and the noun feudalism wasn't coined until the 19th century, often used in a political and propaganda context. By the mid-20th century, François Louis Ganshof's Feudalism, 3rd ed. (1964; originally published in French, 1947), became a standard scholarly definition of feudalism.Since at least the 1960s, concurrent with when Marc Bloch
Marc Bloch
Marc Léopold Benjamin Bloch was a French historian who cofounded the highly influential Annales School of French social history. Bloch was a quintessential modernist. An assimilated Alsatian Jew from an academic family in Paris, he was deeply affected in his youth by the Dreyfus Affair...

's Feudal Society (1939) was first translated into English in 1961, many medieval historians have included a broader social aspect, adding the peasantry bonds of manorialism
Manorialism
Manorialism, an essential element of feudal society, was the organizing principle of rural economy that originated in the villa system of the Late Roman Empire, was widely practiced in medieval western and parts of central Europe, and was slowly replaced by the advent of a money-based market...

, sometimes referred to as a "feudal society". Since the 1970s, when Elizabeth A. R. Brown
Elizabeth A. R. Brown
Elizabeth Atkinson Rash Brown born in Louisville, Ky., is a Professor Emerita of History at Brooklyn College, of the City University of New York, a scholar and published author, known for her writings on Feudalism. She received her B.A. from Swarthmore College and and A.M. and PhD. from Radcliffe...

 published The Tyranny of a Construct (1974), many have re-examined the evidence and concluded that feudalism is an unworkable term and should be removed entirely from scholarly and educational discussion, or at least used only with severe qualification and warning.

Outside a European context, the concept of feudalism is normally used only by analogy
Analogy
Analogy is a cognitive process of transferring information or meaning from a particular subject to another particular subject , and a linguistic expression corresponding to such a process...

 (called semi-feudal), most often in discussions of Japan under the shogun
Shogun
A was one of the hereditary military dictators of Japan from 1192 to 1867. In this period, the shoguns, or their shikken regents , were the de facto rulers of Japan though they were nominally appointed by the emperor...

s, and sometimes medieval and Gondar
Gondar
Gondar or Gonder is a city in Ethiopia, which was once the old imperial capital and capital of the historic Begemder Province. As a result, the old province of Begemder is sometimes referred to as Gondar...

ine Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

. However, some have taken the feudalism analogy further, seeing it in places as diverse as ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

, the Parthian empire
Parthia
Parthia is a region of north-eastern Iran, best known for having been the political and cultural base of the Arsacid dynasty, rulers of the Parthian Empire....

, the Indian subcontinent
Indian feudalism
Feudalism was a social system of medieval European origin, according to which the nobility held lands from the Crown in exchange for military service, and vassals were in turn tenants of the nobles, while the peasants were obliged to live on their lord's land and give him homage, labor, and a...

, and the antebellum American South.

The term feudalism has also been applied—often inappropriately or pejoratively—to non-Western societies where institutions and attitudes similar to those of medieval Europe are perceived to prevail. Some historians and political theorists believe that the many ways the term feudalism has been used has deprived it of specific meaning, leading them to reject it as a useful concept for understanding society.

Classic feudalism

See also Feudalism in England
Feudalism in England
Feudalism as practiced in the Kingdom of England, in the traditional sense, is a state of human society which is formally structured and stratified on the basis of land tenure and the varieties thereof...

 and Examples of feudalism
Examples of feudalism
Examples of feudalism are helpful to fully understand feudalism and feudal society. Feudalism was practiced in many different ways, depending on location and time period, thus a high-level encompassing conceptual definition does not always provide a reader with the intimate understanding that...


The classic François-Louis Ganshof
François-Louis Ganshof
François-Louis Ganshof was a Belgian medievalist. After studies at the Athénée Royal, he came to the University of Ghent, where he came under the influence of Henri Pirenne. After studies with Ferdinand Lot, he practiced law for a period, before returning to the University of Ghent...

 version of feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lord
Lord
Lord is a title with various meanings. It can denote a prince or a feudal superior . The title today is mostly used in connection with the peerage of the United Kingdom or its predecessor countries, although some users of the title do not themselves hold peerages, and use it 'by courtesy'...

s, vassal
Vassal
A vassal or feudatory is a person who has entered into a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The obligations often included military support and mutual protection, in exchange for certain privileges, usually including the grant of land held...

s and fiefs. A lord was in broad terms a noble who held land, a vassal was a person who was granted possession of the land by the lord, and the land was known as a fief. In exchange for the use of the fief and the protection of the lord, the vassal would provide some sort of service to the lord. There were many varieties of feudal land tenure
Feudal land tenure
Under the English feudal system several different forms of land tenure existed, each effectively a contract with differing rights and duties attached thereto. Such tenures could be either free-hold, signifying that they were hereditable or perpetual, or non-free where the tenancy terminated on the...

, consisting of military and non-military service. The obligations and corresponding rights between lord and vassal concerning the fief form the basis of the feudal relationship.

Vassalage


Before a lord could grant land (a fief) to someone, he had to make that person a vassal. This was done at a formal and symbolic ceremony called a commendation ceremony
Commendation ceremony
A commendation ceremony is a formal ceremony that evolved during the Early Medieval period to create a bond between a lord and his fighting man, called his vassal . The first recorded ceremony of commendatio was in 7th century France, but the relationship of vassalage was older, and predated even...

, which composed of the two-part act of homage
Homage (medieval)
Homage in the Middle Ages was the ceremony in which a feudal tenant or vassal pledged reverence and submission to his feudal lord, receiving in exchange the symbolic title to his new position . It was a symbolic acknowledgment to the lord that the vassal was, literally, his man . The oath known as...

 and oath of fealty
Fealty
An oath of fealty, from the Latin fidelitas , is a pledge of allegiance of one person to another. Typically the oath is made upon a religious object such as a Bible or saint's relic, often contained within an altar, thus binding the oath-taker before God.In medieval Europe, fealty was sworn between...

. During homage, the lord and vassal entered a contract in which the vassal promised to fight for the lord at his command, whilst the lord agreed to protect the vassal from external forces. Fealty comes from the Latin fidelitas and denotes the fidelity
Fidelity
"Fidelity" is the quality of being faithful or loyal. Its original meaning regarded duty to a lord or a king, in a broader sense than the related concept of fealty. Both derive from the Latin word fidēlis, meaning "faithful or loyal"....

 owed by a vassal to his feudal lord. "Fealty" also refers to an oath that more explicitly reinforces the commitments of the vassal made during homage. Such an oath follows homage.

Once the commendation ceremony was complete, the lord and vassal were now in a feudal relationship with agreed-upon mutual obligations to one another. The vassal's principal obligation to the lord was to "aid", or military service. Using whatever equipment the vassal could obtain by virtue of the revenues from the fief, the vassal was responsible to answer to calls to military service on behalf of the lord. This security of military help was the primary reason the lord entered into the feudal relationship. In addition, the vassal could have other obligations to his lord, such as attendance at his court, whether manorial, baronial, both termed court baron
Court baron
A Court baron is an English or Scottish manorial court dating from the Middle Ages.It was laid down by Sir Edward Coke that a manor had two courts, "the first by the common law, and is called a court baron," the freeholders being its suitors; the other a customary court for the copyholders...

, or at the king's court itself.

It could also involve the vassal providing "counsel", so that if the lord faced a major decision he would summon all his vassals and hold a council. At the level of the manor
Manor
-Land tenure:*Manor, an estate in land of the mediaeval era in England*Manorialism, a system of land tenure and organization of the rural economy and society in parts of medieval Europe based on the manor*Manor house, the principal house of a manor...

 this might be a fairly mundane matter of agricultural policy, but also included the handing down by the lord of sentences for criminal offences, including capital punishment in some cases. Concerning the king's feudal court, such deliberation could include the question of declaring war. These are examples; depending on the period of time and location in Europe, feudal customs and practices varied; see examples of feudalism
Examples of feudalism
Examples of feudalism are helpful to fully understand feudalism and feudal society. Feudalism was practiced in many different ways, depending on location and time period, thus a high-level encompassing conceptual definition does not always provide a reader with the intimate understanding that...

.

Feudal society



The phrase "feudal society" as defined by Marc Bloch
Marc Bloch
Marc Léopold Benjamin Bloch was a French historian who cofounded the highly influential Annales School of French social history. Bloch was a quintessential modernist. An assimilated Alsatian Jew from an academic family in Paris, he was deeply affected in his youth by the Dreyfus Affair...

 expands on the definition proposed by Ganshof and includes within the feudal structure not only the warrior aristocracy bound by vassalage, but also the peasantry
Peasant
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

 bound by manorialism
Manorialism
Manorialism, an essential element of feudal society, was the organizing principle of rural economy that originated in the villa system of the Late Roman Empire, was widely practiced in medieval western and parts of central Europe, and was slowly replaced by the advent of a money-based market...

. Thus the entire society from top to bottom is bound by feudalism.

History of feudalism



Feudalism traditionally emerges as a result of the decentralization of an empire. This was particularly the case within the Japanese and Carolingian
Carolingian
The Carolingian dynasty was a Frankish noble family with origins in the Arnulfing and Pippinid clans of the 7th century AD. The name "Carolingian", Medieval Latin karolingi, an altered form of an unattested Old High German *karling, kerling The Carolingian dynasty (known variously as the...

 (European) empires which both lacked the bureaucratic infrastructure necessary to support cavalry without the ability to allocate land to these mounted troops. Mounted soldiers began to secure a system of hereditary rule over their allocated land and their power over the territory came to encompass the social, political, judicial, and economic spheres as well.

These acquired powers significantly reduced the presence of centralized power in these empires. Only when the infrastructure existed to maintain centralized power—as with the European monarchies—did Feudalism begin to yield to this new organized power and eventually disappear.

Etymology


The term feudalism is recent, first appearing in French in 1823, Italian in 1827, English in 1839, and in German in the second half of the nineteenth century. It derived from "feodal" which was used in seventeenth-century French legal treatises (1614) and translated into English legal treatises as "feodal government". In the 18th century Adam Smith
Adam Smith
Adam Smith was a Scottish social philosopher and a pioneer of political economy. One of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Smith is the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations...

 popularized the forms "feudal government" and "feudal system" in his book Wealth of Nations (1776). In the 19th century the adjective "feudal" (ie. "the feudal government") evolved into a noun: feudalism.

The term "feudal" or "feodal" is derived from the medieval Latin word feodum. The etymology of feodum is complex with multiple theories, some suggesting a Germanic origin (the most widely held view) and others suggesting an Arabic origin. Initially in medieval Latin European documents, a land grant in exchange for service was called a beneficium (Latin). Later, the term feudum, or feodum, began to replace beneficium in the documents. The first attested instance of this is from 984, although more primitive forms were seen up to one-hundred years earlier. The origin of the feudum and why it replaced beneficium has not been well established, but there are multiple theories, described below.

The most widely held theory is put forth by Marc Bloch
Marc Bloch
Marc Léopold Benjamin Bloch was a French historian who cofounded the highly influential Annales School of French social history. Bloch was a quintessential modernist. An assimilated Alsatian Jew from an academic family in Paris, he was deeply affected in his youth by the Dreyfus Affair...

. Bloch said it is related to the Frankish term *fehu-ôd, in which *fehu means "cattle" and -ôd means "goods", implying "a moveable object of value." When land replaced currency as the primary store of value, the Germanic word *fehu-ôd replaced the Latin word beneficium. This Germanic origin theory was also shared by William Stubbs
William Stubbs
William Stubbs was an English historian and Bishop of Oxford.The son of William Morley Stubbs, a solicitor, he was born at Knaresborough, Yorkshire, and was educated at Ripon Grammar School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated in 1848, obtaining a first-class in classics and a third in...

 in the nineteenth century.

Another theory was put forward by Archibald R. Lewis. Lewis said the origin of 'fief' is not feudum (or feodum), but rather foderum, the earliest attested used being in Astronomus's Vita Hludovici
Vita Hludovici
Vita Hludovici or Vita Hludovici Imperatoris is an anonymous biography of Louis the Pious, Holy Roman Emperor and King of the Franks from AD 814 to 840.-Author:...

 (840). In that text is a passage about Louis the Pious
Louis the Pious
Louis the Pious , also called the Fair, and the Debonaire, was the King of Aquitaine from 781. He was also King of the Franks and co-Emperor with his father, Charlemagne, from 813...

 which says annona militaris quas vulgo foderum vocant, which can be translated as "Louis forbade that military provender (which they popularly call "fodder") be furnished.."

Another theory by Alauddin Samarrai suggests an Arabic origin, from fuyū (the plural of fay). Samarrai's theory is that early forms of 'fief' include feo, feu, feuz, feuum and others, the plurality of forms strongly suggesting origins from a loanword
Loanword
A loanword is a word borrowed from a donor language and incorporated into a recipient language. By contrast, a calque or loan translation is a related concept where the meaning or idiom is borrowed rather than the lexical item itself. The word loanword is itself a calque of the German Lehnwort,...

. Indeed the first use of these terms is in Languedoc
Languedoc
Languedoc is a former province of France, now continued in the modern-day régions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées in the south of France, and whose capital city was Toulouse, now in Midi-Pyrénées. It had an area of approximately 42,700 km² .-Geographical Extent:The traditional...

, one of the least Germanized areas of Europe and bordering Muslim Spain. Further, the earliest use of feuum (as a replacement for beneficium) can be dated to 899, the same year a Muslim base at Fraxinetum (La Garde-Freinet
La Garde-Freinet
La Garde-Freinet is a commune in the Var department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in southeastern France.It is a medieval French mountain village, located in the Massif des Maures, an hour north of St. Tropez. Accessible by picturesque winding roads, through forests of cork, oaks, and...

) in Provence
Provence
Provence ; Provençal: Provença in classical norm or Prouvènço in Mistralian norm) is a region of south eastern France on the Mediterranean adjacent to Italy. It is part of the administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur...

 was established. It is possible, Samarrai says, that French scribes, writing in Latin, attempted to transliterate the Arabic word fuyū (the plural of fay), which was being used by the Muslim invaders and occupiers at the time, resulting in a plurality of forms - feo, feu, feuz, feuum and others - from which eventually feudum derived.

Historiography of feudalism


The idea of feudalism was unknown and the system it describes were not conceived of as a formal political system by the people living in the Medieval Period. This section describes the history of the idea of feudalism, how the concept originated among scholars and thinkers, how it changed over time, and modern debates about its use.

Evolution of the idea


The idea of a feudal state or period, in the sense of either a period or a regime dominated by lords who possess financial or social power and prestige, became a widely held in middle of the 18th century, thanks to works such as Montesquieu's
Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu
Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu , generally referred to as simply Montesquieu, was a French social commentator and political thinker who lived during the Enlightenment...

 De L'Esprit des Lois (1748; published in English as The Spirit of the Laws
The Spirit of the Laws
The Spirit of the Laws is a treatise on political theory first published anonymously by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu in 1748 with the help of Claudine Guérin de Tencin...

), and Henri de Boulainvilliers
Henri de Boulainvilliers
Henri de Boulainvilliers was a French writer and historian. Educated at the college of Juilly, he served in the army until 1697...

’s Histoire des anciens Parlements de France (1737; published in English as An Historical Account of the Antient Parliaments of France or States-General of the Kingdom, 1739). In the 18th century, writers of the Enlightenment wrote about feudalism to denigrate the antiquated system of the Ancien Régime, or French monarchy. This was the Age of Enlightenment when writers valued reason and the Middle Ages were viewed as the "Dark Ages". Enlightenment authors generally mocked and ridiculed anything from the "Dark Ages" including feudalism, projecting its negative characteristics on the current French monarchy as a means of political gain. For them "feudalism" meant seigneur
Seigneur
Seigneur may refer to:* The possessor of a seigneurie in medieval feudal or manorial systems.* The Seigneurial system of New France* The hereditary feudal ruler of the island of Sark, see also List of Seigneurs of Sark...

ial privileges and prerogatives. When the French Constituent Assembly abolished the "feudal regime" in August 1789 this is what was meant.

Adam Smith
Adam Smith
Adam Smith was a Scottish social philosopher and a pioneer of political economy. One of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Smith is the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations...

 used the term "feudal system" to describe a social and economic system defined by inherited social ranks, each of which possessed inherent social and economic privileges and obligations. In such a system wealth derived from agriculture, which was organized not according to market forces but on the basis of customary labor services owed by serf
SERF
A spin exchange relaxation-free magnetometer is a type of magnetometer developed at Princeton University in the early 2000s. SERF magnetometers measure magnetic fields by using lasers to detect the interaction between alkali metal atoms in a vapor and the magnetic field.The name for the technique...

s to landowning nobles.

Marx


Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

 also used the term in political analysis. In the 19th century, Marx described feudalism as the economic situation coming before the rise of capitalism
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

. For Marx, what defined feudalism was that the power of the ruling class (the aristocracy
Aristocracy
Aristocracy , is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best". In origin in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy...

) rested on their control of arable land, leading to a class society based upon the exploitation of the peasants who farm these lands, typically under serfdom
Serfdom
Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted to the mid-19th century...

. Marx thus considered feudalism within a purely economic model.

Later studies


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, John Horace Round
John Horace Round
Horace Round was a historian and genealogist of the English medieval period. He translated the Domesday Book for Essex into contemporary English. As an expert in the history of the British peerage he was appointed Honorary Historical Adviser to the Crown.-Family and early life:Round was born on 22...

 and Frederic William Maitland
Frederic William Maitland
Frederic William Maitland was an English jurist and historian, generally regarded as the modern father of English legal history.-Biography:...

, both historians of medieval Britain, arrived at different conclusions as to the character of English society before the Norman Conquest in 1066. Round argued that the Normans had brought feudalism with them to England, while Maitland contended that its fundamentals were already in place in Britain before 1066. The debate continues today, but a consensus is building: England before the Conquest had commendation, which embodied some of the personal elements in feudalism.

William the Conqueror
William I of England
William I , also known as William the Conqueror , was the first Norman King of England from Christmas 1066 until his death. He was also Duke of Normandy from 3 July 1035 until his death, under the name William II...

 introduced a modified northern French feudalism to England which countered decentralized aspects of feudalism abroad. In 1086 he required oaths of loyalty to the king by all, even the vassals of his principal vassals, who held by feudal tenure. Holding by feudal tenure meant that vassals must provide the quota of knights required by the king or a money payment in substitution.

In the 20th century, the historian François-Louis Ganshof
François-Louis Ganshof
François-Louis Ganshof was a Belgian medievalist. After studies at the Athénée Royal, he came to the University of Ghent, where he came under the influence of Henri Pirenne. After studies with Ferdinand Lot, he practiced law for a period, before returning to the University of Ghent...

 was very influential on the topic of feudalism. Ganshof defined feudalism from a narrow legal and military perspective, arguing that feudal relationships existed only within the medieval nobility itself. Ganshof articulated this concept in Feudalism (1944). His classic definition of feudalism is the most widely known today and also the easiest to understand, simply put, when a lord granted a fief to a vassal, the vassal provided military service in return.

One of Ganshof's contemporaries, the French historian Marc Bloch
Marc Bloch
Marc Léopold Benjamin Bloch was a French historian who cofounded the highly influential Annales School of French social history. Bloch was a quintessential modernist. An assimilated Alsatian Jew from an academic family in Paris, he was deeply affected in his youth by the Dreyfus Affair...

, was arguably the most influential 20th century medieval historian. Bloch approached feudalism not so much from a legal and military point of view but from a sociological one. He developed his ideas in Feudal Society (1939–40; English 1961). Bloch conceived of feudalism as a type of society that was not limited solely to the nobility. Like Ganshof, he recognized that there was a hierarchical relationship between lords and vassals, but Bloch saw as well a similar relationship obtaining between lords and peasants.

It is this radical notion that peasants were part of feudal relationship that sets Bloch apart from his peers. While the vassal performed military service in exchange for the fief, the peasant performed physical labour in return for protection. Both are a form of feudal relationship. According to Bloch, other elements of society can be seen in feudal terms; all the aspects of life were centered on "lordship", and so we can speak usefully of a feudal church structure, a feudal courtly (and anti-courtly) literature, and a feudal economy.

Feudalism revisionism


In 1974, U.S. historian Elizabeth A. R. Brown
Elizabeth A. R. Brown
Elizabeth Atkinson Rash Brown born in Louisville, Ky., is a Professor Emerita of History at Brooklyn College, of the City University of New York, a scholar and published author, known for her writings on Feudalism. She received her B.A. from Swarthmore College and and A.M. and PhD. from Radcliffe...

 rejected the label feudalism as an anachronism that imparts a false sense of uniformity to the concept. Having noted the current use of many, often contradictory, definitions of feudalism, she argued that the word is only a construct with no basis in medieval reality, an invention of modern historians read back "tyrannically" into the historical record. Supporters of Brown have suggested that the term should be expunged from history textbooks and lectures on medieval history entirely. In Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted (1994), Susan Reynolds
Susan Reynolds
Susan Reynolds is a British medieval historian whose 1994 book Fiefs and Vassals: the Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted was part of the attack on the concept of feudalism as classically portrayed by previous historians such as François-Louis Ganshof and Marc Bloch.She believes that the technical...

 expanded upon Brown's original thesis. Although some contemporaries questioned Reynolds's methodology, other historians have supported it and her argument. Note that Reynolds does not object to the Marxist use of the term feudalism.

The term feudal has also been applied to non-Western societies in which institutions and attitudes similar to those of medieval Europe are perceived to have prevailed (See Other feudal-like systems
Examples of feudalism
Examples of feudalism are helpful to fully understand feudalism and feudal society. Feudalism was practiced in many different ways, depending on location and time period, thus a high-level encompassing conceptual definition does not always provide a reader with the intimate understanding that...

). Ultimately, critics say, the many ways the term feudalism has been used have deprived it of specific meaning, leading some historians and political theorists to reject it as a useful concept for understanding society. Others have taken the concept to its heart: the contract between a lord and his or her vassals, a reciprocal arrangement of support in exchange for service.

See also


  • Bastard feudalism
    Bastard feudalism
    Bastard feudalism is a term that has been used to describe feudalism in the Late Middle Ages, primarily in England. Its main characteristic is military, political, legal, or domestic service in return for money, office, and/or influence...

  • Cestui que
  • Charter of Liberties
    Charter of Liberties
    The Charter of Liberties, also called the Coronation Charter, was a written proclamation by Henry I of England, issued upon his accession to the throne in 1100. It sought to bind the King to certain laws regarding the treatment of church officials and nobles...

  • Chivalry
    Chivalry
    Chivalry is a term related to the medieval institution of knighthood which has an aristocratic military origin of individual training and service to others. Chivalry was also the term used to refer to a group of mounted men-at-arms as well as to martial valour...

  • Concordat of Worms
    Concordat of Worms
    The Concordat of Worms, sometimes called the Pactum Calixtinum by papal historians, was an agreement between Pope Calixtus II and Holy Roman Emperor Henry V on September 23, 1122 near the city of Worms...

  • English feudal barony
    English feudal barony
    In England, a feudal barony or barony by tenure was a form of Feudal land tenure, namely per baroniam under which the land-holder owed the service of being one of the king's barons. It must be distinguished from a barony, also feudal, but which existed within a county palatine, such as the Barony...

  • Gentry
    Gentry
    Gentry denotes "well-born and well-bred people" of high social class, especially in the past....

  • Landed property
    Landed property
    Landed property or landed estates is a real estate term that usually refers to a property that generates income for the owner without the owner having to do the actual work of the estate. In Europe, agrarian landed property typically consisted of a manor, several tenant farms, and some privileged...

  • Majorat
    Majorat
    Majorat is the right of succession to property according to age . A majorat would be inherited by the oldest son, or if there was no son, the nearest relative. This law existed in some of the European countries and was designed to prevent the distribution of wealthy estates between many members of...

  • Manorialism
    Manorialism
    Manorialism, an essential element of feudal society, was the organizing principle of rural economy that originated in the villa system of the Late Roman Empire, was widely practiced in medieval western and parts of central Europe, and was slowly replaced by the advent of a money-based market...

  • Manor
    Manor
    -Land tenure:*Manor, an estate in land of the mediaeval era in England*Manorialism, a system of land tenure and organization of the rural economy and society in parts of medieval Europe based on the manor*Manor house, the principal house of a manor...

  • Medieval demography
    Medieval demography
    This article discusses human demography in Europe during the Middle Ages, including population trends and movements. Demographic changes helped to shape and define the Middle Ages...

  • Middle Ages
    Middle Ages
    The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

  • Nulle terre sans seigneur
    Nulle terre sans seigneur
    In feudal law, Nulle terre sans seigneur is the principle that one provides services to the sovereign for the right to receive land from the sovereign....

  • Quia Emptores
    Quia Emptores
    Quia Emptores of 1290 was a statute passed by Edward I of England that prevented tenants from alienating their lands to others by subinfeudation, instead requiring all tenants wishing to alienate their land to do so by substitution...

  • Sark
  • Scottish feudal barony
    Scottish feudal barony
    A Scottish feudal barony used to be attached to a particular piece of land on which is the "caput" , or the essence of the barony, normally a building, such as a castle or manor house...

  • Serfdom
    Serfdom
    Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted to the mid-19th century...

  • Statutes of Mortmain
    Statutes of Mortmain
    The Statutes of Mortmain were two enactments, in 1279 and 1290, by King Edward I of England aimed at preserving the kingdom's revenues by preventing land from passing into the possession of the Church. In Medieval England, feudal estates generated taxes upon the inheritance or granting of the estate...

  • Vassal
    Vassal
    A vassal or feudatory is a person who has entered into a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The obligations often included military support and mutual protection, in exchange for certain privileges, usually including the grant of land held...

  • Feudalism in England
    Feudalism in England
    Feudalism as practiced in the Kingdom of England, in the traditional sense, is a state of human society which is formally structured and stratified on the basis of land tenure and the varieties thereof...

  • Protofeudalism
    Protofeudalism
    Protofeudalism is a concept in medieval history, most especially the history of Spain, according to which the direct precursors of feudalism can be found at the height of the Dark Ages...


Military:
  • Knights
  • Medieval warfare
    Medieval warfare
    Medieval warfare is the warfare of the Middle Ages. In Europe, technological, cultural, and social developments had forced a dramatic transformation in the character of warfare from antiquity, changing military tactics and the role of cavalry and artillery...



Non-European:
  • Fengjian
    Fengjian
    Fēngjiàn is the political ideology of the Zhou Dynasty of ancient China. Fengjian is a "decentralized system of government," comparable to European feudalism, though recent scholarship has suggested that fengjian lacks some of the fundamental aspects of feudalism.-Ranks:The sizes of troops and...

     (Chinese)
  • Indian feudalism
    Indian feudalism
    Feudalism was a social system of medieval European origin, according to which the nobility held lands from the Crown in exchange for military service, and vassals were in turn tenants of the nobles, while the peasants were obliged to live on their lord's land and give him homage, labor, and a...


Sources

  • Bloch, Marc, Feudal Society. Tr. L.A. Manyon. Two volumes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961 ISBN 0-226-05979-0
  • Brown, Elizabeth, 'The Tyranny of a Construct: Feudalism and Historians of Medieval Europe', American Historical Review, 79 (1974), pp. 1063–8.
  • Cantor, Norman F.
    Norman Cantor
    Norman Frank Cantor was a historian who specialized in the medieval period. Known for his accessible writing and engaging narrative style, Cantor's books were among the most widely-read treatments of medieval history in English...

    , Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth century. Quill, 1991.
  • Guerreau, Alain, L'avenir d'un passé incertain. Paris: Le Seuil, 2001. (Complete history of the meaning of the term.)
  • Poly, Jean-Pierre and Bournazel, Eric, The Feudal Transformation, 900–1200., Tr. Caroline Higgitt. New York and London: Holmes and Meier, 1991.
  • Reynolds, Susan, Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994 ISBN 0-19-820648-8

External links


  • "Feudalism", by Elizabeth A. R. Brown
    Elizabeth A. R. Brown
    Elizabeth Atkinson Rash Brown born in Louisville, Ky., is a Professor Emerita of History at Brooklyn College, of the City University of New York, a scholar and published author, known for her writings on Feudalism. She received her B.A. from Swarthmore College and and A.M. and PhD. from Radcliffe...

    . Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  • "Feudalism?", by Paul Halsall. Internet Medieval Sourcebook.
  • Medieval Feudalism, by Carl Stephenson
    Carl Stephenson (historian)
    Carl Stephenson at the time of his death was regarded as one of America's foremost medieval scholars. He was a student of Charles Gross and Charles Homer Haskins at Harvard University , later studied with Henri Pirenne at the University of Ghent and had close scholarly ties with other well known...

    . Cornell University Press, 1942. Classic introduction to Feudalism.
  • "The Problem of Feudalism: An Historiographical Essay", by Robert Harbison, 1996, Western Kentucky University
    Western Kentucky University
    Western Kentucky University is a public university in Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA. It was formally founded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1906, though its roots reach back a quarter-century earlier....

    .