Eli5 What is Feudalism?

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Well I understand the historians don’t have one unified definition but despite reading and looking it up the Web I still feel like I don’t get it. So that’s why I’m asking for a more “simplified” explanation.

Also if it isn’t a problem….is there a modern version of feudalism?

In: 0

Feudalism can be broadly defined as a way of structuring a society where you have people who own land, and then give or lend that land to other people in exchange for services or labor. So for example, a king gives parcels of land to his knights in exchange for their fealty and service in his armies, and in a second layer the knights give pieces of that land to peasants in exchange for the peasants’ farming the land and providing the knights with the fruits of their labor.

The closest analogue modern society has to Feudalism is landlords and realty companies, because they give or lend parts of a large collection of land that they own in exchange for their tenants’ surrendering a portion of their income.

Feudalism is a system of government common in the Middle Ages in Europe.

Lands were controlled by the Nobility, a series of leaders usually with hereditary titles who were responsible for maintaining and defending their territories, collecting taxes, and managing affairs.

Nobles would in turn be answerable to the King, who again was a leader with a hereditary title.

This would be like Army Captains and Officers being in charge of Cities and townships today. They would be responsible for defense, all the major government decisions, taxes, and infrastructure while the people in the area who lived on that land would pay taxes to the Military governor in exchange for defense and stability and living on *his* land.

These Captains, Majors, etc got their jobs because they were the sons of previous Army Officers, and at some point in the past of one their ancestors was given charge of this land by the King in exchange for doing a good job or because he owed them a favor.

The Officers would have loyalty to the President (The King) who’s in charge of the whole country, and who got his job for life because he was the son of the previous President.

When the President calls for the Officers help in a war, they have to answer and bring their own armies to serve the king.

Basically a select few nobles own all the land. They let peasants live on the land and in exchange those peasants get to work on the farms there. The nobles take a big cut of the money generated from selling the crops and livestock raised on the farm and the peasants get enough food to live on.

The nobles do this on behest of the king, to make controlling the country easier before people had phones and emails.

The nobles would spend their time practicing fighting because they were the military, which meant the country was better protected from other countries.

Feudalism is an economic and political system that dominated most of Europe throughout the Middle Ages, between the fall of Rome and the development of a merchant elite around the time of the Renaissance. Different versions of feudalism in different places and times were different, so you can only give a pretty broad description.

A feudal system is defined by a hierarchy of control over land. The primary relationships in this system are between *lords* and *vassals*, and between lords and *serfs*.

The lord-vassal relationship was between a *lord* who had legal control over a wide section of land, and a *vassal* who was granted control over some of that land in return for service to their lord. That service almost always involved military duties in case of invasion, but could involve other obligations as well. Since communication at that time was slow, and since the ability to quickly raise an army in defense was essential, lords used their vassals to maintain control over their domains. Lordship went all the way up to the sovereign (= king, queen, etc.). Mid-ranking nobles might be vassals of a lord above them, and lords to vassals below them. (It may help to note how this differs from, say, a modern democracy: subordinate officials in a democracy are often elected themselves, not appointed by higher-ranking officials.) Tighter definitions of feudalism limit themselves to this political hierarchy, and don’t include the economic part from the next paragraph.

The lord-serf relationship was between a lord (usually a low-ranking vassal of higher ranking lords in control of a local area) and a *serf*, a non-land-owning person living in the region controlled by the lord. Serfdom was in some respects similar to slavery, in that serfs had an obligation to work for the lord, but serfs couldn’t be bought and sold the way slaves could be. Serfs were “tied to the land”, in the sense that they did not have the freedom to leave: they were obligated to remain and work for their lord, and could be punished if they did not. Serfs owed a portion of their labor to their lords, and in exchange were permitted to farm on land controlled by the lord for their own survival. Lords, for their part, were responsible for the protection and well-being of their serfs, at least in principle, because the production of serfs under their control was what ultimately increased their power and wealth. In practice, being a serf was pretty crappy. This lord-serf relationship is also called [manorialism](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manorialism).

There were other classes in this system, like free merchants, but they were a relatively small part of the population and didn’t have much formal power beyond their wealth (although a very wealthy person could potentially buy their way into lordship). The rise of the power of other classes – particularly the merchant elite – signaled the end of feudalism and the rise of early forms of a modern market economy.

God gave man ice cream. Mom and dad are the rulers of the house which contains the ice cream and many other rewards and duties. When they’re home, you’ll have to do as they say and eat what they give you.

When they’re out, or when you’re at school, you have to listen to big sister. She may even let you have some ice cream if you’re good and listen well.

If neither mom or dad were home. And your big sister is also gone or distracted, you could eat as much ice cream as you wanted.

You could live in total freedom, eat all the snacks, and let the dirty dishes fill the sink, but then how would you get more ice cream and what will you use to eat it with when the cupboard and drawers are empty?

Your big sister listens to your parents so that the house can keep eating more ice cream. That’s why you need to listen to big sis, mom, and dad, so we can all have a nice place to eat ice cream.

The king and queen can only reach their power so far, so to rule at a distance she must have underlings who have more power than a child or an adolescent, but not as much say as an adult, so they must listen to what they’re told to do.

The lord’s need to be ready to helpthe king win his wars when called to do so. They cannot eat all the ice cream. Some has to be left for when dad gets home or we may all lose the castles we love. Probably to the Mongolian hordes.

However, when the king is gone, you are free to fight each other for control of snacks and doing the chores. Cooperate or fight, so long as the house is clean and there are good soldiers to fight (ben and jerry’s in the freezer) when the king calls for it.

Feudalism is a controversial term used to describe the economic and political system of Western Europe in the Middle Ages. What is generally refers to is how kings in this period would give out pieces of land, called fiefs, to lords would rule over it their stead in exchange for military service. This system was developed because the economic and political decline of the Western Roman Empire meant that it was no longer possible to anyone to afford paid standing armies. Fiefs came with peasant farmers, called serfs, attached to it who legally could not leave it and had to work the farmland. They would give their lords part of their harvest and pay them other fees and then, in exchange, the lord would protect them militarily.

However, I can’t define feudalism without noting that term is controversial for many reasons.

First, it was only coined in the 19th century and no one in the actual Middle Ages ever used it. (If you’re wondering what medieval people called their economic system, lots of luck; no such term has yet been found. This might have been because, excepting some radicals like [John Ball](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ball_(priest)), it’s rare to find anyone questioning how social stratification had developed; it was instead taken as having been ordained by God.)

Second, everything I described above was how the system was supposed to work, not how it actually did. In theory, kings were supposed to be able to revoke fiefs for disloyalty, but in practice, it was quite difficult to do that and make it stick. Also, lords often were not as good as protecting their peasants as they should have been. The main ways of waging war in the Middle Ages were siege warfare and launching raids on defenseless peasants villages in order to harm the landowners by proxy. In one infamous example, Edward the Black Prince embarked on a raid in the South of France in the fall of 1355. The two main military powers of the regions, the counts of Armagnac and Foix, were supposed to have defended the peasants of the region, but neither actually did so and it’s unclear exactly why, though the long-running feud between their families and/or their weakening faith in the French king may have been part of it.

Third, medieval society was not static and the way its political and economic system worked in 500 was not how it worked in 750 or 1066 or 1347. There were instead constant shifts (though not always huge ones) and for this reason, it’s increasingly questioned whether such a term is appropriate to describe the entire period from the 5th until the 15th centuries. The definition I supplied in my first paragraph seems to have applied most to the period from about 1000 to 1250, a period often known as the High Middle Ages, but only in certain places (most specifically, northern France and England after the Norman conquest in 1066).

Fourth, the system I described in the first paragraph was also not entirely true of every medieval kingdom. Scandinavia and the Scottish Highlands both never had serfdom of any type, serfdom also varied considerably in places where it did exist and was abolished in different places at different times, and some medieval kings had more direct power over the vassals than others. For instance, the English kings after the Norman conquest had far more power over their lords than, say, the Capetian kings of France and the Capetians in turn had more control their lords than the post-Investiture Controversy Holy Roman Emperors.

Fifth, if we decide to simplify feudalism to a system where most of the land is owned with a tiny warrior-landowner elite with 80-90% of the population being farmers who didn’t own squat… Well, then was neither invented in the Middle Ages nor confined to Western Europe. Instead, such a general system was found throughout Eurasia from the beginning of civilization and that system continued to be the norm until the 19th and 20th centuries when most economies began to became industrial rather than agrarian (that is, based on agriculture).

To answer your last question, parts of Scotland still practiced feudalism until as recently as 2008, when they were finally forced to end the system completely by the EU.

0 views

Well I understand the historians don’t have one unified definition but despite reading and looking it up the Web I still feel like I don’t get it. So that’s why I’m asking for a more “simplified” explanation.

Also if it isn’t a problem….is there a modern version of feudalism?

In: 0

Feudalism can be broadly defined as a way of structuring a society where you have people who own land, and then give or lend that land to other people in exchange for services or labor. So for example, a king gives parcels of land to his knights in exchange for their fealty and service in his armies, and in a second layer the knights give pieces of that land to peasants in exchange for the peasants’ farming the land and providing the knights with the fruits of their labor.

The closest analogue modern society has to Feudalism is landlords and realty companies, because they give or lend parts of a large collection of land that they own in exchange for their tenants’ surrendering a portion of their income.

Feudalism is a system of government common in the Middle Ages in Europe.

Lands were controlled by the Nobility, a series of leaders usually with hereditary titles who were responsible for maintaining and defending their territories, collecting taxes, and managing affairs.

Nobles would in turn be answerable to the King, who again was a leader with a hereditary title.

This would be like Army Captains and Officers being in charge of Cities and townships today. They would be responsible for defense, all the major government decisions, taxes, and infrastructure while the people in the area who lived on that land would pay taxes to the Military governor in exchange for defense and stability and living on *his* land.

These Captains, Majors, etc got their jobs because they were the sons of previous Army Officers, and at some point in the past of one their ancestors was given charge of this land by the King in exchange for doing a good job or because he owed them a favor.

The Officers would have loyalty to the President (The King) who’s in charge of the whole country, and who got his job for life because he was the son of the previous President.

When the President calls for the Officers help in a war, they have to answer and bring their own armies to serve the king.

Basically a select few nobles own all the land. They let peasants live on the land and in exchange those peasants get to work on the farms there. The nobles take a big cut of the money generated from selling the crops and livestock raised on the farm and the peasants get enough food to live on.

The nobles do this on behest of the king, to make controlling the country easier before people had phones and emails.

The nobles would spend their time practicing fighting because they were the military, which meant the country was better protected from other countries.

Feudalism is an economic and political system that dominated most of Europe throughout the Middle Ages, between the fall of Rome and the development of a merchant elite around the time of the Renaissance. Different versions of feudalism in different places and times were different, so you can only give a pretty broad description.

A feudal system is defined by a hierarchy of control over land. The primary relationships in this system are between *lords* and *vassals*, and between lords and *serfs*.

The lord-vassal relationship was between a *lord* who had legal control over a wide section of land, and a *vassal* who was granted control over some of that land in return for service to their lord. That service almost always involved military duties in case of invasion, but could involve other obligations as well. Since communication at that time was slow, and since the ability to quickly raise an army in defense was essential, lords used their vassals to maintain control over their domains. Lordship went all the way up to the sovereign (= king, queen, etc.). Mid-ranking nobles might be vassals of a lord above them, and lords to vassals below them. (It may help to note how this differs from, say, a modern democracy: subordinate officials in a democracy are often elected themselves, not appointed by higher-ranking officials.) Tighter definitions of feudalism limit themselves to this political hierarchy, and don’t include the economic part from the next paragraph.

The lord-serf relationship was between a lord (usually a low-ranking vassal of higher ranking lords in control of a local area) and a *serf*, a non-land-owning person living in the region controlled by the lord. Serfdom was in some respects similar to slavery, in that serfs had an obligation to work for the lord, but serfs couldn’t be bought and sold the way slaves could be. Serfs were “tied to the land”, in the sense that they did not have the freedom to leave: they were obligated to remain and work for their lord, and could be punished if they did not. Serfs owed a portion of their labor to their lords, and in exchange were permitted to farm on land controlled by the lord for their own survival. Lords, for their part, were responsible for the protection and well-being of their serfs, at least in principle, because the production of serfs under their control was what ultimately increased their power and wealth. In practice, being a serf was pretty crappy. This lord-serf relationship is also called [manorialism](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manorialism).

There were other classes in this system, like free merchants, but they were a relatively small part of the population and didn’t have much formal power beyond their wealth (although a very wealthy person could potentially buy their way into lordship). The rise of the power of other classes – particularly the merchant elite – signaled the end of feudalism and the rise of early forms of a modern market economy.

God gave man ice cream. Mom and dad are the rulers of the house which contains the ice cream and many other rewards and duties. When they’re home, you’ll have to do as they say and eat what they give you.

When they’re out, or when you’re at school, you have to listen to big sister. She may even let you have some ice cream if you’re good and listen well.

If neither mom or dad were home. And your big sister is also gone or distracted, you could eat as much ice cream as you wanted.

You could live in total freedom, eat all the snacks, and let the dirty dishes fill the sink, but then how would you get more ice cream and what will you use to eat it with when the cupboard and drawers are empty?

Your big sister listens to your parents so that the house can keep eating more ice cream. That’s why you need to listen to big sis, mom, and dad, so we can all have a nice place to eat ice cream.

The king and queen can only reach their power so far, so to rule at a distance she must have underlings who have more power than a child or an adolescent, but not as much say as an adult, so they must listen to what they’re told to do.

The lord’s need to be ready to helpthe king win his wars when called to do so. They cannot eat all the ice cream. Some has to be left for when dad gets home or we may all lose the castles we love. Probably to the Mongolian hordes.

However, when the king is gone, you are free to fight each other for control of snacks and doing the chores. Cooperate or fight, so long as the house is clean and there are good soldiers to fight (ben and jerry’s in the freezer) when the king calls for it.

Feudalism is a controversial term used to describe the economic and political system of Western Europe in the Middle Ages. What is generally refers to is how kings in this period would give out pieces of land, called fiefs, to lords would rule over it their stead in exchange for military service. This system was developed because the economic and political decline of the Western Roman Empire meant that it was no longer possible to anyone to afford paid standing armies. Fiefs came with peasant farmers, called serfs, attached to it who legally could not leave it and had to work the farmland. They would give their lords part of their harvest and pay them other fees and then, in exchange, the lord would protect them militarily.

However, I can’t define feudalism without noting that term is controversial for many reasons.

First, it was only coined in the 19th century and no one in the actual Middle Ages ever used it. (If you’re wondering what medieval people called their economic system, lots of luck; no such term has yet been found. This might have been because, excepting some radicals like [John Ball](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ball_(priest)), it’s rare to find anyone questioning how social stratification had developed; it was instead taken as having been ordained by God.)

Second, everything I described above was how the system was supposed to work, not how it actually did. In theory, kings were supposed to be able to revoke fiefs for disloyalty, but in practice, it was quite difficult to do that and make it stick. Also, lords often were not as good as protecting their peasants as they should have been. The main ways of waging war in the Middle Ages were siege warfare and launching raids on defenseless peasants villages in order to harm the landowners by proxy. In one infamous example, Edward the Black Prince embarked on a raid in the South of France in the fall of 1355. The two main military powers of the regions, the counts of Armagnac and Foix, were supposed to have defended the peasants of the region, but neither actually did so and it’s unclear exactly why, though the long-running feud between their families and/or their weakening faith in the French king may have been part of it.

Third, medieval society was not static and the way its political and economic system worked in 500 was not how it worked in 750 or 1066 or 1347. There were instead constant shifts (though not always huge ones) and for this reason, it’s increasingly questioned whether such a term is appropriate to describe the entire period from the 5th until the 15th centuries. The definition I supplied in my first paragraph seems to have applied most to the period from about 1000 to 1250, a period often known as the High Middle Ages, but only in certain places (most specifically, northern France and England after the Norman conquest in 1066).

Fourth, the system I described in the first paragraph was also not entirely true of every medieval kingdom. Scandinavia and the Scottish Highlands both never had serfdom of any type, serfdom also varied considerably in places where it did exist and was abolished in different places at different times, and some medieval kings had more direct power over the vassals than others. For instance, the English kings after the Norman conquest had far more power over their lords than, say, the Capetian kings of France and the Capetians in turn had more control their lords than the post-Investiture Controversy Holy Roman Emperors.

Fifth, if we decide to simplify feudalism to a system where most of the land is owned with a tiny warrior-landowner elite with 80-90% of the population being farmers who didn’t own squat… Well, then was neither invented in the Middle Ages nor confined to Western Europe. Instead, such a general system was found throughout Eurasia from the beginning of civilization and that system continued to be the norm until the 19th and 20th centuries when most economies began to became industrial rather than agrarian (that is, based on agriculture).

To answer your last question, parts of Scotland still practiced feudalism until as recently as 2008, when they were finally forced to end the system completely by the EU.