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A Really Interesting View On Feudalism

By Edited Jun 13, 2014 0 0

Feudalism was the social structure of the Middle Ages; it is meant that the country was not governed by the king but by individual lords, who administered their own estates, dispensed their own justice, made their own money, charged taxes and tolls, and demanded military service from vassals.  Feudalism is a political and economic system which was very significant and lasted fairly long in western European history.  This is the reason for the precede rise of the European class of merchants and also manufacturers who developed capitalism as a new form of economy and industry as a new form of technology.  Feudalism was diverse over different parts of Europe, nonetheless, overall it entailed serfs being dominated by the local nobility; however, the serfs had some control over the means and process of production and rights to the land.  

 The Fall Of The Roman Empire, Arab Invasion Of Europe, And Decline Of The Carolingian Empire

There are three major historical processes which involved different empires that promoted the spread of feudalism; they include the fall of the Roman Empire, the Arab invasion of Europe, and lastly the decline of the Carolingian Empire.  The fall of the Roman Empire is significant to feudalism because the consequences of the decline and collapse were an immense fragmentation of political organization.  As the western Empire broke into many pieces, smaller independent political units emerged; this is the foundation of feudalism as there is segmentation between the landlords who construct their own little community with their serfs living and working  on their land.  The Arab invasion of Europe is important in understanding feudalism because feudalism involves minimal commerce; production is for local consumption and therefore, there is little trade.  The Arab Empire began to build to rival Rome’s Empire, and eventually took control of the entire Mediterranean Sea.  This resulted in the end of long-distance commerce in Western Europe; this effected feudalism as the serfs cultivated their land using their lord’s grain mill to feed their family, as well as providing the lord with a percentage of the production.  Lastly, the decline of the Carolingian Empire encouraged feudalism since the Carolingian Empire did not have a good system of taxation, and wasn’t able to keep the roads and bridges in good repair; feudalism is where they turned for assistance.  With feudalism came some conditions as a form of warfare protection of populations exposed to the continual threat of war.  These conditions include trade which transformed into a local area, agriculture regression, and the total population decreased, especially in Rome.    

 The Way Of Life For The Peasants And Serfs

Poverty was the way of life for the peasants and serfs.  The peasant’s main concern was how to feed their family and keep everyone alive.  This is shown in the movie, The Tree of Wooden Clogs, where a father came home and found that his wife was pregnant with their sixth child, his only concern was how he was going to feed the child.  This movie truly shows how the feudal system functioned in the Middle ages, how these peasants were treated and how they lived their life.  The peasants in the Feudal Mode of Production were freer than slaves in antiquity; however, they were not yet free because every decision they made had to be authorized by their lord.  A serf, who were agricultural labourers tied to working on a lord’s estate, were owned by their lord; nonetheless, they had human rights, they had a right to own their family and produce their own crops to support themselves and their family.  In addition to rent, a serf had to pay many tributes to their lords.  If the rent was not paid or the tribute was not made, the landlord had every right to take the land away from the peasant or even imprison them.  This is revealed in the film, where you see the farmer’s life of constant struggle, and must provide a certain percentage of their work to their landlord, who in return lets the families live and work on his land.  A serf could not permanently leave his holding or his village without the lord’s permission, nor could he marry, change his occupation, or dispose of his property without his lord’s permission.  He could however, be transferred, along with his land to a new lord.  The serf and his family are living on the lord’s property.  In the movie, there is a scene where a son’s shoes were worn out from walking a long distance to school, and the father chops down a tree to make a new pair of shoes for his son; however, he did it without the landlord’s consent, and there in return was a harsh punishment.  The serf is not allowed to take the property from the lord; the lord has to give permission to the serf.              

 A Serf’s Position

A serf’s position is between a free peasant and a slave.  Slaves had no right to own anything, not even their children; they are human beings who are reduced to their masters.  The end of slavery is what defines the beginning of feudalism.  A slave was not entitled to anything, where as a serf was allowed to own their land and their family.  Children of the serf were allowed to be educated; however, it was considered a crime for a peasant’s child to be educated.  A serf is much freer than the slave in antiquity; however, they had to pay taxes to the landlord for the land they used; the serf was still dependent on their landlord.  All of the land belonged to the king, who distributed it to the landlords, who then provided it to the peasants to tame.  In theory the king was the chief feudal lord, but in reality the individual lords were the highest in their own territory; usually the lords could field greater armies than the king.  The landlord provided the serf with access to land and military protection, while the serf provided the landlord with agricultural labour, and a portion of the crops they produced.  A serf was bound to a hereditary piece of land and to the will of his landlord.  They obtained their survival by cultivating the land that was owned by a lord.  This was the main feature which differentiated the serfs from the slaves, who were bought and sold without any reference to land.  The serf supported his family by providing his own food and clothing from his own productivity.  A significant fraction of the grain that was grown on his land was given to his lord; the serf was only to use his lord’s grain mills. 

 The Main Obligations Of Peasants And Serfs

The main obligations of the peasants/serfs to the landlords in the Feudal Mode of Production were rent, cess, and forced labour.  The peasants paid rent to the landlord in the form of either cash or produce.  The amount of rent depended on various factors, which include the quality of soil, types of crops that could be grown on the land, the availability of water, etc.  Peasants had to also pay cesses, which is generally a form of tax.  For example, when a peasant wanted to cultivate the land they had already ploughed, they had to pay a cess to the landlord.  There was basically a cess due every time there was a new step in the process of producing the crops.  Furthermore, there was an obligation of forced labour from the peasants, such as transporting the grains, making their own carts and bullocks, etc.  These obligations were definitely indicative of the peasants' lack of freedom since they could not fully express themselves.  These obligations put a lot of strain on the peasants which absents their freedom. 

 Feudal Society Lacking Central Authority

A feudal society lacks a central authority and the distribution of governmental power through the granting of legal authority over certain land by higher lords to serfs.  There is an obligation attached to the holding of the land by the serf household; they have to provide the lord with specific labour services subject to the custom of holding.  These obligations of the peasants/serfs were indicative of the peasants’ lack of freedom because these obligations, such as paying taxes and tributes as well as needing the permission of the lord to make a significant choice in their life limits the serfs from liberty.  These serfs and peasants were focused only on mere survival and suffered their way through life, working very hard each and every day.



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