Feudalism is a grouping of legal and military customs, prevalent in medieval Europe, which flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, or any similar grouping of legal and military customs. Simply defined, it was a system for structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.
Although derived from the Latin word feodum or feudum (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 (1944), feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals and fiefs.
There is also a broader definition, as described by Marc Bloch (1939), that includes not only warrior nobility but all three estates of the realm: the nobility, the clerics and the peasantry bonds of manorialism; this is sometimes referred to as a "feudal society". Since the publication of Elizabeth A. R. Brown's "The Tyranny of a Construct" (1974) and Susan Reynolds' Fiefs and Vassals (1994), there has been ongoing inconclusive discussion among medieval historians as to whether feudalism is a useful construct for understanding medieval society. Abels notes that, "Western Civilization and World Civilization textbooks now shy away from the term 'feudalism'."
Feudalism was a system of government during the Middle Ages. Here's the general outline.
- Kings held the most power, and they granted land to Barons in exchange for soldiers. They would conquer other countries and protect the provinces.
- Barons allowed Knights to own land if they swore an oath of loyalty and devotion to serve in battle, if ever one arose. The Barons were also officially in charge of small communities and made all decisions.
- Knights then gave the serfs some pasture for farming, but they expected gifts in return. These often included marks (currency) and goods of a wide assortment.
With this method, every class in the Medieval era fulfilled their basic needs. The more authority you had to begin with, the richer the benefits. Merchants and guilds men were not included in Feudalism, as their occupations were separate and not related.