July 28, 2014

Feudalism in Medieval Europe

An important feature of the Middle ages was feudalism. The word “Feudalism” is derived from the Latin word “feud” or “fief which means a land held on condition of service. Feudalism was essentially an agrarian system. The peasants or the farmers were obliged to give a portion of the produce from the land to the lords as rent or taxes or they had to work on their Features of Feudalism
Feudalism was an organization of society and its government based on land ownership. According to the system all lands belonged to the king who divided the kingdom into several fiefs and gave each fief to a baron or tenant-in-chief on condition of military and administrative services and other aids to the lord. As the fiefs were granted to bishops and other church dignitaries, they also came under the category of tenants-in-chief. The king in his turn granted protection to them in times of danger. Thus feudalism was a political arrangement in its origin. The baron in his turn subdivided the land into several manors and gave each manor to a sub tenant on similar conditions. Thus the three important features of feudalism were feudal tenure, vassalage and immunity.

Merits of Feudalism

Feudalism proved to be a useful institution to protect the people from chaos and anarchy. It brought safety security and orderliness to the medieval society. The decentralization of political authority and distribution of power made the way to a new political development namely “parliamentary democracy” in the later centuries. The lining of military and agricultural services with a well-graded social hierarchy fixed specific rights and duties upon the rulers and the ruled. The manorial system, an integral economic part of the feudal system saved Europe from utter confusion in the farm front. The exhibition of skill and valour by the knight errant's encouraged a sprit of sacrifice and devotion to general cause among all people.

Demerits of feudalism
Feudalism was not an unmixed blessing. It brought the growth of baronial power. Jealousies among the barons and suspicion between the king and the lords encouraged local feuds. The king had to rely upon the military services provided by his vassals. The extensive holdings of the church gradually created the conflict between the Popes and the kings.
The feudal system was opposed to the emergence of a strong national government. The feudal lords ruled over their people in a tyrannical manner. They were either at war with the king or with the fellow lords. The army was not given uniform training in the kingdom. Different system of justice were practiced from fief to fief. The society was divided between the rich and the poor. As a result, peasants suffered many hardships. The church also became a very big feudal organization. Thus the feudal system became largely responsible for the conflicts between the kings and the church.
Feudalism degenerated into the sharp division of society of the haves and the have-nots. Growth of learning and education did not materialize in full bloom under feudalism. Justice became a mockery under the feudal system.

Decline of Feudalism
Feudalism as a social force began to decline even from the 12th Century onwards, and as a political force from the 13th century. The rise of strong monarchies along with the rise of the bourgeoisie or middle class as a major class, completely changed the political values. The growth of representative institutions In different parts of Europe undermined the feudal setup. The crusades and the invention of gun powder sounded the deathknell of feudalism.

During the Age of Faith, the conflict between spiritual authority and temporal power resulted in victory to the former. The Age of Faith gradually gave place to the Age of Reason. The renewed study of Roman law made it to understand the superiority of such a law as against the clumsy feudal laws.

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