Feudalism in Medieval Europe

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By jwblackwell



9 Questions

What is feudalism?

What is manorialism?

What is the origin of the word 'feudalism'?

What was the impact of the French Revolution on feudalism?

What is the applicability of the term feudalism in Central and Eastern European countries?

What is the classic hierarchy of feudalism?

What is the broader definition of feudalism according to Marc Bloch?

What is Karl Marx's definition of feudalism?

What is the modern definition of feudalism?


Legal and Military Structure in Medieval Europe:

  • Feudalism was a system of structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labor that flourished in medieval Europe between the 9th and 15th centuries.

  • Feudalism was not conceived of as a formal political system by the people who lived during the Middle Ages.

  • There is no commonly accepted modern definition of feudalism among scholars.

  • The classic definition of feudalism by François Louis Ganshof (1944) describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations that existed among the warrior nobility and revolved around the three key concepts of lords, vassals, and fiefs.

  • The broader definition of feudalism, as described in Marc Bloch's Feudal Society (1939), includes not only the obligations of the warrior nobility but the obligations of all three estates of the realm: the nobility, the clergy, and the peasantry, all of whom were bound by a system of manorialism.

  • The term feudalism is often used by analogy in discussions of feudal Japan, the Zagwe dynasty in medieval Ethiopia, and other non-Western societies.

  • The applicability of the term feudalism has been questioned in the context of some Central and Eastern European countries, such as Poland and Lithuania.

  • The word feudal comes from the medieval Latin feudālis, the adjectival form of feudum 'fee, feud', first attested in a charter of Charles the Fat in 884.

  • The feudal revolution in France saw a "fragmentation of powers" that was unlike the development of feudalism in England or Italy or in Germany in the same period or later.

  • Most of the military aspects of feudalism effectively ended by about 1500.

  • Even when the original feudal relationships had disappeared, there were many institutional remnants of feudalism left in place.

  • In the Kingdom of France, following the French Revolution, feudalism was abolished with a decree of August 11, 1789, by the Constituent Assembly.Abolition of Feudalism and the History of the Concept of Feudalism

  • Feudalism was abolished in various parts of Europe at different times, ranging from the early 19th century in Naples to as late as 2008 in the island of Sark.

  • The feudal order encompassed society from top to bottom, including the warrior aristocracy, peasantry, and estates of the Church, but the urban classes occupied a distinct position outside the classic feudal hierarchy.

  • The concept of feudalism emerged in the mid-18th century through works such as Montesquieu's "The Spirit of Law," and Henri de Boulainvilliers's "Historical Account of the Ancient Parliaments of France or States-General of the Kingdom."

  • The term "feudal system" was used by Adam Smith to describe a social and economic system defined by inherited social ranks.

  • Karl Marx defined feudalism as the order preceding capitalism, characterized by the power of the ruling class in their control of arable land, leading to a class society based on the exploitation of peasants who farm these lands.

  • In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, historians J. Horace Round and Frederic William Maitland arrived at different conclusions about the character of Anglo-Saxon English society before the Norman Conquest in 1066.

  • Marc Bloch approached feudalism from a sociological perspective, presenting a feudal order not limited solely to the nobility but encompassing peasants as well.

  • François Louis Ganshof defined feudalism from a narrow legal and military perspective, arguing that feudal relationships existed only within the medieval nobility itself.

  • Elizabeth A. R. Brown and Susan Reynolds rejected the label "feudalism" as an anachronism that imparts a false sense of uniformity to the concept, arguing that it is only a construct with no basis in medieval reality.

  • The term "feudalism" has been applied to non-Western societies, but the many ways in which it 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.

  • Richard Abels notes that Western and World Civilization textbooks now shy away from the term "feudalism."

  • This text also provides information on the history of feudalism, the evolution of the concept, and challenges to the feudal model.


Test your knowledge of the legal and military structure in medieval Europe with this informative quiz. Explore the intricate system of feudalism and its impact on society during the Middle Ages. Challenge yourself with questions about the key concepts of lords, vassals, and fiefs, and learn about the broader definition of feudalism that includes the obligations of all three estates of the realm. Discover the evolution of the concept of feudalism and its challenges, and see if you can identify the institutional remnants of feudalism that

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