The Feudal System
In the Middle Ages, at the height of the monarchial system, governing a vast amount of land became quite troublesome for a king. In those days, governing a small country such as England was extremely difficult primarily due to geographical restrictions. A king cannot single-handedly govern a large territory since it took days to travel from one point to another. Messages, edicts, and laws cannot be easily disseminated while uprisings were increasingly becoming difficult to control. It was during this period of time that King William of England, during his reign, found a quick fix to the problem in the form of the Feudal system (Pagewise).
The Feudal system was established by King William in order to “hit two birds with one stone.” By using the system, he was able to solve rebellion problems while at the same time establish control over most of England. Under the system, the king divided his land “called fiefs, to his most important nobles, his barons, and his bishops in exchange for their services and their loyalty.” These lands were then ruled by these nobles and barons (and the church at some places) who subjugated peasants or serfs who happened to live on these lands. The peasants, who primarily farm the land, agreed to this arrangement primarily due to the protection offered by these castles or manors from invading barbarians and marauders. Serfs and peasants paid taxes to their lords while the lords paid the king homages. In some cases, these fiefs were later subdivided by ruling barons in the same aspect, handing control over to trusted knights and relatives who became new lords under the baron’s rule. Eventually, the system was characterized as a “biased hierarchy of authority,” where
“rights, and power extended from the monarch downwards, creating an intricate network of obligatory situations that infringed on almost every basic human right […] Everyone but the king had a ruling lord above him to which he owed loyalty and service in exchange for land and protection.” (Pagewise)
Despite being an oppressive system, Feudalism did come up with complex legal systems that were supported by the Christian church. In some way, it also encouraged the growth of commerce and industry, leading to the evolution of the merchant class, which, ironically, heralded Feudalism’s end and issued in a new social ranking system based on class (Pagewise).
Pagewise. “Feudalism in the Middle Ages: The Rise and Fall of Feudalism had a Dramatic Impact on all Areas of Life in the Middle Ages.” Essortment. 2002. 3 March 2009 <http://www.essortment.com/all/feudalismmiddle_rgjn.htm>.