Feudalism was a specific form of society that was based on a peculiar manner in which land was distributed and managed. Feudalism was a dominant form of society in Medieval Europe wherein land was held by the nobility and the peasants were required to serve on the land without any form of wages or salary.
Features of Feudalism
The origin of feudalism can be traced to the Roman Empire, although this form of society became prominent in the 9th and 10th centuries. The features of this form of society were:
- The land was given in this system instead of service. The vassal was the one who provided the services; usually military services. The land that was granted was called fief or feud.
- The system of feudalism was a hierarchical system- the king was at the top, followed by different grades of the lords, knights were at the lowest rank, and the serfs were at the bottom of the hierarchy. The maximum population was that of serfs.
- Serfdom was a salient feature of feudalism. The serfs were tied to the soil and were not allowed to leave the estate or end services to the master. The serfs received a small portion of land for which they had to pay a specific rent in kind or personal services. The peasants or the serfs were subject to different taxes and forced labor.
- Land was the major productive force in the feudal economy with the decline in commerce and urban region. The feudal system was called the self-sufficient rural economy.
Crisis of Feudalism
The system of feudalism in Europe was practiced for several years. However, this system also led to a crisis in the region. One of the major crises that feudalism is associated is with the lack of national unity. People became faithful to their own landlords or the feudal lords and for them, the interests of their own area or kingdom came before the national interest. This also made many of the landholders richer than the king and led to the king failing to practice any form of sovereignty in the region.
The region was filled with chaos because of rivalries among the landlords. The lack of a uniform system of justice in the region also created issues. The feudal lords also did not pay any attention to trade and commerce and agriculture because of their fights. This further deteriorated the economic conditions of Europe in the medieval era.
The peasants bore the brunt of the crisis of feudalism. The peasants were forced to toil on the land and were not paid any wages or salaries. In addition, they were required to pay rent for the land they worked on and were not even able to manage adequate food. This led to widespread poverty in the region.
Decay of Feudalism
The crisis of feudalism eventually led to the decay of the system. The system was opposed by the king as well as the common people. The common people were against the system because they were exploited, whereas the king wanted an end to the system. After all, it did not allow the practice of ultimate power. Further, the Holy Wars in Europe exhausted the resources of the nobles and led to the passage of influence to the king and other rich people in cities. The improvements in warfare were also a big reason for the decay of feudalism. With improved warfare, the army was better developed and the castle was no longer viewed as the protective backbone. Eventually, with the nobility and the castle losing its prominence, the feudal society in Europe came to an end.