Fuedalism Essay, Research Paper
To combat the Vikings and other invaders, many European rulers enlisted the aid of
nobles under system known as feudalism. The nobles pledged their military assistance and
their loyalty to the rulers in return for land and protection.
The land a noble received was called a manor. Each manor was a self-sufficient
estate, which included a manor house, pastures, fields, and a village. Most of those who
lived in the manor were serfs, men and women bound to the land by their labor. Serfs were
required to work their lord?s land in exchange for a share of the crops they grew and for
protection from attack by outsiders.
Feudal society operated under a rigid class system. At top of society was the noble
class. Noblemen spent their days managing their estates, hunting, or engaging in battle.
Men held most of the power, although some women obtained positions of influence by
inheriting land from male relatives. Most noblewomen married in their early teens and
generally had large families. They spent their days directing the servants in such duties as
cooking, cleaning, spinning, weaving, brewing, and caring for livestock.
Life for serfs was more difficult than it was for nobles. Most spent their days in
unending physical labor. Both men and women worked in the fields, and women had to
perform the household tasks as well. Although the lords received the serfs, many also
required their workers to pay them fees, such as marriage or inheritance taxes.
Some serfs were able to obtain freedom, but most remained tied to the land. They
were considered property and their status was passed on to their children. Most serfs lived
in small one-room cottages. Their diet consisted mainly of soup, bread, and ale, with some
occasional meat. Life was difficult and short. Few serfs lived beyond age 40.
Most of the people living in feudal Europe had no sense of national identity and
little awareness of the outside world. In fact, few people ever traveled more than 23 miles
from their homes. Life centered around the manor and the church.
The Roman Catholic church, led by the pope, was the most important political and
social force in medieval Europe. The village church was the center of social activity for the
manor. All of the important events in a person?s life took place there. Parish priests led the
mass, conducted baptisms, weddings, and funerals, and performed acts of charity.
On a wider scale, the Roman Catholic church was the only institution in Europe
that carried on the traditions of the Roman Empire. In monasteries and convents, the
monks and the nuns worshipped, studied scriptures, and preserved the writing of the
ancient Greeks and Romans. The medieval church promoted art and culture, leaving a rich
heritage of religious music, tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, and great cathedrals.
Most important, the Roman Catholic church, under the direction of the pope,
played a leading role in guiding the politics of Europe. It often stepped into settle disputes
between warring Christian kingdoms, help negotiate political alliances, or suggest various
courses of action.
Beginning about 1100, a series of changes brought about a gradual end to feudal
society. New farm equipment, such as heavy plows that could turn the rich, marsh like soil
of northern Europe and padded horse collars that allowed horses to pull heavier loads,
increased the amount of land that could be farmed. Farm laborers could now produce
enough food to sustain large armies and a growing number of townspeople as well.
As the military strength of the kingdoms grew, the Vikings and the other invaders
were less likely to attempt to take by force what they could get by trade. Soon trading
towns and cities replaced manors as the focus of economic activity. As a result, many serfs
moved from manors to towns, where they could either work for wages or farm rented
plots on land surrounding the town.
The shift away from feudalism was further aided by the series of wars known as
the Crusades. Between 1096 and the late 1200s, waves of Christians crusaders fought
Muslims for control of the Holy Land, an area of Southwest Asia sacred to Jews,
Christians, and Muslims. Various groups of Muslims had held the Holy Land since the
600s. in 1071 the area fell to the Seljuk Turks, Muslims from Central Asia. Unlike earlier
groups, the Turks prevented Christians from visiting the holy city of Jerusalem.