Definition Of Feudalism Essay, Research Paper
Feudalism is not an easy term to define. The use of the word feudalism was not a term
that is created by scholars in the seventeenth century, well after the medieval age. Thus
the term is filled with confusion and inaccuracy. In a way, the term feudalism tries to
condense all the aspects of a complex society into one term. By creating the term,
scholars tried to condense the society into connections to the feud, or estate granted to
?vassus? by lords. The terms vassus and lord meant different things to different groups of
peoples in different areas and during different times. Thus it is hard define precisely what
feudalism is. Scholars however have two differing descriptions about how to view
In one view, that of Marc Bloch, viewed feudalism as the complete society,
political, military, social, and economic. He saw all of these issues centering around
lordship. Karl Marx also took this perspective with one major difference; he centered on
peasants. Marxism?s main emphasis is that of the plight of the worker thus in his view of
feudalism only the peasants contributed to society.
In another major view, feudalism is largely a political term. The political power in
feudalism, these individuals claim, was treated as an individual possession and held by
those who owned the land. Thus the government was ruled by the lords and royal officials
who ruled over their land. Under the lords were their ?bodyguards? or knights. Below
these knights were the retainers or vassals.
Just as there is confusion over the precise definition of feudalism, there is
confusion over its origins. Some scholars claim that with the invention of the stirrup, the
bodyguards or retainers became more important. Those that were trained in using the
stirrup to spear his enemy became valuable to the lords, who made these men take oaths
of allegiance to them. This started the dependency of the lower class on the aristocratic
In the more widely held, modern view, Martel purchased the loyalty of subjects
with land or other wealth. These retainers became the vassals. These vassals were not
members of the nobility and thus could not rule. The ruling counts were below kings in
early feudalism, however when the kings failed to protect, the counts stepped in and
protected their people for a price, that of subservience. In this sense feudalism takes on a
form of government, the vassals and retainers making up the lower class and the counts
making up the aristocracy.
In analyzing the reading, it appears the feudalism was a source of order in Europe.
In a time of civil war and danger from barbarian invaders, feudalism provided protection
and a way of life to the peasants of Europe. While peasants were, from a modern view,
owned by the lords, in the sense that they were indebted to the lords, the peasants were
willing to sacrifice complete freedom for the protection. The direct influence of this way
of life on the peasants was that they were protected by and indebted to the lords. The
lords became their rulers as opposed to the kings.
McKay, Hill, Buckner. A History of Western Society. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999
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