How was the feudal system apparent in the movie "Cadfael: One Corpse Too Many"?

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geosc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Definition of Feudalism:

I have seen a Cadfael movie, but I don't remember anything about it.  I can tell you a little bit about feudalism.  Maybe that will help you recognize what is apparent in the movie.

Feudalism was a social system which is to say it encompassed everything about life: the form of government, the type of economy, the social habits of the people, and so on.  Society was organized sort of like the military.  There were definite ranks and each rank owed respect and work to the rank above it and owed protection to the rank below it. In fact, society was organized for the purpose of providing a military force.

Theoretically the king owned all of the land in the kingdom.  The use of the land was divided up between the king and several barons.  In return for the use of their share of the land, each baron was to furnish a big number of knights to the king's army if the kingdom had to go to war.  Each baron divided up the use of his share of the land amongst a whole bunch of men who would be the knights in case of war.  Each knight gave the use of some of his land to freemen, and the use of another part of his land to villens (comes from village I think), who were a type of slave.  They could not be bought and sold, but they belonged to the parcel of land to which they were assigned.  They could do nothing else but farm that land.  Also, each knight had some land which he did not assign to a freeman or a villen; the villens were required to work so many hours each week on the knight's land.  A portion of each farmer's farm produce went to his knight; a portion of each knight's farm produce went to his baron; and the barons had to send some of theirs' to the king.  (The freemen and knights and barons had to pay taxes, too.)

The knights or the barons or both (I am not sure) held courts to decide disputes between the people who were dependent upon them.  The king also had a court to try bigger offences.

Lower ranking people showed great respect and deferrence to higher ranking people.  Higher ranking people were supposed to be respectful to lower ranking people as long as the lower ranking people "behaved" themselves.  Powerful people don't always do what they are supposed to do, but much of the time they did.  They might do bad things to lower ranking people who were not respectful to them.  So, most of the time, everybody was very respectful to everybody else.

Higher ranking people owed protection to lower ranking people.  And, as long as the lower ranking people fulfilled their obligations of respect and work or knight-service, the higher ranking people could not take their assigned land away from them.  There were some exceptions to this rule, but they had to be approved by a court of law.

A baron in England, had the use of a vast amount of land, but it was not all in one place. It was scattered about among several different counties. Which ever baron had the most land in a county, he was usually the sheriff of that county. He had great power; it would not be inappropriate to call him a vice-king for the county.

Power, in those days was inherited. When the old king or baron died, it was usually his oldest son who became the new baron. This was made the custom in order to preserve the peace, so that different people would not contend (make war)for the same position. Sometimes, if all the barons did not like the person who was about to become the new king, they could get together and select a different person to be king, but this was dangerous, because if some barons liked one person and some liked another person, they might go to war over who was to be the new king.

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