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Feudalism was an economic, political, and social structure in Europe from approximately the ninth century to the fifteenth century. This system was based on reciprocal obligations that structured not only European society, but also European politics, and it was used most notably in England and France. In the feudal system, lords owned vast tracts of land and held considerable power over certain regions. In part, this system developed because there were not nations or countries as we think of them today. Rather than thinking of themselves as British or French subjects united under a king, people in Europe thought of themselves in terms of their local connections and families.

Lords gave men known as vassals tracts of land (called fiefs), which also came with significant power over the people living on this land. In return, vassals promised loyalty, taxes, and military service to the lord. Vassals often allowed peasants, or serfs, to live on and work this land. Serfs provided loyalty and a share of their crops, and in return, they received protection and land on which to live and work, although they did not own this land. Thus, the feudal system formed a social hierarchy, with lords and vassals at the top and peasants and serfs (the majority) at the bottom.

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