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hi1954 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Feudalism is a term applied to the type of social and governmental structure associated with the Medeival period.  People were divided into three broad ranges of class: 1) the nobility; 2) the clergy; and 3) the commoners, or peasants. Each of these classes were also subdivided, and the entire structure rested on an interlocking set of mutual responsibilities.

The nobility were divided into royalty, ie kings, queens, princes, etc.; other higher nobility, such as counts, barons, etc.; and the regular mass of knights and squires.  All knights and squires were from noble families, but in any given century about 50% of the nobility fell from that class into either poverty or becoming merchants, and were replaced by a fairly equal number making their way into the nobility by various means.  Early on this was almost always through valor in warfare as foot soldiers, but as time passed rich merchants and sage advisors could become ennobled through service or (among the rich peasants) marrying into noble families which needed money. The king owed loyalty and beneficence to the lords, who owed the same to knights.  The knights owed loyalty and service, especially in war, to the lords, and they to the king.

The purpose of the nobility was combat- all the men were full-time professional soldiers, and this was their only function in society.

While the nobility were meant to protect all of society, the clergy's purpose was to pray for all. The Pope reigned supreme in Western Europe through the Middle Ages, followed by cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, monks and various lay orders.  They were forbidden to fight with the edge of the sword, but some bishops went to war with weapons such as maces to get around this.  The upper realms of the Church, of course, were all from noble families, so this was perhaps not surprising.

The peasants worked for the good of all, or that was the theory.  Rich peasants, such as prosperous merchants or farming peasants who were able to hire others, were still peasants.  The serfs were the bottom of society, tied to the land they lived on as firmly as slaves.  In theory the serfs were not to be molested in war, because they raised the food on which all depended.  Unfortunately, this theory was never really followed, and the peasants were the ones mainly despoiled by campaigns.  They were also heavily taxed by their lords, and were required to spend negotiated amounts of their work time working the lord's crops and other work.

There was another group essentially outside society, the Jews.  Although mistrusted and often persecuted, they were essential to feudalism because as non-Christians they could lend money for interest, and were therefore indispensible to the merchants and the nobility.  On campaigns, lords in need of money to pay their soldiers and buy necessities would pawn their plate and other valuables.  A king in need of money to pay for a war used Jewish merchants, until the rise of the great Italian banking families (such as the Visconti) in the "High Middle Ages."

For an excellent study on feudalism in all it's values and contradictions in practice, I suggest A Distant Mirror, by historian Barbara W. Tuchman.

ik9744 | Student

Feudalism is something you'll learn in middle school. Feudalism is European version of a social structure or system. The Feudal system consist of Monarchs, Nobles, Knights/Vassals, Merchants, Farmers, Craftsmen, and Peasants/Serfs. If I could recall it correctly the Serfs are lower then the Peasants. The Peasants have rights to leave their noble's ground [land]. They are basically slaves, making the Peasants slaves with a little freedom. The Peasants can leave the land anytime they want and whenever they want, but they won't. Outside the land there is no knights to guard you, it's surrounded by a forrest, you'll get lost or eaten. Moving up one more structure on the Feudalism we have the Merchants, Farmers, and Craftsmen. As in the name of each of them you'll probably understand what are their roles or jobs in the feudal hierarchy. Moving up one more is Knights and Vassals. They are trained soldiers protecting the serfs and peasants. They are responsible for monitoring the place during night time. The Knights are trained to sing, dance, fight, and etc. Just imagine a what a wonderful, brave, and almost perfect knight would be like. Above the brave knight is the Nobles. The Nobles owns the lands that the serf lives on, and get a portion of the food the farmers, serfs, and peasants get, just like paying taxes, they needed to pay for the land each month. Above the Noble is the last group in the Feudal Hierarchy, the Monarchs. The Monarchs are like the king, the highest in charge. To be honest it is the highest in charge and is the king. This is all it is to the hierarchy of Feudalism. I hope this answers your question!

Short answer:

Feudalism is Europe's version of the Social Structure. It consist of Monarchs, Nobles, Knights/Vassals, Craftsmen, merchant, farmers, peasants, and lastly serfs.

bhimbk | Student

Feudalism,so far as i know,is the social system where the people depend on nobleman for their life. The people work for the landlords and in return, the people work and provide security to the landlords.


atyourservice | Student

Social system in europe where people dedicated their lives to the rich who in return provided them the necessity for life and protection.