Feudal monarchy: characteristics and history

The Feudal monarchy Is the classical form of feudalism of Western Europe, in medieval times, between the 9th and 14th centuries. As a system of government, feudalism imbued power with monarchs or feudal kings.

Power was based on the framework of social, cultural, legal and military customs that interwoven the members of the nobility and clergy - the vassals - on the basis of fidelity to the person of the monarch.

Feudal monarchy

Generalizing, and in order to enrich this succinct definition, the feudal monarchy meant a way of structuring the society around the relations derived from the possession and tenancy of the earth. In exchange, the vassals had to offer different types of services and jobs, executed for the crown. The feudal lords officiated as intermediaries between the king and the subjects. The latter never had direct contact with the monarch.

François-Louis Ganshof (1944) defines feudalism as a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations between the warrior nobility and the feudal lords. This structure was based on three key pillars: the lords, vassals and fiefdoms (the land).

A finer definition is authored by Marc Bloch (1939) who describes the system as Feudal society . Bloch involves, in addition to the obligations of the warrior nobility, those of the three kingdom states: the nobility, the clergy and the peasants.

Feudal monarchy: characteristics and history


The term feudal or Feodal Derives from the medieval Latin word Feodum . The etymology of feodum comes from multiple roots. The most accepted and widely extended conception is that of Germanic origin; Other theories suggest an Arab origin.

Initially, in medieval Latin-European documents, the concession of land in exchange for service was called Benefit (from Latin). Later, the term Feudum, or Feodum (Lubetski 1998, pp. 248-250), began to appear in the documents instead of the word Benefit .

Marc Bloch, author of the most widespread theory, relates the origin of the word feudum With the French term Fehu-oh, (Livestock), which is equivalent to A mobile object of value (Bloch, 1961, pp. 165-166). The author explains that at the beginning of the tenth century the land was valued in monetary terms but its value was paid with the equivalent of moving objects such as weapons, horses, clothing, food.

Uses and customs denominated ugly To this form of payment. This term was generalized for all that was used as means of payment in place of money and extended to the land itself since the land was a good of exchange with which the fidelity of the vassals was paid. According to the Germanic theory (Stubbs, 1875-78, p.251), over time, the old word ugly (Movable goods of exchange) became in Feu Referring to landed property, thus applied to real estate.

In the eighteenth century, Adam Smith, in describing economic systems, effectively coined the forms of Feudal government Y Feudal system In his book The Wealth of Nations (1776). In the 19th century the adjective feudal Evolved into a noun, Feudalism Cheyenne, 2005, pp. 828-831). The term feudalism is recent, appearing for the first time in French in 1823, Italian in 1827, English in 1839 and German in the second half of the nineteenth century.


Feudalism, in its various forms, arises as a result of the decentralization of an empire: especially in the Carolingian empires, which lacked the necessary bureaucratic infrastructure to support cavalry and the ability to allocate land to these mounted troops.

As a result, the soldiers began designing a system of government that determined that the assigned land was heritable and, by empowering themselves, generated a system in the territory that covered the social, political, judicial and economic spheres.

From this growth, the empires significantly diminished their unit power and their zones of influence. From the strengthening of infrastructure on the part of the monarchs, to maintain or retake exclusive power as in the case of European monarchies, feudalism began to yield to this new power structure and eventually disappeared.

Life in times of feudalism

For the security proper and for the general defense of the regions of a certain king, in the Middle Ages communities were formed around the castle of a lord (lord), the central master. Then there was the high clergy. For their part, the peasants lived in farmhouses that surrounded the farms and farmland.

These isolated hamlets received occasional visits from street vendors, pilgrims on the way to the Crusades, or soldiers from other fiefdoms.

The feudal system

The king granted parcels of land to certain nobles and these were constituted feudal lords. By those times the power of the king was agreed and shared with the main religious authorities.

The attributions of the king, the Primum inter pares The lord of the lords, the first among his peers, were to lead the military campaigns, collect taxes and act as supreme judge. The King divided the land among the feudal lords who in turn parceled it among the nobles who made it produce using peasants.

The fief

Feudo was the name of the land space assigned to a feudal lord. In return for a portion of land from that fief, the nobles were to pay to the feudal lord taxes and other forms of taxes such as to render their services for war to the owner of the land. Those who served as military agents of the nobles were known as knights. His duty was to protect the king and the nobility who owned the land.

The feudate was the person who had reciprocal obligations to the monarch, in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. Obligations included military support and mutual protection, in exchange for certain privileges, usually including land, the fief granted to him as a tenant.

Vassals and peasants

At the base of the pyramid of the feudal hierarchy were the serfs, peasants who worked the land only for the right to have a place to live and, besides, they paid taxes to their next superior master, owner of the land.

The serfs constituted the largest class within feudalism, but, at the same time, the least benefited socially and financially within the system. The nobles divided their land among nobles of lower rank, and these became their servants or"vasallos". Many of these vassals became so powerful that the kings themselves began to envisage difficulties in controlling them.

The peasant life

The peasants worked the land and produced the goods that the Mr and the king They needed This exchange was not equitable and generated serious problems and great difficulties for serfs.

The taxes were excessive and required to deliver much of the crops. According to medieval law, peasants owned nothing, and yet they had to pay for everything in different forms. The feudal lords, in close association with the church, were elevated to judges to enforce the laws in their domains.

The Role of Women

Women, whether they were nobles or peasants, were given a minor role in society. Their tasks were limited to household chores and the care and attention of the family and the elderly. In addition, they also worked in the field and often had to hunt to feed the family.

There were midwives, herreras, merchants, merchants and apothecaries. Some dedicated some time to creative activities such as writing, playing musical instruments, dancing or painting. Others turned to spiritual subjects and became nuns. At times, they also had to take up arms to defend their person, their families, their houses of occasional robbers.

Witches and healers

On those women who excelled in the art of curing and stood out for their intuition and intelligence, the stigma of witches fell, for holding capacities"through spells". Among the famous women of the Middle Ages were the feminist writer Christine de Pisan, the abbess and music Hildegard von Bingen and the patron of the Eleanor arts of Aquitaine.

The daughter of a French peasant, Joan of Arc,"by divine command through the voice of the Archangel Gabriel"took on the armor and led the French troops to victory against the English invasion in the early fifteenth century. Juana, known at that time as"the maid of Orleans", for her daring (wearing military armor and behaving like a soldier) was accused of being a witch and condemned to die at the stake. Later it was sanctified and after its beatification happened to be known like Santa Juana.

Feudal monarchy: characteristics and history 1 Joan of Arc's Death at the Stake (1843). Hermann Anton Stilke.

England and feudalism

By 1100, certain castle-owning barons, supreme heads of courts and tribunals, grew in power and influence so quickly that they began to rival the king's institutions. They thus became a serious threat to the crown. In the interest of this unprecedented progress, Barons Increased their demands and claims in terms of treatment and benefits.

In 1215, the English barons formed an alliance that forced King John I to sign the Magna Carta. Although it did not grant rights to ordinary people, the Magna Carta limited the king's fiscal powers and required trials before issuing a sentence. It was the first time that an English monarch had to be subject to the law.

The Magna Carta Libertatum, (Magna Carta or Magna Charta) was agreed by King John I of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, on June 15, 1215. It was written by the Archbishop of Canterbury to mediate between the unpopular king and A group of rebellious barons, in order to guarantee, through a council of 25 barons, the rights and attributes of the Church, the protection of the barons against illegal imprisonment and arbitrary justice.

In addition to implementing a control in the feudal taxes that perceived the crown. However, and for lack of compliance of the parties, the letter was annulled by Pope Innocent III. This led to the first Baron War. After the death of John I, the government of the regency of his little son, Henry III, reprinted the document in 1216, eliminating from it the most radical and radical contents.

Just at the end of the war of 1217, the Magna Carta was part of the Treaty of Peace agreed in Lambeth. For lack of funds, Enrique III returned to issue the letter in 1225 in exchange for a concession of new taxes. His son, Edward I, repeated the exercise in 1297, but this time the Magna Carta was part of the state law of England.

Feudal monarchy: characteristics and history 2 Drawing of King George of England signing the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215 http://news.bbc.co.uk/

The feudal revolution in France

In its origins, the feudal land grant was instituted on the basis of terms of a personal bond between the lord and the vassal. With the passage of time and the transformation of fiefs into hereditary possessions, the nature of the system came to be seen as a form of"land policy", an expression used by the historian Marc Bloch, quoted by Chris Wickham (1995, p. .12).

In the eleventh century France experienced"feudal revolution"or"mutation"and a"fragmentation of powers"different from the development of feudalism in England, Italy, or Germany in the same period (Bloch by Wickham, 1995, p. 13) .

Later, counties and duchies began to fragment into smaller holdings as the lower ranks took control of local lands and privatized a wide range of prerogatives and state rights (Whickham 2009). Not only the highly profitable rights of justice, but also the travel, market, rights to use forests, the feudal lord's mill , etc. (Whickham 2009, p.518), were part of the personalization of power.

End of European feudalism and servitude

Feudalism was gradually eroded and disappeared in most of Western Europe in about 1500. On the one hand because the military power of the kings went from armies conformed by nobility to professional military cadres.

On the other hand, the black plague, bubonic plague or black death reduced the possibility of pressure of the nobility on the lower classes. The institutional remains of feudalism, according to the historian Georges Lefevre, were abolished at the dawn of the French Revolution, on August 4, 1789 when it was announced that"... the National Assembly will completely abolish the feudal system."

By Assembly it was decreed the equality in the payment of taxes, the recovery and rescue of the patrimonial rights. Personal servitude was abolished without the serfs having to pay any compensation. This is important because the peasants paid to be freed from the seigniorial rights.

These quotas affected more than a quarter of the productive lands of France, which provided great profits to the large landowners. Since the majority refused to pay, in 1793 the obligation was canceled. Thus the peasants for the first time held power over the land and stopped paying tithing to the church (Hanson 2007: 293-294).

Equality was also guaranteed before the law and freedom of religion, among other rights achieved (Lefevre, 1962: 130). The system continued in parts of Central and Eastern Europe until 1850. Russia finally abolished servitude in 1861.


  1. Ganshof, F-L (1944). Qu'est-ce feodalité. Translated into English by Philip Grierson as Feudalism, with a foreword by Stenton, F.M., 1st ed.: New York and London, 1952; 2 Na Ed.: 1961, 3d ed: 1976.
  2. Bloch, M. (1939). Feudal society , Volume 1. Routledge, 1989.
  3. Lubetski, M. (1998). Boundaries of the ancient Near Eastern world: a tribute to Cyrus H. Gordon . "Notices on Pe'ah, Fay and Feudum"by Alauddin Samarrai. Continuum International Publishing Group.
  4. Bloch, M (1961). Feudal society . Tr. THE. Manyon. Volume 2. Chicago: University Press.
  5. Stubbs, W. (1875-78). The Constitutional History of England . 3 Volumes, 2 Na Vol.
  6. Cheyette F. (2005). Feudalism European In New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Vol. 2, ed Maryanne Cline Horowitz. Thomas Gale
  7. Annenberg Learner, teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum. Feudal Life . Retrieved on 12/29/2016 from learner.org.
  8. Whickham, Ch. (Et al) (1995). The crisis in history. Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca.
  9. Whickham, Ch. (2009). The Inheritance of Rome A History of Europe from 400 to 1000. Allen Lane, Penguin Books.
  10. Bubonic plague: the most devastating plague pandemic in the history of mankind that affected Europe in the fourteenth century and reached a peak between 1346 and 1361, killing one-third of the continental population.
  11. Hanson, P. (2007). The A to Z of the French Revolution. Scarecrow Press Inc.
  12. Lefebvre, G. (1962). The French Revolution: Vol. 1, from Its Origins to 1793 . Columbia U.P.

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