Feudalism refers to a set of political and military practices that were practiced in medieval Europe between the 9th and 15th centuries (White 8). There is no precise definition of the term. However, in the contemporary study of the history, feudalism can be used to imply the legal and administrative order that was in place in conventional Europe. The system entailed the exchange of reciprocal undertakings to provide protection and loyalty to the administrative, ecclesiastical, and military elites in Europe. The practice was also prevalent in Japan among other societies. Feudalism as defined in the era of Karl Marx can be seen in its controversial contexts. In the period between 19th and 20th centuries, the proponents of capitalism and socialism engulfed feudalism in their controversial debates. The prominent socialists such as Marx and Friedrich Engels argued that the world progressed from feudalism to capitalism and lastly to socialism. Thus, they rendered feudalism a political act (White 24).
The onset of feudalism in Medieval Europe can be attributed to the societal setting. A significant section of medieval Europe was dependent on feudalism. The system was based on the practice of land allocation in exchange of services. The king owned all the land in medieval Europe. He would allocate land to his most important noblemen, the barons, and bishops. In return, the noblemen had to pledge loyalty to the king and promise to provide the king with soldiers in case a war broke out. The noblemen then subdivided their land to the lower lords who were forced to become their servants. In the lowest level were the peasants who worked in the land. The peasants had almost no rights, owned tiny pieces of property, and had no servants.
Feudalism was maintained by relationship of compulsion and communal service that existed between the peasants and the lords (White 54). The peasant held his land as a grant from the lord of the manor. In return, the peasants were obliged to offer services to the lords. In practice, the feudal lords rather than the kings governed the feudal system. In most instances, the king acted as the figurehead. The lords administered their territories, dispensed justice, minted their own currency, levied tolls and taxes, and demanded for military services from their servants. The servants owned no property in the kingdom. Thus, they were forced to offer their services to the lords in order to receive favors and grants from the lords.
Feudalism can also be attributed to the existence of poor peasant farmers. The king only leased land to the wealthy and powerful barons who had absolute control of the leased land. In return, the barons or the lords of the manor would be required to serve in the royal council, provide soldiers in case of war, and pay taxes to the king. Additionally, they were required to provide lodging facilities and food to the king when he toured the country. However, the barons did not work. Thus, they had to look for workers to work for them in order for them to fulfill their obligations to the king. The barons maintained large chunks of land for their private use and divided the rest among the knights. Knights provided military services and protected the lord and the manor from attacks. They kept a substantial part of their land for private use subdividing only small portions to the serfs.
The last level was the serfs or peasants. These were poor and had minute portions of land. Thus, they were forced to free labor, food, and services to the knights whenever they were demanded. The serfs had no rights. They had no authority to leave the manor and had to seek permission from the lord of the manor before they could marry. The existence of the poor serfs established and maintained feudalism in medieval Europe. The serfs had no alternative than work for the knights. The system was maintained up to the highest level of the king. This maintained the relationship of compulsion and communal service, which maintained feudalism.
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