The Feudal System

The Feudal System

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The greater part of medieval civilization was a time of simplicity and little cultural development. Feudalism was the structure that governed medieval society and came to represent this time period. The church became the universal symbol of medieval unity. Toward the end of the medieval period, however, town life and large-scale trade and commerce were revived. Great changes took place in the church fostering a new era and change.

Feudalism was a system of government that provided the structure for the political, social, and economic aspects of medieval civilization. It consisted of contracts between members of the nobility and less powerful nobles who served as their vassals. Economically it was a contract between the serfs who farmed that land and the nobles who owned it. Feudalism was very complex and confusing in some ways, but it could also be looked at as very simple. It was constructed in a pyramid or chess board-like form. Kings were at the top although they did not have much power, lords and vassals followed the king and had control of the lesser nobles. The serfs were at the base of the pyramid. A manor, otherwise known as the lord’s estate, was where everyone lived and worked. In exchange for a place to live, food, and mainly protection, the serfs farmed the land. Agriculture was the foundation of feudalism, where land and food was used to barter for other items. There were different taxes and positions of distinct people on the manor. This illustrates the complexity of feudal life during the medieval ages.

If you look at it as what the duties were of each specific class you see the simplicity of feudalism. Each member of medieval society had its own particular tasks to perform. The serfs preformed the most labor-intensive tasks and often did the same thing everyday. The knights protected the manor and the lords were responsible for taking care of everyone on their manor. The feudal system could be compared to a modern corporation. The serfs could be looked at as the workers, the lords as management, the knights to the security, and the king would be the CEO of the company. Feudalism was complex in its organization and simple it its implementation. During most of the medieval time period the church was the center of society and was the law of the land. The church regulated business practices, had the power to tax, controlled all people through the power of excommunication and had influence on the aesthetic aspects of life.

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The church exemplified both the simplicity and complexity of medieval life. Monks led a very simple life. Their days were spent working hard, studying, and praying. The church wanted to make life simpler by standardizing the rite, calendar, and monastic rule. It was more complex then simple however. The church held a great deal of power that was often in conflict with the monarch. The head of the church, the pope, spent much of his time in Rome while attempting to govern the rest of Europe. It was difficult to govern such a large geographical area while residing in a city that was not centrally located. In A.D. 1377, Pope Gregory XI left Avignon and returned to Rome. This was known as the great schism and it developed great entanglement in the popes’ standing in medieval society. The crusades, while increasing the status of the pope, also increased the power of the monarchs over the nobles. Feudalism was broken down and the power the church was illustrated in the crusades. Certain aspects of the church tried to simplify life while other things only made it more complex.

Population growth contributed to the migration of people from the manor to the town, which was the base of complexity in the later stage of the Middle Ages. A self-sufficient manor sometimes was the beginning of a town where people came to form a complex web of commerce and trade. Products were bought with money rather then used to barter for other necessities such as in the earlier stage of the Middle Ages. As the towns grew the people became dissatisfied with being ruled by the nobles and church. They wanted to govern and tax themselves, and eventually they began to do these things without the consent of the church or nobles. To better protect themselves the townspeople often joined together with people from other towns to form leagues. These leagues would band together to protect one another and promote trade. The people organized themselves even further with forming merchant and craft guilds. The guilds controlled the making and sale of particular products. Feudal lords as well as the church was concerned with the formation of towns. Townspeople were able to increase their wealth through the sale and manufacturing of goods, while the lords only produced what was needed for their manor. The serfs began to move away from the manor because they realized that they could have a better life if they lived in the towns. By forming autonomous towns, people created complex relationships between themselves and the monarchs and churches. This was the development of a more complex form of economic subsistence known as capitalism.

Medieval civilization was a time of change in many different ways, both simple and complex. Feudalism was organized in a quite clear way yet the structure in which it was carried out and the roles played in it were confusing. The church’s power was very perplexing in that it had the power to run the government and economy. The way that the church wanted to standardize certain things was easy to understand. Towns were complex in their organization and in the way they divided the power among the common people and the nobles and church. Medieval society that was once based on faith became rooted in scholasticism. Many new ideas brought up through the medieval civilization forced the society to be both simple and complex in many aspects.
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