In medieval times, there were three major
groups of people - the nobility, the church, and the commoners.
Relationships between groups and people were based on a balance system,
a sort of 'you do this for me, and I'll do this for you' approach.
It's easy to understand the job of the common
people. Their job was to do all the work. But what about the lord of the
manor? His job was to defend the common people. How did he plan on doing
this? There were thousands of armed warriors across Europe who
would like his land and who would have no problem killing him for it.
When the Frankish Empire collapsed, things really
got bad for a while. Without a strong central government to act as a
control, people were always fighting. Many fief owners were former
warriors. They thought of terms of battle. If they wanted more land or
more workers, they would start a war with someone.
Around 900 CE, the continued lack of a strong,
central government led to a new form of government called feudalism.
Manorialism had to do with the land. Feudalism had to do with organizing
an army quickly. But it went far beyond that. Feudal obligation was a
In the feudal system, everyone was a vassal. The
word vassal means servant. At the top of the secular heap was the local
king. Near the bottom were the knights, the professional fighting
men. In the middle were the lords, other nobles, counts and officials. At
the absolute bottom were the peasants.
Vassals could promise their loyalty to more than
one person. A vassal might pledge their support to 10 or 12 lords.
Problems arose when lords went to war. For example, let's imagine you
have pledged your support to the lord on either side of your land. These
two lords are both counting on you. Both have given you gifts of land,
weapons, and goods. What happens if these two lords go to war? You have
promised your support to both. You could find yourself quite literally
in the middle, and you would lose no matter who won.
Being a vassal was taken quite seriously. Written
agreements were rare, as very few vassals could read. But a ceremony,
called a homage, was held and witnessed.
It was critical for everyone's survival that the
lord had strong vassals. The peasants were not armed. They had no
defense. They had to count on the lord of the manor to protect them. The
lord had to count on his vassals. Everything circled around violence -
preparing, defending, recovering from battle. The people were terrified
The Catholic Church tried to limit the battles.
First, the church issued a decree (a law) that said no one could fight
in church. They they decreed that no one could fight on a holiday or on
a weekend. Then they issued a decree that made fighting legal on only 80
days a year. Since the Church had no army of its own to enforce these
decrees, private wars continued to ravage Western Europe.
Feudal System - Where do people go game
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