Imagine you live in a place that is really pretty.
There are hills all around you and lots of open space. There's a beautiful river and good rainfall. You have good neighbors and a home of your own. It's just a little home with a dirt floor and a thatched roof, but you like it. It's what you know.
You also know there are people who live on the hill right next to yours. You've never actually seen them, but you've heard about them. You've heard that the people who live on the other side of the hill burn down houses just for the fun of it. They'd burn down yours if they knew where you lived.
You are really afraid of the people who live on the other side of the hill, so you don't want to travel past them. Instead, you stay home where things are pleasant. You make your own shoes and bake your own bread. You live among people you've known all your life.
One person in your community is the leader. He is a warrior. He has weapons. He showed up one day with other men with weapons. Pretty soon, he had taken on the job of protecting all the people on your hill. He promised if trouble came, if the people who lived on the other side of the hill came and tried to burn your house down, he would protect you. You agree that if he will protect you, you and all the other good people who live on your hill will promise to work together to grow the crops, bake the bread, sew the clothes, make the tools, and do the work. That is your job.
The Manor: That's what people did for a very long time. They lived on their hill. They made everything they used. They grew all their food. They never went anywhere. In exchange, the lord of the manor, who lived in the best house and did none of the work, promised to protect them. In these violent times, that was a really important promise. Peasants barely had enough time to grow crops and make goods. They did not have time to learn how to fight as well, so they needed someone who knew how to fight to protect them. The people did not believe the lord of the manor would live very long, but better him than them. This was called the Manorial System. A manor is not a house. The manor was the mediumest unit of feudal government. Together, the lord and the village made up a unit called the manor.
There were many manors. All manors were at the very bottom of feudal government. At the very top was the king. In between were lords and other nobles and officials.
Under the feudal system everyone served someone above them. The feudal system was based on a pyramid of vassals. A vassal meant someone who serves. The peasants and serfs were not involved in the vassal system, not really. Their pledge was to do all the work on their manor. They were not warriors. The bottom of the vassal system were the professional warriors, the knights. In the middle were the lords and other nobles, and the officials. At the top was the king. Vassals could promise their loyalty to more than one person. You could be a lord yourself and pledge your support to 10 or 12 other lords. Problems arose when lords went to war. For example, you might have pledged your support to the lords on either side of your land. What happens if they go to war? You have pledged to fight for both of them. If you did not do what you promised, your land could be taken. You would lose no matter who won. But if you did not pledge your support to more than one lord, you might not have enough fighting men to call on to help you protect your manor if you were attacked. War was constant.
Where were the serfs in all this? They went with the land. If a manor was forfeited due to battle or debt, the lord and his family had to leave, if they were still alive. The serfs did not. They stayed with the land. Peasants were not tied to the land. They could leave their manor if they wanted. But where would they go? Besides, they lived in a place that was really pretty. They did not do battle. They pledged to do all the work for the lord of their manor instead. Whoever was the lord of the manor had the responsibility to protect them from the people on the other side of the hill. They were very grateful for that and for all the good things in their lives. If a new lord took over, they knew the new lord would protect them. Their lives continued as they always had.