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Feudal Society
Feudal society was divided into three clases: the tillers of the soil, the citizens or bourgeoisie, and the nobility. Tillers of the soil were of two classes: peasants (rustici, villeins) and serfs. The former were free men who paid so much a year for the use of their lands, which were hereditary. Being independent of their lords, they were free to dispose of their possessions and might amass considerable property. The serfs were slaves who were attached to the soil. They were allowed to marry and each received a bit of land to cultivate. Each paid a head-tax to his lord. A serf could neither leave his land nor be removed from it. If he ran away, he was returned if caught, unless she had entered the service of the clergy. Serfs might buy their freedom. Sometimes they were set free by the lord.

Citizens were inhabitants of cities. Since many cities arose after the establishment of feudalism, citizens were under the control of some lord. They resented this greatly. As cities grew large and rich, they resisted feudalism and ultimately contributed to its downfall.

Nobles were of two classes: secular and ecclesiastical. The only occupation of the former was the profession of arms. At first only those who could afford to equip themselves with arms could become nobles. By the 13th century, nobility had become hereditary. Wealth was no longer the passport to the noble rank. Marriage between nobles and commoners was forbidden, or else regarded as a méssalliance. In Germany and France, all chidren of a noble family inherited the title. In England only the eldest son received the family title and wealth, and only he was required to marry within the noble class.

Ecclesiastical nobles were the great cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and abbots. Since many people gave liberally to the Church, the Church soon acquired great properties. The income from these properties was considerable. It early became the custom to put the younger sons of nobles into the best Church positions.

Contributed by Gifford, Katya
11 July 2001

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