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Topics in History

Feudalism

This term applied to the economic, social, and political relations existing in Europe from the 10th to the 13th centuries.
  1. Economic - These relations are best expressed by the phrase "feudal tenure of land". The theory was that the tenant had only the use of the land and that he must pay dues, or rent, to a lord (suzerain). Ownership of land was not absolute, but of a beneficiary nature. In theory the land belonged to God, who let it to the king, who, in turn, sublet it to his great vassals, and these parcelled it out to their subjects.
  2. Social - The word expressing social relations is "vassalage", which indicated the personal relationship between the man who held the land and the man from whom he received it. It conveyed on the part of the vassal social inferiority.
  3. Political - Political relations are expressed in ther term "immunity". The holder of an estate was, in matters of government, free from all interference on the part of his lord. With the use of the land he received from the lord the right, within his own territory, to perform the judicial, executive, and certain legislative functions of government.

Feudalism was not a "system". It varied from country to country and from place to place.

Feudalism orginated when Charles Martel was preparing an army to resist the invasion of the Mohammedans in 732. Being short of horses, he seized some churchlands and granted the use of them to vassals in return for horses. Feudalism in Europe continued in modified form until the days of the French Revolution and Napoleon. However, it was at its height from the 10th to the 13th centuries. Following the break-up of Charlemagne's empire in 814, conditions were so confused that men turned to feudalism for some sort of stability.

contributed by Gifford, Katya


11 July 2001
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