Feudalism is a government system based on contracts that started during the 9th century, and lasted up to the 13th Century. It was mainly widespread in Western Europe, and it provided a relative order and security for the time being.
The origins of Feudalism can be traced back to the last days of the old Roman Empire in the 5th Century. Roman Nobles left their cities and moved to the country. There, they offered to protect the people living there in return for land and different services. Feudalism can also be traced back to the German Barbarians who invaded the Western Roman Empire. The fierce German fighters swore allegiance to their chieftains.
The highest authority in a feudal system is the King. The King was the one who owned all the land in his Kingdom (theoretically). Part of the land, he kept for his own use, and the remainder he would allocate to his high nobles, dukes, counts or earls. The land that he kept for himself is called the royal or crown land. In return for the land given to them, the high nobles would promise to provide a certain amount of knights for the King’s protection and use. It was not uncommon to find that the nobles themselves were often knights.
The knights were probably descendants of the Roman nobles or the German barbarians, but whatever it is, they were masters of the medieval warfare. People in various domains who needed security would perform different services for a knight in return for protection. The people were glad to call the knights “lords”.
After the King, the next in the chain of power are the high nobles. Then the noble aristocrats come next. These people owned huge amounts of land, and they had farmers working for them. They worked on the Manors, the estates belonging to the nobles. It ranged from a few hundred to several thousands of acres. In one Manor, there are several different types of people working inside. All of the people inside a Manor had specific duties. The nobility was to administer protection and justice, while the Clergy Men attended to the spiritual needs of all the people. The Freemen and the Farmers were the people who did the hardest labour.
Usually, the Freeman had the easier job than the Farmers. They worked as blacksmiths, millers, carpenters, etc. They had several more rights than the farmers. They were allowed to leave the manor whenever they liked, and they were often excused from working in the fields along with their fellow peasants, the farmers. Although the Freemen had greater privileges, their living conditions did not differ much from the farmers.
The farmers were the actual people who did manual labour in the fields, planting, harvesting, while also caring for the lord’s cattle. More commonly, however, the farmers are called serfs. While it is true that the serfs are the lowest in the chain of “power”, they differ greatly from slaves in 3 different aspects. Serfs are given the right to own property, while slaves are properties of their owners. Serfs could not be sold, but slaves can be put up in the auction house for bargain. Serfs can buy their own freedom, provided that the have the money; whereas, slaves would probably be whipped and scourged, and sent back to the fields to work under the scorching sun; if such an idea was ever mentioned.
The Freemen and the Farmers lived in continual poverty despite the much labour. For, as they had to use the mill and the bakery own by their lord, they had to pay “taxes”. These taxes took form in their production of their crops. Their cheese (for pasturing their cattle in the lord’s field), their flour and grain for using the mill and bakery served as taxes to pay the lord. These peasants lived on the verge of starvation continually.
They had but 2 major holidays in one year- Easter and Christmas. They were then invited to dine in their lord’s house for a feast. During Christmas, they had 2 weeks of vacation. Otherwise they had to work for at least 2-3 days a week, doing the lord’s work.
This is the basic structure of Feudalism in the 9th to the 13th Century. It was prevalent in Western Europe, but there were other countries that practiced it.