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The feudal system is a political system which was prevalent in Europe between the eighth and fourteenth centuries. Most of the agricultural society was supported by feudal system social hierarchy. In feudal system, most rights and privileges were given to Upper classes. In this hierarchical structure, kings occupied topmost position, followed by barons, bishops, knights and peasants. Details of each and every class of the feudal society:
The hierarchical levels are:
- King / Monarch
The King or the Monarch ruled the whole kingdom and owned all the land in the country. The king had total control over all the assets and he used to decide as how much quantity of land to provide on lease to the barons. The barons had to swear an oath before taking up the granted land on lease, so as to remain faithful to the king at all the times. In case any of the barons exhibited poor performance, the king had the power to withdraw the granted land and give it on lease to any other person belonging to the baron class. All the judicial power was in the hands of the king.
The Barons or nobles leased lands from the kings, which were known as a manor. The Barons in the feudal system social hierarchy were the second wealthiest class. They were called as the Lord of the Manor. They established their own legal systems, designed their own currency and set their own tax regulation schemes.
n return of the land that they have taken on lease from the King, the Barons had to perform the following functions for them:
- They had to serve the royal council.
- They had to provide the King with Knights to tackle with any form of war.
- They had to provide food and lodging facilities to the king, when they travelled to different locations.
- They had to pay the applicable rents and taxes.
The Knights were provided the leased land by the barons and in return, they provided military service to the king at the time of need. They also had to protect the Baron and his family. They used to keep a part of the land provided to them by the Barons and distribute the rest of the lands to the Villeins. They also used to set their own taxation and rent guidelines for the Villeins. Their main job role was to give protection to the king and therefore they were paid quite well.
The Villeins were granted land by the Knights. They had to provide food and service to their superior classes on demand. They were not allowed to leave the Manor without prior permission. They had no rights and they were also not allowed to marry without the permission of their Lords. They used to be the poorest class in the feudal system social hierarchy.
Feudalism is a social system of rights and duties based on land tenure and personal relationships in which land (and to a much lesser degree other sources of income) is held in fief by vassals from lords to whom they owe specific services and with whom they are bound by personal loyalty. In a broader sense, the term denotes "feudal society," a form of civilization that flourishes especially in a closed agricultural economy and has certain general characteristics besides the mere presence of lords, vassals, and fiefs. In such a society, those who fulfill official duties, whether civil or military, do so not for the sake of an abstract notion of "the state" or of public service but because of personal and freely accepted links with their overlord, receiving remuneration in the form of fiefs, which they hold hereditarily. Because various public functions are closely associated with the fief rather than with the person who holds it, public authority becomes fragmented and decentralized. Another aspect of feudalism is the manorial or seigniorial system in which landlords exercise over the un-free peasantry a wide variety of police, judicial, fiscal, and other rights.
Several of the great civilizations of the world have passed through a feudal period in the course of their history. Some of these feudalisms--for instance, the Japanese are indeed quite comparable with the feudalism of Western Europe and of the Latin East.
The origins of European feudalism are to be found in the early Frankish kingdom (8th century), when the granting of fiefs on the one hand and the establishment of personal vassal-lord bonds on the other were linked together. In earlier centuries one type of land grant had been the benefice, given for the lifetime of the tenant and at his request; but it was not until the second half of the 8th century that the benefice was linked generally with vassalage. Whereas previously grants of the Frankish kings to their followers had been in full ownership, the kings began to keep the ownership to themselves and to grant land only in benefice with a wide right of use and exploitation. Not only their own lands but also church lands were distributed. About the same time public functions were also being given in benefice to royal vassals. Various lesser lords quickly followed the king’s example.
Feudalism spread with the Frankish conquests into northern Italy, Spain, and Germany and later into the Slavic territories. The Normans took it to England in 1066 and to southern Italy and Sicily a few years later. From England, feudalism spread to Scotland and to Ireland. Finally the Near Eastern territories that the crusaders conquered were organized feudally.
Internally the system developed greatly in the course of the 9th century. Of particular importance was the transformation of the benefice into a hereditary fief. Royal power declined and local dynasties became, in fact, independent and started to build up small territorial states for themselves; often they were at war with each other. The church was largely feudalized. Secular lords, in return for homage, would invest bishops and abbots with their ecclesiastical offices and with the temporalities that went with them. In return, the bishops and abbots owed the secular lord various services. In the field of law and justice, feudalism meant replacing the ancient courts of local dignitaries by courts composed of the vassals of a common lord. The consequent dispersal and multiplication of courts made the judicial apparatus extremely complex.
From the 12th century onward feudalism came under attack from various rival forces. The centralized state with its salaried officials and its mercenary armies was being built on Roman ideas about sovereignty and the safeguard of public order; the relationship between subject and sovereign replaced that of vassal and lord as the basis of a well-ordered society. The towns, growing in economic power and even forming their own militias, was able to a large extent to impose their own concepts about society against those of the knights. Finally, the manorial system, the material basis of the knightly class, in the 12th and 13th centuries underwent a deep economic crisis.
Though feudalism by the end of 14th century was no longer a political and social force, it had left its mark on European society. It exercised its greatest influence in elaboration of modern forma of constitutional government. Ideas about consent to taxes and resistance to and defiance of lord and whole balance of rights and duties between lords and vassals played a great role in colouring the outlook of early representative institutions.
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