The Rise of Feudalism

The Rise of Feudalism - The Rise of Feudalism: 850-1000 AD...

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The Rise of Feudalism: 850-1000 AD We are accustomed to a capitalist economy, good communication and transportation, and to solving our problems at the state or national level, so we tend to think that decentralized authority is primitive and ineffective. This is not necessarily so, and feudalism is not completely foreign to American society. Let me try to discuss feudalism from three different aspects. The paragraphs in bold will provide the sort of discussion that you are likely to find in the average college textbook ; those in regular print will provide some idea of the historical conditions under which the feudal organization of society arose; and those in red will discuss the growth of an example of American feudalism with which most of you are familiar, if only through films and TV. Before we begin, we should note that the men and women of the middle ages never talked about feudalism. Feudalism is a term invented in the sixteenth century by royal lawyers - primarily in England - to describe the decentralized and complex social, political, and economic society out of which the modern state was emerging. The term "feudalism" came from the German vieh , or "cow," the measure of wealth among the early Germans, a term that gave rise to the medieval word fief . "Fief" simply meant "something of value." In the agricultural world of the time, "something of value" was usually land. But the sixteenth-century lawyers pictured this land as having been under the control of a powerful king who distributed much of it to his followers, men of distinction whose breeding and upbringing particularly fitted them for governing and giving battle. It has been argued that historians have interpreted medieval documents and histories in terms of this view, and that, when we examine the documents more closely, there is actually very little evidence that society was really organized in such a fashion. This may very well be true, but a new and different picture of medieval society in the ninth through the fourteenth centuries has yet to be developed. Lacking anything possible better, it is only reasonable that we should turn our attention to the traditional portrayal of feudal society. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF FEUDALISM ineffective central government Let us first consider the characteristics of feudalism. Feudalism is a decentralized organization that arises when central authority cannot perform its functions and when it cannot prevent the rise of local powers. In the isolation and chaos of the 9th and 10th centuries, European leaders no longer attempted to restore Roman institutions, but adopted whatever would work. The result was that Europe developed a relatively new and effective set of institutions, adapted to a moneyless economy, inadequate transportation and communication facilities, an ineffective central government, and a constant threat of armed attack by raiders such as the Vikings, Magyars, and Saracens. The most well-known of the institutions were manorialism (the organization of the peasants), monasticism (the organization of the churchmen), and feudalism (the institution of
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the aristocracy). At the close of the First World War, hundreds of thousands of young men, trained
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The Rise of Feudalism - The Rise of Feudalism: 850-1000 AD...

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