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What is feudalism?

Feudalism is a way to govern a large state when the king is poor and not very powerful, and when there aren’t good roads so it is hard to communicate with people who live far away at the other end of your kingdom.

Fiefs and fealty

The king divided his land into fiefs (FEEFS) and gave them to other rich men or women, who were called dukes or duchesses, or sometimes earls or countesses. In exchange, the duke or duchess had to swear fealty (FEEL-tee) to the king – they had to promise to come help the king whenever he asked them, and to do whatever the king told them to do. Each duke or duchess held a large amount of land, so they divided their fiefs into smaller fiefs, ruled by counts or countesses or barons or baronesses. In exchange, the counts had to swear fealty to their duke or duchess.

Medieval peasant clothing, from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1400s AD): Feudalism

What is feudalism? Medieval peasants, from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1400s AD)

Feudalism is a pyramid

These counts still held pretty large amounts of land, so they would divide their fiefs into farms, and give the farms out to their own followers. In exchange, the farmers had to swear fealty to the counts. So the feudal system was like a pyramid with the king on top, then a few dukes, then a lot of counts, and then a lot of farmers at the bottom.

When the king wanted to get an army together, he sent messengers to his dukes telling them to come with a lot of men, and the dukes sent messages to the counts, and the counts sent messages to each village telling men to come serve in the army.

The weakness of feudalism

But often the lords would decide that they were as rich as the king, and didn’t have to do what he said. When the king told them what to do, they would just ignore him. Sometimes the king was so weak he just had to let that happen. Other times, the king would fight a war to try to force the duke to do what he wanted.

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FAQs on Feudalism - Class 11

1. What is feudalism and how does it relate to class 11?
Ans. Feudalism was a social and economic system that existed during the Middle Ages, where landowners granted land to vassals in exchange for military service and loyalty. This topic is relevant to class 11 as it is often discussed in history or social science subjects to understand the medieval period and its impact on society.
2. How did feudalism affect social classes during the Middle Ages?
Ans. Feudalism had a significant impact on social classes during the Middle Ages. It created a hierarchical structure where the king or monarch was at the top, followed by the nobles, knights, and peasants. This system determined the roles, rights, and privileges of individuals based on their social class, leading to a rigid social structure.
3. What were the main characteristics of feudalism?
Ans. The main characteristics of feudalism include the exchange of land for military service, the existence of a hierarchical structure, loyalty and obligations between vassals and lords, and the absence of a centralized government. Feudalism also involved the concept of serfdom, where peasants were bound to the land and obligated to provide labor and services to the landowner.
4. How did feudalism contribute to the decline of centralized power?
Ans. Feudalism contributed to the decline of centralized power by dispersing authority and political control among the feudal lords. With the fragmentation of power, local lords became more independent and held significant influence over their territories. This decentralization weakened the authority of the monarch and hindered the establishment of a strong central government.
5. Did feudalism have any positive impacts on society?
Ans. While feudalism is often associated with its negative aspects, such as inequality and limited social mobility, it also had some positive impacts on society. Feudalism provided a sense of security and protection during a time of instability and invasions. It also fostered a sense of community and mutual obligations among individuals, which helped maintain social order and stability within their respective territories.
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