Feudalism In The Middle Ages

The rise and fall of the feudalism had a dramatic impact on all areas of life in the Middle Ages.

Feudalism was the primary political system of the Middle Ages. The system came about, for the most part, because during his reign of England, King William had two major woes: he couldn't keep the people from rebelling and he couldn't take care of all the land. In order to solve these problems, William created the Feudal system, in which he would give out sections of land, called fiefs, to his most important nobles, his barons, and his bishops in exchange for their services and their loyalty. Peasants, or "serfs" were considered to be the lowest of the lower class, and rather than being given land in exchange for loyalty, they were forced to work the land, and the Lord of that land would offer them protection.

Under the feudal system, everyone but the king had a ruling lord above him to which he owed loyalty and service in exchange for land and protection. The brilliance of this system is that it "killed two birds with one stone", solving both of the king's problems because he now had control over the people and the land. Though brilliant in its conception, the practicalities of this system eluded William. He could not see that he was primarily the only one to benefit from this oppressive system, and that whenever only one person benefits at the expense of thousands of other people, something is eventually going to have to "give". William threw diplomacy and public relations out the window in order to devise a quick-fix to rectify his own failures and inability to properly rule his country. Feudalism's biased hierarchy of authority, rights, and power extended from the monarch downwards, creating an intricate network of obligatory situations that infringed on almost every basic human right. Despite its many shortcomings, Feudalism was backed by a complex legal system and supported by the Christian church. However, with the growth of commerce and industry, feudalism gradually gave way to the class system as the dominant form of social ranking

In addition to launching feudalism, the early Middle Ages also spawned the turning of man against women and perpetuated the concept of women as "the instrument of evil". However, due to the spreading of the Cult of The Virgin Mary, the later middle ages greatly improved women's status in the eyes of medieval men. The Virgin Mary was considered to be the ideal woman due to her purity and strength, and she soon reached "idol" status. This rampant worship of the Virgin Mary led to another phase of medieval life in which a man preserved a chaste devotion to a Lady. This was the time in which the classic code of chivalry came into existence. Chivalry tended to humanize feudalism. Within this written code, it is stated that knights must "exhibit manners, be polite and attentive, respectful of host, authority, honour and woman". This was quite a change from the earlier attitude of woman as the embodiment of evil.



The evolution of the merchant class, or the so-called "rise of the cities" was another change that occurred in the latter half of the Middle Ages. This dynamic marked the end of the feudal system, which in turn, made the lands that came with a bride at marriage valuable commodities. In addition, any woman with the skills and knowledge to perform a "work-at-home" trade such as brewing or weaving was considered valuable. These actions helped the economy drastically, bringing about not only increased wealth but better times and, subsequently a surge in religious worship and gratitude. All of these factors greatly contributed to the demand for bigger and better churches, which resulted in the design and construction of some beautiful Gothic cathedrals. The windows were composed of beautiful stained glass depictions of Bible stories, the decor was extravagant and the architectural brilliance was staggering.

The building of the cathedrals is just one of the scenes depicted in The Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry, which shows scenes such as two cathedral construction workers digging, is a work of art that measures over 230 feet long and 20 inches wide. It's purpose is to describe the Norman invasion of England and the events that led up to it. Some say that the work was commissioned by Bishop Odo, who was not only the bishop of Bayeux but the half-brother of William the Conqueror. The Tapestry contains hundreds of images divided into a beautiful array of chronologically arranged historical scenes, each of which describes an important event in medieval history.

Like the Bayeux Tapestry, The Song of Roland tells a historical story through an artistic medium. This epic poem/collection of songs is based primarily on the events of the era of the Carolingian monarchs. These songs were composed to be sung to an audience and were preferred over literature by 12th century nobles. They were not meant to be absorbed merely as tales of heroism, but as political statements. This is hardly surprising, considering there wasn't much in the feudal era that didn't have political undertones.

The rise and fall of the feudal system, the changing attitudes towards women and religion and the documentation of these changes through artistic mediums are all part of what defines this time in history as one of the most dynamic and interesting periods to study. Parallels of feudalism have been drawn from just about every political philosophy known to man from fascism to communism, and some even fear its resurrection. However all of the problems that led to the ultimate demise of the feudal system, would exist tenfold in today's human right's oriented, "politically correct" society.

© High Speed Ventures 2011