The story

Classroom Activity on The Feudal System

After his coronation in 1066 William the Conqueror claimed that all the land in England now belonged to him. William retained about a fifth of this land for his own use. The rest was distributed to the those men who had helped him to defeat Harold.

In return for these lands (fiefs), the 170 tenants-in-chief had to provide men for military service. The number of knights (horse soldiers) tenants-in-chief had to provide depended on the amount of land they had been given.

In order to supply these knights, tenants-in-chief (also called barons) divided some of their land up into smaller units called manors. These manors were then passed on to men who promised to serve as knights when the king needed them.

William gave a quarter of the land in England to the church. Bishops, abbots and priors that were granted land also had to promise to supply knights. For example, in exchange for his Mild flie archbishop of Canterbury had to provide sixty knights when the king wanted them.

When William granted land to his tenant-in-chief an important ceremony took place. The tenant-in-chief knelt before the king, placed his hands between the king's and said: "I become your man," swearing on the Bible to remain faithful for the rest of his life. The tenant-in-chief would then carry out similar ceremonies with his knights. To break this oath was a very serious crime in Norman England.

(Source 1) A knight promises to be loyal to his king (c. 1390)

(Source 2) Kettering Abbey provided land for forty villeins. In exchange for holding 30 acres the villeins had to provide several feudal services.

Kettering Abbey provided land for forty villeins. In exchange for holding 30 acres the villeins had to provide several feudal services. Three days a week work on the 88 acres held by the abbey. Every year they had to provide 50 hens, 640 eggs and 2s. Id. in cash.

(Source 3) Letter sent by William of Siward to King Henry II in 1166

I am letting you know by this letter that I hold from you a certain village, Gosford by name, and the half of another which is called Milton, for the fee and service of one knight, which I faithfully perform for you, as my ancestors.

(Source 4) Walter of Guisborough, Chronicle (c. 1310)

Earl Warenne was called before the king's judges. The judges asked to see his warrant (documents that proved that he owned his land)... he produced an ancient and rusty sword and said: "Look at this, my lords, this is my warrant! For my ancestors came with William and conquered their lands with the sword, and by the sword I will defend them from anyone intending to seize them. The king did not conquer and subject the land by himself, but our forebears were sharers and partners with him."

(Source 5) Medieval illustration of men harvesting wheat with reaping-hooks (c.1310)

(Source 6) Pope Gregory VII in a letter to the Bishop of Metz in 1081.

Kings and leaders are sprung from men who were ignorant of God, who by pride, robbery, murder, in a word, by almost every crime in the devil... to dominate over their equals, that is, over mankind.

(Source 7) Bishop Fulbert of Normandy (c.1150)

He who swears fealty to his lord must not injure his lord by giving up secrets of his castles... he must do nothing to injure the rights of justice of his lord... he must do no wrong to his lord's possessions.

(Source 8) Jean Froissart, Chronicles (c. 1395)

It is the custom in England, as in other countries, for the nobility to have great power over the common people, who are their serfs. This means that they are bound by law and custom to plough the fields of their masters, harvest the corn, gather it into barns, and thresh and winnow the grain; they must also mow and carry home the hay, cut and collect wood, and perform all manner of tasks of this kind.

Question 1: Explain why Earl Warenne (Source 4) produced an ancient sword when he was asked by the judges to show his warrant.

Question 2: Select a source from this unit where the author appears to support the feudal system. Also select an author who appears to be critical of this system. Explain your choices. Give reasons why these two writers had different opinions on this subject.

Question 3: Compare the value of the sources in this unit in helping you to discover how long feudalism lasted in England.

A commentary on these questions can be found here

You can download this activity in a word document here

You can download the answers in a word document here


See how the Dark Ages began with a collapse of technology, society and government. Then see how the Christian Church stepped in to help rebuild.

Before long other entities stepped into power. Powerful rulers started to rise up and claim the former lands of the Roman Empire. We will focus on one of them: Charlemagne.

All the work to rebuild was undone when the Vikings arrived. A new form of rule was needed to meet this powerful threat.

King Richard and King John of England are major players in two huge events in world history. Let's see what happened with the Crusades and Magna Carta.

No amount of knights, prayers or documents of freedom could stop of the worst disease outbreaks in world history. Could Europe handle such devastation?

1. Crumbling Kingdom - a one-hour lab simulating what it would be like to live in a civilization that was collapsing around you.

2. Culture Shock: Dark Ages - a collection of 5 mini-activities showing how one might go about rebuilding a fallen society.

3. Dark Ages Walkthru - a one-hour worksheet based on the images found in the textbook.

4. Feudalism Lab - a one-hour lab simulating life in a feudal society.

5. Charlemagne Bias Lab - Two readings on Charlemagne that mirror one another. Read them both to see how bias can greatly affect our view of a historical figure. Doc 1 Doc 2 (Common Core Ready - CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.6 )

7. History vs. Hollywood: Kingdom of Heaven - Questions based on the History Channel documentary.

8. Crusades Simulation Lab (Pope Urban's Speech, Teacher's Guide, Script, Fate Letters, Student Hand out) - Experiential lab where students are taken on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to experience what life was really like on Crusade.

9. History Mystery: The Black Death - History analysis activity where students try to determine what was spreading the Black Death throughout England. (Common Core Ready - CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7)

10. Castle Builder - Fun activity where students design their own castle blueprints and then "attack" each other.

11. Medieval Dossiers: Richard vs. John - History analysis activity where students examine fact sheets on King Richard and King John to determine if the popular understanding of the two men is fact or fiction. (HA Skill: Interpreting documents)

12. Weigh the Evidence: Robin Hood - History analysis activity where students examine a series of exhibits relating to the existence of Robin Hood. Each is exhibit is "weighed" based on its relevance and validity so that a proper conclusion can be drawn. (Common Core Ready - CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7)

13. Middle Ages Strategy Guide - Review sheet covering the Dark Ages and Late Middle Ages.

14. A Day in Medieval Europe - A guided tour through a day in Medieval Europe using video, sound, pictures and imagination. Teachers follow a script while students complete a journal. Here is the PPT file (it is big and some of of the videos are not there for size/copyright reasons but it is a good start.)

Classroom Activity on The Feudal System - History

Essential Question: How did events in Europe contribute to the decline of feudalism and the rise of democratic thought?

The Feudal System begins to fall apart over a long period of time, from the 12th to the 15th centuries. The idea of a monarch giving lands to different vassals in exchange for keeping the King's rules, providing knights when needed and collection of taxes ended. Instead, the power held by feudal lords shifted to kings and common people. There were three reasons for this change:

Political Developments in England

· Henry II insisted that a jury formally accuse a person of a serious crime.

o People were tried by royal judges and later by juries.

· The Magna Carta made it so

o The king could no longer collect special taxes without the consent of barons and church officials.

o “No free man” could be jailed except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

o It also introduced the idea that not even the king was above the law.

· Model Parliment was an English governing body created by Edward I that included

o It was intended to include more people in government.

· These political changes strengthened royal authority at the expense of nobles and strengthened the rights of common people.

o The Magna Carta limited the power of English monarchs

o Henry II’s legal reforms strengthened common law, judges, and juries

o Edward I’s Model Parliament gave a voice to common people.

· The plague began in central Asia, possibly in China, and spread throughout China, India, the Near East, and Europe.

· The term Black Death for the bubonic plague probably came from the spots that appeared on the skin of many victims.

· The bacteria that caused the plague was spread by fleas.

· After the plague, power shifted from nobles to common people because

o The workers who remained could demand higher pay and more rights.

o Many serfs abandoned feudal manors and moved to towns and cities, seeking better opportunities.

o This weakened both the manor system and feudal lords.

Other changes came from the many wars of the time, the biggest being the Hundred Years' War between England and France.

· The war began when the king of France challenged England’s claim to French fiefs.

· The English army relied on archers armed with longbows. Arrows fired from longbows flew farther, faster, and more accurately than those fired from French crossbows.

· Joan of Arc was a 17-year-old peasant girl who claimed she heard the voices of saints urging her to save France.

o She led a French army to victory in a battle.

o Her actions inspired many French men and women to feel more strongly about their king and nation.

· The war shifted power from lords to monarchs and common people.

o Military technology used in the war made knights and castles less useful.

o New feeling of nationalism helped to shift power away from lords and toward kings.

Key Facts & Information


  • The general notion of ruling based on land distribution and loyal was used in number of civilizations prior to the Middle Ages. Between 1046 and 256 BCE, the Zhou period of China and Edo period of Japan from 1603 until 1868 were under this kind of system.
  • It was only in the Middle Ages when the term ‘feudalism’ was coined to define this socio-political society. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, feudalism refers to the dominant social system in medieval Europe, in which nobility held lands from the crown in exchange for military service, and vassals were in turn tenants of the nobles, while the peasants were obliged to live on their lord’s land.
  • Etymologically, ‘feudalism’ was derived from the Latin terms feudalis and feodum, which respectively mean fee and fief.
  • When the Germanic tribes invaded most territories of the Roman Empire, the Franks, one of the kingdoms, were able to manage lands through appointing earls, barons, or counts.
  • In 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, held all lands in England after he successfully defeated King Harold II. Among his first step was the seizure of all English land. While distributing much of the land to loyal nobles who supported him in battles, William the Conqueror retained 20% for personal use and the rest for the church.
  • In Frankish states by the 8th century, a king granted benefice or lands to reward members of the nobility in return of service. Moreover, the manorial system imposed in Medieval England had its roots with the Romans in which workers were provided with protection while living on large estates.


  • At the top of a feudal society was a king. In 1066, William the Conqueror became the King of England and held all lands under his control. To repay loyal nobles, he granted them lands. They became the monarch’s vassals who would in return give him loyalty and service.
  • As tenants of lands, nobles would need military service from knights to protect the crown, again acquired by giving off lands. In the later years of the Medieval period, knights and members of the nobility paid scutage instead of military service.
  • Under-tenants who were members of the church and the mobility then granted lands to peasants in exchange for labour or rent. Peasants were categorized into serfs, villeins, freemen, and yeoman.
  • To seal the relationship of the lord and vassal, acts of homage were conducted in which the receiver of the land or fief would swear to protect his lord, whilst protect his vassal as well.
  • A fief was composed of number of manors or blocks of farmlands. A manor consisted of a demesne land or land under the direct control of the lord, dependent land, or lands cultivated by serfs, and free lands rented by yeomen.


  • Among the main consequences of feudalism in Europe was the existence of localized groups who owed loyalty to lords who specifically held power over them.
  • Given that fiefs were hereditary in nature, class divide among the nobility and peasants became permanent.
  • Moreover, monarchs gained political favors from the nobles with the use of lands. A monarch could distance a noble from the court through land as well.
  • In 1215, the feudal system under King John of England caused the Barons’ Revolt, which later led to the signing of the Magna Carta.
  • The feudal system was generally a relationship of reciprocal aid which was weakened by time. Events such as the Black Death, or spread of bubonic plague, resulted in the decline of Europe’s population. As a result, estates were abandoned.
  • Payment of scutage among nobles also weakened the system. Instead of military service, they paid coins, while the crown paid mercenaries to protect them and join in campaigns. Another effect of the system of coinage, instead of the crown distributing lands, was that money was paid as a reward for loyalty.
  • In 1095, the birth of the Crusades led European Christians to go to foreign lands in search of fortune, in addition to the religious cause.

The Feudal System Worksheets

This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about The Feudal System across 21 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use The Feudal System worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Feudal System that existed in Medieval Western Europe was a socio-political and economic system identified by a king’s ownership and distribution of lands to his loyal nobles.

Complete List Of Included Worksheets

  • The Feudal System Facts
  • The Feudal Structure
  • Lands the Medieval Way
  • William Conquered England
  • Feudal Terms
  • Medieval Dictionary
  • Feudal Society
  • Rise and Decline
  • The Peasantry
  • Medieval Narrative
  • Point of View

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Use With Any Curriculum

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How to Prepare

After you have chosen your controversial topic, you will either have to present this topic and both sides to your students, or have the students take the topic and research both sides of it to find out what side their position is on. If you decide to have students listen to a statement, decide if they agree or disagree with that statement. Then break them into groups. Once they are in groups, they can discuss their thoughts on the issue. If you decide to give students a topic, then send them off to research that topic using inquiry-based learning. Next, have them work in groups to record information in support of their position.

The easiest way for students to prepare for a class debate is to get their thoughts onto paper. There are many ways that they can do this. They can write an essay where they write supporting arguments and show their evidence. Another option is to write a paper where they take a position and must support it with factual evidence. A third option is to use a graphic organizer to find their particular position on a topic. With this option, students must develop arguments both for and against the topic. On the debate day, they must choose which side they most strongly agree with. A final option is to create an argument outline, which is a basic outline of their position on the topic with supporting evidence of how they feel about it.

The French Revolution Class 9 MCQs Questions with Answers

Choose the correct option:

Question 1.
Who said: The task of representing the people has been given to the rich?
(a) Mirabeau
(b) Jean-Paul Marat
(c) Rousseau
(d) Georges Denton

Question 2.
The National Assembly framed a Constitution in 1791 to limit the powers of the
(a) monarch
(b) wealthy man
(c) businessmen
(d) press

Question 3.
Who wrote an influential pamphlet What is the third Estate’?
(a) Mirabeau
(b) Abbe Sieyes
(c) Jean-Paul Marat
(d) Olympe de Gouges.

Question 4.
Which group of people did not join the Jacobin club?
(a) Artisans
(b) Shopkeepers
(c) Daily-wage workers
(d) Men with property

Answer: (d) Men with property

Question 5.
French women demanded the right:
(a) to vote
(b) to be elected to the assembly
(c) to hold political office
(d) all of the above

Answer: (d) all of the above

Question 6.
A triangular slave trade took place between Europe, the Americas and:
(a) Africa
(b) Asia
(c) Australia
(d) none of the above

Question 7.
Upon becoming free, the slave wore:
(a) blue cap
(b) white cap
(c) red cap
(d) green cap

Question 8.
Who were not considered ‘passive citizens’?
(a) Women
(b) children
(c) Non-propertied men
(d) wealthy people

Question 9.
The Third Estate comprised
(a) Poor servants and small peasants, landless labourers
(b) Peasants and artisan
(c) Big businessmen, merchants, lawyers etc.
(d) All the above

Question 10.
Which of the following decisions was taken by the convention
(a) Declared France a constitutional monarchy
(b) Abolished the monarchy
(c) All men and women above 21 years got the right to vote
(d) Declared France a Republic

Answer: (d) Declared France a Republic

Question 11.
How does a ‘Subsistence Crisis’ happen?
(a) Bad harvest leads to scarcity of grains
(b) Food prices rise and the poorest cannot buy bread
(c) Leads to weaker bodies, diseases, deaths and even food riots
(d) All the above

Question 12.
Which of the following statements is untrue about the Third Estate
(a) The Third Estate was made of the poor only
(b) Within the Third Estate some were rich and some were poor
(c) Richer members of the Third Estate owned lands
(d) Peasants were obliged to serve in the army, or build roads

Answer: (a) The Third Estate was made of the poor only

Question 13.
A guillotine was ____________________
(a) A device consisting of two poles and a blade with which a person was beheaded
(b) A fine sword with which heads were cut off
(c) A special noose to hang people
(d) none of the above

Answer: (a) A device consisting of two poles and a blade with which a person was beheaded

Question 14.
The word livres stands for:
(a) unit of currency in France
(b) tax levied by the Church
(c) Tax to be paid directly to the state
(d) none of these

Answer: (a) unit of currency in France

Question 15.
What was the ‘Subsistence Crisis’ which occurred frequently in France?
(a) An extreme situation endangering the basic means of livelihood
(b) Subsidy in food grains
(c) Large-scale production of food grains
(d) None of the above

Answer: (a) An extreme situation endangering the basic means of livelihood

Question 16.
What was ‘Estates General’?
(a) Post of Army General
(b) A political body
(c) Head of all landed property
(d) Advisor of the king

Answer: (b) A political body

Question 17.
The term ‘Old Regime’ is usually used to describe
(a) France before 1000 B.C.
(b) Society of France after 1789 A.D.
(c) Society and institutions of France before 1789 A.D.
(d) None of the above

Answer: (c) Society and institutions of France before 1789 A.D.

Question 18.
Which of these books was written by John Locke?
(a) The Spirit of the Laws
(b) Two Treatises on Government
(c) The Social Contract
(d) All the above

Answer: (b) Two Treatises on Government

Question 19.
In the meeting of the Estates General, the members of the Third Estate demanded that
(a) All the three Estates should have one vote altogether
(c) Each Estate should have one vote
(b) Each member of the three Estates should have one vote
(d) None of the above

Answer: (a) All the three Estates should have one vote altogether

Question 20.
Who led the representatives of the Third Estate in Versailles on 20th June?
(a) Mirabeau
(b) Abbe Sieyes
(c) Louis XVI
(d) Both a and b

Question 21.
Which of these provisions were passed by the Assembly on the night of 4 August, 1789?
(a) Abolition of feudal system of obligations
(b) Clergy had to give up its privileges
(c) Tithes were abolished
(d) All the above

Question 22.
According to the new constitution of 1791, the National Assembly was to be
(a) Elected directly
(b) appointed by the king
(c) elected indirectly
(d) a hereditary body

Answer: (c) elected indirectly

Question 23.
Which of these rights were not established as ‘natural and inalienable’ rights by the constitution of 1791?
(a) Right to life
(b) Freedom of speech and opinion
(c) Equality before the law
(d) All the above

Look at the following symbols. What did they stand for?

  1. The broken chain – It stands for the act of becoming free.
  2. The bundle of rods or fasces – stands for unity.
  3. The eye within a triangular radiating light – The eye stands for knowledge and the rays of the sun will drive away the clouds of ignorance.
  4. Sceptre – stands of royal power.
  5. Snake biting its tail to form a ring – stands for eternity.
  6. The red Phrygian cap – stands for freedom.
  7. Blue-White-Red – stand for national colours of France.
  8. The winged woman – stands for personification of the law.
  9. The law tablet – conveys that the law is the same for all and all are equal before it.

We hope the given NCERT MCQ Questions for Class 9 History Chapter 1 The French Revolution with Answers Pdf free download will help you. If you have any queries regarding The French Revolution CBSE Class 9 History MCQs Multiple Choice Questions with Answers, drop a comment below and we will get back to you soon.

Social classes of feudalism

1 - Kings or monarchs

Kings or monarchs were responsible for governing in the kingdom and were the owners of the land of each nation. The king had full control over all properties and decided on the amount of land that each of the barons could borrow.

The barons had to swear allegiance to the king before he could administer the lands lent by the king, thus ensuring his permanent allegiance to the king and his kingdom.

In case a Baron displayed an inappropriate behavior, the kings had the power to withdraw the right to the borrowed land and lend it to someone else who belonged to the class of barons. In other words, all judicial power was in the hands of kings and these were the legitimate landowners of each nation (Newman, 2012).

The royalty within the feudal system included different members, classified as follows:

  • The King: He was the ultimate authority of the kingdom and owner of the land. On him lay the responsibility of creating laws, eradicating poverty and caring for the inhabitants of the kingdom.
  • The Queen: Although she could not rule alone, the Queen of each kingdom played an important role in the medieval class system. He was usually second in command after the King and served as regents when the King was not in a position to govern. The Queen was also the host and in charge of planning social events.
  • The Princes: Depending on the order at birth, a prince could be the next member of the royal family online to take the throne once the King died. The work of the princes consisted chiefly of attending meetings of the royal court.
  • The Princesses: Only they could inherit the throne in case there was not a man to take it. Princesses used to marry princes in other kingdoms to secure friendly political and economic relations between nations.

2 - Barons and nobles

The barons and nobles received the land of the king as a loan, to this partial possession of the lands of the king was known as lordship. The barons in the hierarchy of social classes stipulated by the feudal system were the class with more power and wealth after the king.

These nobles were known as feudal lords and had the right to establish their own legal systems, allocate their own currency and implement their own tax regulations and taxes (Burstein & Shek, 2006).

In compensation for the allocation of land, the barons had the following obligations:

- Serve the royal council.
- Provide the King with Knights to deal with any form of war.
- Provide food and accommodation to the king during his travels.
- Pay the taxes and taxes required by the king.

Nobiliary titles could be inherited and thus the land ceded by the king could pass generations within the same family.

3 - The clergy

During the Middle Ages the church played a very important role. For this reason, if the clergy were considered as a social class within the feudal system, it was considered to be of a higher class than the nobles, knights and villagers. The Pope being over all members of the clericate.

Within the clergy and underneath the Pope were the Bishops, bearers of wealth and considered part of the nobility The priests, who carried the mass inside the castles and were responsible for collecting the taxes of the church And the monks in the lowest part of the hierarchy of the church, recognized for being scribes carrying coffee robes.

4 - Knights and Vassals

The barons were entitled to lend the land partly granted by the king to the knights. The gentlemen in consideration were to render military services to the king in the name of each baron. In the same way, knights were to protect the feudal lords and their families. (Reynolds, 1994)

The knights used to keep a portion of the land ceded by the barons and distributed the rest to the villagers. Just as the barons could establish a system of tribute and taxes on knights, they could do so on the villagers.

However, the main function of the knights was to protect the king and the kingdom, by such work their greatest source of income came from the payment of the king and not from the land (Bower & Lobdell, 1994).

5 - Villagers, peasants and serfs

The villagers received from the knights the land they could work. In return they were to provide food and serve the upper classes. No villager was allowed to leave the fiefdom without prior authorization from his superiors (Bloch, 1965).

The villagers had no rights and were allowed to marry without the prior consent of their masters. They were the poorest class within the hierarchy of the feudal system. Ninety percent of the people who were part of the feudal systems in Europe were villagers.

Within the lower social class are also serfs and free men, who were completely without political power, the latter being considered the poorest within the social hierarchy of the feudal system.

Origins of the idea

The terms feudalism and feudal system were generally applied to the early and central Middle Ages—the period from the 5th century, when central political authority in the Western empire disappeared, to the 12th century, when kingdoms began to emerge as effective centralized units of government. For a relatively brief period, from the mid-8th to the early 9th century, the Carolingian rulers, especially Pippin (reigned 751–768) and Charlemagne (reigned 768/771–814), had remarkable success in creating and maintaining a relatively unified empire. Before and afterward, however, political units were fragmented and political authority diffused. The mightier of the later Carolingians attempted to regulate local magnates and enlist them in their service, but the power of local elites was never effaced. In the absence of forceful kings and emperors, local lords expanded the territory subject to them and intensified their control over the people living there. In many areas the term feudum, as well as the terms beneficium and casamentum, came to be used to describe a form of property holding. The holdings these terms denoted have often been considered essentially dependent tenures, over which their holders’ rights were notably limited. As the words were used in documents of the period, however, the characteristics of the holdings to which they were applied are difficult to distinguish from those of tenures designated by such words as allodium, which has generally been translated as “freehold property.”

Fiefs still existed in the 17th century, when the feudal model—or, as contemporary historians term it, the feudal construct—was developed. At that time, the fief was a piece of property, usually land, that was held in return for service, which could include military duties. The fief holder swore fidelity to the person from whom the fief was held (the lord, dominus, or seigneur) and became his (or her) man. The ceremony in which the oath was taken was called homage (from the Latin, homo “man”). These institutions survived in England until they were abolished by Parliament in 1645 and, after the Restoration, by Charles II in 1660. Until their eradication by the National Assembly between 1789 and 1793, they had considerable importance in France, where they were employed to create and reinforce familial and social bonds. Their pervasiveness made students of the past eager to understand how they had come into being. Similarities of terminology and practice found in documents surviving from the Middle Ages—especially the Libri feudorum (“Book of Fiefs”), an Italian compilation of customs relating to property holding, which was made in the 12th century and incorporated into Roman law—led historians and lawyers to search for the origins of contemporary feudal institutions in the Middle Ages.

As defined by scholars in the 17th century, the medieval “feudal system” was characterized by the absence of public authority and the exercise by local lords of administrative and judicial functions formerly (and later) performed by centralized governments general disorder and endemic conflict and the prevalence of bonds between lords and free dependents ( vassals), which were forged by the lords’ bestowal of property called “fiefs” and by their reception of homage from the vassals. These bonds entailed the rendering of services by vassals to their lords (military obligations, counsel, financial support) and the lords’ obligation to protect and respect their vassals. These characteristics were in part deduced from medieval documents and chronicles, but they were interpreted in light of 17th-century practices and semantics. Learned legal commentaries on the laws governing the property called “fiefs” also affected interpretation of the sources. These commentaries, produced since the 13th century, focused on legal theory and on rules derived from actual disputes and hypothetical cases. They did not include (nor were they intended to provide) dispassionate analysis of historical development. Legal commentators in the 16th century had prepared the way for the elaboration of the feudal construct by formulating the idea, loosely derived from the Libri feudorum, of a single feudal law, which they presented as being spread throughout Europe during the early Middle Ages.

The terms feudalism and feudal system enabled historians to deal summarily with a long span of European history whose complexities were—and remain—confusing. The Roman Empire and the various emperors’ accomplishments provided a key to understanding Roman history, and the reemergence of states and strong rulers in the 12th century again furnished manageable focal points for historical narrative, particularly since medieval states and governmental practices can be presented as antecedents of modern nations and institutions. The feudal construct neatly filled the gap between the 5th and the 12th century. Although Charlemagne may seem an anomaly in this evolution, he was presented as “sowing the seeds” from which feudalism emerged. A variety of Roman, barbarian, and Carolingian institutions were considered antecedents of feudal practices: Roman lordship and clientage, barbarian war chiefdoms and bands, grants of lands to soldiers and to officeholders, and oaths of loyalty and fidelity. In the 17th century, as later, the high point of feudalism was located in the 11th century. Later rulers who adopted and adapted feudal institutions to increase their power were labeled “feudal” and their governments called “feudal monarchies.” Despite the survival of institutions and practices associated with the medieval feudal system in the 17th century, historians of that time presented medieval feudalism and the feudal system as declining in importance in the 14th and 15th centuries. This period was later dubbed an age of “ bastard feudalism” because of the use of salaries and written contracts between lords and dependents.

Those who formulated the concept of feudalism were affected by the search for simplicity and order in the universe associated with the work of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) and especially Isaac Newton (1642–1727). Historians and philosophers were persuaded that if the universe operated systematically, so too must societies. In the 16th century some students of the law and customs of the fief declared that feudal institutions were universal and maintained that feudal systems had existed in Rome, Persia, and Judaea. The philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) considered the fief one of humankind’s eternal institutions. Adopting a similar position, Voltaire (1694–1778) contested the judgment of Montesquieu (1689–1755) that the appearance of feudal laws was a unique historical event. The philosophical historians of 18th-century Scotland searched for feudalism outside western Europe, and they expanded the construct’s field of significance to encompass peasants as well as lords. Adam Smith (1723–90) presented feudal government as a stage of social development characterized by the absence of commerce and by the use of semi-free labour to cultivate land. Smith’s student John Millar (1735–1801) found “the outlines of the feudal policy” in Asia and Africa. The association popularly made between the feudal construct and ignorance and barbarism fostered its extension to regions which Europeans scarcely knew and which they considered backward and primitive.

Following Millar’s precedent, some later historians continued to look for feudal institutions in times and places outside medieval Europe, most notably Japan. These efforts, predictably, resulted in misconceptions and misunderstanding. Historians using the feudal model for comparative purposes emphasized those characteristics which resemble or seem to resemble Western feudal practices and neglected other, dissimilar aspects, some of which were uniquely significant in shaping the evolution of the areas in question. For Westerners, the use of the feudal model necessarily created a deceptive sense of familiarity with societies that are different from their own.

Feudalism in the MiddleAges and the Four Alls

Feudalism was introduced to Britain by the Normans after the battle of 1066. King William claimed all the land for himself and proceeded to rent out percentages of it to the nobles. The nobles, in turn, rented out land to knights in return for their promise of allegiance. The commoners then worked the land and paid rent to the knights in return for their protection. I asked which class each child would have liked to belong to. The King was voted the most desirable class to be in!

I did a practical demonstration of how feudalism worked using Play Mobil figures and chocolate. This was so worth doing. I had thought the children understood feudalism but I this exercise showed they had missed the finer points of it. I set our rather grubby table as shown below. Really you could use any proportions so long as there is only one king, more knights than nobles and more peasants than knights.

Accordingly each peasant had to pay 6 out of their 10 chocolates (60%) to their knights in return for their protection. Each peasant ended up with only 40 % of the original equal share in the harvest:

Each knight could keep his 10 chocolates (100%) but out of the 6 given to him by each peasant, he had to pay 5 to the noble to show his allegiance (called a payment of fidelity) . Each knight, therefore, ended up with his 10 chocolates plus one each from the peasants he protected. In our illustration each knight had 2 peasants to protect and so ended up with 2 extra candies resulting in a total of 12 chocolates. This, in effect, was 120% of the original equal share of the harvest.

The nobles, although collecting the payment from the knights, were effectively being paid by the peasants at 5 chocolates each. Here our knights are paid by 2 peasants and each noble is paid by 3 knights (in other words 6 peasants) thereby receiving 30 chocolates in addition to the 10 from the harvest. From this 30 he needed to pay the king 6 chocolates from each knight who had paid his allegiance (a total of 18 chocolates). The nobles ended up with 22 chocolates, 220% of their original share of the harvest:

It was, as expected, the king who came out on top, ending up with 46 chocolates a whopping 460% of his original share of the harvest:

And just to show pictorially the proportions comparatively:

Afterwards the chocolates were shared out….democratically of course!!

It is always a joy to see our children using what they have learnt, but Gary and I had to giggle when T11 approached us yesterday with an idea. He had, in his infinite wisdom, decided to set up a feudal system in our garden. Each child has a patch of land about 3m by 2m which we have already given them. T11 had other plans however. He began to explain some elaborate scam, whereby he would rent out the three patches to his sisters and give us a cut of his proceeds!! He he, gotta love that boy!

For more great maths ideas see:

The final activity I had planned is called the Four Alls and is from this book:

The Four Alls is a poem explaining the roles of each class in the feudal system. I had the children write out the poem and stick in appropriate pictures to make a lovely note page:

Next we began to make a diorama. The running shop near to us had saved us lots of boxes:

We made one into a castle by cutting turrets into its lid:

Next we stuck the boxes together with a lidded one at the bottom for the peasants, then the castle for the knights, a palace for the king and the church for the priests right at the top:

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Watch the video: The Middle Ages Feudal System Video Lesson (January 2022).