How the Feudal System Worked

LAND LAND and MORE LAND!! There probably wasn’t anything more important than land in the Middle Ages. After the downfall of the Roman Empire, land ownership sort of went into a free for all state! Land was very important in the Middle Ages because it meant status, wealth and power! The control and ownership of the land was now sorted in a new way known as Feudalism or The Feudal System. Here we will examine just how that worked!

The Feudal System

In Medieval times, ALL land was owned by the King. He needed help in controlling the land and defending it. He got help from his most powerful subjects – Barons and Bishops. He kept some of the land for his own use and the rest he rented to his subjects. There was a ceremony for the handing over of land (or fief). The Lord who was receiving the land knelt down before the King and placed his hands on the hands of the King. He swore an oath to become a vassal to the king:

I will be your man from this day onwards. I shall be true and faithful to you for the lands I hold from you.

A bit soppy don’t you think? But I suppose a King needed some sort of “contract” to ensure his subjects would not rebel against them. These men also promised to give Knights to the King’s army who would promise to fight for and protect the King. The land given to the Barons and Bishops would have been rented to the Knights in return for obedience and protection. The Knight’s land was called a manor. This is a village with land around it. The Knight usually kept a small plot of land for themselves – this was called the demesne – and the rest of the land would be divided up amongst the peasants who would work the land and provide food for the Kingdom.

Putting the Feudal System into Perspective

  • Around 90 percent of the people worked the land as peasants.
  • Peasants worked hard and died young. Most were dead before they reached 30 years old.
  • The kings believed they were given the right to rule by God. This was called “divine right”.
  • Lords and Barons swore oaths of homage and fealty to their kings.
  • The Lord held absolute power over the fief or manor including holding court and deciding punishments for crimes

feudal system

For more on the Middle Ages, keep it here at The Áed


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