Definition Of Feudalism Feudalism is not an easy term to define.
The use of the word feudalism was not a term that is created by scholars in the seventeenth century, well after the medieval age. Thus the term is filled with confusion and inaccuracy. In a way, the term feudalism tries to condense all the aspects of a complex society into one term. By creating the term, scholars tried to condense the society into connections to the feud, or estate granted to vassus by lords.
The terms vassus and lord meant different things to different groups of peoples in different areas and during different times. Thus it is hard define precisely what feudalism is. Scholars however have two differing descriptions about how to view feudalism. In one view, that of Marc Bloch, viewed feudalism as the complete society, political, military, social, and economic. He saw all of these issues centering around lordship.
Karl Marx also took this perspective with one major difference; he centered on peasants. Marxisms main emphasis is that of the plight of the worker thus in his view of feudalism only the peasants contributed to society. In another major view, feudalism is largely a political term. The political power in feudalism, these individuals claim, was treated as an individual possession and held by those who owned the land. Thus the government was ruled by the lords and royal officials who ruled over their land.
Under the lords were their bodyguards or knights. Below these knights were the retainers or vassals. Just as there is confusion over the precise definition of feudalism, there is confusion over its origins. Some scholars claim that with the invention of the stirrup, the bodyguards or retainers became more important. Those that were trained in using the stirrup to spear his enemy became valuable to the lords, who made these men take oaths of allegiance to them.
This started the dependency of the lower class on the aristocratic lords. In the more widely held, modern view, Martel purchased the loyalty of subjects with land or other wealth. These retainers became the vassals. These vassals were not members of the nobility and thus could not rule. The ruling counts were below kings in early feudalism, however when the kings failed to protect, the counts stepped in and protected their people for a price, that of subservience.
In this sense feudalism takes on a form of government, the vassals and retainers making up the lower class and the counts making up the aristocracy. In analyzing the reading, it appears the feudalism was a source of order in Europe. In a time of civil war and danger from barbarian invaders, feudalism provided protection and a way of life to the peasants of Europe. While peasants were, from a modern view, owned by the lords, in the sense that they were indebted to the lords, the peasants were willing to sacrifice complete freedom for the protection.
The direct influence of this way of life on the peasants was that they were protected by and indebted to the lords. The lords became their rulers as opposed to the kings. Bibliography McKay, Hill, Buckner. A History of Western Society. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.