Feudal Europe
What was feudalism?

What was Feudalism?

Medieval Society

Medieval society was organised into three groups: knights, clergymen and peasants.

Knights were the owners of weapons, and their mission was to protect the rest of the population in the event of an attack.

Clergymen were monks and priests. They prayed to guarantee the spiritual salvation of the people.

Peasants and other workers were in charge of producing food and necessary objects.

The Knights (Nobility) 

The knights were noblemen. They fought on horseback and their weapons were lances, shields and the mace. In times of peace, the knights held tournaments.

Knights and vassalage

Not all the knights had the same wealth and power. There were small, modest knights and rich, powerful knights.

Knights were linked through vassalage. This consisted mainly of a ceremony in which both the lord and the vassal took part.

  • The vassal paid homage to the lord, that is to say, pledged fidelity; the vassal was required for life to help and support the lord, especially in military conflicts.

  • The lord committed himself to protect the vassal and house him in his dwellings or give him a castle or territory. This donation was called a fief, the term which feudalism derives from.

In the beginning, the fief was given on a temporary basis, depending on the fidelity of the vassal. In the course of time, it was held for life and inherited from father to son.

The great noblemen pledged fidelity to the king and he rewarded them with fiefs in return. At the same time, the great noblemen divided up lands among other noblemen of lower ranks in exchange for fidelity.


Christianity was the most popular religion in Europe. It was also one of the elements which made the biggest contribution to the formation of a common civilization.

The Church was present in all the countries and regions in Europe. It was a powerful institution both at a political and economic level.

  • The Popes took an active part in the issues concerning the Christian states and functioned as arbiters in disputes between kings.

  • Most of the lands belonged to monasteries, convents and cathedrals, which also charged services and labour from their serfs. In addition, all the peasants —including the free— had to pay the tithe to the Church, which was the tenth part of their harvest.

Daily life was also marked by religion. The main personal rites -baptism and marriage but also funerals- were related to Christianity. The bells of the churches marked the daily rhythm of life for the peasants. The calendar also followed ah the religious festivities and the years were counted taking Jesus’s birth as a reference.


Peasants were dependant on a lord (knight or clergyman), who administered justice, charged fines and collected taxes. The peasants had to pay for the use of the mill, presses, forges and kilns which were the lord’s property. However, all peasants were not alike.

  • Most of the peasants were serfs, that is to say, they depended on a lord or monastery and could not leave the lands where they had been born. They worked the lands of the lord without remuneration, and they had to give the lord part of their own harvest or a rent.

  • Other peasants were free. They owned the lands they worked on and did not have to pay for them.

Work was very hard. Most of the peasants used rudimentary tools such as sickles, hoes and shovels.

Europe in the year 1000                                 What was life like in rural areas?