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
• 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?