History's Women: Misc. Articles: General Conditions During the Dark Ages from 500-1100 A.D. - Feudal System

Feudal System

Under feudalism, all central power had become paralyzed, and the great lords, with their vast territories, had by the existing system no armed force to defend them. Under these circumstances they introduced a new method of distributing their lands, which was granting it hereditarily [sic] on the condition that the tenant was bound not only to cultivate the portion of the land he held, but to perform certain military services according to its extent; or, in other words, he was bound to furnish to his superior lord in time of war so many armed men for so many acres.

Touching the bond of feudalism, M. Sismondi makes the following observations:

“The essence of the feudal bond was the military service; the vassal engaged himself for the defense of his lord, towards and against all, to render his service, either alone, or with a greater or lesser number of knights and followers in arms, according to the dignity of his fief; this service was to last during a number of determined days. On the other hand, the lord bound himself so completely to protect his vassal, that he engaged himself to entire restitution if the vassal was ejected from his fief. To these engagements, which formed the essence of the feudal contract, others were joined, the nature of which seemed more chivalric [sic], and the observation of which was likewise confided to the guarantee of the point of honor. Thus the vassal was bound, if his lord lost his horse in battle, to give him his own in exchange; he was to cover him with his body in danger, to deliver himself up to prison for him, or in a hostage to keep his secrets, to reveal to him the machinations of his enemies, to defend, in fine, his honor, and that of all his members of his family.”

Feudal Institutions

This system brought with it new institutions and new forms of life. Under it the landed aristocracy assumed and exercised, each with his own domains, sovereign power, legislative, judicial, and military, and thus the state was transformed into a number of little sovereignties [sic]. The new lords of the land formed alliances among themselves, or made war upon each other at their own will, and their whole aim was to keep themselves in a prominent state of defense. The old residences, which had consisted in a confused mass of buildings with little or no capability of defense, were now abandoned, and their places were supplied by almost impregnable fortresses. The castle, indeed, is become in a manner, the symbol or image of feudalism.


Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.