Monday, February 27, 2012

The Basic Medieval-Feudal Society

LORDS
The King-in theory owned the land of the kingdom.

Nobles (Dukes, Earls, Counts, Viscounts, Barons etc.) were given land (fiefs) as Vassals to the King, giving military service, loyalty and eventually taxes in return to the Monarch. This system of fief and vassal was in perpetuity (unless one broke the oaths of fealty or the family died out) and past through inheritance to the oldest male of the line.
Knights (lowest of the Lord Class) were given land (fiefs) by the Nobles and became their Vassals giving military service, loyalty and eventually rent to their Lord.
In all but the rarest of cases you were born into the Lord Class. Social mobility within the class was possible but difficult (and often dangerous-"Uneasy rests the head that wears the Crown").
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COMMONERS

Commoners originally had very limited social mobility, but as the Middle Ages progressed men of exceptional skill, and a good bit of luck, were able to improve their status and wealth within the commoner class.
Merchants-townsfolk-Guildsmen produced goods and services that enriched the kingdom and eventually provided a tax base for the government.

Freedmen tenant farmers rented the land and paid taxes.

Serf's were "owned" by the fief lands of a Lord and had extremely limited rights (virtual slaves except they were not the "property" of the Lord). They paid a portion of their crops as well as service to the lord.
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THE CHURCH
Was outside the normal social, political rankings of the Middle Ages.
In the early Middle Ages the Church was one of the few systems that mobility and elevation in rank was based on skill vs heredity, as all positions were earned vs inherited. As the Western Clergy was not allowed to marry (although there were those individuals who failed to follow the "letter" of this rule) there was a constant need for new members to fill the positions from Monk to Pope as current members died, this is what allowed the unprecedented Social movement in this organization in the Middle Ages.
The Pope was the elected head of the Church in Western Europe and often held immense power (Religious, Political and often Military).

Just like in the Lord Class, the Religious Orders had officials of rank that helped run the Church-Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops were chosen for their positions-a rarity in the Middle Ages where positions of power were most often inherited or taken by force.

The greatest influence of the faith was through the countless small community churches manned by tens of thousands of priests that spread the religion and power of the Church.

Monks full filled a vital role in the early days of the Middle Ages as virtually the only repositories of book making and writing.  With the coming of  educational centers of learning (later the first Universities) in the 9th and 10th centuries, which were initially established to teach reading and writing to the clergy, this task reverted to the lay community.


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