Medieval/ Feudal economy Essay



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Medieval/ Feudal Economy


Economic distribution in medieval society was based, not on a meritocracy, but on the belief in the Divine Right of Kings and rulers, with a rigid hierarchical structure determining one’s status in society.   Because Feudalism predates the Industrial Revolution, it can be regarded as a social, economic, and political system which emerged from the agrarian, tribal societies - Medieval/ Feudal economy Essay introduction. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica online: “Feudalism in this sense is a mode of agricultural production based on the relation between lords and the peasants who worked their own land and that of the lord […] In this view, feudalism came to encompass all aspects of social organization and was characterized as a system that was both oppressive and hierarchical.”

The most basic difference between a feudal economy and a capitalist economy is the notion of individual liberty and economic freedom. In medieval society, not only the land, the crops and the buildings and other structures belonged to the Nobles, but the peasants themselves were considered the property of their Lord. The hierarchy included not only peasants but other nobles such as knights and dukes and earls, all of whom paid homage to their superiors. “Feudalism is the exchange of land for military service, thus everything was based on what was called the knight’s fee, which was the amount of money and/or military service a fief was required to pay to support one knight. Thus, either a fief could provide the service of a knight, or an equivalent amount of money to allow a lord to hire a knight.”

While many historians have viewed feudal societies as rigidly hierarchical and based in oppression and autocracy, other historians have viewed the feudal period in western history as the evolution of political and economic systems, organically tied to social and technological development.

In medieval society, land was considered the primary form of economic power and it was by and for land that both peasants and vassals pledged their allegiance to their Lords. The concept then of loyalty and individual allegiance was largely determined by the disposition of lands. In modern, capitalist society, labor and technology are as important to ultimate financial status as land, but under the feudal systems, land was the most important economic quantity.

Systems of tribute and hierarchical power were complex. For example, according to the website  Examples of Feudalism, “The knight’s fee value of a fief varied based on the size and resources of a particular fief. The lord of Stafford, Robert of Stafford, was responsible for 60 knight’s fees for his Stafford fief. Robert sub-let 51 of those 60 knight’s fees in the form of 26 sub-fiefs, the largest fief provided 6 fees, while the smallest 2/3 of a fee. Thus in all, the 26 sub-fiefs paid 51 fees.”

Due to the complex hierarchy of feudalism, it was necessary for all levels of society to be indoctrinated into the system which would include establishing their firm belief in the hierarchy as being dictated by Divine Law of by God’s will. In this way, the church and organize religion also played a key role in establishing and maintaining feudal economies.

The decline of feudalism took place as the rise of capitalism and individual liberties took place in western society.  While it is possible that feudal societies may have been less oppressive and less encumbering on individual liberties that was once supposed, the availability of individual liberty and economic and political rights were certainly diminished in the feudal period.


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