Serfdom and the Feudal System: What’s Old is New Again
Daisy Luther, Contributor
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
The period of history from the 5th to the 15th century was known as the Middle Ages. During this time, the law of the land in Europe was known as the “feudal system.” This was the manner in which the upper 10% (the nobility) controlled the lower 90% (the serfs or peasants).
There were a few kings who were very wealthy and powerful, who owned all of the land. To maintain control of this land, it was broken into fiefdoms and pieces were given to friends of the kings (barons). The barons then allotted land to their friends and allies in order to govern efficiently. It was in this manner that the “nobility” was created, and the land passed down through these select few families by manner of inheritances.
The reward of being delegated this control came at a price. To maintain the control of the fiefdoms, manors and estates, the nobility had to pledge fealty to the kings and pay them taxes and homage.
It is estimated that just over 90% of the population of Europe were peasants. Most peasants were basically slaves. They were provided with a small shelter on an inferior piece of land and the “protection” of the noble in charge of that area. In return, they worked for the estate, farming the land with no recompense, paying taxes and having no control over their own lives. Some peasants were “free” and had their own small businesses: blacksmiths, carpenters, bakers, etc. They paid for the protection of the “lord” with money, goods and services.
Peasants had few rights. They could be taxed at any time, were obligated to use (and pay for) services of the manor like mills or large ovens, and had to request permission for marriages, change of locations or educating their children.