Feudalism

Feudalism

Feudalism

Feudalism

Excerpt

The word 'feudalism' (Germ. Lehnswesen or Feudalismus; Fr. féodalité) is one to which many different meanings have been attached. During the French Revolution, it was virtually adopted as a generic description covering the many abuses of the Ancien Régime, and it is still in popular use in this sense today. Even if this quite illegitimate extension of its meaning be ignored, there exist many attempts at its analysis and definition which do not seem to be very closely related to one another. But if we limit ourselves to essentials and are prepared to overlook the subtle nuances of meaning which scholars, and particularly legal scholars, delight in, it will be found that the word is used by historians in two more or less distinct senses.

Feudalism may be conceived of as a form of society possessing well-marked features which can be defined without difficulty. They may be summarized as follows: a development pushed to extremes of the element of personal dependence in society, with a specialized military class occupying the higher levels in the social scale; an extreme subdivision of the rights of real property; a graded system of rights over land created by this subdivision and corresponding in broad outline to the grades of personal dependence just referred to; and a dispersal of political authority amongst a hierarchy of persons who exercise in their own interest powers normally attributed to the State and which are often, in fact, derived from its break-up.

This type of society, whether one calls it 'feudalism' or the 'feudal régime', was that of western Europe in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries. It came into existence in France, Germany, the kingdom of Burgundy-Arles and Italy, all of them states deriving from the Carolingian empire, and in other countries--England, certain of the Christian kingdoms of Spain, the Latin principalities of the Near East--which passed under their influence. In other places and at other times, types of society have existed which show many analogies with the . . .

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