1. The Later Roman
The western European feudal system grew out of the system of
the later Roman Empire (after Diocletian).
There was a state bureaucracy controlled ultimately by the
emperor, divided into civil and military powers. The civil hierarchy
had at the top a Praetorian Prefect in charge of a Prefecture,
a number of Dioceses each headed by a Vicarius (= deputy or representative
of the emperor). Britannia was a Diocese; Gallia was another;
Hispania, Italia, Roma and Africa came under the western Emperor
at the top. Each Diocese was made up of a number of provinces,
headed by a governor - but these are seldom documented.
The military structure included ranks not known to the early
Roman state: Comes and Dux (probably reflecting the change of
the role of commanders: to control barbarian - non-Roman - soldiers).
In the last days of the empire in the west the Comes (plural
Comites) was a superior commander to the Dux (=leader). Thus
in Britannia the military commander in charge of coordinating
defense against the raids of the Saxons was the Comes Litoris
Saxonica (usually translated as Count of the Saxon Shore). Dux
was the commander of groups of soldiers answerable to the overall
control of the Comes. These Late Roman military ranks came to
be used later as Dukes and Counts (French Comte), reversing the
church was to provide an alternative hierarchy in parallel
to the civil and military. The term Diocese was appropriated
to refer to the area supervised by an Episcopus (Bishop = Overseer)
- though these were smaller and more numerous than the civil
Dioceses. The church hierarchy was to survive the demise of the
Empire itself. Throughout the feudal period the church was a
means for someone of low status to rise by education in a world
where most of the powerholders were illiterate. Church policy
was to soften the barbarian brutality with the rituals of chivalry..
Numbers of people
We must always remember when thinking about medieval history
that the numbers of people who lived then were a tiny fraction
of modern populations. Europe included large areas of forest
where few people lived, and shared it with wolves, bears and
other animals. Hunting the various kinds of deer was an important
source of protein (for the owners).
Towards the end of the Roman empire numbers had declined and
the waste land had increased.
2. The breakdown of the state
The empire in the west was occupied by the German tribes (see
J.P.Bury) who formed a number of kingdoms headed by German kings.
These grew gradually from the practice of the Roman Empire of
recruiting its soldiers in the west mainly from German tribes
and settling German peoples in the frontier provinces as Auxiliaries
with the duty of guarding the frontiers (from the German peoples
outside). At the beginning of this process the institutions of
the Roman state, the officials, the town councils and so on continued
in being, but gradually faded as the cities lost their wealth.
The Roman law and courts continued in being, in theory, but gradually
lost their ability to function. The new settlers came to live
in places where the native (e.g. Celto-Roman) population had
declined. Further weakening of the state occurred when whole
tribes (up to 20,000 people) crossed the frontiers and were not
In the modern world the situation of the empire, especially
in the West, resembled that of such states as modern Congo where the state exists only in theory
but not in practice "on the ground".
One factor to be remembered here is that an epidemic, probably
similar to the 14th century Black Death occurred in 541-2 in the time
of Justinian. (see Volcano) Thus large areas were depopulated.
As the state weakened, the army itself dissolved. In its place
at first were the war bands of the semi-nomadic German tribes.
As there were no longer regular taxes this army had to be paid
by other means. At first this was by more or less arbitrary plunder,
no doubt justified as "taxes". At the height of the
Feudal system the military were paid by requiring landowners
to provide mounted soldiers for the superior lord's army. Money
itself had become so rare (see Henri Pirenne) that almost all
payments were made in kind - the king had to travel round the
country to "eat his rents". So did the Counts and other
The first recorded example of a German
tribal king assigning land on feudal terms was probably Alboin,
first king of the Lombards (Longobardi
= Long Beards), who had invaded and occupied parts of northern
Italy in 568. In 572 he assigned provinces to his associates.
He granted the land on condition of military service to his associates
to whom he gave titles of "Prince" or "Duke".
This act suggests that it had been the practice earlier. But
this was really an extension of the previous practice of the
imperial government settling tribes in an area on condition they
provided soldiers to defend it. This can be seen as early as
| When we consider land ownership
we need to remember that there was an important change in land
ownership before the Empire was formed. After the conquest of
Carthage by Scipio Africanus in 146 BCE large number of slaves
were imported to Rome (the defeated people) and the typical farm
became a Latifundia - an estate worked by slaves and belonging
to a wealthy Roman aristocrat. Smaller independent family farms
could not compete with the free labor of the slaves and the farmers
went out of business and had to move to the City as landless
persons. It can be argued that this change was the real origin
of the feudal method of landholding.
In a time of uncertainty and insecurity each landowner had
to make arrangements for the security of his estates. This meant
he had to maintain a private army from his own tenants and slaves,
or, as was the practice of the later Roman Empire, to pay others
to do it - mercenaries, usually Germans or Illyrians (Albanians).
Marc Bloch emphasises that the State, where relationships were
to an abstract entity, had been replaced by a society where relationships
were personal. That is, the ceremonies by which one man swore
allegiance to another were taken seriously. The duties were mutual
and were to the person rather than to the office, as is the case
in the modern state. Thus if a vassal rebelled against his liege
lord it was a breach of morals and was condemned as such, rather
than as a political act. Instead of the word vassal "friend"
was often used instead (ami or dru).
The oaths sworn were explicit.
If my dear lord is slain, his fate I'll
If he is hanged, then hang me by his side
If to the stake he goes, with him I'll burn
And if he's drowned, then let me drown with him
(See Marc Bloch)
The oaths suggest that the heart of relations between these
leaders of society was ritualised friendship, going back to the
tribal custom of the wandering German tribes. The modern state
is sometimes idealised as "a government of laws rather than
men" - an explicit rejection of aristocracy and feudalism.
Feudal society was emphatically a society of personal relationships
rather than laws. The oaths were influenced by the Church, anxious
to modify the tribal brutality of the invaders.
Despite these oaths, rebellions against one's feudal superior
(The Science Fiction novel by C.M. Kornbluth - The Syndic
imagines a replacement of the modern bureaucratic state by a
personal state, derived from the Mafia.)
When the lord died a new oath had to be sworn to his successor.
When the vassal died his heir had to swear an oath to the lord.
Succession was not automatic.
Payments to the king and other superior lords were called
"benevolences" or "aids" - expressions of
friendship rather than of law. But they were payments one could
Early in the film "the Godfather" Mr Bonasera, an
undertaker, comes to Don Corleone and asks for his protection
and revenge against the rape of his daughter. The ceremony of
kissing hands with Don Corleone is directly related to the customs
of the Feudal Period. (Yes, it's fiction but that was the spirit
3. The end of trade (see Henri Pirenne)
After the Muslims gained control of the Mediterranean, trade
by that sea became impossible. After the state ceased to guarantee
the safety of the roads, trade on land also faded away. Goods
that had to travel long distances became very expensive. This
meant that each area had to live on the produce they could grow
or make locally. Money became very rare. The variety of consumption
declined to a very basic level. Almost all exchange of produce
was "in kind" that is, by barter or custom. (Until
well into the Mediaeval period the kings collected their revenues
- rents and taxes - by travelling round the country and eating
them on site - English King John died while on one of those journeys.)
The basic unit became the Manor - a group of villages and
farms that could produce at subsistence level. Instead of taxes
to the no longer existing State there were Rents and Obligations
paid to the landowner (Lord of the Manor). The surplus of the
Manor went to the Lord to enable him to fulfill his obligations
to his superior, the next person up in the hierarchy. The Lord
of the Manor was usually a Knight - someone trained to fight
There wasn't much left to support the peasants - the people
who did the actual work. Everyone, even the lords, lived at a
fairly low standard of living - basics but few luxuries. If the
weather prevented a harvest in one area, people died because
food could not be transported.
|The chief military expenditure was on equipping
horses and on building castles. A Castle could be quite small,
or very elaborate. King Edward the first built huge castles in
conquered Wales. These were the equivalent of a modern aircraft
4. The status of people
Already the great men of Rome had had huge estates manned by
workers of very low status - slaves. These had replaced the small
family farms of free workers of the period of the Republic. Gradually
the status of the slaves changed, as they acquired the rights
of serfs - the right not to be ejected from the land they lived
on, in return for physical service on the landowner's home farms.
"Free" workers and farmers, where they survived,
lost their freedom as they had to seek "protection"
from the landowners.
Thus slaves and free men alike gradually became serfs.
But the status of landowners also changed. When there was
no longer a state to protect them, smaller landowners needed
the protection of (and from) the greater landowners. Thus the
ancient Roman practice of Clientage grew into a formal obligation.
5. The hierarchy of landholding
As the state disappeared, all land was assigned, at least in
theory, from above, and the landholder owed obligations as a
vassal to a superior. The peasant, as a serf, owed service to
his immediate lord. However, the Customs of the Manor
gave him security of tenure on his land - the landowner could
sell or assign the overlordship but the peasants went with the
land and their children could inherit it. These customs required
the peasant to work on the lord's land a certain number of days
a week and make various payments in money or in produce. They
also gave him rights: such as estovers, to collect firewood,
wood for house repairs and tools; pannage, to allow his pigs
to collect the acorns in the woods and to collect berries; various
categories of grazing. These were regulated by the manorial courts
and by collective resistance against arbitrary seizures by the
As time passed all these obligations tended to become money
payments, like a modern system of rent.
| Bastard feudalism One stage in the evolution
of feudalism - its slow change towards the modern state - was
Bastard Feudalism. At this stage, associated with technological
change as armies began to use gunpowder in the form of artillery,
calling out the feudal levy wasn't much use to the king. Instead
he needed money to fight his wars and hire soldiers who would
fight for pay. Thus money became more important and rents tended
towards money rather than personal service (except for the common
people, of course).
Ius primae noctis was almost
certainly not a "law" or custom but merely the collective
memory of the Squire's son behaving badly, from time immemorial.
The Church would certainly have frowned on it and condemned it,
if it had existed as a formal law, even at Manorial level.
See Droit de seigneur wikipedia and
Google droit de seigneur
Snopes deals with this question nicely.
We would not today talk of the "Footballer's Right"
when today's rich behave in the same arrogant way, as reported
in the tabloid press.
She was poor, but she was honest,
Pure unstaind was her name,
Till the local squire came courting,
And the poor girl lost her name.
But the Lord of the manor owed service to his superior (liege
lord), usually in the form of supplying armed men for fighting
his superior's battles, or to supply labor for building and maintaining
the lord's castle. The next step up might be called a Baron.
The Barons themselves owed allegiance to a superior also: in
France to the Count; in England to the Earl. With his castle
and army the Baron might have to serve the superiors of the Count,
perhaps the Duke, ultimately the king. When the king was weak,
or even the Dukes and Counts were weak or in dispute with one
another the Baron might have latitude. (The period of the war
between King Steven and Queen Matilda was notorious in English
history for feudal lawlessness.) In the earlier days of feudalism
the Counts could not easily make the barons obey them. Politics,
cunning and muscle were needed to keep their allegiance. An example
of these might be keeping a subordinate's sons as hostages.
Each landholding with obligations was called a fief. Some
of these fiefs were held directly from the king.
6. The System in France
(see Marc Bloch - Feudal Society)
King - the kingdom of modern France began when Hugh Capet,
Count of Anjou, was elected king by the barons (Counts and Dukes) and churchmen.
In theory all the lower landholders had to report to him (offer
allegiance in an act of Fealty). In practice he had little influence
over them. The history of the French kingdom is the story of
the process by which the king increased his power over the subordinate
rulers, bringing the anarchic feudal system to an end. Successive
kings accumulated the power to control these subordinates.
Dukes (Le Duc) - the rulers of large provinces, such
as Aquitaine or Bretagne (sometimes the actual duke was the king
of England). A duke usually controlled one or more counts.
Counts - Counts (les comtes) the rulers of smaller
provinces, such as Blois or Anjou, with several castles.
Barons - rulers of small areas round a castle.
Seigneur - French for lord
Other titles, such as Vicomte derive from the positions
created by Charlemagne when he attempted to build a state structure
to reinvent the Roman Empire, as he hoped.
7. Feudalism in England
Although there were some aspects of feudalism in Anglo-Saxon
England before 1066 (see Frank Stenton - Anglo-Saxon England),
William the Conqueror systematised it when he assigned all the
land in his kingdom to his followers, who ignored most of the
rights and customs of the previous English kingdom. This is set
out in the Domesday Book, a survey of all the land in the kingdom
made in 1086, and showing the owners in 1066 (under King Edward)
and in 1085 after William and his Normans had dispossessed nearly
all the Anglo-Saxon owners. This is the main difference from
the arrangement in France: the villeins at the bottom of the
social pyramid were Anglo-Saxon speakers and were, for example,
forbidden to marry the Norman-speaking rulers. Thus there were
some features similar to apartheid.
It was to take two hundred years before the rulers began to use
English - a new language derived by the influence of French on
Anglo-Saxon. One sign of the situation is that the names of farm
animals are derived from Anglo-Saxon: Cows, sheep, pigs, calves;
the names of the meat are in French: beef, mutton, pork, veal.
The peasants produced them but the Normans ate them.
The king (William the Conqueror and his descendants) claimed
to own all the land in England, by right of conquest. He assigned
it to his associates, companions and assistants, keeping some
under his direct control. In return they had to supply him with
soldiers. How they provided them was up to them. Each of the
new landholders (who could in theory be dispossessed by the king
at any time) built castles - strongpoints from where he could
control the surrounding countryside and protect himself from
attack by other barons and the Anglo-Saxon peasants. If the king
had assigned a province to one of his followers, as a Duke, in
turn he assigned lands to his associates. The basic unit of manors
and groups of manors was each to supply one knight. Each knight
was assigned enough land to provide him with the means of turning
out to fight for his superior. (The equipment of a Knight was
a major undertaking, like a modern Tank). The hierarchy was:
Rare. Usually the close relatives of the king (wife-Duchess).
Earls (Counts) (In Latin "comes" but in English
Earl from Anglo Saxon or Danish, rather than Count from French).
His wife was called Countess.
Marquess (guardian of the frontiers or Marches: e.g.
Welsh Marches (wife-Marchioness)
Barons - owners of one or more castles, and "protector"
of Manors (wife-Lady).
Knights - someone trained in the warlike arts: sword
use, horsemanship, armor wearing and so on. In the early Mediaeval
period a knight could be made by any superior, later only by
the King. After he was "made" a knight he could use
the title "sir". A knight was usually the lord of one
or more manors - he needed its produce to maintain his expensive
armor. (Wife - lady)
Squires - assistants and apprentices to knights.
By the 18th century Squire was a category of country landowners.
He might be a Mr or a Sir.
See such literature as Henry Fielding - Tom Jones or the novels
of Jane Austen.
Baronet (not a feudal rank) King James the first of
England wanted to raise some easy money. He offered a hereditary
title "Sir" to anyone willing to pay. The title conferred
no rights to attend the Lords but made the owner feel good. The
last person to obtain this title was probably the late husband of
Mrs. Thatcher and it descended to her son Mark when Sir Denis died. His title is Sir Mark
At first any superior person. The word itself comes from Anglo-Saxon
when it meant supplier of bread - Hlaford=loaf holder. Later
it had the special meaning of someone called to Parliament as
a great vassal. (Except for Lord of the Manor, just meaning owner
and power holder).
Because the king asserted ownership of the whole kingdom it
means that, although the structure looked like that in France,
the king was never as powerless as the king of France at that
time. 100 years later during the struggle between Stephen of
Blois and Matilda the firm hand of the king was relaxed and so
the barons all became free to behave as they wished, but order
was restored by Henry II and feudal anarchy never came back.
He ordered many of the new castles to be dismantled, and enforced
his order. Those who wanted freedom of action migrated to Wales
The eldest son inherited the land and rights. However, he had
to be approved by the superior lord. If the eldest son was a
minor - too young to bear arms - the superior would appoint a
guardian, often himself, and take a proportion of the profits.
Before being installed the new baron had to pay a large sum to
his superiors, including the king. These "fines" were
an important source of revenue. If there was no son but a daughter,
she would be put under guardianship and married off.
Younger sons did not inherit. Thus if trained as knights they
had to find their own living, by fighting, perhaps hoping to
conquer a nice fief. They were a problem in early feudal society
- partially solved by encouraging them to go on Crusade. Some
might join the Church and learn to read and write. Others might
hire out as mercenaries (study Sir John Hawkwood), or go on Crusade. Daughters were to be married, to
increase the landholding of the husband if possible, or they
went into Nunneries.
At the bottom of society was a large class of people who were
not free to move where they liked. (Actually, in Domesday Book
there is a class of slaves who had even fewer rights. Possibly
they were descendants of the Welsh from whom the Anglo-Saxons
had conquered the land.) The ordinary peasant did not own his
land but held it from a landlord. In return he had to work on
the landlord's main farm - often called the demesne (in Scotland
the Mains). His obligations were many. They were listed in the
records of the Manor. They included a set number of days' work
a year, the provision of certain items of produce - rents in
kind, such as fowls, pigs or grain. The manorial records show
even whether he had to bring his own food as he worked or whether
the landowner would provide. He also had to pay a tithe of his
produce to the Church. A serf could not leave his land without
permission. As well as obligations he had rights: to collect
firewood from the lord's woodlands (estovers), the right to graze
his animals on the common land (pannage). Rights and duties were
decided by the manor courts and were frequently disputed in cases,
whose records often survive.
The Customs of the Manor were very varied. Thus they might define exactly what the landowner had to provide for workers: such as a certain quality of beer for some kinds of work, especially at harvest. It was a network of obligations and rights, differing from Manor to Manor, as complicated as modern Trade Union negotiations or employment contracts. (see Marc Bloch).
We can tell from Domesday Book that some landholders who in
1066 had held their land on their own as free men had become
by 1086 subject to a Norman landlord.
The German tribes moved into the territory of the empire. They
found there not just a decaying political state but also a religious
organisation with branches everywhere.
Gradually the new people were converted to the late Roman
As the new system became established, the church adapted to
feudalism. Pious lords would donate land to the church, for building
monasteries, or supporting priests, even in village churches.
We should note that money had become very rare. The only way
to pay anyone, whether priest or king, was "in kind",
that is, with actual physical objects, such as food. Thus the
priests were paid with tithes, in theory a tenth of the harvest
of the produce of the parish.
Monasteries were endowed with land when kings and lords assigned
them land from their estates. In the early days this was worked
by the monks, thus giving them a subsistence. Later, it was worked
mostly by serfs.
One consequence of this system was that priests were no longer
to be married - as in the Orthodox east. The pope knew that if a priest
had legitimate children these would try to inherit the Glebe
(church land), which would no longer be available to support
the next priest in the parish. It became church law that priests
should not be married, mainly in order to keep the church land
in corporate hands. In the Byzantine empire money and trade did
not die out so local priests could be paid a salary and so they
could continue to be married - only monks had to be celibate
(unmarried) and only monks could be bishops. Nevertheless, in
the west many priests continued to have unofficial wives and
children. (In Ireland the children of priests received the name
MacEntaggart, of Bishops McAnespie, and of Abotts MacNab). Ref
the Guardian 17/08/10 Guardian article)
The great monasteries became rich and their heads - Abbots
- were important people in the kingdom.
The lands belonging to the monasteries and church dioceses
were administered in much the same way as the land of the lords.
There were serfs, and duties and fines of the same kind. Possibly
to be a tenant of a church property was not as onerous as belonging
to a baron. The Abbots had the same obligations as secular lords
to provide men and knights for the feudal army.
The monasteries had the only schools where people could learn
to read and write. Churchmen then became essential as advisors
and clerks for the usually illiterate lords and kings. That is
why in England the king's chief minister was called the Chancellor.
His original office was in the king's private chapel, and he
came to look after the written records, then to write letters.
King Henry the second made his Chancellor, Thomas à Becket,
Archbishop of Canterbury hoping he would continue to work for
him. Thomas then became the spokesman for the priests and resisted
the king's plan to control them (and tax them). We should note
that by the 15th century manorial records show that many peasants
were literate and able to argue their own cases in the courts.
Also the monasteries were the equivalent of modern health
and welfare services.
When the king needed advice, or a parliament, he called his
great lords but also his abbots and bishops. This is the origin
of the presence of the bishops in the British House of Lords.
The second and other sons of a lord might join the church.
Thus the church was staffed by members of the ruling nobility.
The Church was also the supervising body of the Universities
that were another cause of the end of feudalism. Schools for
the training of priests were established in Cathedrals. The scholars
became interested in the philosophy of the past and went to Toledo
in Spain where they read and translated the Arabic texts to be
found there. Gradually, Oxford, Cambridge and Paris became independent
of the Bishops.
8. How it ended
Feudalism came to an end as the kings increased their power and
forced the lesser landowners to obey their orders. The economy
in Europe grew again as trade revived. One factor in this was
the growth of a trans-national organisation that moved its produce
about the continent under armed guard. It was the religious Order
of Knights Templar which owned land in every state, had a centralised
management and soon became richer than the kings because it bought
in one place and sold in another at a higher price. It also operated
the first bank able to operate across the conventional boundaries
(using a modification of the Middle Eastern Hawala system). Its
wealth helped finance the building of the new Cathedrals around
which grew the new cities. The Cistercians also revived the economy
by opening up unused land and developing monastery industries.
(Forget the fake
history about the Templars' alleged beliefs).
As economic activity revived the towns grew again and provided
the kings with taxable wealth. The towns did not fit into the
classic feudal structure and undermined it as soon as they appeared.
Nevertheless a lord would want to encourage towns on his land
to increase his income. In Italy they superseded the Feudal lords
with a collective government - Republics ruled not by Lords but
Rebuilding the state
In England a formal, non-feudal state gradually came into being.
One sign of this is Magna Carta (1215). This document
sets out laws which the barons wanted the king to agree to. The
rights confirmed in Magna Carta are those the barons thought
they were entitled to in the feudal situation but the Charter
itself is the foundation of a post-feudal system of enforcing
those rights. Even more so was the calling of what is regarded
as the first Parliament by Henry the third (1258). Parliament
began to include representatives of the towns - merchants who
were expected to pay taxes. Laws made by the King in Parliament
began to supersede feudal custom and became the Statutes by which
modern Britain is governed. The hierarchy of land holding gradually
ended. Some people became ordinary tenants, paying for the right
to remain with a simple money rent. The small landowners ceased
to have obligations to higher landholders, other than the king.
The king's rights to land evolved into the rights of the Crown
(that is, the state, an impersonal body). Unlike in France the
English king had to ask for money and the assembled representatives
Henry the seventh (England)
He came to power as the result of a military coup
in 1485 against his predecessor Richard the third. In fact his
victory in battle (Bosworth) was the last act of the Wars of
the Roses in which the fact that various great landowners controlled
their own armies was a major cause. He called these "overmighty
subjects" and banned the private ownership of armies, making
it a monopoly of the king and therefore of the state. This ended
military feudalism in England, though it continued in parts of
Scotland (the Highlands and Islands) until the 18th century.
- a serious epidemic of an infectious disease disrupted the feudal
system by reducing the number of peasants able to support the
superiors in the hierarchy. Many serfs moved to the towns to
become free. Those who remained on the land were reluctant to work for nothing.
However, the leaders of Feudal Europe passed on their privileges
and personal codes of honor to become an aristocracy.
Did their codes of honor create the patriotism that gave rise
to the British
Empire? The code of an "Officer and Gentleman"
is the descendant of the Knightly virtues.
By the 15th century armies were largely paid soldiers. The king
might still call out his feudal vassals - but they could send
money instead, and in fact the king preferred that (the words
called for his vassals; the meaning changed to a demand for money).
This period is sometimes called "bastard feudalism".
The invention of gunpowder rendered the Castles useless, except
by very expensive rebuilding, and made the feudal army pointless.
The 13th century changes in the church and universities also
played a role in this period. The works of such people as Thomas
Aquinas, Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon changed the intellectual
climate and the attitude of the Church to politics. Aquinas in
particular introduced the idea of popular sovereignty which eventually
led to democracy.
9. Legal Remnants
In Scotland the remnants of the feudal system persisted as a
financial device in that many householders had until recently
to pay feu duty to a landowner. Until recently in Britain the
descendants of Feudal lords had hereditary seats in the House
of Lords. In France the fossilised remains of feudalism were
abolished by the Revolution of 1789; in England they faded away
in a long gradual process.
Some remnants can be found in the Channel Islands - the fragments of the Duchy
of Normandy still owned by the British Crown. The island of Sark
only gave up hereditary membership of its tiny "parliament"
- the Chief Pleas - on 10 December 2008. Its government officials
still have feudal names - Seneschal for chief judge and speaker
of the parliament. Its system of government had been ruled incompatible
with human rights by the Court of Human Rights of the Council
of Europe and elections were held for a new parliament.
In England some of the peasant rights were removed by the
landowners, especially by the 18th century Enclosures when thousands
of people lost their rights and were forced to move to the industrial
towns. The rights to firewood (Estovers) still exist but even
in October 2008 there are rumours that the Forestry Commission
would like to extinguish these rights, first confirmed by the
Forest Charter, shortly after Magna Carta.
Poaching - the taking of animals for food - on the
landowners' estates went on until the present day. In the 18th
century especially the Commoners dispossessed by the Enclosures
took deer, birds and rabbits from the land where they used to
have rights. (See E.P.Thompson) The landowners, who controlled
Parliament, passed ferocious laws against poaching. Thus some
of the original disputes of the feudal period have never ended
but were continued by the aristocratic landowners.
69% of land in Britain is still owned by 0.3% of the population
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.
The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine.
10. Outside Europe
Wherever the state is weak its functions are liable to be assumed
by the Big Men, the landowners. Spanish colonists took feudalism
to the New World and to the Philippines. The king was far away
and his officials had to work with the landowners who wanted
the same power that they had in Spain itself, or more.
Japan is perhaps
the best example of a feudal system outside Europe. As in Europe
the state was usually weak and the regional landowners were strong
in their local areas. The Samurai class had many similarities
to the Knights of European countries. They were professional
soldiers and highly ritualised - even more so than European knights.
In those colonies where the system of plantations became entrenched,
democracy usually failed to emerge, even after Independence.
Most of Central
America provides numerous examples.
There are today "failed
states" where there is a lack of government. In these
too the outlines of feudalism emerge. The "lords" are
usually called Warlords in the news items from such countries
Kinshasa or Somalia.
It can be argued that street gangs show how feudalism or tribalism
can grow, if there is lack of attachment or allegiance to the
State - lack of what Ibn Khaldun called
"group feeling". (But what they lack is the code of
honor expressed in the oaths).
In the modern world Corporations often have more power
over people than the state has, and often control more money
than any but the largest states - and try to make themselves
immune from democratic controls. Their owners dislike paying
taxes and influence governments to reduce their taxes. Is this
a modern version of the Overmighty Subjects that the English
king Henry the seventh complained of at the end of the Wars of
the Roses? But they operate not in one of the historic states
or nations but in the world as a whole. Classic feudalism came
to an end as the kings regained the power that the Roman Empire
once had. Could a worldwide power grow up to control trans-national
Medieval feudalism can be seen as a kind of "protection
racket" and a means of acquiring the lion's share of wealth
to the owners. Modern neo-feudalism extracts the wealth through
"investment banks" and hedge funds. What perhaps these
institutions and individuals lack is the sense of obligation
expressed in the oaths and code of honour. Perhaps the Templars
(see Crusades) as a business would be a better model than the
joint stock company (derived from the piratical East India Company). The antidote to merchant
bank neo-feudalism would be cooperatives, credit unions and mutually
owned building societies - the devices of the British 19th century
working class movement.
Now that the banks have collapsed, perhaps we all ought to start
these devices up again? See Gilk and this page. Ownership still matters. Does
democracy work if most of people's lives are controlled by people
with almost as much power as the Feudal Lords?
See also Crusades.
Will Hutton on why Billionaires aren't
a good thing.
Former Soviet Central Asia
Feudal industry Quote from a Wikileaks
Azerbaijan - feudalism
The same cable talks disparagingly of Azerbaijan's political
elite. "Observers in Baku often note that today's Azerbaijan
is run in a manner similar to the feudalism found in Europe during
the Middle Ages: a handful of well-connected families control
certain geographic areas, as well as certain sectors of the economy."
These families "collude, using government mechanisms"
to keep out foreign competitors, it asserts.