The Middle  Ages - The Feudal System



After the Battle of Hastings, William still had to conquer England. He marched from Hastings, crossing the Thames River then on towards London. He received the surrender of the city and took hostages to ensure that the surrender was kept.

William wanted to be crowned King as soon as possible. His Coronation took place on Christmas Day, 1066. It was held at Westminster.(

                    But how was King William to control the Saxons and organise the land?

To do this, William introduced a system of control and authority across the land, that we know of as Feudalism. The country was too large for the King to look after and run by himself. So the king divided the land up and gave parts to the Church and parts to people below him. This system and the structure of feudalism had been well established in Europe for some time and the Normans imposed feudalism in England.

William kept the promises he had made to the barons who fought with him to give them English land. He gave them lands taken from the Saxons. In exchange, the barons had to pay homage or be loyal to William, and provide knights to fight for him when he needed them. They might also have to pay sums of money to the king. William made sure that the barons could not easily rise against him by giving them pieces of land in different parts of the country, which made it difficult to raise a private army in secret.
 Source A

In their turn the barons granted land to their followers. The knights promised in return to pay homage, be loyal to the barons, to fight for them when needed and to raise money when the barons demanded it.

 So Feudalism in practice meant that the country was not governed by the king but by individual lords, or barons, who: ran or administered their own estates, looked after justice - law and order, minted their own money, levied taxes and tolls, and demanded military service and farm work from their vassals - the villeins (peasants), and serfs.

1. Put the following heading on the top of a new page: The Middle  Ages - The Feudal System. Under this heading, explain in a few lines what the Feudal system was, and how it worked.
2. Why did William the Conqueror introduce feudalism into England? What did his follower have to give William, in return for being given land?
3.a) Study Source A, a painting of a King's coronation, where the Pope or Cardinal is making him King. He does this by placing the golden crown on his head.
Click the painting, and read the information on the page that opens up, about the role and influence of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages.
Explain in your own words, the possible reasons why William gave half of the land he conquered in England, to the Church. Questions 3.b), c) and d) are Optional


The social structure of authority across a country during the Middle Ages, was organized around a system called Feudalism.

    Source B



4. Print off this diagram of the Feudal system and fill in the labels from the information above. Then paste the diagram in your book.
5. Compare and contrast the life of medieval Villeins and Serfs on a Lord's Manor during the Middle ages. In other words, explain what was similar in their lives and what was different.


Briefly explain the three field system of farming followed, and include the meaning of 'fallow'.
Print of this blank map of a Medieval Manor. Label and colour the map and then paste it in your book.
                         Life on the Manor.
Most of the village people were called villeins. The lord of the manor gave each villein space for a house and small garden, strips in the arable fields and a share in the hay meadow, common land and woodland. Instead of paying rent, the villeins would work on certain days for the lord.

In February or March, they would do several days’ ploughing and harrowing on the lord’s land but they had to provide their own food. Once in summer and once in autumn, they would be expected to do one day’s ploughing and one day’s harrowing, but on these occasions the lord would give them food twice a day.

     Source C
There would also be other regular work to be done on the lord’s strips, like hoeing off the weeds. Besides this work, week by week, there were special times when the villein’s whole family had to work; cutting and carrying the lord’s hay and reaping and carrying his corn.






   Source D
                                                The Peasant's Life.
Villages consisted of from 10-60 families living in rough huts on dirt floors, with no chimneys or windows. Often, one end of the hut was given over to storing livestock. They built a framework of timber, filled in the spaces with a lattice-work of this wood, and plastered this all over with a mixture of mud and chopped straw. In this way they made “wattle and daub” walls. Finally, he thatched the roof with straw.

Inside, there would be a flat stone for a fire in the middle of the room and a smoke-hole in the roof above it. Furnishings were sparse; three legged stools, a trestle table, beds on the floor softened with straw or leaves. The peasant diet was mainly porridge, cheese, black bread, and a few home-grown vegetables.

Peasants had a hard life, but they did not work on Sundays or on the frequent saints' days, and they could go to nearby fairs and markets. The lot of serfs was much harsher.

                                         The Serf's Life.
Although not technically a slave, a serf was bound to a lord for life. He could own no property and needed the lord's permission to marry. Under no circumstance could a serf leave the land without the lord's permission unless he chose to run away. If he ran to a town and managed to stay there for a year and a day, he was a free man. However, the serf did have rights. He could not be displaced if the manor changed hands. He could not be required to fight, and he was entitled to the protection of the lord.


Source E
            The Medieval Village.
Villages were only built near a stream or spring because they needed to be close to water. Houses were dotted along a little dirt road. Some of these houses were nothing more than little huts; others were a bit bigger. A large manor house, with barns and stables surrounding it, was where the lord and his wife lived. You would always find a church nearby.

Around the village would be three large arable fields. One would be for growing wheat, one for barley and the third would be lying fallow (empty) - to allow the soil to recover its goodness, otherwise the soil's nutrients would be used up and produce a bad crop. Each field was divided into strips. Most of the village families would have strips scattered about in each field, and the lord would have his own strips. His part of the land is called the demesne.

                   The Mill Pond

                                The Lords Mill.
There would also be common grassland because the people had the right to graze cattle and sheep. Near the stream, where the ground is damp, the grass would grow tall and thick in the hay meadow, and close by would be the watermill with its big wheel turning round in the water as it grinds corn. This would belong to the lord, who would also have a windmill on a hill.

Further away, beyond the fields, are dark woods, where pigs might be kept and deer could be hunted.

7. Turn to the page on the working of a water mill.

Listen to the music (Use your ear phones! Right mouse click, select 'open in a new window', minimise the new window so you can study the painting.)

         Entertainment in the Middle Ages - Holidays and Festivals

The monotony of Medieval daily life during the Middle ages was alleviated by the various types of entertainment, festivals and holidays. The Medieval people of the Middle Ages shared a common life in the work of the fields, in the sports of the village green, and in the services of the parish church. They enjoyed many holidays; it has been estimated that, besides Sundays, about eight weeks in every year were free from work. Festivities at Christmas, Easter, and May Day, at the end of ploughing and the completion of harvest, relieved the monotony of the daily round of labor.

Who were the people who provided the entertainment during the Middle Ages? The Medieval entertainers of the Middle Ages  included Jesters (A fool or buffoon at medieval courts), Mummers (Masked or costumed merrymaker or dancers at festivals), Minstrels and Troubadours, acrobats and jugglers and conjurers.

8.  Read the above about entertainment during the Middle Ages, and also this page: Write one page of historic fiction. Describe a character's experiences during one day at a festival or fair, during the middle ages. Although the events you describe will be fictitious, include accurate details about the activities, sight and sounds that you would have seen at a medieval fair or festival.


9. Explore the castle:

10. Interactive Medieval Hats Activity: ( From
Annenberg Learner )
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