In medieval Europe, between the 9th and 12th centuries there was a model of government based on the dominion of the land and its administration by the lords of the nobility of that time. That system is known as feudalism . The name feudalism comes from the medieval Latin word feudum or faudo, which refers to the contract that the land lords – known as feudal lords – had for the dominion of the lands and the vassals found in it. The feudal lords had to pay tribute to their kingdoms by generating wealth for their kings or emperors. With the passing of time, the crusades, the barbarian invasions and the deterioration of the lands, this system was declining, generating great peasant revolts and ending with the birth of capitalism and a new social class called the bourgeoisie.


What is feudalism?

Feudalism is a system of political, social, and economic organization that manifested itself in Western Europe from the late 9th to the 12th century . This placed the domain of the royal territories and their vassals in the hands of the feudal lords to protect the lands of the monarchy from invasions and to pay tribute to the kings through the wealth produced in the lands of the kingdom. The origin of the feudal model comes from the Roman Empire, when the colonato-patronage regime existed , in which the members of the nobility conserved their lands and their slaves in order to generate wealth and tributes for their kings. These riches came from the agriculture and livestock of their feudal territories.

  • Characteristics of feudalism
  • History
  • Source
  • Feudalism in the Middle Ages
  • Fall of feudalism
  • Social structure of feudalism
  • Culture of feudalism
  • Causes
  • Consequences of feudalism
  • Importance
  • Examples
  • Feudalism in France
  • Feudalism in Spain 
  • Feudalism in Hungary

Characteristics of feudalism

Among the most representative characteristics of feudalism we can mention the following:

  • The king or emperor was the highest authority.
  • Society was divided into three strata. The nobles, the clergy and the servants. There was no class mobility, who was born a servant died a servant.
  • In the feudal period in Europe , many castles and forts were built to protect the nobility from external enemy invaders from other territories.
  • The wealth came from agriculture and livestock .
  • There was no trade, no industry.
  • The serfs paid tribute in kind to the nobles for the right to live on their lands or for the maintenance of the clergy.
  • The political, legal and economic powers were administered only by the feudal lords and by the clergy.
  • Economic growth occurred through wars, since by winning them territories were conquered that could be exploited to produce more food or goods for the kingdom.
  • The figure of the knight appears to serve the king and conquer territories for the Kingdom he serves. The knight is also linked to the Catholic faith and the promotion of it.
  • The power of the Catholic church was superior to that of the monarchy, since it came from God and that is why it was unquestionable. Only the high officials of the Church could dress the kings and with a crown.



Feudalism has its origin in late antiquity with the passage from the slave mode of production to the feudal mode of production from the third century . This economic-social formation is strengthened with the dissolution of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and the construction of the Germanic kingdoms and the Carolingian Empire between the 8th and 9th centuries.

Feudalism in the Middle Ages

Feudalism in Europe marks the passing of the end of the Roman Empire to a new form of monarchical government based on the dominion of the lands and a new era known as the Middle Ages.

Feudalism began in Western Europe as a military approach in which feudal lords dispensed justice, administered and protected their territories with the armed force they possessed but ended with tracts of land that were in the name of a feudal lord who ended up cultivating their lands. and paying for protection for their fiefdoms.

Feudalism spread to European countries such as Spain , France , England, Italy, Portugal , among others. Its heyday was between the 12th and 13th centuries .

Fall of feudalism

The feudal system begins to decline for several causes in which we can mention:

  • The poor living conditions of the inhabitants of the fiefdoms (plagues, famines, wars) left the lands without vassals to work the fields and the harvests were less and less due to the deterioration of the land.
  • The crusades carried out as expeditions to Jerusalem to liberate the holy land from the Muslims left many territories without protection and without a feudal lord to ensure their production.
  • The growth of the bourgeois class. This class developed commerce and little by little it was taking economic power to stay out of the reach of the feudal lords.
  • The presence of Muslim invasions in European territories.

Social structure of feudalism

The social structure of feudal society was made up of three social groups. These were: the warrior nobility, the clergy, and the peasants.

The warrior nobility was made up of the King and the great feudal lords who were part of the nobility. This group includes knights.

The clergy consisted of the high prelates (cardinals, archbishops, and abbots) and the monks and clergy.

The group of peasants was made up of serfs and villains, who were residents of the fiefdoms who could work the land and also practice other professions.

Culture of feudalism

In Medieval times, culture was dominated and administered by religious power , only the clergy were the ones who developed monasteries for the study of the liberal arts (logic, grammar, rhetoric , arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy); created universities in Europe and formations to study philosophy, literature and theology. An example of these houses of study is the University of Bologna created in 1088.

In feudal culture , the Romanesque and Gothic architectural style also developed, which is still present in some European castles and cathedrals in countries such as France, Spain or Italy.


Feudalism originates from the fall of the Roman Empire and the barbarian invasions that generated multiple warlike conflicts for the dominion of territories originated by the Germanic, Slavic, Muslim and Viking peoples. The monarchies to maintain their domain spaces, subdivided their lands into fiefdoms so that they were protected and administered by people of the nobility who had vassals and military personnel for the conservation and production of the land they occupied. This system was implanted little by little in Western Europe of the Middle Ages.

Consequences of feudalism

The implantation of the feudal system brought as a consequence that the central power of the King was increasingly weak in the fiefdoms because the feudal lords made their territories mini-states, where the economy was independent of the kingdom and they were the kings of their lands. In this sense, the kingdoms were fragmented little by little.

The abuse of power by the feudal lords caused many revolts among the peasants who were often mistreated or sold by their masters. The Church wanted to stop the abuse of the nobility but little by little it ended up making the same mistakes.

These two factors, added to the crusades and barbarian invasions generated the fall of feudalism.


The feudal system was of great importance in its time for the protection of many kingdoms of Europe . It is its beginning, its foundations were linked to the loyalty, honor and heroism of the feudal lords to their King and the values ​​of the Catholic religion but unfortunately these ideals were declining with this form of government. This also generated a type of social stratification linked to military power and the possession of lands that years later would be corrupted by the abuse of power, invasions and crusades.


Here are examples of feudalism in Europe:

Feudalism in France

Feudalism settled in France in 700 AD after the fall of the Roman Empire, becoming the classic form of medieval serfdom.

French feudalism strengthened the monarchy and the Catholic Church in the territory, developing a unitary and centralist absolutism that had to battle with many peasant revolts and invaders who came from other lands. Despite all the social confrontations, the French territory expanded its territories to the east and managed to make alliances with other countries on a commercial level.

The feudal regime saw its end in the French Revolution of 1789 .

Feudalism in Spain 

Feudalism was born in Spain with the fall of the Roman Empire in Spanish lands. As in France, Spain was a country that had many kingdoms that little by little were consolidated into the nation that it is today. However, feudalism played its role in the Middle Ages to protect monarchies and to strengthen the power of the church in state decisions.

The French Revolution is taken as a reference for change in Spain to get out of the present feudal system and give way to a new system of government focused on the capitalist system where the bourgeoisie played an important role in the country’s economy. Despite having changed the feudal system in Spain, this nation preserved its Kings and members of the monarchy as part of its cultural heritage and as heads of state.

Feudalism in Hungary

The Kingdom of Hungary was founded in the year 1000 by its King Saint Stephen I and had close commercial relations with other European countries in the Middle Ages.

Hungary had a large kingdom, which included part of the territories of Croatia, Slovenia, Transylvania, and Slovakia. It also had economic stability and strong military might making this kingdom one of the strongest in Europe at that time.

The king was the one who offered the lands and could transfer them to another feudal lord if he considered it necessary as a reward or punishment for his servants. Unlike other European countries such as France, England or Germany, there was no lord below the king who would grant the lands . The King of Hungary treated the nobles as members of his family and had a very close relationship with them that allowed him to strengthen ties of fidelity with his nobles.

The confrontations that occurred in the feudal period of Hungary did not occur by feudal lords but between relatives of the royalty who fought for the absolute power of the kingdom. This is how in 1300, when the last nobleman of the royal House died, Andrew III of Hungary, the nobility took advantage of the weakening of the kingdom to create small kingdoms but did not become conformed into a feudal state, leaving aside, this form of government to adapt to another focused on capitalism .

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