In the feudal system, the king was the absolute "owner" of property, and all nobles, knights, and other tenants, known as "vassals," just "held" land from the king, who was thus at the top of the feudal pyramid. Because he had no private land to hold, the king could do no real harm, except by his word, so he was able to be generous — and he often was so considered the most magnanimous ruler in Europe.
Some historians say that William I, the Norman king who brought order to England after the chaos of the early Middle Ages, was the greatest feudal lord in history. Others cite Edward I, who fought many wars against the English nobility to secure his position as king; Robert the Strong, the first monarch of the House of Capet; or Philip II, the fierce warrior king of Spain. But none of them is considered great enough to break out of the upper tier of medieval lords.
The only way up for a noble was through another noble, so it was vital that you have allies among your peers if you were to have any chance of success in battle, or acquiring more land. A few achieved greatness without ever having been to war, but most made their names in combat. The two main ways of becoming a lord were through inheritance or marriage.
England's Feudal State Structure In the feudal system, the king was the absolute "owner" of property, and all nobles, knights, and other tenants, known as "vassals," just "held" land from the king, who was thus at the top of the feudal pyramid. Because he had no physical labor to perform and no goods to trade, the king needed help running his affairs and kept counselors (known as "kings advisors") to help him decide what laws to make, when to go to war, etc. The king could also give orders to his vassals, but they often had the right of refusal; if they accepted the offer, they became subservient to the lord. A vassal might be required to fight on behalf of his lord in battle, but once the battle was over, he was free to go wherever he wanted.
In practice, most kingdoms used a mix of these two systems. Some areas were held directly by the monarch, others were granted rights of self-government before being given away as gifts. Kingdoms such as England and Norway developed strong states built around a central government with executive powers that ruled through elected officials who worked for them. However, many countries remained semi-feudal, using elements of both systems simultaneously.
The King sat atop the Feudal Pyramid. The territory was claimed by the King. The monarch awarded the land to significant nobles, who then swore allegiance to the king by pledging to serve and defend him. The king also awarded territory to vassals, who were less powerful military men (the knights). These men would likewise pledge their service to the king in return for land.
At its peak, the Feudal System included many countries that covered an enormous portion of Europe. It provided a kind of security that allowed people to live free lives instead of being locked up in prisons or forced into slavery.
In time, these same nations grew ambitious and sought to rule other lands. They hired soldiers to do their fighting for them. But the common man didn't have any way to protect himself against these invaders. If he refused to give his money to his lord, he could be killed or sent away. Or even worse, take his business away from him.
This system began to break down after about 1400. With no real alternative available, people started to fight back against their masters. Some rebelled and made themselves new masters - others weren't so lucky. There were still many territories that hadn't risen up as slaves where this system still existed in 1750. But it was about to disappear completely from Europe.
After 1700, some European nations abolished their own kings and adopted more democratic systems in which the people ruled themselves.
Feudalism in 12th-century England was one of Europe's finest structured and entrenched institutions at the time. Some historians believe that William II, called "the Conqueror," was the greatest feudal leader in England.
In France, Germany, and Italy, the king was also lord paramount, but many other powerful people contributed to the success of governance under monarchy. In France, the most famous among them were the House of Capet, while in Germany it was the House of Saxony. The Pope was the only person who could create peers in Britain or France, but he was not a monarch - his authority came directly from Christ himself - so he did not fit into this question.
When we talk about great feudal leaders, we usually think of war heroes who won battles or campaigns. But aside from military achievements, there were several other ways to rise up in society during this era. You could be a politician, a diplomat, or even an artist. All things considered, the man who ranked first as ruler of England, France, and Norway after the death of William II is believed to be Harold Godwinson, who lost his battle to William the Conqueror at Hastings in 1066.
The Feudal System's Leader He held all of the land in the country and chose who would lease it to. As a result, he normally authorized tenants he could rely on to lease property from him. However, before being granted any territory, they were required to take an oath of loyalty to the King at all times.
Is a form of administration in which nobles have judicial, political, and military authority over a region.
Peasants were the lowest-ranking members of society, working on land owned by nobles and knights. It was based on a hierarchical pyramid structure in which everyone owed loyalty to their immediate superior, and the nobility of the land and Lords of the Manor were in charge of the peasants who lived on their property.
At the top of the pyramid sat the king or lord. Sometimes he would be represented by a prince, but usually he would be a living person who made decisions about government policy. Next in rank came the nobility. These were people who had been born into families that had become wealthy enough to afford the rights and responsibilities of being part of the ruling class. Often they received their lands from the king as gifts because they were brave in battle or good at managing finances. Some became nobles by marriage. After the nobility came the knights, who were men who had become knights after performing some act of valor. They could be given lands by the king, but most made their own fortunes through fighting for money in wars or conducting business with other lords.
At the bottom of the hierarchy were the peasants. This is where the term "serf" comes from; it means "servant." Peasants worked the land under the supervision of a master or landlord. If they behaved properly they might be allowed to keep some of the produce of their labor, but often they had to give everything they grew or mined back to their lord.