900 - 1100

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The Feudal Period:  900 - 1100

Monasticism and the Cluniac Reform Movement
Holy Roman Empire
Papal Monarchy 
Capetian France
Norman Conquest


Feudalism is the political system which developed as a consequence of the Ninth Century Invasions.  Feudalism defines the relationship between the nobility.  A Lord grants land (called a fief) to his Vassal in return for military service.  In an age when money has disappeared from circulation, Kings have only land with which to reward their followers.  Centralized government has disappeared during this age.  A feudal king has very little power.  Often his vassals are more powerful than the King.

There are special ceremonies whereby these feudal relationships are established.  A knight pays homage to his lord.  He takes an oath of fealty to his lord promising to carry out his obligations.  In return, the lord grants land, the fief, to his follower or vassal.  This fief may be an entire province for a duke or it can be a single manor for a knight.

During the Middle Ages, the cavalry predominates over the infantry.  Knights maintain horses.  They ride into battle with their lances and swords.  They are attended by servants and foot soldiers.  But the nobility fights on horseback.  

Feudal grants of land tend to become viewed as hereditary possessions.  This weakens the power of the king or lord over his followers.  Why should the second generation vassal still be loyal to the second generation king?

Feudal Hierarchy (approximate)

Emperor                                          Empire (World)              Pope
        King                                              Kingdom                         Cardinal
            Duke                                         Duchy                                  Archbishop
                Count                                    County                                    Bishop
                    Knight                               Manor                                         Priest

The Roman Catholic Church was an integral part of society during the Middle Ages.  The Medieval Ideal is that there is one Empire and one Church:  Emperor and Pope are the apex of the political system.  While the reality of the Middle Ages is that power is exercised at the local level, the memory of the Roman Empire remained.  One Universal Church and One State remained the ideal.

During the Middle Ages, society is divided into three estates:
        First Estate--Clergy
        Second Estate--Nobility
        Third Estate--Everyone Else, but in reality this refers to the townspeople.. 


Manorialism is the economic system on which the early Middle Ages are based.  Manors are economically self-sufficient estates.  Each manor produces most of the goods required for survival.  The manor is owned by a Lord, who is a member of the nobility or landed aristocracy.  The Lord of the Manor and only he is part of the Feudal System.

The vast majority of the people living during the early Middle Ages are serfs.  The serfs are bound to the soil.  They are not quite slaves but they are also not free.  Serfs gain protection from their lords.  At a time of constant warfare and raiding by Vikings, Magyars, and Muslims, free farmers often traded in their freedom for the security that the manor could provide.

Serfs did not play a role within the feudal system.  They provided the manpower to work the farms.  Serfs were probably 90% of the population or more during the early Middle Ages.  The status of serfs and their material welfare varied greatly during the course of the Middle Ages and in different regions.   

bullet Monasticism and the Cluniac Reform Movement.
The Catholic Church was an integral part of the feudal system during the early Middle Ages.  Bishops received fiefs from kings and were expected to go to war for their lords.  Bishops were themselves lords, who went to war against their feudal rivals.

During the early Middle Ages, most priests were illiterate and grossly immoral by today's standards.  They are often married or lived with concubines.  Higher clergy, like bishops, were often hard-drinking, hard-swearing, hard-whoring warriors.

But repeatedly in history when the Church is in decline, somewhere within it reform is born.  If the Church wanted to regain its moral voice and mission, it had to free itself from bondage to the feudal system.  The Cluniac Reformers accomplished that objective.

bulletHoly Roman Empire

When Charlemagne’s Empire was divided into three parts at the Treaty of Verdun in 843, the Eastern Frankish lands developed into what may be called Germany. Various German tribes, like the Saxons, Franconians, Bavarians, and Austrians formed a tribal (Stem) monarchy that came to be called the Holy Roman Empire. Otto I the Great (936-973) is often considered to be the founder of the Holy Roman Empire, which included Northern and Central Italy. It included Rome.  He was crowned emperor by the pope in 962.

During the Middle Ages until 1250, this Empire was the most powerful state in Europe. When the Popes successfully asserted their independence from the Emperor, the Empire went into decline. It became a loose confederation of over 300 free cities, bishoprics, duchies, and small kingdoms headed by an Emperor chosen by seven Electors. Since the fifteenth century, Habsburgs were usually elected to this position.
bulletPapal Monarchy

Papal Monarchy refers to the development of a strong papacy, independent of political control, which came to dominate European affairs in the time period from 1059 through 1309.  The Cluniac reform movement and the creation of the College of Cardinals mark the beginning of this period and the Avignon Papacy marks its end.  Pope Innocent III is the high point. 
bulletCapetian France

The Capetian kings ruled France from 987 to 1328.  These kings built up France from very limited territorial possessions near Paris, the Isle de France, to the powerful feudal kingdom of Philip IV, the Fair. 
bulletNorman England
William, Duke of Normandy, conquered England in 1066 after he won the Battle of Hastings over the last of the Anglo-Saxon kings.  Over the next centuries, his successors established a strong feudal monarchy in England.   Henry II encouraged the formation of what came to be the Common Law of England through his royal judges.  Kind John was forced to grant the Magna Charta.  Edward I added the institution of Parliament with a House of Lords and a House of Commons to the governmental structures of England.

[Check out the The Annenberg Foundation and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting ACPB logo Site on the Middle Ages