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Feudalism and Medieval Knights Index

Feudalism
Feudal Pyramid
English Workshop
Classwork
Homework

Living History Project

Living History Project Index

 

English Writing Workshop and Vocabulary

Define in a sentence of your own each of the following:

  • Manor
  • Vassal
  • Fief
  • Knight
  • Feudalism

Cluny Museum, Paris (photo by John Hembury)

Vocabulary

lord of manor

crossbow

vassal

longbow

fief

visor

baron

heraldry

feudal pyramid

surcoat

bishop

chain-mail

abbot

destrier

knight

coat-of-arms

phalanx

 

 

Classwork

'The Feudal Pyramid in Norman England'

  • At the top and in the centre of a sheet of writing paper draw in pencil a rectangle one square high and four squares long. In it write in ink 'King'.

  • Eight squares beneath 'King' draw two more rectangles the same size as above. One of them starts four squares from the left-hand margin and the other starts four squares from the righthand edge of the page. In one rectangle write 'Barons' and in the other 'Bishops'

  • Count another eight squares down and this time draw four rectangles. Start one square from the left and leave a square between each rectangle. In each rectangle write 'Knights'.

  • Count another eight squares down and write across the page : 'Peasants' 'Peasants' 'Peasants' 'Peasants' 'Peasants' etc from the margin to the right-hand edge of the page.

In the seven lines below each section choose the correct description from below and copy it

  • A few thousand knights held manors in the name of their baron or bishop.

  • Owned the kingdom. Kept some royal estates and passed on others to his barons and bishops.

  • Several million peasants worked the land for their lord.

  • About 200-300 great lords held huge estates and passed on others.

Draw arrows in red going downwards from the top of the pyramid to the vassals below.

 

 

THE LIVING HISTORY PROJECT

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Feudalism and Medieval Knights

Introduction

Coat of Arms: Richard I or Richard the Lionheart (Public Domain Image)

Coat of Arms: Richard I or Richard the Lionheart

 

In the Middle Ages there were three classes or 'estates' into which everybody could be divided up :

  • The Church. These were the priests, bishops and monks who prayed for the people.

  • The Lords. These were the men who ruled and fought and defended the people.

  • Ordinary People. This was the great majority of folk whose job was simply to work and feed themselves and everyone else.

 

Feudalism

Cluny Museum, Paris (photo by John Hembury)

 

We will look at the church in another chapter. For the moment , let's examine the lords. It's important to remember that in the Middle Ages there was no strong central government to protect the kingdom, collect taxes and judge criminals. It took centuries for these to appear and only in the 16th century did strong kings who were able to do those jobs emerge. So who did this work for most of the Middle Ages? Well, it was the lords.

A lord of a manor held a village , had a manor house or a castle, if he was powerful, some fields and woods around it , and a village where his peasants lived and worked the land . He collected taxes and tried and punished criminals in his court. All this put together was called his manor but the lord did not own it. He held it because another, greater lord had handed it over to him. The lesser lord was called the vassal of the greater one and this land which had been handed to him was called a fief.

 

Cluny Museum, Paris (photo by John Hembury)

 

What did the vassal have to do in order to receive a fief? He had to serve the greater lord in battle, appearing in armour on a horse as a knight. This medieval system of holding land in exchange for military service is called feudalism. The ceremony in which a fief was handed over in return for fighting was called an investiture and it involved swearing fealty and doing homage. The future vassal placed his hands between his lord's hands, promised to be loyal, fight for the him and be his man (homo in Latin, so we get homage). At the ceremony, the lord often gave his vassal a lump of dirt, or a stick as a symbol of the fief he was handing over. After about 1100 the custom was for fiefs to be handed down from father to eldest son as an inheritance.

 

Cluny Museum, Paris (photo by John Hembury)

Cluny Museum, Paris (photo by John Hembury)

 

Feudal Pyramid

But where did the greater lord get his land from? He had received it in turn from an even greater lord and so on until a really mighty lord, or baron, was the vassal of the king sitting at the top of the feudal pyramid. Sometimes even kings were vassals of other kings. For example King Edward III of England was the vassal King Philip VI of France for the fiefs he held in France and it was when he refused to pay homage to the French king that the Hundred Years War began in 1337.

Bishops and abbots, who were often as powerful as the greatest of the barons, usually held land directly from the king , but they were not expected to fight since they were men of the church and could not shed blood . However, they still had to pay for the correct number of knights to do the fighting for them.

 

Cluny Museum, Paris (photo by John Hembury)

 

All this began to appear in Europe in the 8th century, at the time of Charlemagne , but it was the Normans who really established feudalism strictly in northern France and England after the conquest of 1066. It lasted until the end of the Middle Ages in the 1500s although it was only officially abolished in France in 1789.

 

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