Entertainment / Literature / Feudalism: The medieval model of government predating the birth of the modern nation-state. Feudal society is a military hierarchy in which a ruler or lord offers mounted fighters a fief (medieval Latin 'beneficium'), a unit of land to control in exchange for a military service. The individual who accepted this land became a vassal, the man who granted the land become known as the vassal's liege or his lord. The deal was often sealed by swearing oaths on the Bible or on the relics of saints. Often this military service amounted to forty days' service each year in times of peace or indefinite service in times of war, but the actual terms of service and duties varied considerably on a case-by-case basis. For instance, in the late medieval period, this military service was often abandoned in preference for cash payment or an agreement to provide a certain number of men-at-arms or mounted knights for the lord's use. In the late medieval period, the fiefdom often became hereditary, and the firstborn son of a knight or lesser nobleman would inherit the land and the military duties from his father upon the father's death. Feudalism had two enormous effects on medieval society. (1) First, it discouraged unified government because individual lords would divide their lands into smaller and smaller sections to give to lesser nobles and knights. These lesser noblemen in turn would subdivide their own lands into even smaller fiefs to give to even less important rulers and knights. Each knight would swear his oath of fealty (loyalty) to the ones who gave him his lands, which was not necessarily the king or higher noblemen, let alone an abstraction like 'France' or 'England.' Feudal government was always an arrangement between individuals, not between nation-states and citizens. (2) Second, it discouraged trade and economic growth. Peasant farmers called serfs worked the fields, they were tied to individual plots of land and forbidden to move or change occupations without the permission of the lord. The feudal lord might claim one-third to one-half of the serf's produce in taxes and fees, and the serfs owed him a set number of days each year in which they would work the lord's fields in exchange for the right to work their own lands. Often, they were required to grind their grain in the lord's mill and bake all their bread in the lord's oven in exchange for other fees. In theory, the entire community might be divided into bellatores (the noblemen who fought), laboratores (the agricultural laborers who grew the food), and oratores (the clergy who prayed and attended to spiritual matters). In actuality, this simple tripartite division known as the three estates of feudalism proved unworkable, and the necessity of skilled craftsmen, merchants, and other occupations was quite visible in spite of the theoretical model espoused in some sermons and political treatises.
Entertainment / Literature / Knight: A military aristocrat in medieval Europe and England who swore service as a vassal to a liege lord in exchange for control over land. The term comes from the Old English word cniht, meaning young man MORE
Entertainment / Literature / Serf: A medieval peasant tied to a specific plot of land in the feudal system of government. He was allowed to work this land in exchange for services to his lord. In the early medieval period, probably 90% MORE