Today every civilized country has a form of central government that takes part in the ruling of the people of their land. During the Middle Ages there was an absence of a central government, therefore the people of Medieval Europe created their own government. The people saw a need for protection and justice. This government that the people created was called Feudalism. Feudalism provided protection for the townspeople. A characteristic that Feudalism held was the use of a social structure.
There were several levels found in the social structure. The first level was the monarch, king or queen, or clergy. The monarch was the highest level in the system and ruled over all of the land, except for the church. The monarch lived in a castle and governed over all of the manors in the land. Below is a photo of my beloved king's castle, Richard the Lionheart!
The next highest level in the medieval social structure was the lords, or nobles. The lords were given responsibility of estates by the monarch. In exchange for this land the lords gave the king their loyalty and military support. On their land the lords grew crops and were able to keep some of them for themselves. Also, the lords were able to keep the profit that was made from selling the crops. The lords of the manors were responsible for maintaining order of their land, enforcing the laws, and keeping the serfs safe.
Under the lords was the social class of the knights, or vassals. Knights were granted this title by the monarch of the land. Knights belonged to certain lords and fought for the lords during battles and wars. Knights wore a suit of armor made out of a pattern called chain mail (see picture). Chain mail was a covering made out of many, small interlinked metal chains. Knights were also known for using shields, lances, flails, maces ,and swords in battle. Their shields were decorated to represent who the knight was. Lances were long, strong, spear-like weapons designed for use on horseback. The mace was a spiked metal ball that was attached to the end of a wooden stick. Flails were like maces except the metal ball was attached to the wooden stick by a metal chain. Knights upheld a special code of conduct called chivalry. Chivalry stated that a true knight held these qualities: religious belief, bravery, loyalty, generosity, and strength. To be a knight in Medieval Europe was a major honor bestowed on only the best soldiers.
The lowliest level of the medieval social classes was the serfs or the peasants. Almost 90% of the population of Medieval Europe was serfs. Serfs were regular village people that worked the land of the manor. In return for protection and a place to live serfs were required to farm the land and perform other jobs that were requested by the lord. Serfs could be likened to slaves; they were forced to work the land of the manor and could not leave with permission from the lord of the land. However, unlike slaves serfs could not be bought, sold, or traded. Serfs held various jobs throughout the manor. These jobs included craftsmen, bakers, farmers, and tax collectors.
The poem to the right explains the life of a serf. Read the poem and think about the tone of the poem, what is this author trying to get you to feel about serfdom?