Medieval History/Medieval France

Advertisement


Question
QUESTION: I have heard debate on whether or not the term feudalism should be used to describe the political and military system of medieval Europe. Should the term feudalism be used?

ANSWER: Hi Ryann,
I would like to explore this question, but could you please give me a little more information? What is the other side of the argument? Why do some people think it is inappropriate to use the term 'feudalism?' What other terms besides feudalism do people use to describe the political and military system of Medieval Europe?

C.M.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: It is said that feudalism is a historical construct and that some historians would 'expunge' the word from all textbooks. The words lordship, dependent tenures like fief, and manor existed in the twelth/thirteenth century and could possibly be used instead. While some historian agree on using the construct, feudalism,and include it in textbooks, it requires a definition. Others believe the term is inaccurate so should the term feudalsim be used?

Answer
Thanks Ryann for that clarification,
I don't have a problem with constructs so long as they clarify what they are describing. It's a good idea to explain that the term was not used at the time. We study history to understand the past, not to get locked into a strict use of historical-only terms.

When I look at the word 'feudalism,' I see the word 'feud' which is a long term conflict between factions, often families. Feudalism had the effect of aligning warlords with their overlords and kings so that they fought out of loyalty to their leaders, not out of belief in their cause. So feudalism divided the warlords of Medieval Europe into factions that perpetually warred on each other for the sake of just having a war or over old grudges that often times no one cared about except for honor. During the feudal era it was dishonorable to overlook an insult. This was also something that feudalism shared in common with feuds.

So 'feudalism' does accurately describe many aspects of Medieval warfare. Words like 'fief' and 'manor' describe aspects of the Medieval economy. Many historians prefer to ignore military history, and this might one reason why they prefer 'fief' and 'manor' to 'feudalism.' If one is only studying the Medieval economy, a word like 'feudalism' has limited value.

Hope this helps,
C.M.

Medieval History

All Answers


Answers by Expert:


Ask Experts

Volunteer


C.M. Aaron

Expertise

I've been studying the early medieval period for almost 20 years. In particular, I've studied the fall of the Roman Empire, the barbarian invasions/migrations, early barbarian law codes, the early medieval church, technology of the period, military campaigns and tactics, and some of the early barbarian dynasties, especially the Merovingians in Gaul (France).

Experience

Twenty years of self study. I also write historical fiction of this era.

Education/Credentials
Bachelor's degree.

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.