The Middle Ages Political, Social and Economic Structure:

Feudalism and Manorialism



 Feudalism: Military and political arrangement

between a lord and his vassals: Kings, nobles, and knights


Manorialism:  Relationship between peasants and their lords. Instead of military service, peasants gave the lord a portion of their labor and its products, or made cash payments to the lord in exchange for protection. The manorial system was the basic economic system in much of medieval Europe.


The Order of Things: By the 11th century medieval society was divided into the Three Estates: Those who pray, those who fight, and those who work.


Worshippers: Monks and Nuns; Cannons and Canonesses; Priests. By 13th century friars (monks who did not stay in monastery) traveled from place to place preaching and helping the poor.


Warriors: After 1066 all land belonged to the King with a large portion delegated to the Church. Vassals of all ranks owed both military and non military service to their Lord. Lord also had responsibilities in the justice system both in the Kings court (crimes of treason, murder, false money making, and kidnapping) and his own court. Convicted criminals were charged a fine – these fines made up a large portion of the lords income.



Workers: The peasants: plowing, planting, weeding, harvesting, feeding, milking, shearing, and slaughtering; also worked as blacksmiths, carpenters, shoe makers, weavers, millers. Women: made ale, did all of the spinning and sewing. After the 10th century peasants lived in villages on the manor rather than on isolated farms. By 1200 peasants were legally categorized as free or unfree. Unfree: serfs (villains)


Serfs: Owed their lord many fees: head money, taxes, fee upon marriage, fee upon death, farm products at particular times of the year and payment when land was bought or inherited.


By 1300 towns were purchasing their freedom from the King (charter) creating a 4th estate of town dwellers: Trade and manufacturing – the creation of guilds (set standards for workmanship, wages, and employment practices.)


Women’s Rights and Roles Women were expected to marry and serve those who fought and those who worked. Town women had more opportunities – could work at their husbands trade and own businesses out right. Noble women: typically assisted her husband in many of his duties and was also in charge of the household. Women were also found within the church as nuns, canoness and Abbess.