23rd November 2004
1. Describe some of the chief characteristics of feudalism.
Feudalism is a social structure, much like the pyramid structure we were shown in class where there is a Lord or King (or at times several different lords and no king) and he has vassals (men loyal to him) and those vassals have sub vassals who in turn have peasants or serfs. The vassals received land from their lords and in turn the serfs toiled endlessly over such lands. Serfdom is quite similar to slavery- for the serf is bound to the land for life. In most cases, the sub-vassals responsibility is to care after the Lord’s lands. The vassals are to direct the sub-vassals and are also to have homage (French for fealty) to their lord. This meant that should the lord need aid against a foe, the vassal’s duty was to fight for their lord. The lord in turn would have to protect his people in the event of an attack or something of the sort. We cannot say that Feudalism is a system because according to many modern-day historians, there simply was no acknowledged “system.”
2. Describe the role of the following in the development of Medieval Europe: the Church, the feudal system, the rise of the nobility, the Crusades, the formation of the German Hanseatic League, the effects of the plague, the growth of trade guilds, the urbanization of the peasantry, the rise of science.
The Holy Mother Church, as it is known, was the most powerful force of the Mediæval period. The Roman Catholic Church had great power, great wealth, and the ability to manipulate leaders with its threat of excommunication.
The feudal system’s economy was based on a barter economy. There was no systematic landholding pact between landowner and vassal.
The status of the noble rose again during the High Middle Ages. They held political, social and economic power. Referring back to some ancient civilizations, including Romans, aristocratic women were legally permitted to own and inherit land. Aristocratic men were still the warriors- for these are the men who went off to the Crusades.
The effects of the Plague were brutal. This horrible disease, caused by the bacillus Yersinia pestis, wreaked havoc from Asia all the way throughout Europe and into Scandinavia. According to the book Plague and Pestilence, “one-fourth to three-fourths of the population of Europe and Asia (approximately 25,000,000 people) perished.” The Plague created a horrible frenzy where Jews were blamed for the pandemic; scourgers roamed the streets in repentance of their sins; people all over succumbed to irrationality and superstition. Also from Plague and Pestilence, another disease (mental) arouse as an effect of the Plague- it was known as Dancing Mania (Tarantism). This was another way people would try to repent for their sins- by dancing endlessly in the streets. Some villages were obliterated population-wise.
The rise of trade guilds and the Hanseatic League were important aspects of Mediæval life that helped pave the way into the Renaissance. Trade became easier, more efficient and profitable with merchants joining together.
Science, in my opinion, is the key element in bringing European civilization from the foul and ignorant Mediæval period to the light of learning and reason that came with the Renaissance. Although many of the Mediæval scientists were considered “blasphemers” – they helped bring about the move from superstition to reason.
Kohn, George Childs. “Black Death.” Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence:
From Ancient Times to the Present. Revised Edition. Checkmark Books. New
York, NY. Pgs. 27-28.