The term feudalism can have many meanings. “The highly diffused distribution of power…, an economic system, a mode of production in which wealth is entirely agricultural and cities have not yet formed... or an aristocratic social order in which propertied men are bound together by kinship and shared interests, supported by labor of serfs attached to manors.” (Judith Coffin, 2011) In my opinion this term is still extremely useful as a historical concept.
Feudalism comes from the word Feudum which is translated to fief meaning gift. “A fief is a gift or grant that creates a kind of contractual relationship between the giver and receiver….In return the recipient owed the giver loyalty or services of some kind. In many cases, the gift implied that the recipient was subordinate to the giver.” (Judith Coffin, 2011) King William used this concept to his ability when he forcefully took his kingdom. He rewarded his Norman followers with fiefs in return for their loyalties. William was able to coin money, collect a national land tax, supervise justice in royal courts and raise an army. He later insisted that the people of England owed ultimate loyalty to the king even if they had not received any fiefs directly from him. This was one of the problems feudalism created. “It was a feudal monarchy.” (Judith Coffin, 2011)
Feudalism, however, also solved a number of problems. The relationships created by the fiefs were essential in maintaining order in a violent world where, before the monarchy, no central authority existed. “Counts held land from knights, knights frequently held lands from each other, and many landholders held fiefs from a number of different lords. Feudalism therefore created no feudal pyramids, in which knights held fiefs from counts and counts held fiefs from kings, all in an orderly fashion.” (Judith Coffin, 2011) This ensured order was maintained.
“The rapid urbanization of Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries was also fostered by the initiatives of lords who saw economic advantages to be gained from providing safe havens for travelers and trade.” (Judith Coffin, 2011) As the economy grew and trade increased the lords and higher nobility sought to take advantage of it. The wealthy merchants used the sea to increase trade between Italy and northern Europe. Many towns were self-governed and those that weren’t fought for their freedom. In 1127 the people of Arras banded together to form a commune and swore to maintain solidarity with one another while setting up their own form of representative government. The monastery was forced to free them but that meant that they were also free to tax them. “By the end of the Century, Arras was the wealthiest and most densely populated town in…