The Traditional Feudal Paradigm

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Feudalism is not a medieval term or concept. It has no one, agreed upon definition. The 'feudal system,' as most British and American medievalists use the term, describes a complex network or web or personal loyalties and tenure that defined how the nobility of the High Middle Ages were connected to one another and gave shape to how they ruled over each other and the peasantry. But this is not the way that all historians have or do use this word. When Adam Smith coined the term “feudal system” he meant by it a social and economic system defined by inherited social ranks, each of which possessed inherent social and economic privileges and obligations. In Smith’s feudal system wealth derived from agriculture, which was organized not according to market forces but on the basis of customary labor services owed by serfs to landowning nobles. This is what Marxist historians and economists mean by feudalism. Some historians, indeed, would expunge the word 'feudalism' from all textbooks--and there is a very good case to be made for this, since the 'system' I described above is a historical construct derived from a mass of disparate sources from different times and places. I. THE TRADITIONAL FEUDAL PARADIGM Traditionally, American and British historians have used the term "feudalism" to describe a political, military, and social system that bound together the warrior aristocracy of western Europe between ca. 1000 and ca. 1300. This "system," it is asserted, only gradually took shape, and differed in detail from region to region. The elements of this system were 1) the personal bond of mutual loyalty and military service between nobles of different rank known as vassalage/lordship held by vassals/men from their lords, whose property, in theory, the tenements remained, in return for specified service, which was usually a combination of military and social duties
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