Eras and Their Highlights

The Middle Ages

What were fiefs?

A fief was an estate that was owned, governed, and protected by a lord. A fief consisted of several manors (each of which might have had its own lord) and their villages, along with all buildings on the land as well as the peasants (serfs) who worked the land, served at court, or took up arms on behalf of the lord. The lord of the fief, called a feudal lord, would secure the allegiance of the manorial lords (sometimes called seigniors), who would in turn secure the allegiance of the peasants. In short, land was exchanged for loyalty; this was feudalism, the political and economic system of the Middle Ages (500–1350). The word feud is of Germanic origin and means “fee”; in repayment for the land they lived on and for the protection they received from the lord, serfs were expected to pay the lord fees—in the form of money (taxes), services, or goods.

The feudal system arose in the seventh century. It was suspended during the Carolingian Empire, which began in 751 when a series of powerful kings (including Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, 742–814) united much of western Europe. But after Charlemagne died in 814, his grandsons fought each other and later divided the vast kingdom among themselves. Each of their territories later came under attack, dissolving Carolingian rule. By the ninth century feudalism had replaced the Carolingian Empire as the political and economic entity governing medieval life. Feudalism lasted into the fifteenth century.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy History Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App