FEUDALISM (from Late Lat. feodum or feudum, a fee or fief ; see FEE). In every case of institutional growth in history two things are to be distinguished from the beginning for an understanding of the process and its results. One of these is the change of conditions in the political or social environment which made growth necessary. The other is the already existing insti tutions which began to be transformed to meet the new needs. In studying the origin and growth of political feudalism, the dis tinction is easy to make. The prevailing need of the later Roman and early mediaeval society was protection—protection against the sudden attacks of invaders or revolted peasants, against the unwarranted demands of government officers, or even against the legal but too heavy exactions of the government. The protection which the government normally furnished, the weak freeman and the small landowner could no longer obtain. He must seek protec tion wherever he could get it, and pay the price demanded for it. These are the great social facts—the failure of government to per form one of its most primary duties, the necessity of finding some substitute in private life—extending through the whole formative period of feudalism.
Roman Origins.—The institutions which the need of pro tection seized upon had both long existed in the private, not public, relations of the Romans. One of them related to the person, the other related to land. There are thus distinguished at the beginning those two great sides of feudalism which re mained to the end more or less distinct. The personal institution needs little description. It was the Roman patron and client relationship which had remained in the days of the empire, in later times less important perhaps legally than socially. This institution, the patrocinium, was firmly enough entrenched to survive the German conquest, and to be continued by the con querors. In its new use, alike in the later Roman and the early German state, the landless freeman who could not support himself offered his services, those proper to a freeman, to some power ful man in return for shelter and support. This transaction, called commendation, gave rise in the German state to a written con tract which related the facts and provided a penalty for its vio lation. It created a relationship of protection and support on one side, and of free service on the other.
The other institution, relating to land, was that known to the Roman law as the precarium, because of the prayer of the sup pliant by which the relationship was begun. The precarium was a form of renting land not intended primarily for income, but for use when the lease was made from friendship, for example, or as a reward, or to secure a debt. Legally its characteristic feature was that the lessee had no right of any kind against the grantor. The owner could terminate the relation at any time, for any reason, or for none at all, and the heirs of neither party were bound by it.i The legal character of this transaction is summed up in a well-known passage in the Digest (xliii. 26. 12) which may be paraphrased as follows :—The precarium tenant may employ the interdict against a third party, because he cannot use the ordinary civil action, his holding being not a matter of business but rather of favour and kindness.
As used for protection in later Roman days the precarium gave rise to what was called the commendation of lands, patro cinium fundorum. The poor landowner surrendered to his power ful neighbour the ownership of his lands, which he then received back as a precarium—gaining protection during his lifetime at the cost of his children, who were left without legal claim and compelled to make the best terms they could.' Applied to this use the precarium found extensive employment in the last age of the empire. The government looked on the practice with dis favour, because it transferred large areas from the easy access of the state to an ownership beyond its reach. The laws repeatedly forbade it under increasing penalties, but it could not be stopped.
Frankish Development.—These practices the Frankish con querors of Gaul found in full possession of society, and they seem to have made them their own without material change. The patrocinium they could understand by the existence of a some what similar institution among themselves, the comitatus, de scribed by Tacitus. The comitatus made contributions of its own to future feudalism, to some extent to its institutional side, largely to the ideas and spirit which ruled in it. Probably the cere mony which grew into feudal homage, and the oath of fealty, cer tainly the honourable position of the vassal and his pride in the relationship, the strong tie which bound lord and man, and the idea that faith and service were due on both sides in equal measure, may be traced to German sources. But we must not forget that the origin of the vassal relationship, as an institution, is to be found on Roman soil.
During the reign of Charlemagne and the later Carolingian age continued necessities, military and civil, forced the kings to recognize these new institutions more fully, even when standing between the government and the subject, intercepting the public duties of the latter. The incipient feudal baron had not been slow to take advantage of the break-down of the old German military system. The poor Frank could escape the ruinous de mands of military service only by submitting himself and his lands to the count, who did not hesitate on his side to force such submission. Charlemagne legislated against this tendency, trying to make it easier for the poor freeman to fulfil his military duties directly to the state, and to forbid the misuse of power by the rich. Finally the king was compelled to recognize existing facts, to lay upon the lord the duty of producing his men in the field and to allow him to appear as their commander. This completed the transformation of the army into a vassal army; it completed the recognition of feudalism by the state, as a legitimate relation between different ranks of the people; and it recognized the transformation in a great number of cases of a public duty into a private obligation.
In the meantime another institution had grown up in this Franco-Roman society, which probably began and certainly assisted in another transformation of the same kind. This is the immunity. Suggested probably by Roman practices, it received a great extension in the Merovingian period, at first and especially in the interest of the Church, but soon of lay land-holders. By the grant of an immunity to a proprietor the royal officers, the count and his representatives, were forbidden to enter his lands to exer cise any public function there. The duties which the count should perform passed to the proprietor, who now represented the gov ernment for all his tenants free and unfree. Apparently no modification of the royal rights was intended by this arrangement, but the beginning of a great change had really been made. The king might still receive the same revenues and the same services from the district held by the lord as formerly, but for their payment a private person in his as overlord was now responsible. In the course of a long period characterized by a weak central government, it was not difficult to enlarge the rights which the lord thus obtained, to exclude even the king's personal authority from the immunity, and to translate the duties and payments which the tenant had once owed to the state into obligations which he owed to his lord, even finally into incidents of his tenure. The most important public function whose trans formation into a private possession was assisted by the growth of the immunity was the judicial. The lord's court gradually took the place of the public court in civil, and even by degrees in criminal cases. The plaintiff, even if he were under another lord, was obliged to sue in the court of the defendant's lord, and the portion of the fine for a breach of the peace which should have gone to the state went in the end to the lord.
The transfer of the judicial process, and of the financial and administrative sides of the government as well, into private possession, was not, however, accomplished entirely by the road of the immunity. As government weakened after the strong days of Charlemagne, and disorder, invasion, and the difficulty of intercommunication tended to throw the locality more and more upon its own resources, the officer who had once been the means of centralization, the count, was able to exercise the powers which had been committed to him as an agent of the king, as if they were his own private possession. Nor was the king's aid lacking to this 'method of dividing up the royal authority, any more than to the immunity, for it became a frequent practice to make the adminis trative office into a fief, and to grant it to be held in that form of property by the count. In this way the feudal county, or duchy, formed itself, corresponding in most cases only roughly to the old administrative divisions of the state.
In its earliest stage of growth the feudal system was that of the private possession only. For protection the great landowner forced his smaller neighbours to become his dependants in return under a great variety of forms, but especially developing thereby the precarium land tenure and the patrociniurn personal service, and organizing a private jurisdiction over his tenants, and a private army for defence. Finally he secured from the king an immunity which excluded the royal officers from his lands and made him a quasi-representative of the state. In the meantime his neighbour the count had been following a similar process. His right to exact military, financial and judicial duties for the state he had used to force men to become his dependants, and then he had stood between them and the state, freeing them from burdens which he threw with increased weight upon those who still stood outside his personal protection. The kings first adopted for them selves some of the forms and practices which had thus grown up, and by degrees recognized them as legally proper for all classes. It proved to be easier to hold the lord responsible for the public duties of all his dependants because he was the king's vassal and by attaching them as conditions to the benefices which he held, than to enforce them directly upon every subject. When this stage was reached the formative age of feudalism may be con sidered at an end. When the government of the state had entered into feudalism, and the king was as much lord as king; when the vassal relationship was recognized as a proper and legal founda tion of public duties; when the two separate sides of early feudalism were united as the almost universal rule, so that a man received a fief because he owed a vassal's duties, or looked at in the other and finally prevailing way, that he owed a vassal's duties because he had received a fief ; and finally, when the old idea of the temporary character of the precarium tenure was lost sight of, and the right of the vassal's heir to receive his father's holding was recognized as the general rule—then the feudal sys tem may be called full grown. We shall not be far wrong if we place the end of its formative age near the beginning of the loth century.
The foundation of the feudal relationship proper was the fief, which was usually land, but might be any desirable thing, as an office, a revenue in money or kind, the right to collect a toll, or operate a mill. In return for the fief, the man became the vassal of his lord ; he knelt before him, and, with his hands between his lord's hands, promised him fealty and service; he rose to his feet and took the oath of fealty which bound him to the obligations he had assumed in homage; he received from his lord ceremonial investiture with the fief. The faithful performance of all the duties he had assumed in homage constituted the vassal's right and title to his fief. So long as they were fulfilled, he, and his heir after him, held the fief as his property, practically and in relation to all under tenants as if he were the owner. In the ceremony of homage and investiture, which is the creative contract of feudal ism, the obligations assumed by the two parties were determined, as a rule, by local custom. In detail the vassal's services differed widely, but they fall into two classes, general and specific. The general included all that might come under the idea of loyalty, seeking the lord's interests, keeping his secrets, betraying the plans of his enemies, protecting his family, etc. The specific services covered military service, which included appearance in the field on summons with a certain force, often armed in a specified way, and remaining a specified time. It often covered also the duty of guarding the lord's castle, and of holding one's own castle subject to the plans of the lord for the defence of his fief. Hardly less characteristic was court service, which included the duty of help ing to form the court on summons, of taking one's own cases to that court instead of to some other, and of submitting to its judg ments. The duty of giving the lord advice was often fulfilled in sessions of the court, and in these feudal courts the obligations of lord and vassal were enforced, with an ultimate appeal to war. ' Under this head may be enumerated the financial duties of the vassal, which were either intended to mark the vassal's tenant relation, like the relief, or to be a part of his service, like the aid, that is, he was held to come to the aid of his lord in a case of financial as of military necessity. The relief was a sum paid by the heir for the lord's recognition of his succession. The aids were paid on a few occasions, determined by custom, where the lord was put to unusual expense, as for his ransom when captured by the enemy, or for the knighting of his eldest son. The most lucra tive of the lord's rights were wardship and marriage.
j Ideally regarded, feudalism covered Europe with a network of these fiefs, rising gradually from the smallest, the knight's fee, at the bottom, to the king at the top, who was the supreme land owner, or who held the kingdom from God. Actually not even in the most regular of feudal countries, like England or Germany, was there any fixed gradation. A knight might hold directly of the king, a count of a viscount, a bishop of an abbot, or the king himself of one of his own vassals, or even of a vassal's vassal, and in return his vassal's vassal might hold another fief directly of him.
Actual government in the feudal age was primitive and un differentiated. Its chief and almost only organ, for kingdom and barony alike, was the curia—a court formed of the vassals. This acted at once and without any consciousness of difference of function, as judiciary, as legislature, and as council, and it exer cised final supervision and control over revenue and administration. Almost all the institutions of modern states go back to the curia regis, branching off from it as the growing complexity of business forced differentiation of function and personnel. In action it was an assembly court, deciding all questions by discussion and the weight of opinion, though its decisions obtained their legal validity by the formal pronunciation of the presiding member, i.e., of the lord whose court it was. In a government of this kind the essential operative element was the baron. So long as the government remained dependent on the baron, it remained feudal in its character. Feudalism disappeared as the organization of society, when a professional class arose to form the judiciary, when the increased circulation of money made regular taxation possible and enabled the government to buy military and other services, and when better means of intercommunication and the growth of common ideas made a wide centralization possible and likely to be permanent. In nearly all the states of Europe the end of the feudal age was reached about the close of the i3th century.
Feudalism formed the starting-point also of the later social nobilities of Europe. They drew from it their titles and ranks and many of their regulative ideas, though these were formed into more definite and regular systems than ever existed in feudalism proper. It was often the policy of kings to increase the social privileges and legal exemptions of the nobility while taking away all political power, so that it is necessary in the history of institutions to distinguish sharply between these nobili ties and the feudal baronage proper. It is only in certain backward parts of Europe that the terms feudal and baronage in any tech nical sense can be used of the nobility of the 15th century.
(G. B. A.; X.) BIBLIOGRAPHY.-For more detailed information see ENGLISH LAW; Bibliography.-For more detailed information see ENGLISH LAW; FRENCH LAW AND INSTITUTIONS ; VILLENAGE ; MANOR ; SCUTAGE ;