Feudalism was the medieval system where the land was worked by serfs by vassals in exchange for service. It was a comprehensive term used to describe the European structure of society roughly between AD 900 and 1200.

Feudalism in its most flourishing age was anything but systematic. It was confusion roughly organized. Great diversity prevailed everywhere. It was never planned coherently. The word feudal itself was not coined until the 19th century. Theoretically the king stood at the apex of the feudal pyramid, but in actual practice the king's vassals were often more powerful than he.

Churches and the clergy, by holding lands under various forms of tenure, became part of the feudal system. It was in France that the feudal mind was formed. A moral, artistic, and religious tradition began to appear on the soil of French provinces. Chivalry, feudalism, the Benedictine organization, monastic and religious reforms, Romanesque and Gothic art are just so many products born of the French temperament; and these spread throughout the whole western world by virtue of the current travel and trade, the Crusades and the migrations of religious orders.

The feudal sentiment par excellence, which is still so deeply embedded in our modern conscience, is the sentiment of the value and dignity of individual man. The feudal man lived as a free man; he was master in his own house; he sought his end in himself. All feudal obligations were founded upon respect for personality and the given word. The scrupulous observance of feudal contract engendered the reciprocal loyalty of vassal and lord; fraternal feelings and self-sacrifice among men belong also in this class.

Under the influence of Cluny, this feudal sentiment became Christian in character. Feudal society had a vice of over-production, like modern capitalism. The surplus took the shape of land-hungry nobles, mostly younger sons. These predatory nobles were constantly on the lookout for opportunities to carve out fiefs for themselves. To such men the Crusades were a Godsend.
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