The decline of feudal society

The Decline of Feudal Society

  • In the 13th and 14th centuries, there was a shift in power in England, from the aristocracy to the monarchy and the commons. This was due to a number of factors and led to a decline in Feudal society.

  • Feudalism was a hierarchical structure where the king gave land to his nobles in return for their loyalty and services, and serfs worked the land for the nobles. It was a restrictive system with limited social mobility.

Key Factors in the Decline

  • The Black Death, the plague that swept through Europe in the 1340s, significantly decreased the population and shifted the balance of power. There were fewer people to work the land, leading to increased demand for labor and higher wages.

  • Peasants began moving from the countryside to towns and cities, seeking better living conditions and higher pay. This led to the growth of a money economy, as opposed to the traditional bartering system.

  • The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 showed the increasing dissatisfaction with the feudal system and indicated the need for change. The revolt was a direct reaction to the harsh living conditions of the serfs, who demanded more rights and freedoms.

  • The growth of powerful monarchies, such as Edward III in England and Philip IV in France, challenged the power of the nobility and began centralising power.

Changes in Society

  • Feudalism was replaced by the early forms of a capitalist system, with its attendant concepts of private property rights and labour wages.

  • There was a greater emphasis on trade and commerce, and new professions emerged.

  • The rise of universities and learning during this period, also known as the Renaissance, led to a greater dissemination of ideas and undermined the traditional power structures of feudal society.

  • The Magna Carta of 1215 and the establishment of the first Parliament under Edward I in 1295 limited the power of the monarchy and set the stage for the development of a constitutional monarchy.

  • The increase in the power of the commons, coupled with the rise of a bourgeoisie or merchant class, led to increased social mobility, offering people the chance to improve their status through trade or by acquiring wealth.