Feudal society

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Manorialism or Seigneurialism, an essential element of feudal society,[1] was the organizing principle of rural economy that originated in the villa system of the Late Roman Empire,[2] was widely practiced in medieval western and parts of central Europe, and was slowly replaced by the advent of a money-based market economy and new forms of agrarian contract. Manorialism was characterised by the vesting of legal and economic power in a lord, supported economically from his own direct landholding and from the obligatory contributions of a legally subject part of the peasant population under his jurisdiction. These obligations could be payable in several ways, in labor (the French term corvée is conventionally applied), in kind, or, on rare occasions, in coin.

In examining the origins of the monastic cloister, Walter Horn found that "as a manorial entity the Carolingian monastery... differed little from the fabric of a feudal estate, save that the corporate community of men for whose sustenance this organization was maintained consisted of monks who served God in chant and spent much of their time in reading and writing."[3]

Manorialism died slowly and piecemeal, along with its most vivid feature in the landscape, the open field system. It outlasted serfdom as it outlasted feudalism: "primarily an economic organization, it could maintain a warrior, but it could equally well maintain a capitalist landlord. It could be self-sufficient, yield produce for the market, or it could yield a money rent."[4] The last feudal dues in France were abolished at the French Revolution. In parts of eastern Germany, the Rittergut manors of Junkers remained until World War II.[5]

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Historical development and geographical distribution

The term is most often used with reference to medieval Western Europe. Antecedents of the system can be traced to the rural economy of the later Roman Empire. With a declining birthrate and population, labor was the key factor of production.[citation needed] Successive administrations[which?] tried to stabilize the imperial economy by freezing the social structure into place: sons were to succeed their fathers in their trade, councillors were forbidden to resign, and coloni, the cultivators of land, were not to move from the demesne they were attached to. They were on their way to becoming serfs. Several factors conspired to merge the status of former slaves and former free farmers into a dependent class of such coloni. Laws of Constantine I around 325 both reinforced the negative semi-servile status of the coloni and limited their rights to sue in the courts. Their numbers were augmented by barbarian foederati, who were permitted to settle within the imperial boundaries.[citation needed]

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