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  A term used in the analysis of pre-capitalist societies, especially in Europe, with senses ranging from a broad type of social formation (originating within Marxist analyses, but variously defined therein: cf. Marxist geography), to a narrower definition based on legal terminology formulated by nineteenth-century legal historians (Postan, 1983). Indeed, the range of contexts to which this label applied enrages some who advocate its abandonment. The earlier formulations focused on the \'fief\' (see below) and whether notional military obligations were realized, but this focus has largely passed out of use. So too have identifications of feudalism with subsistence society as opposed to capitalist production for profit through market exchange (e.g. Wallerstein, 1974).

The broadening of definitions reflects twentieth-century interest in comparative history, and has been much stimulated by analyses relating the emergence of agrarian capitalism to the decline of feudalism (Kula, 1976; Martin, 1983; Dodgshon, 1987). Were the decline of feudalism and the rise of agrarian capitalism two separate phenomena, or two facets of a single process (Hilton, 1976; Holton, 1985; Glennie, 1987)?

In its most general sense feudalism possesses, in common with other pre-capitalist social formations, two component social groups. One group are direct producers (peasants, broadly speaking), who maintain direct (i.e. non-market) access to the means of production (land, tools, seedcorn, livestock), even though they may not legally own them (especially land). Direct producers are subject to politico-legal domination by a second group, of social superiors who form a status hierarchy headed by a monarch. The monarch ultimately owns all land, but landownership is effectively decentralized through Crown land grants to feudal lords, in return for military and political support. Thus social relations of production are not defined primarily through markets, as under capitalism, and the means by which direct producers\' surplus is extracted by social superiors differs from social formations such as slavery.

The key social relationships in feudalism were vassalage and serfdom. Vassalage was an intra-elite relationship by which a subordinate vassal held landed property, the \'fief\' (Latin feodum, feudum, hence feudalism) from a lord, ultimately the Crown, in return for military service required by the Crown. The Crown\'s vassals were tenants-in-chief, who in turn sub-infeudated their estates to raise their own military service. Thus a hierarchy of feudal tenants came to \'own\' estates of various sizes, composed of territorial jurisdictions called manors.

Serfdom was the legal subjection of peasant tenants to lords through lords\' manorial jurisdictions, of which unfree tenants were legally held to be part. Dependent peasant tenants held land from their lord in return for varying combinations of money rents and services in kind, especially labour services on the lord\'s own land, the demesne. The legal dependence of peasant tenants enabled feudal lords both to extract higher than market rents from their tenants, and to impose a range of other dues. These feudal dues included heriot (a tenant\'s best animal, payable on inheritance), and licenses to marry, to migrate, to mill, or to brew ale. Peasant tenants were fined at a manorial court if these activities were undertaken without appropriate license, and courts also exercised a degree of moral regulation (Bonfield, 1985).

The level of rents and dues, it is held, were set more by lords\' income requirements than by market forces, although lords gained from the latter, as population growth made land scarce relative to labour. Seigneurial income requirements progressively increased as lords competed for political status through conspicuous consumption. Moreover, since feudal lords could raise income from intensified surplus-extraction, they were comparatively indifferent to innovations to raise agricultural productivity, explaining why feudalism was characterized by relatively stagnant technology (see Brenner debate). Implied here is a strong view about the explanatory value of the geography of manorialism (estate size and fragmentation, seigneurial character), and of lord-tenant struggle, in accounting for geographical diversity in population density, agricultural systems and productivity, and standards of living (Hilton, 1973; Hallam, 1989; Campbell, 1990; Dyer, 1993).

As lordly surplus extraction intensified, and medieval European populations grew (for reasons as yet imperfectly understood), feudal society exhibited certain crisis tendencies because the surplus removal process failed to generate any significant feedback into the productive capacity of agriculture through investment. A crisis of social reproduction was inevitable since:

In the first place, production for the market and the stimulus of competition only affected a very narrow sector of the economy. Secondly, agricultural and industrial production were based on the household unit and the profits of small peasant and small artisan enterprise were taken by landowners and usurers. Thirdly, the social structure and the habits of the landed nobility did not permit accumulation for investment for the extension of production (Hilton, 1985, p. 244).

Hilton\'s work remains an important demonstration that towns and trade were integral to feudal economies, not exogenous factors that necessarily undermined feudal social relations (the latter view constituting the Pirenne thesis). However, recent historical geography has paid far more attention to the extent of commercialization within medieval agrarian economies, and its impact on geographies of manorialism (Campbell and Power, 1992; Campbell, 1995; Britnell, 1996).

While debate continues on the relative importance, as causes of medieval agrarian contraction, of excessive surplus-extraction (see Brenner debate), and of medieval agriculture\'s ecological frailties (see Postan thesis), there has been a general move to more sophisticated theorizations, which broaden analysis of feudal society beyond property relations. Greater attention has been paid to accumulation and differentiation within the class of primary producers (Poos, 1991; Razi and Smith, 1996). Important developments in social technologies changed the geographical structuring of feudal society. Over time, status came to be increasingly embodied in property, rather than in interpersonal relations. Notable geographical components stemmed from this shift, including new legal, fiscal and administrative technologies to control time and space (Bean, 1989; Biddick, 1990; Clanchy, 1993). Finally, certain social continuities across the feudalism-capitalism transition, especially in the functioning of geo-demographic and cultural systems, have begun to receive serious attention (Poos, 1991, McIntosh 1998). (PDG)

References Aston, T.H. and Philpin, C.E., eds, 1985: The Brenner debate: agrarian class structure and economic development in pre-industrial Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bean, J.M.W. 1989: From lord to patron: lordship in late-medieval England. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Biddick, K. 1990: People and things: power in early English development. Comparative Studies in Society and History 32: 3-23. Bois, G. 1984: The crisis of feudalism: economy and society in eastern Normandy c.1300-1550. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bonfield, L. 1985: The nature of customary law in the manor courts of medieval England. Comparative Studies in Society and History 31: 514-34. Britnell, R.H. 1996: Commercialisation in medieval England, 2nd edn. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Campbell, B.M.S. 1990: People and land in the Middle Ages, 1066-1500. In R.A. Butlin and R.A. Dodgshon, eds, An Historical Geography of England and Wales, 2nd edn. London: Academic Press, 69-122. Campbell, B.M.S. 1991: Land, labour, livestock and productivity trends in English seignorial agriculture 1208-1450. In B.M.S. Campbell and M. Overton, eds, Land, labour and livestock: historical studies in European agricultural productivity. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 144-82. Campbell, B.M.S. 1995: Progressiveness and backwardness in thirteenth and early fourteenth century English agriculture: the verdict of recent research. In J-M. Duvosquel and E. Thoen, eds, Peasants and townsmen in medieval Europe. Gent: Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon, 541-59. Campbell, B.M.S. and Power, J. 1992: Cluster analysis and the classification of medieval demesne-farming systems. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 17: 227-45. Clanchy, M.T. 1993: From memory to written record: England 1066-1307, 2nd edn. London: Edward Arnold; Dodgshon, R.A. 1987: The European past: social evolution and spatial order. London: Macmillan. Dyer, C. 1993: Standards of living in the later middle ages: social change in England c.1200-1520, 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Glennie, P.D. 1987: The transition from feudalism to capitalism as a problem for historical geography. Journal of Historical Geography 13: 296-302. Hallam, H.E., ed., 1989: The agrarian history of England and Wales, volume II 1042-1350. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hilton, R.H. 1973: Bond men made free: medieval peasant movements and the English rising of 1381. London: Temple Smith. Hilton, R.H., ed., 1976: The transition from feudalism to capitalism. London: Verso. Hilton, R.H. 1985: Class conflict and the crisis of feudalism: essays in medieval social history. London: Hambledon Press; Holton, R.J. 1985: The transition from feudalism to capitalism. London: Macmillan. Kula, W. 1976: An economic theory of the feudal system. London: New Left Books; McIntosh, M. 1998: Controlling misbe-haviour in England, 1370-1600. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Martin, J.E. 1983: Feudalism to capitalism: peasant and landlord in English agrarian development. London: Macmillan. Miller, E., ed., 1991: The agrarian history of England and Wales, volume III 1348-1500. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Poos, L. 1991: A rural society after the Black Death: late-medieval Essex. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Postan, M. 1983: Feudalism and its decline: a semantic exercise. In T.H. Aston et al., eds, Social relations and ideas: essays in honour of R.H. Hilton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 73-87. Razi, Z. and Smith, R.M., eds, 1996: Medieval society and the Manorial Court. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Wallerstein, I. 1974: The modern world system I: capitalist agriculture and the origins of the European world-economy in the sixteenth century. London: Academic Press.

Suggested Reading Bloch, M. 1961: Feudal society. London: Routledge. Britnell (1996). Campbell (1990); Dodgshon (1987). Dyer (1993).



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