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Fatmeh Reda
Life Under Feudalism
Part A:Document Student Analysis A huge part of the European Middle Ages was a new social order called
Feudalism. Feudalism was a political system in which nobles were granted the use of land that legally belonged to the
king, and in return, the nobles agreed to give their loyalty and military services to the king. Below are several documents
that aim to give a more in depth look at what life was like in their feudal system. READ EACH DOCUMENT BELOW
DOCUMENT A: Social Hierarchy
The image below shows the structure of feudal society – a social, political, and economic hierarchy.
Source: World History Patterns of Interaction.
1. How did feudalism provide for the security of the people of medieval Europe?
2. How were obligations mutual in feudalism?
DOCUMENT B: Manor Layout
The manor was the lord’s estate. The manor was the basic economic arrangement that rested on a set of rights and
obligations between a lord and his serfs. The manor was a largely self-sufficient system in which the lord’s land (granted
by the king) was farmed by his serfs (essentially slaves bound to the land). It consisted of a manor house and thousands of
acres of land that was divided between the meadow, pasture, forests, and farmland. The farmland was usually divided into
three strips: one third is for the lord of the manor, another for the church, and the last for the peasants. The manor included
not just farmers, but also artisans who provided certain specialized services like metal workers, carpenters, breeders,
religious guidance, and game keepers. The two images below show the physical layout of the manor system.
Source: World History Patterns of Interaction, and
Created by Fatmeh Reda
1. What three groups were the field divided among?
2. What resources would all people in the manor find in the surrounding lands?
3. What is another name given for Parson’s Fields?
DOCUMENT C: Medieval Painting
What does this painting tell us about the three predominant social
classes of the Medieval Ages?
Source: Medieval French manuscript illustration of the three classes of medieval society: The Cleric, Knight, and
Peasant. Li Livres dou Sante, 13th century.
DOCUMENT D: Piers Plowman
Piers Plowman is an English poem written by a London priest, William Langland, in 1362.
He spent many years working in rural areas and learned firsthand about peasant life.
Created by Fatmeh Reda
Source: Piers Plowman, in World History Patterns of Interaction Literature Section .
The Peasant’s Cares
The most needy are our neighbors, if we notice right well,
As prisoners in pits and poor folk in cottages,
Charged with their children, and chief lord’s rent,
What by spinning they save, they spend it in house-hire,
Both in milk and in meal to make a mess of porridge.
To cheer up their children who chafe for their food,
And they themselves suffer surely much hunger
And woe in the winter, with waking at nights
And rising to rock an oft restless cradle,
Both to card and to comb, to clout and to wash,
To rub and to reel yarn, rushes to peel,
So ‘tis pity to proclaim or in poetry to show
The woe of these women who would in such cottages;
And of many other men who much woe suffer
Crippled with hunger and with thirst, they keep up appearances
And are abashed for to beg, and will not be blazoned
What they need from their neighbours, at noon at and at evensong
This I know full well, for the world has taught me
How churls are afflicted who have many children,
And have no coin but their craft to clothe and to keep them
Describe some of the
hardships of a peasant’s life as
described in this poem.
You can highlight the
answers direct from the text.
DOCUMENT E: Peasant’s World
Source: Bertram Linder, Edwin Selzer, and Barry Berk, A World History: The Human Panormama (Chicago: Science Research Associates, 1983), 159-160
1. What are the differences between serfs and freemen?
2. Identify several positive aspects of the peasant’s life. You can highlight them in the text using one color.
3. Identify several negative aspectsof the peasant’s life. You can highlight them in the text using a different color than
the one used above.
Created by Fatmeh Reda
DOCUMENT F: The Duties of Lords and Vassals
In the year 1020, Bishop Fulbert of Chartres wrote this letter to William, Duke of Aquitaine, in southern France. The letter
is the earliest surviving document explaining the bond between lords and vassals.
To William most glorious duke of the Aquitanians, bishop Fulbert the favor of his prayers.
Asked to write something concerning the form of fealty, I have noted briefly for you on the authority of the books the things
which follow. He who swears fealty to his lord ought always to have these six things in memory; what is harmless, safe, honorable,
useful, easy, practicable. Harmless, that is to say that he should not be injurious to his lord in his body; safe, that he should not be
injurious to him in his secrets or in the defences through which he is able to be secure; honorable, that he should not be injurious to
him in his justice or in other matters that pertain to his honor; useful, that he should not be injurious to him in his possessions; easy or
practicable, that that good which his lord is able to do easily, he make not difficult, nor that which is practicable he make impossible to
However, that the faithful vassal should avoid these injuries is proper, but not for this does he deserve his holding; for it is
not sufficient to abstain from evil, unless what is good is done also. It remains, therefore, that in the same six things mentioned above
he should faithfully counsel and aid his lord, if he wishes to be looked upon as worthy of his benefice and to be safe concerning the
fealty which he has sworn.
The lord also ought to act toward his faithful vassal reciprocally in all these things. And if he does not do this he will be justly
considered guilty of bad faith, just as the former, if he should be detected in the avoidance of or the doing of or the consenting to them,
would be perfidious and perjured.
Source: Recueil des Hist. des Gaules et de la France , (Loan), translated by E.P. Cheyney in University of Pennsylvania Translations and Reprints,
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1898), Vol 4:, no, 3, pp. 23-24
1. What were six things that a faithful vassal should have always kept in mind?
2. What was a vassal expected to do besides avoid injurious behavior?
3. According to this letter, what formed the basis of the bond between a lord and his vassal?
Document Based Question
Argumentative Question: Describe what social and economic life was like in the Middle Ages.
(Think: What one word would best describe what life was like during this time period?)
Consider how manors were organized, quality of the relationships between lords and their vassals,
and how life was like for the different classes.
Part B: Micro-argument
1. Brainstorm your ideas on the Evidence Interpretation Sheet- You must have at least three different
descriptors. Next to each adjective, you will have to identify which document letter/source supports
your adjective, what specific evidences from that source backs you up, what the evidence says, and the
2. Once you are done, you will pick what you consider to be YOUR BEST evidence and write your one
paragraph micro-argument around it.