Peasant Society, Peasant Movements and Feudalism in Medieval Europe

  • Rodney H. Hilton


The European peasantry has been a disappearing class since the dawn of industrial capitalism and the overwhelming majority of peasant economies today are to be found in Africa, Asia and Latin America. However, an examination of peasant economies within the framework of European feudalism is not altogether beside the point when we are considering the general problem of peasant movements. First, the characteristics of the peasant economy in certain parts of medieval Europe are very well documented. The evidence confirms that its fundamental characteristics are found widely separated in time and place, an indication of the strength, almost the indestructibility, of this type of social organisation. Second, we must recognise that, owing to the great influence of European science and culture, at any rate until recently, the ways of looking at peasant economies and at the relationships between peasants and other classes (especially landowners) have been greatly influenced by the historical experience of medieval Europe. This is true of terminology — the terminology associated with feudalism, for example. It is also clear from the writings of modern sociologists and social anthropologists that they frequently have the institutions of medieval feudalism as a framework of reference when they are discussing modern peasants, in Europe or outside. Third, some of the actual institutions and social attitudes of medieval feudal society were transferred by European conquerors to other parts of the world.


Thirteenth Century Fifteenth Century Twelfth Century Feudal Society Peasant Community 
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Copyright information

© International Institute for Labour Studies 1974

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  • Rodney H. Hilton

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