IN one sense feudalism can be described as being a system in which, for the class of men to whom it applied, government, the possession of property and social status were based on personal ties. The king’s relations with the more important of his subjects were circumscribed by the terms of private contracts made with each of them individually; and a landowner’s relations with many of his own tenants were governed by similar compacts. The parties to a feudal contract, like those entering on any formal agreement, were bound by rights and duties and a feudal king or lord claimed certain services from his vassal, who enjoyed in return his protection and a grant of maintenance which, taking the form of land, rents or property, enabled him to live and fulfil his obligations. Since in all feudal societies the rights of both parties were widely interpreted, misdemeanours that in another kind of state might have been seen as offences against public order were regarded as breaches of the contract and as acts of personal disloyalty. And so jurisdiction came to mean for the most powerful section of the community decisions on alleged violations of contracts.


Military Service Thirteenth Century Twelfth Century Community Decision Private Contract 
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© Jonathan Riley-Smith 1974

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  • Jonathan Riley-Smith

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