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Feudalism is a political system based on land ownership, which originated in the early Middle Ages and followed on from the decline of the Roman Empire. Its foundation was the fiefdom (feudum) - a certain area (territory, land) that the owner lent out to others. The ruler – either secular or religious – was the natural feudal senior (suzerain – sovereign liege) and those allocated his fiefdoms were his fiefs or vassals. The handover itself came with pomp and ceremony, during which the vassal promised allegiance and military aid (or other services) to his feudal lord. The contract could be rescinded only by the death of one of the parties or in the case of a material infringement. Not only could the liege have several vassals, but a vassal could have several liege lords. In the event of a war, one had to choose side by one’s contractual tenure.

Feudalism also determined the relations of the poorest class — the serfs, who worked on the leased land, paid dues out of what they made from it and provided for their master, his soldiers and officials or for a monastery. It was called a quit-rent – a source of wealth mainly for the nobility. Portions of the lands were subleased, so the king’s vassal in turn became the liege lord of his own vassals.

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