English philosopher and political theorist, Herbert Spencer once said, "Feudalism, serfdom, slavery, all tyrannical institutions, are merely the most vigorous kind to rule, springing out of, and necessarily to, a bad state of man." To understand what Spencer meant is to understand the origins and development of European feudalism. The concept of feudalism has dominated much of the research and study of Europe during the Middle Ages. Feudalism was, without doubt, the framework for all political, economic, and social life during this period. And even still today, we can see the origins of feudalism throughout our system of government worldwide. As such, it is important to analyze and understand the feudal system, its development, and how it changed politics and law. First, we must understand the basic core tenants of feudalism-and try to define it. From there, we can go on to examine the origins and development of the European feudal system and how it became the hierarchical system that it was. Then, we should be able to observe its impact on the political world of today.
Feudalism is not a term easily defined. Strictly speaking, feudalism was a set of legal and military customs, bound and governed by loyalty, in medieval Europe. It was a system that structured society around relationships of mutual agreement and loyalty derived from the holding of land in exchange for labor. The feudal society was one in which peasant agriculture was the fundamental productive activity; in which slavery was non-existent or marginal, but serfs were still tied to the land in some way; in which a small elite defined by military activity dominated. What this looked like in practice and how it was implemented puts it into a more realized idea and will help us comprehend its origins and development, and impact today.
Feudalism developed in the centuries during and after the fall of the Roman Empire-a period of great turmoil and political instability.