The Canterbury Tales/Feudal System

The Feudal System

Background Information on The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales: Man of Law
The Author of CT
The Feudal System


Medieval Society was organized in a feudal tree or pyramid system. It was based on the level of command each man had. The King was the highest and most important in command. The King gave fiefs or grants of land to his noblemen, they were called Barons and Bishops.  In return for the land each noble promised to supply the King with soldiers in time for war. The idea of loyalty and service was important in feudal society. Anyone who had  land took an oath to serve the person who gave it to him.

A noble pledged himself to be a King’s vassel, or a servant at a ceremony. They kneeled before the King and swore an oath of loyalty. This was known as an act of homage and fealty. The oath of loyalty was meant to be binding for life. Anyone who broke it would be regarded as a traitor. The oath was “Sire, I Become Your Man.”

At the bottom of the feudal system were the people who made up the social class, this included peasants (freeman), servants (slaves), craftsmen, etc…

Everyone owned a service to a person higher up on the feudal pyramid.  They either farmed or fought for that person above them.  In return for their service they were given either protection or land.  

 Under the Feudal system, all land within the kingdom belonged to the king. He retained large estates to provide himself with personal followers and royal revenues, but the greater part of the kingdom was awarded in lordships to the principal on the condition they maintained a certain number of men for defense. These chief tenants retained a portion of their land and sublet the remainder in estates on the condition that each noble or knight who held an estate supplied a proportion of armed force required of the chief tenant by the for the protection of the king.  

By about 1100, many vassals were unwilling to fight for their King. Instead of fighting they were allowed to pay a sum of money (scutage), which was used to hire soldiers. Scutage was one of the first taxes imposed by Kings.  

The King depended on their Barons to provide knights and soldiers in time of war.


The Barons were the most powerful and wealthy noblemen, they received their fiefs directly from the King,


The Bishop had as much power as a Baron. They ruled over all areas of the church including the priest ,convents and monasteries.  The collection of taxes made Bishops extremely rich.


The Lords (knights) ruled over the fiefs or manors. They rented their land to peasants who worked for them.  The trained knights  were bound by oath to serve the nobles who had granted them their fiefs. 


 The peasants were at the bottom of the feudal tree.  They were the workers who farmed the land to provide food for everyone.  Sometimes they were given a piece of land to farm in return for their labor on the lord’s land.