Late Medieval Society and the Feudal System

The Hundred Years War was probably the most influential war in Europe when it had happened, and caused many events that lead to how the world is shaped now a-days. It is a widely unknown war, and usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when people think of medieval times. Instead, people nowadays like to think they know a lot about medieval times; knights in shining armor, tales of chivalry and heroism, big castles made of stone, and Lords who followed a strict code of chivalry. In reality, most of the things people believe the medieval times were like are actually completely wrong or twisted knowledge. To understand everything about the Hundred Years War, we must first start at the basics: What the people of medieval Europe thought, what their lives were like, and how the Feudal System had been run.

To start, Europe is a ‘peninsula of peninsulas’, having a large body jutting out into the Atlantic and having other, smaller peninsulas jutting out of the larger peninsula. To the far east of Europe you have the mainland and steppes of Russia, to the north you have the cold Scandinavian peninsula, to the south you have the warm Italian and Balkan peninsulas, and to the west, the place we’ll mostly be talking about, you have the Iberian peninsula, Gaul, and Britannia. Over the course of centuries millions of people have inhabited Western Europe, shaping the cultures and land to what it is now today. We will first trace the beginnings of the Hundred Years War all the way back to when the Feudal System came into play, during the fall of the Roman Empire (395 AD to 476 AD). After the Empire had crumbled, small independent kingdoms were formed throughout all of Europe. These Kingdoms followed a form of government called the ‘Feudal System’, a system that was comprised of different ranks of Lords. The main idea of the Feudal system was that “Under feudalism, all the land in a kingdom was the king’s. However, the king would give some of the land to the lords or nobles who fought for him. These presents of land were called manors. Then the nobles gave some of their land to vassals. The vassals then had to do duties for the nobles. The lands of vassals were called fiefs.” (Feudalism) Most of Europe had followed this form of government still during the 1350s when the Hundred Years War happened, and the war was caused because of the system.

The Feudal System made succession, or the inheritance of land or titles of Kingdoms, very complicated. Royal families would marry one another to prevent wars or for other political reasons, but after generations of royal marriages nobody could tell who ruled what kingdom, or who was the rightful heir to the throne. For example, Phillip III of France had had three kids; Phillip IV of France, Charles of Valois, and Louis of Evreux. The crown was passed down to Phillip IV after his fathers death, and he had four more kids; Louix X of France, Phillip V of France, Charles IV of France, and Isabella of France. Isabella of France had then been married off to the King of England, who had a single son; Edward III of England. When Louis X of France had died and his son took over, the King of England had died and his son, Edward III, took over. Edward was directly related to the old king of France, and then had a reason to claim he was the REAL heir to the kingdom. This is what caused the Hundred Years War. (See Below)


Finally, the other big influence in the Medieval World was religion. Europe was widely Roman Catholic, and according to the Roman Catholic church,  “It (Roman Catholics) stand(s) under the authority of the bishop of Rome, the pope, and (are) led by him and bishops who are held to be, through ordination, successors of Peter and the apostles.” (Catholicism) This quote shows that it was expected, and required, of all Catholic-faithful rulers and kings to obey the Pope as their sole ruler. The Kings and Rulers, now wanting to limit their power, acknowledged him as their ‘ruler’, but didn’t actually provide troops, money, or power to the Pope in all their ways like a vassal would. The Pope, although not as strong as his title implies, still had great power. He claimed he was the only person on Earth to carry out God’s message, and all Catholics believed him. He made Emperors a thousand times stronger than him in money and troops spend days in the freezing snow just to kneel to him, begging him to forgive their sins and wipe away their excommunications. This made the Pope very powerful in the Christian world, as all looked up to him as a direct connection to God. The Pope was a powerful figure mostly “because of the position he held, The Roman Catholic Church was thought of as controlling you for all eternity, so you would want to respect its leader.” (Pope) Crusades were called by the Pope, massive wars on infidels who didn’t believe in Christ as their savior. He made people tremble before him, and was undoubtedly the most powerful figure in all of medieval Europe. The Pope had many affects on the Hundred Years War, as both nations fighting were Catholic-faithful.

Works Cited

“Why Was the Pope a Powerful Figure.” Answers. Answers Corporation, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.

“Feudalism.” – Simple English Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. N.p., 16 Sept. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.

“English Claims to the French Throne.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Sept. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.

“Roman Catholicism.” Infoplease. Infoplease, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.

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