It means a social system of rights and duties based on land tenures and personal relationships in which land is held in fief by vassals from lords. It means a feudal society flourished in closed agrarian economy and has certain general characteristics besides the mere presence of lords, vassals and fiefs. So the socio-economic political system that developed in medieval period first in Western Europe and later in other parts of world is called feudalism. Decline of Roman Empire and tribal invasion of Europe caused severe setback to commerce and industry. The kings were unable to realize enough taxes from the people and the consequently forced to give grant of fiefs to the nobles who in turn distributed them among their own subordinates. The people accepted the authority of feudal lords during the tribal invasions. Thus feudalism developed in Europe both from above and from below due to the socio-economic political change. The period of feudalism is divided into three phases-Formative stages: 7-10 centuries, Mature stage: 11-13 centuries, Later stage: 14-15 centuries. There was a hierarchical division of the society based on the system of landholding.
It was pyramidical structure with king at the top-dukes and earls-barons-knights-peasants at the bottom. There was a division of peasants into 3 categories: free holder,villeins and serfs. It was a manorial or seigniorial system in which landlords excised over the peasantry a wide variety of police, judicial, fiscal and other rights. There was existence of private armies and a code of conduct for the nobility in which military obligations were stressed. Feudalism was a rigid class system with socio-economic gulf between nobles and common people. The period saw the growth of local localities and affinities at the cost of national unity, existence of a weak central authority and defective military organization. The feudal economy led to economic stagnation and wasteful consumption and absence of individual initiative and enterprise.
Decline of Feudalism
Self-sufficient and localized nature of the feudal economy; its erosion by the urban revolution started the revival of money economy, renewal of city life, rise of the new social stratum of classes. The consequent commutation of manorial service into money payments by the peasants resulted in the disruption of the manorial economy. Manorial disruption brought drastic changes in social relations and state organization. Different strata of society became crystallized in the pattern of estates with each estate grouping people of the same social class. Thus the former vertical links were now replaced by the new horizontal links. There were no formal links of dependence between estates and all were in direct relation to the crown. There was gradual decrease of insecurity in the rural areas and decline in the powers of the local magnates, rise of powerful monarchies which were supported by the newly risen middle classes against feudal lords.