Life and Government in England, 1189 - 1216

Based on King Richard and King John


The Feudal Hierarchy

  • Dominant feature of English society, especially in the counrtyside, was the feudal system.
  • Each rank was granted land from the rank above in return for loyalty and service.
  • King was at top, vast power over the whole system.

1. The King

  • Extremely powerful
  • Owned all the land in England but granted most of it to tenants-in-cheif
  • Duty to protect his people from invasions and enforce his laws

2. Tenants-in-cheif

  • Vassals of the king
  • Most were nobles and important clergy
  • In retun for their fief, they paid homage and provided knight service to the King
  • Powerful nobles and clergy were barons
  • Advised the king and helped govern
  • Granted some of their land to under-tenants
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The Feudal Hierarchy

3. Under-tenants

  • Vassals to tenants-in-cheif
  • Most were knights and lesser clergy.
  • In return for their land, they paid homage to their lord, and provided knight service
  • Granted some of their landf to peasants
  • Most knights were lords of a manor

4. Free Men

  • Travel and work wherever they wanted
  • Included merchants, craftsmen, and farmers
  • Free men in villages had to obey and pay rent to their lord, who could be under-tenant, tenant-in-cheif, or the king himself
  • Sometimes worked on their lord's land, but were paid for this.


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The Feudal Hierarchy

5. Peasants

  • Unfree peasants provided labour service to their lord in return for this prtection, shelter and a small ***** of land to provide food for their famillies.
  • Lords could buy and sell them, they could not leave without permission.
  • A few peasants were free, but most didn't leave the local lord.

Key Terms

Fief or Feud - land held by a vassal in return for service to a lord

Tenant-in-chief - someone who held their fiefs directly from the king

Under-tenant - someone who held their fiefs from a tenant-in-chief

Vassal - someone who held land from someone else in the feudal system

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The Nature Of Feudalism

Feudalism was based on landholding in return for paying homage and providing certain service.

Nature if the system ensured power firmly remained at the top of the feudal system

Paying Homage

  • All landholder had to pay homage to their lord by swearing an oath of loyalty.
  • Once been sworn, the landholder became the vassal of his land and had to provide service to him.
  • If vassal broke, then he can be punished by forfeiture or even death


  • If vassal failed to provide service, his oath was considered broken, leading his land to be forfeit (lord took it away)
  • Land can be granted to soemeone else as a reward for their loyalty.
  • Helped maintain the feudal hierarchy and the kings power.
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Knight Service

Knight Service

  • This ensured the king had an army to protect his kingdom.
  • The land was held by a tenant-in-chief determined how many knights he owned to the king.
  • Some barons were allowed to pay scutage to the king instead of provideing knights.

Duties of Knight Service

  • Serving in the king's army for two months per year
  • Guarding castles of their lord or the king for up to 40 days per year
  • Raising money to pay the ransom of their lor if he was captured during battle
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Labour Service

Labour Serivce

  • Work that unfree peasants were expected to do on their lord's land
  • Helped ensure that enough food  and wool for clothing etc was produced to provide everyone in the counrty

Duties Of Labour Service

  • 'Boon-work' - working on the lord's land gathering in the harvest.
  • 'Week-work' - working on the lord's land on certaind ays every week, doing jobs such as looking after animals, sowing crops, ploughing land
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