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Encyclopedia > Feudalism (examples)

Examples of Feudalism are helpful to fully understand Feudalism and Feudal society. Feudalism was practiced in many different ways, depending on location and time period, thus a high-level encompassing conceptual definition does not always provide a reader with the intimate understanding that detail of historical example provides.


Pakistan and India

The Zamindari System is often referred to as a feudal-like system. Originally the Zamindari System was introduced in the pre-colonial period to collect taxes from peasants, and it continued during colonial British rule. After independence Zamindari was abolished in India and East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh), but it is still present day in Pakistan. In modern times historians have become very reluctant to classify other societies into European models and today it is rare for Zamindari to be described as feudal by academics; it still done in popular usage, however, but only for pejorative reasons to express disfavour, typically by critics of the Zamindari system.


The Tokugawa shogunate was a feudal-like military dictatorship of Japan established in the 17th century lasting until 1868. It marks a period often referred to loosely as 'feudal Japan', otherwise known as the edo period. While modern historians have become very reluctant to classify other societies into European models, in Japan, the system of land tenure and a vassal receiving tenure in exchange for an oath of fealty is very close to what happened in parts of medieval Europe, and thus the term is sometimes used in connection with Japan.

12th century England

Feudalism in 12th century England was among the better structured and established in Europe at the time. However, it could be structurally complex, which is illustrated by the example of the barony of Stafford as described in a survey of knight's fees called The Black Book Exchequer (A.D 1166).

Feudalism is the exchange of land for military service, thus everything was based on what was called the knight's fee, which was the amount of money and/or military service a fief was required to pay to support one knight. Thus, either a fief could provide the service of a knight, or an equivalent amount of money to allow a lord to hire a knight.

The knight's fee value of a fief varied based on the size and resources of a particular fief. The lord of Stafford, Robert of Stafford, was responsible for 60 knight's fees for his Stafford fief. Robert sub-let 51 of those 60 knight's fees in the form of 26 sub-fiefs, the largest fief provided 6 fees, while the smallest 2/3 of a fee. Thus in all, the 26 fiefs paid 51 fees. Further, some of these sub-fiefs had sub-sub-fiefs with fees of their own, and sometimes went a layer below that. In all, 78 fiefs were part of the Stafford estate, 26 of them reporting directly to Robert and the rest layers below. It was a system of tenants and leases and sub-tenants and sub-leases and so on, each layer reporting vassalage to the next layer up. The knight's fee was the common base unit of denomination. Often lords were not so much lords presiding over great estates, but managers of a network of tenants and sub-leases.

Some of the Stafford tenants were themselves lords, and this illustrates how complex the relationships of lord and vassal could become. Henry d'Oilly, who held 3 fees from Robert of Stafford, also held over 30 fees elsewhere that had been granted to him directly by the king. Thus while Henry was the vassal of his lord Robert, Henry was himself a lord and had many sub-fiefs that he also managed. It would have also been possible and not uncommon for a situation where Robert of Stafford was a vassal of Henry elsewhere, creating the condition of mutual lordship/vassalage between the two. These complex relationships invariably created loyalty problems through conflicts of interests; to resolve this the concept of a liege lord was created, which meant that the vassal was loyal to his liege lord above all others no matter what. However, even this sometimes broke down when a vassal would pledge himself to more than one liege lord.

From the perspective of the smallest land owner, multiple networks of lordship were layered on the same small plot of land. A chronicle of the time says "different lordships lay on the land in different respects". Each lord laid claim to a certain aspect of the service from the land.


The Swedish variant of feudalism consisted of resourceful enough landowners who committed to maintain a soldier with a horse in the liege lord's army; in compensation they obtained exemption from land taxation (so-called frälse). This led to a curb in the relative local democracy in the Viking era, in favor of local lords who succeeded in exercising administrative and judicial power over their less powerful neighbors. The King also depended more on such vassals and their resources.

Modern England

Unique in England, the village of Laxton in Nottinghamshire continues to retain some vestiges of the feudal system, where the land is still farmed using the open field system. The feudal court now only meets annually, with its authority now restricted to management of the farmland.


The tiny island of Sark, in the Channel Islands, remains to this day a feudal state. The island is a fiefdom of the larger nearby island of Guernsey and administered independently by a Seigneur, who is a vassal to the land's owner - the Queen of the United Kingdom. Sark is the last remaining feudal state in Europe.

Great Lakes

The first Europeans to travel to the Great Lakes region of Africa often described the social system there as feudal. The dozens of small states in the region consisted of a ruling class led by a monarch which controlled the lands upon which the great bulk of the population grew bananas or herded cattle. In modern times historians have become very reluctant to classify other societies into European models and today it is rare for these kingdoms to be described as feudal.



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