The Decline of the Feudal System in England

Topics: Feudalism, Black Death, Kingdom of England Pages: 8 (2837 words) Published: April 27, 2013
Causes of the Decline of Feudalism in England
The Norman Conquest of England of 1066 brought about changes in the organization of the Kingdom when William the conqueror (r.1066-1087) adopted Anglo- Norman feudalism in England. This political system based on the granting of land by the king to his nobles in return for their military service, was weakened during the 14th and 15th centuries. Social disorder, economic decline, plague, and endemic warfare led to the decline of the system that had organized England for almost four centuries. The object of this assignment is to explore the economic, social, political, military, as well as demographic reasons for the decline of English feudalism. In order to do so, we have chosen a paper by John Hatcher named “England in the aftermath of the Black Death” which presents detailed information about the Black Death’s effects in the lives of both peasants and landlords. We think that this paper will enrich our assignment because the Black Death had a profound impact on feudal society. Economic and Social Changes in Late Medieval England

The Growth of Towns
Scenes from Medieval England. Encyclopedia Britannica Kids.

In the fourteenth century England began to experience significant changes. Towns grew and trade expanded. Increased availability of trade goods and innovative methods of doing business changed life in England. Fairs and trade mainly took place in local markets where merchants from different parts of Europe, especially those from Italy or India, sold their goods. Villagers from nearby manors traveled to town on fair days and exchanged their goods for clothing, tools, or agricultural products that they could not produce themselves (Hause and Maltby 2010: 181). The most common trade items included salt, honey, wine, and especially cloth. Local markets met all the needs of daily life for a small community. Therefore, no longer was everything produced on a self-sufficient manor. As trade centered on towns, they gradually grew into cities and some of those cities became sovereign states (Hause and Maltby 2004: 185). The Crusades to the Holy Land stimulated trade with Eastern Europe. These religious and military expeditions brought England into contact with more advanced civilizations such as the Italian, Spanish and Indian ones. The rise of towns also brought major changes in the feudal hierarchy. Many peasants were displaced from their manors due to the employment of more efficient agricultural methods. Being unemployed, many peasants decided to move to the towns in the search of work as laborers. What is more, an increasing wealthy and educated class of merchants, renters, and artisans less willing to have its affairs controlled by traditional authorities was growing and was beginning to organize themselves into what later became communes or representative town governments. (Hause and Maltby 2010:185). The Black Death: A Demographic Phenomenon

Ilustration of the Black Death from the Toggenburg Bible
In the 14th century the English population, especially the peasantry, witnessed famines and epidemics that speeded up social and economic changes (Hatcher 1994: 6). In 1349 the Black Death, one of the most devastating pandemics in English history, struck the British Isles for the first time. The disease first entered Europe through Mediterranean ports crossing the English Channel abroad rat-infested ships. The plague spread rapidly throughout the British archipelago, and by 1348 England’s population was reduced by about a third (Hause and Maltby 2004: 214,215). Peasants, soldiers, ship’s crews, and the urban poor were at greatest risk of contracting the bubonic plague the most common form of the disease. As a result of the increase in the level of mortality rate among the peasantry, there was a labor shortage (Hause and Maltby 2004: 215). Most survivors of the Black Death enjoyed economic and social benefits as they were in a favorable condition to...

Cited: Bailey Mark. “Welfare in England, 1290- 1348” The economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 51, No. 2. (May 1998). Pp. 223-251. Web 19 October 2012.
Burns. “Britain in the Middle Ages”. A Brief History of Britain. New York: Facts on File. 2010.
Griffiths Ralph A. “The Later Middle Ages”, in Morgan, K, ed. The Oxford History of Britain. Oxford- New York: OUP, 1999.
Hatcher, John. “England in the Aftermath of the Black Death”. Past & Present, No. 144 (Aug., 1994), pp. 3-35. Web 27 October 2012.
Hause S; and Maltbly W. Western Civilazation. A History of European Society. Independence, KY: Thomson Wadsworth, 2004.
Matley, Ian M. “A History of England”. International World History Project. n.d . Web. 24 November. 2012
McDowal, David
Middle Ages: scenes from medieval life. Photograph. Britannica Online for Kids. Web. 29 Oct. 2012.  <>.
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