The Decline of Feudalism and Rise of Capitalism: Part 1



I am making this video in response to the source of conceited and downright wrong comments I've seen on Twitter about the emergence of capitalism from feudalism it was encapsulated by this tweet which got no fewer than nine likes from various hammer and sickle types you can see that the claim was until that Napoleon was around so we're talking the in the 19th century no one ever than local Lords was in control of trade and economy now this really is not true and here I want to lay out a few of the ways in which it isn't first of all it's important to establish feudalism what is it when was it how did it come about generally we are talking between the ninth and the twelfth centuries here roughly speaking then from around 1000 AD to about 1400 AD I'm going to focus chiefly on England here because that is the place where free market capitalism first flourished so let's go back to basics and I want to take you through a few slides here so this image that you're looking at now is the great chain of being this was the medieval Christian thinking that held that pole of society was built around a golden chain that hung from heaven and God up in the sky to Satan down in hell and I just want to play you this clip from a great film from the 1920s called axon which is about devil worship and witchcraft in the medieval period this is William Esper rose in the American double enjoying the globe and it's waters was seen as the center of the universe outside this the Middle Ages postulated first a layer of air then a layer of fire you're on this layer of fire moved the planets each planet was fixed in its sphere which was mobile and transparent beyond the planets the stars were attached to another sky in the outermost circle Almighty God was enthroned surrounded by nine angelic fire and it was God who controlled the world machinery and the bowels of the earth was hell and it's eternal torment one of which was the blind yourself being put into a boiling cauldron here one of the Damned is thrown directly into the fire here's a demon giving one of the Damned a drink of horrid brimstone liquid this scene gives an accurate picture of the conceptions of the Middle Ages look at these two demons joking the bar so energetically beneath the call so one interesting aspect of the great chain of being is that they had subdivided the entire life on Earth into five different kingdoms you had the spiritual Kingdom that's God angels various ministering spirits your cherubs and so on then below that you can't be the animal kingdom you know lions tigers dogs cats and in between those two was mankind of course the link between the spiritual Kingdom and the animal kingdom and then below that you have your vegetables your various plants carrots and so on below that minerals that stoned Earth inanimate objects basically and then below that you have the elemental Kingdom various gaseous forms or vapours things like that here is another way of presenting all of that information and then some helpful chap on the internet did it like this now you'll notice a few curiosities here you can see that man is above woman in the great chain and also you'll notice that demons are just below angels there and of course the reason for that is that the demons are actually four angels they're only down in hell as a punishment from God and even Lisa for himself in theory could get forgiven if only he were to overcome his pride and ask God for forgiveness maybe he'd be let back into heaven but of course as the story goes Satan won't do that so he's trapped eternally down in hell anyway another little curiosity is that within each of the five kingdoms there are various ranking so for example the animal kingdom was ranked you had your lions and the elephant right at the top and then down the bottom you have the likes of deer rabbits and things like that you can see the eagle was considered to be the king of the birds and then you know seed-eating Birds like a sparrow down at the bottom so everything even within each of the kingdoms had ranks the Angels had ranks even the planets had ranks the Sun was had said to be above the moon which was said to be above the planets and the stars the elements all had ranks fire was above and was above water was above Earth and even beyond that the different humors each had ranks so bile was said to be above blood for example which was said to be above phlegm now a particular interest to us here are the ranks of course of human beings of mankind now as I've already mentioned men were above women and there is actually a logic behind that internally consistent with this system it actually sounds quite bonkers to us now but essentially they believe that men had more color in them they had more hot blood and because of that it meant that their genitals were able to Trude whereas the colder and more sluggish women being colder and full of phlegm meant that their genitals remained stranded within so essentially they saw men and women as being variations on the same basic model and temperature essentially dictates whether you're a man or a woman sounds ridiculous but within their own system that I guess it makes sense anyway this chart here is the important thing this is how men were ranked the higher up this charts you are big closer to God he was said to be so obviously the king at the top and then a dude who's above an eel who's above your commoner God Baron and the Knights and of course the peasants right down the bottom there the best way of understanding this system is to grasp that everybody within it had what is known as a lead a lead is I would think of it as your boss for life and to understand how this works fully we need to take it right down to the level of the medieval village or the manor here you have a barren and under barren you have all of the peasants the lord of the manor would be the lead for each of the individual peasants now of course all this talk of great chains of being and leaders and vassals is all the post hoc justification for the economic system at the heart of this and this village that we're looking at holds the key of understanding this economic system you can see that the fields have all been separated into strips and on each of these strips a peasant and his family would live and work typically they'd they have a cottage or a little house in the village and they have a strip of land to work on now I want to come back to the peasants in a moment but just just to understand the basics of this system just a scene for the second that the peasants paid Baron taxis that could be a portion of the food that they farmed off the land or it could be in money but the Baron himself would also have a lead and you can go up on that up the chain so the Barons lead would be for example an earl who could have several Barons under him and this is a screenshot from the game Crusader Kings – if you want to understand I guess the macro economics of this system playing that game to the point where you understand what you're doing will get you most of the way there but you can see here that the Earl he has the whole area with a number of different Barons under him and the Barons would supply the Earl with taxes in money and they would also supply him with military might with men if he needed to raise them in war and so it goes on up the chain the Earl's would report in to a Duke and they would provide him with money in taxes and also with men and so it goes on up the line all the way to the king and you can see here that I don't know in England there'd be three or four Dukes at any one time who would have a number of URLs and other laws under them and just the one king this made Dukes incredibly powerful in the feudal system because you know all it would take is one or two rogue Dukes not to lend their support to the king and all of a sudden the King may find himself outnumbered and of course this happened time and again in the medieval period the War of the Roses is a pretty good example factionalism is one of the great weaknesses of feudalism as a as a political system so anyway you understand the basics but let's go back to this village because I think there are some nuances to the economics here that aren't widely under do it let's zoom in okay so now I've added a little bit more detail to this so you can see that it's not quite as simple as there being a baron and then just a bunch of peasants the economic relationships within this town are a little bit more complex there were two different types of peasant that we can separate broadly into freeholders and bondman also known as serfs or as in this country especially villains so what is freeholder and what is a bondsman or villain or surf the best way to think of the freeholder is as having a lifetime tenancy agreement whereby he rented out the land for a fixed term annual sum for all of his life this meant that the peasant was essentially free to do as he wished on his strip of land he would farm he could maybe go and sell that stuff at the local market most of the time he'd probably just eat it himself you know he made his own way as long as he paid the penalty fees the local rents and the taxis to the baron there may have been additional kind of ad hoc tributes or other such things that he had to give to the Baron but in exchange in theory the Baron would be giving him protection and the lands to live on the bondman or the sir for the villains meanwhile had no such relationship they didn't really have to pay rents to stay on the land or if they did it was a very very low level and in the form of food rather than money but also by the same token they did not get a wage they did not make any money but instead they were bonded to the Baron in the form of an oath of fealty when they first started these oaths were pretty harsh basically the original serfs back in like 700 AD would have been people who had fallen on hard times maybe there was bad harvest one year or there had been floods that had wrecked the fields or maybe the Vikings had come and pillaged and taken everything and so serf was somebody who was left with nothing and hope who had a little chance I guess of making their own way in the world so they would in essence fall at the feet of some Lord erever and pledge their services to that Lord for life and more devastatingly pledged the allegiance of their son or daughter and all of their subsequent offspring till the end of time in theory to that Lord or indeed his offspring and the deal here was that the bond man or serf would be given a place to live and they would be given a spirit of land by the Lord but in exchange for I don't know three or four days labor a week they would give most of their productive output most of the things that they made on these fields to the Baron and then with the rest of their time they could work the land for their own subsistence so if you can imagine the average week of your serf you may work four days I don't know harvesting turnips or whatever to give to the Lord and then the rest of the time you're making food for your own family now as you can see there's not just fields in this village there's also a blacksmith you know Church little mill there and the Baron if he saw fit may reallocate the labor of these villains to one of these other occupations so for example I don't know there may be a local tavern and they're making their own beer there and they needed an ale taster for example and you know maybe if you in the Lord's good books he might make you an ale taster that week so really he was your boss you did as he told you for the entirety of your life and the best you could hope for was a cushy job within the within the town the peasants meanwhile the freeholders were free to do as they please they were weren't under no such obligations their only obligation really to the Lord was to pay those rents and taxes and just a quick word here on the night's so if you remember the deal between the Baron and say the Earl above him or the Earl in the king is that when the time came they would be able to lend military support when if their lead ever needed it and also if you recall the deal between the peasantry and the Baron he in exchange for their labor and the use of the land would also be providing their protection so that the village was a nice safe place to live so the Baron was able to facilitate all of this by making separate deals with Knights and here the exchange is land for military service the Baron would give the knight a place to live and some land and in exchange he would pledge his sword that is his military skills and expertise to the Baron and whenever the Baron would need to use military might for any reason whether helping his Lord or protecting the village the Knights would be pressed into service so they had their own oath of fealty that's kind of separate likely one and this is how that part of things was dealt with now historians differ over the amount of freeholders versus the amount of serfs or villains at any one time in Britain but we do know that in 1086 under William the Conqueror in the Domesday book it says that England comprised 12% freeholders 35% serfs or villains 30% Cotters and borders and 9% slaves incidentally slavery in England was abolished after 1102 under the Normans and this later became the basis for why slavery was abolished across the British Empire much later in history it's also worth noting that a cutter or a border is basically one rung down from a villain I'd saw a villain without a house and a cottage cottager would just have a little cottage so it's essentially just a lower class of serf who had a smaller amount of land a smaller place to live I should mention though that if you think these people had it rough they did have between one to five acres each which is no you know that's quite a bit of land by today's standards so in some ways they have decent access to land in other ways I come in well none of us would want to trade our positions with a serf Pavillon Akata or a boarder trust me now by the late 1200 an early thirteen hundreds the situation has shifted somewhat some people estimate that there were around 60% unfree peasants others think that the number has come down to about 40 percent – of villains others put it at fifty-fifty freeholders versus serfs I've put a link in the notes to a very good article by zippy Roddy called serfdom and freedom in medieval England he replied to vision you can look over that in your own time but the key thing to take away is that it was about 50/50 between serfs and freeholders by the mid 13 hundreds by 1500 they were virtually no serfs left in England at all why is that what happened to this system why did it fall apart well for the answer to that I've turned to Spencer de-mux origin of capitalism in England 1400 to 1600 which is a very good survey of all of the research done on this if you're interested I would Google the name Robert Brenner who seems to be the the key theorist or the key historian who has looked at this transition point between fatalism to capitalism but this this book by Spencer Dimmick is pretty up-to-date and throws all the different sides of the argument well anyway he draws attention to the fact that it was possible for the serf to buy his own freedom essentially to buy himself out of the bondage contract that is not as expensive as you might think it was only a few shillings about seven shillings to buy yourself out of this bondage and in France that is essentially what happened over over this period more and more serfs bought themselves into freedom but in England this didn't happen as some Marxist historians have tried to argue that it didn't happen because the serfs were they didn't want the freedom they would prefer to stick with the land that they had and they were safe and basically life wasn't that bad living under the protection of the Baron the amok agrees with this quite a lot and he says it wasn't that thesis didn't want their freedom in England is that that the English Lords didn't give them the option as the French Lords did and this was one of the key reasons why in 1381 the peasants revolted there's a famous peasants revolt in England under which of the second during that one thing I think it's easy to forget is that the freeholder peasants and the villains would have all been friends they would have married each other it would have been very common for a freeholder and a villain to be in the same family for example so what happened in 1381 is that all of the peasants the freeholders the villains they rose up and they said look we have to stop this practice of vassalage and serfdom we want all of the lords to set the villains free essentially make everybody a freeholder and stop this serfdom nonsense but this uprising was brutally suppressed by the lords who of course a lot more military might than the peasants would be able to have you know they had better weapons they rounded up the leaders brutally put them down and the peasants revolt came to North they they didn't get what they wanted on that occasion but after this time hog used amok with this newfound quest for free freedom or at least freeholder status pumping through their veins there was a renewed will for villains to get away from their villages they'd be long standing rule that if a serf was able to escape his village and remain gone for a whole calendar year he would attain free status so what we see after 1381 is mass migration from these little Hamlet's and villages to towns and urban areas all of these villains wanting to become free one flee to the cities and this is where we get the rise of urbanization so by 1400 AD under Henry the fourth feudalism was in chronic decline by 1500 AD after the War of the Roses and during the reign of Henry the seventh it was practically over now over this stretch of history this hundred years from 1400 to 1500 AD an awful lot of things happen and you could easily fill several libraries over with books written on this I mean I could easily do a series many many hours long just on this topic alone so in the interest of brevity and to try to be a circumspect as possible I will just zoom in on the key thing that happens in 1453 ad and that is that made the second conquers Constantinople and in so doing shuts down the ancient Silk Road thereby cutting off Western Europe's access to the east and this has several dramatic consequences one of those consequences is that scholars who had been ensconced in Greece and in Constantinople flee and they go west they land in Italy in places like Venice Genoa and Florence and in those places learn Edmund scholars who had been reading I guess Christian scriptures for the past thousand years we're suddenly reconnected with the ancient Greeks Plato Aristotle Ptolemy you name it they were reconnected with them and that in itself led to this spirit of rediscovery and of excitement of being reconnected with what they perceived at that time as a golden age in the past and it didn't take them very long to figure out where the Greeks had gone wrong so you can see for example very quickly that Ptolemy who had worked out quite a few things but got other significant things wrong where he's picked up by Copernicus Copernicus can doesn't take him long to figure out that few of these things are wrong and just think of the impact of Copernicus's discovery there you find out that the earth is going around the Sun rather than the Sun going around the earth I mean it's it's simply mind-blowing your entire concept of the universe is blown apart just by that one discovery on top of that the closing of the Silk Road also gave traders a commercial imperative now to take to the seas I mean if you're setting off from Europe and you want to get to India and you've got the ancient Silk Road cut off what are you going to do you can either go prova Russia and as various people in history including Napoleon and Hitler found that's not a very good idea or you could get in a ship and try to sail round the south of Africa there which even today remains a very choppy and difficult journey the waters around that part of Africa aren't very favorable shall we say and some traders did do that so you find Europeans making contact with South African peoples you know in the early 1500 or as Christopher Columbus did you can go west and since they knew from the time of Ptolemy onwards that the world was round you know he figured that you'd come out right on the other side and see India and everybody of course knows the rest he made a significant discovery so not only now are you living in a world where you can find out that the earth is going around the Sun and like vice versa you also now live in a world where they've discovered new continents that you didn't even know we're there now exist so it's an incredibly exciting time to be alive around 1500 AD new scientific discoveries new Geographic discoveries on top of that there's also the small matter of the European Reformation the rise of Martin Luther in Germany the anabaptists in Holland and the Low Countries John Calvin of course in Geneva and in the next video I want to look at the combined impact of all of these things and how it led ultimately to the rise of capitalism in this video what I focused on is how feudalism worked and why that system started to break down just to perk up on it and to draw out conclusions if they weren't strong enough feudalism broke down in England because peasants fled their villages and ended up in towns so the rise of urbanization the rise of the cities is directly related to the decline of the old-fashioned feudal way of life in France it's a slightly different story as I mentioned the peasantry essentially bought their own freedom by paying the small fees to get out of bondage now although in the next video I won't be talking about feudalism very much I'll be talking much more about the rise of capitalism this part of it the decline of fatalism plant is significant because there is no parallel decline of serfdom at least in other parts of Europe and just to give a quick recap in in England after 1381 there is a pretty rapid decline of serfdom there was a parallel decline in France over the same period you get a decline in Germany as the guilds and the cities grow up for largely the same reason as it happened here in the UK Sweden Denmark the Scandinavian countries had no history of serfdom or they only ever had freeholder peasants in those countries or at least serfdom was it was small so basically most of northern Europe didn't have serfdom by about 1500 AD but in Eastern Europe and in places like Hungary and Russia and Czechoslovakia and Croatia and all of these sorts of places Sifton persists it persists all the way up until in the case of Russia the 1917 revolution I mean they were still trying to deal with serfdom at the early part of the 20th century in Russia and that's one reason why it I guess it wasn't right for communism according to Marx because they haven't even moved past serfdom in in their system it's also a reason why that part of Europe stayed economically backwards at during the period of growth and prosperity that I'm going to talk about in the next video so the decline of feudalism doesn't lead directly to the rise of capitalism but it is a significant factor holding the rest of Europe back and it's a significant factor for why capitalism was able to take root in places like Britain and in France more about that next time I hope you're enjoying I mean this is some pretty heavy stuff I've been going through let me know if you've enjoyed it and hopefully I'll be able to get the next part up reasonably quickly thank you very much




Comments
  1. A most enjoyable and educational video. 
    America is fertile ground for what may lead to a greater understanding of the rise of its own economic system.

  2. I always have trouble believing that 1453 marks the closure of the silk road. The Byzantines weren't doing much trading back then and the Muslims had dominated most of the Silk road well before then. From my reading of history, the silk road ended with Baibars and the fall of the crusader states in the Levant.

  3. "England was the first place free market capitalism first flourished." Except for the Netherlands or maybe the Hanseatic and Italian City-States. And yes, I am aware that some cites in what are now the UK and Netherlands were part of the Hanseatic League; it wasn't all German.

  4. It's an interesting video but it completely ignores A) Why did fuedalism (really what you mean is manorialism) form in the first place and therefore B) Why didn't the transition, (urbanization) you mention happen before? Surely the peasants of England wanted to escape bondage sooner so why didn't they?

    The answer to both is SECURITY. In the late Roman empire security fell apart so trade did too. The cities bled out into the countryside because the only way to make the economy work when travel was so dangerous was to make it local. Thus the population formed around small protected, self sufficient enclaves. When the security situation finally improved they could finally return to the cities (1300s and later) thereby marking the beginning of the end of manorialism thereby ending the need for feudalism which was a structure of organizing each local manorial warlord into a united front. As power continued to centralize in the cities it became easier and easier for central authorities to wield it instead of relying on the diffuse nature of feudalism allowing the gradual return of the concept of a national army.

  5. Incredible video, by far the most clear explanation of feudalism I have come across. Suddenly England makes much more sense to me; I think you may have ignited a serious interest in history in me! Never was a fan in school, but this video I found absolutely fascinating and I want to learn a lot more now!

  6. This lecture confuses feudalism, a political system, with manorialism, a socio/economic model. The two go hand in hand but they are distinct. Also feudalism had many variations. Practices in the lands of the Carolingian empire differed from the peripheral regions like Britain, Iberia, Scandinavia, etc.

  7. Dukes appeared in England only in the fourteenth century and then the title was limited to members of the royal family.

  8. Great video sir, but I have some things to say.

    Firstly, you talk about how migration of serfs took place which increments to the freeholder percentage. But, higher needs for the baron to trade or pay taxes led to the tightening of these serf bonds(Maurice Dobb) which actually didn't contribute to the birth of capitalism. In a nutshell, there is an exception to migration and decline of feudalism. I want to know your view on this exception.

    Secondly, you say that peasants were fleeing their villein status. But again, in Dobb's work, he argues there was a big percentage of serfs who changed their barons depending on the concessions and rights that were provided to them by the barons around the land. You mentioned that there was freedom to serfs in France, I just want to know if you were talking about such a system in France itself or you forgot to mention such a system at all.

    I will be looking forward to your inputs. I am totally new to this subject. Your channel is great. Thank you!

  9. I've been trying to chart the history of charity during feudalism – apparently there was such a thing, and so I'm wondering, who were the recipients of charity? Was it people without a category or that fell out of one due to illness or other misfortunes?

  10. I was under the impression that the Black Death was a significant factor in the decline of Feudalism. The significant fall in the workforce put a higher price on the labour of survivors, and consequently allowed those survivors to sell their labour to the highest bidder. You make no mention of the impact of the plague on medieval society??

  11. Thoroughly enjoyed this. I like history and I like economics; the combination is positively scintillating. It's also nice to get away from the 'us vs them' tribalism of modern economics.

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