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Feudalism in Germany

The decline of the powerful Roman Empire was one of the foremost reasons for the onset of feudalism in Germany. The fascinating history of feudalism in Germany during the Middle Ages can be uniformly divided into three main segments.

  • The slow formation of the feudalist monarchy during the 10th century
  • Establishment of noble-led monarchies and formation of princedoms during the 14th century
  • The final establishment of princely dictatorship or tyranny during the 16th century

The Magyar and the Viking raiding in the 10th century weakened the political authority all throughout the central and western European lands. Following the Manorialism tradition, wealthy landowners started providing their vast farmlands for rental purposes to tenants and in return demanded labour and taxes to be paid. Landowners also provided adequate protection from thieves and raiders. This evolution of this tradition came to be known as feudalism.

German feudalism evolved slowly as compared to other Roman-conquered countries. During the 10th and the 12th century, feudalisation of Germany gained new heights as peasants were victimised and many lost their lands. Moreover, all the church lands and monasteries were passed on to the nobles and lords. In the 11th century, many peasants were bereft of their land ownership freedom and became mere tenant holders of small land properties.

Towards the end of the 11th century, feudal society classes were formed in Germany such as

  1. Secular landowners; feudal lords and knights
  2. Semi-feudal pastoral lords; bishops, archbishops and abbots of churches & monasteries
  3. Dependant land-tenants and servants; serfs and peasants

The royals played an intense and primary role in developing feudalism in Germany. The rulers of the Saxon dynasty known as Henry the Fowler and Otto I transformed the country into a powerful feudalist state. They gave the feudal lords immense wealth and power along with immunity rights. Church authorities could directly judge and pronounce punishments for the dependent population of those lands that they owned.

The greedy feudal lords of Germany also wanted to annex the rich Italian lands. In the year 962, King Otto captured Lombardy and was crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor. The feudal atomism gained momentum in the 13th century under the rule of Frederick I and II, due to the rise of independent sovereigns.

German feudal hierarchy was a full-blown system that affected social, economical, and political field. The emperor decided to divide the lands into different kingdoms. The emperor’s rule over the German territories was absolute. He further appointed separate kings for his various kingdoms. The king who looked after his subjects also needed to administer the whole kingdom as a representative of the emperor. In exchange, he could enjoy the royal status and rule his kingdom. These kings also sub-divided their kingdoms into several land pockets and handed them over to their subordinate royal personnel in return for their loyal services and monetary benefits.

Thus, a systematic hierarchy was formed in the vast German Empire popularly known as Germany’s feudal hierarchy. This system influenced the entire German land for centuries. Feudalism in Germany also brought about tremendous changes that carved the history of the land. Each and every level in the hierarchy system had its own set of rules, regulations, privileges, and duties that were carried out by the people.

Germany’s feudal hierarchy

The chronicle order involves the following structure from the starting stage to the ending level.

German Feudal Hierarchy
  1. Emperor of Germany with the highest power (first rank)
  2. Kings of every kingdom (second rank)
  3. The Dukes of each kingdom appointed by the kings
  4. The Princes of each kingdom appointed by the Dukes
  5. The Earls of each kingdom duly appointed by the Princes
  6. The Barons of every kingdom land appointed by and Earl

The Dukes were advisors to the kings. Some of the names among dukes in Germany include the Grand Duchy of Hessen-Darmstadt. The princes were the direct successors of the ruling king and were treated with great respect. The Earls were the privileged officials of the kingdoms, and they were allowed to rule their earldoms. The barons enjoyed the lowest ruling power in the German feudalist rule during the medieval period. Each kingdom had numerous barons and earls.

Apart from the kind of people mentioned in the hierarchy chart, the common public in Germany were the ones who did not have any unique privilege, power or status in the German empire. They were fully dependent on the feudal lords in the hierarchy order.

They were known as serfs or peasants. Almost three-fourths of the German population in the medieval times lived in small houses and had to work on the land. They had to endure a master-servant relationship with their feudal landlords. If there were any tenant-free farmers, they had to present the nobles with a decent sum of their yearly harvest as payment or rent.

And it was the duty of the feudal lords to protect the common people who worked for them, from outside invaders, criminals, and robbers. They also had to help the common people from natural calamities like famine or floods.

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