Every man has a lord to whom he owes loyalty and obedience and from whom he receives protection. This was the basis of the feudal way of life which existed in most of Europe during the Middle Ages.
Feudal law also applied to the land. According to its rules, every man owed service to his lord for the land he occupied. These services depended on a mans rank, and on the amount of land he held. When a man, rich or poor, died he could pass his land on to his children, as long as each generation remained loyal to their lord and obeyed the inheritance customs of their locality.
In much of feudal Europe, a land was organized into manors. At its simplest, a manor was make up of a big house, where a noble or knight lived, his home farm, called the demesne, and the surrounding fields, woods and pasture. A wealthy nobles estate could be made up of several manors perhaps twenty or thirty. A man who held a manor directly from the king was known as the lord of that manor. In return for their manors, many nobles and knights had originally been expected to serve the king by fighting for him. But by 120 they usually paid a sum of money to send other men to fight in their place.
The land in the fields belonging to each manor was divided among the peasants. Not all peasants held the same amount of land. Some managed to extend their holding by inheritance or by leasing land from other peasants. In return for their land, the peasants performed labor services for the lord in whose manor their land lay, and sometimes paid money rent as well. These services included ploughing and harvesting on the lords demesne, or carrying cartloads of produce. By 1200, these services were regulated by law and by local custom. A peasant who was asked by the lord to perform extra services, or pay an increased rent, could appeal to his fellow tenants and to local documents which recorded past services, for support against his lord.
As well as owing rents and services for their land, many tenants were bound to their lords in another way as well. They were born unfree, that is, they could not leave their lords manor, or marry, or inherit land without the lords permission. Many tenants resented these feudal demands for their services, and the lords rights to control their personal lives. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, they began to demand their freedom.
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