Feudalism: interpretative category or framework of life in the Medieval West?

John O Ward

Abstract


As a   term of some utility in describing political, social and economic   institutions, 'feudalism' still has considerable currency beyond the field of   the medieval European West.l Nevertheless, its use by historians of the   medieval West suggests widespread disagreement over its essential   implications, and betrays a tendency to concentrate discussion no longer on   the term itself, or on a generalised notion of a 'feudal' society, but upon   the various discrete institutions, social practices and customs that make up   the medieval·· societies historians were once happy enough to call 'feudal'.   The present review of scholarly usage in regard to 'medieval feudalism'   contains two parts. In the first, I illustrate the various often overlapping   and competing meanings that historians since the turn of the century have   ascribed to the terms 'feudal' and 'feudalism', and in the second I offer   some comments on this diversity of opinion.

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