Feudalism was the predominant system of loyalty throughout most of the Middle Ages. This system consisted primarily of kings, lords and peasants but religious leaders also held large amounts of influence. When the centralized system of the Roman Empire fell, kings began granting land in order to be able to effectively govern it indirectly. Those who directly received this land were barons or lords and the land was known as fiefs or manors¹. This transaction ensured that the lords would be obligated to pay homage and fealty to the king in order for the land and protection. Upon being granted a fief, a lord would hold the position of a vassal of the king. These lords governed the land in the name of the king, who held his position as a divine right from the God and the Catholic Church. This is indicative of the control the Church had over every facet of society in Medieval England. Usually these lords would either have reserves of troops in case of a call to battle or would pay a fee known as shield money.
These fiefs would essentially become microcosms of kingdoms. Usually manors still consisted of large amounts of land so lords would make a similar agreements with their inferiors to rent tracts of land who would then become vassals to those barons and protect the land for them¹. This led to a hierarchical system of fiefs, vassals and lords. The peasants were below the vassals and actually did the work on the land. This work usually ensured them protection that they would not have gotten otherwise from Vikings, Mongols and bandits¹.There was little freedom in these feudal states and little to no social mobility for peasants or vassals and most peasants never left their villages¹.
1. The Middle Ages: The Feudal System. Retrieved from http://library.thinkquest.org/10949/fief/lofeudal.html