The Normans introduced feudalism to Britain in the Middle Ages after the battle of 1066. King William claimed all the land for himself and proceeded to rent out percentages of it to the nobles. The nobles, in turn, rented out land to knights in return for their promise of allegiance. Peasants or commoners then worked the land. They paid rent to the knights in return for their protection. I asked which class each child would have liked to belong to. The King was voted the most desirable class to be in!
Demonstration of Feudalism in the Middle Ages
I did a practical demonstration of how feudalism in the Middle Ages worked using Play Mobil figures and chocolate.
This was so worth doing!
I had thought the children understood feudalism but I this exercise showed they had missed the finer points of it.
I set our rather grubby table as shown below. Really you could use any proportions so long as there is only one king, more knights than nobles and more peasants than knights:
We divided the figures into the hierarchy of classes, according to the feudal system. The peasants were at the bottom and the king at the top. I allotted each class ten chocolates from the yearly harvest. Looks fairly even and fair so far, yes?
Feudalism in Practice
Next, we divided the payments out accordingly.
First, each peasant had to pay six out of their ten chocolates (60%) to their knights, in return for their protection. Each peasant, therefore, ended up with only 40 % of the original equal share in the harvest.
Secondly, each knight could keep his ten chocolates (100%). But out of the six given to him by each peasant, he had to pay 5 to the noble to show his allegiance. This was called a payment of fidelity.
Each knight, therefore, ended up with his ten chocolates plus one from each of the peasants he protected.
In our illustration, each knight had two peasants to protect. This meant he ended up with two extra chocolates resulting in a total of 12 chocolates. This, in effect, was 120% of the original equal share of the harvest.
Thirdly, the nobles, collected payment from the knights. However, they were effectively being paid by the peasants at five chocolates each.
Each noble is paid by three knights, and each knight is paid by two peasants. Each knight gives ten chocolates to the noble.
The nobles therefore received thirty chocolates, ten from each knight, in addition to the ten from the harvest.
From this thirty, he needed to pay the king six chocolates from each knight who had paid his allegiance (a total of eighteen chocolates).
The nobles, then, ended up with twenty-two chocolates, 220% of their original share of the harvest.
Lastly, it was, as expected, the king who came out on top, ending up with 46 chocolates; a whopping 460% of his original share of the harvest:
And just to show pictorially the proportions comparatively:
Afterwards the chocolates were shared out….democratically of course!!
Bringing Feudalism into the Twenty-First Century
It is always a joy to see our children using what they have learnt, but Gary and I had to giggle when Thomas, aged 11, approached us with an idea. He had, in his infinite wisdom, decided to set up a feudal system in our garden…
Each child has a patch of land about 3m by 2m which we have already given them.
Thomas had other plans however. He began to explain some elaborate scam, whereby he would rent out the three patches to his sisters and give us a cut of his proceeds!! He he, gotta love that boy!
Feudalism in the Middle Ages and the Four Alls
You can’t learn about feudalism in the Middle Ages without at least reading about the ‘Four Alls’! This activity comes from the book below, Knights and Castles:
The Four Alls is a poem explaining the roles of each class in the feudal system:
The Peasants who worked for all,
Priests who prayed for all,
Knights who fought for all,
and Kings who ruled all.“Poem from the Middle Ages
I had the children write out the poem and stick in appropriate pictures to make a lovely note page:
Next we began to make a diorama to try to illustrate this poem.
How to Make a Diorama to Illustrate the Four Alls of Feudalism
The running shop near to us had saved us lots of boxes. For this activity you need four boxes of a similar size and shape. Shoe boxes are perfect. We made one into a castle by cutting turrets into its lid and another we bent its lid to form a roof. The children covered them all in brown paper.
Next we stuck the boxes together with a lidded one at the bottom for the peasants, then the castle for the knights, a palace for the king and the church for the priests right at the top:
Decorating our Diorama
Now we were ready to decorate.
The Church Who Prayed For All
We used one of the stain glass windows the children had made in a previous study, placing it behind a hole in the wall. We painted a wooden cross, made from lolly sticks, gold and hung it above. The alter is made of clay and is covered in purple cloth, with a playmobil bible, golden jug and chalise. We popped in a playmobil pope!
The King Who Ruled Over All
We painted the room golden, hung a tapestry up at the wall, had a PlayMobil throne and king and added some candles for good measure!
The Knights Who Fought For All
We made a castle and used a washing up sponge to sponge tiles onto the box. We hung PlayMobil flags from the wall and shields from the exterior. On the table was a clay bowl with food and other bits and pieces. On the floor I cut some fake fur material from Thomas’ dress up into an animal shape, added a chair and lots of knights:
The Peasants Who Worked For All
We lay straw on the floor, made a clay dwelling, added animals and fenced off areas:
Domesday book next!