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The Decline of Feudalism Essay

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The signing of the Magna Carta, the thousands of dead in a result of the Bubonic Plague, and the advancements in weaponry and battle tactic; each event played a role in the decline of feudalism. They each disrupted the social, economic, and political aspects of medieval Europe. One event that contributed to the decline of feudalism was King John’s signing of the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta, also known as the Great Charter, was a document that stated the laws and liberties that the serfs demanded. The King, of course, didn’t want to sign it. Who would want to give up their right to do whatever they wanted?

However, he eventually realized that the barons were much stronger than him and could destroy his castles easily, so he signed the Great Charter to keep peace (Wendover). In doing so King John transferred some of his power to the serfs, giving them rights. The serfs depended less on the King because they didn’t need to worry about him taking away their land, their money, or sending them to jail. As a result, the serfs were more loyal to King John. The difference between ranks were lessened and everyone was more loyal to the king. Although this change does seem for the better (and it is) it’s not what feudalism is supposed to be.

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The signing of the Magna Carta caused this shift in power and loyalty, two very important factors in a feudal society, which caused it to decline. Another event that contributed to feudalism’s decline was the Bubonic Plague. This sickness was easily spread by ticks and infected rats. Thousands of people died from this disease most of which were serfs. The whole of society relied on them so without them, no one could get anything done. Cows and sheep wandered freely because there weren’t any herders still well to do their part in the feudal community (Knighton).

Everyone depended on serfs to provide food and pay for various expenses. Because there were now less serfs, there were less people who could do a specific trade. Therefore they became more powerful. Now everyone needed them. They were needed before of course but not as much because there was always someone else who could do the job. Before the Bubonic Plague the serfs depended more on the others than they did on them. After, it was flipped. The serfs were supposed to have the least amount of power, to be at the bottom of the triangle.

Without the bottom, or even a bottom, the feudal triangle would collapse along with feudalism itself. And that’s what happened thanks, partly, to the Bubonic Plague. A third event that contributed to the decline of feudalism was the advancements in weaponry and battle technique that was used throughout the Hundred Years war, specifically the Battle of Crecy. According to the painting by Jean Froissart depicting the Battle of Crecy, the English had an obvious advantage over the knights. There is a dead Frenchman on the ground and the whole army seems to be in chaos while the English army looks very organized.

Also, the French seem to be retreating. Two knights have turned around and seem to be signaling the others to fall back and the horses in the distance are aimed back towards the castle. The French are losing that battle because of the English’s advancements in weaponry and battle strategy. They have introduced longbows into the game, a weapon that hurt the opposing army before they were even in range to use their crossbows. This went against the code of chivalry by killing anyone in the French army, regardless of who they were or what state they were in because they were shooting before they could identify him.

The French knights could no longer be trusted to do their job of protecting the manors and feudalism is based partly around trust. Trust that the serfs will work, that the lords will attend to the matters in relation to his land, that the king will lead them into battle, and that the knights will fight to keep everyone safe. The knights became obsolete and unreliable, causing feudalism to decline. The signing of the Magna Carta, the Bubonic Plague, and the advancements in weaponry and battle tactics all played a part in feudalism’s decline. All three events caused a shift in power or loyalty, a shift in the norm of feudalism.

Works Cited Froissart, Jean. The Battle of Crecy. 15th century. Manuscript. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France. Print. Froissart, Jean. The Battle of Nicropoli. 15th century. Manuscript. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France. Print. Knighton, Henry. Knighton’s Chronicle 1337-1396. Trans. G. H. Martin. 14th century. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1995. Print. Roger of Wendover. Flowers of History. Trans. J. A. Giles. Vol. II. 13th century. London: H. G. Bohn, 1849. Print. Froissart, Jean. “Jean Froissart: On The Hundred Years War. ” Internet History Sourcebooks Project. Fordham University, 1996. Web. 2 Apr. 2012. .