What Is a Feudal Monarchy?

A feudal monarchy is a system of political organization that has its basis in relationships between land owners (nobles) and the people who work the land in return for the nobles' protection (serfs). This system of government was prevalent in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, from the ninth to the 15th centuries.

Feudal monarchy, or feudalism, relies on a hierarchical organization of land ownership and service that governs all facets of the economy. Land was divided by the King among an elite class of individuals known as nobles, who in turn divided the land among a lower class of workers, serfs.

The title to a piece of land under feudalism is known as a "fief," or "fee." In exchange for a fief, and the right occupy the land (sometimes called a fiefdom), a noble would pay taxes and other forms of homage (such as military service) to the land owner and the King. Those who served as the nobles' military agents were known as Knights. Their duty was to protect the King and the land-owning nobility.

At the bottom of the feudal hierarchy was the lowly serf, or vassal, a peasant who worked the land for the right to live there and paid taxes to his immediate land-owning nobleman. The serfs constituted the largest feudal class and benefited the least financially from the political arrangement.