In the Middle Ages, feudalism was a system of politics and land ownership. In the feudalist system, the King would have ultimate authority over all a country’s land.
He would then appoint nobles to control select pieces of this land, in exchange for their loyal service and a certain amount of money/food every year.
These nobles would employ the commonfolk (peasants) to take care of the land, and would allow them to have a small home there.
In a feudalist society, though most active control of the land lay with the nobles who controlled it, the King was the supreme authority, and could take back a noble’s right to it in an instant.
Because of this, most nobles were very loyal to the crown, and for the same reasons, most commonfolk were very loyal to the nobility.
Agriculture was of huge importance in the Middle Ages, particularly in its later periods. In the early parts of the Middle Ages, the climate of Europe was much less suited to agriculture – floods, storms and cold weather made up the European climate for centuries, and it was nearly impossible for agriculture to develop as a result.
Events like the Great Famine in the Early Middle Ages also negatively impacted European agriculture, as did the huge loss of life brought about by the spread of the Black Death. However, over the centuries, these problems became less significant, and along with the changing climate, farmers began to change the way they worked the land.
Due to the difficulty in establishing trade routes in these first centuries of the Middle Ages, most countries tended to be self-sufficient in agriculture.
Invasions, pillaging, and raids were more common in areas by a border, but typically speaking, countries were run off the backs of their farmers.
As sea routes were created and land routes between nations improved, agriculture’s importance only increased, as it became the bedrock for trade.
Most peasants (serfs) lived on subsistence farming, which meant that they grew enough food only to survive.
This wasn’t because of the weather, however. Due to the way the feudalist system operated, peasants had to give most of their crops and animals to their landlord to pay rent, and another fraction to the crown and Church to prove their loyalty.
Peasants were typically malnourished, but depended entirely on agriculture to survive because they couldn’t afford to buy food from anyone else.
The usual animals farmed were cattle, chickens, goats, and sheep. Peasants would take care of the animals for their landlord, and if they were lucky, would have one or two for themselves as well.
Meat was the food of the rich; most peasants only ate it once or twice a year, while nobles might have it every single day.
Animal farming was difficult in the Middle Ages because disease between animals spread quickly, and illnesses like tuberculosis were known to kill entire herds of cattle and wipe out a year’s farming effort.
Due to its climate, Northern Europe was more known for its livestock farming than Southern Europe.
The main crops peasants grew were barley, wheat, oats, potatoes, onions, apples, and various other vegetables and fruits.
Most crop-based farming was done in Southern Europe, since the climate of Northern Europe was less suited to it. Some crops exclusive to the Mediterranean countries (e.g., Italy, Spain) include grapes, oranges, and lemons.
These fruits were very expensive and highly sought after, so were commonly traded with other countries.
– The climate of Europe was unsuited to agriculture during the Early Middle Ages, as bad weather was extremely common.
– The Great European Famine, and the spread of the Black Death.
– Cattle, sheep, goats, chickens.
– Citrus fruits and grapes, as they could only be grown in the Mediterranean countries.
– Livestock-based, crop-based.