The Middle Ages was a period dating from the fifth century, when the Western Roman Empire fell, to the fourteenth-fifteenth century, when Europe experienced a reawakening called the Renaissance. The medieval society was governed by a system called feudalism. In feudalism, there is a very distinctive social class system. The society was divided into different classes that were based on their role in society.
The Upper Class
The upper class in the Middle Ages consisted of four levels:
- Royalty: They had complete political and economic power over the land.
- King: He is the owner of the land and is the ultimate authority of the kingdom. He has the responsibility of creating laws and caring for the inhabitants of the kingdom.
- Queen: She is usually the second in command after the king and served as a regent when the king is not around. The Queen plays an important role in the kingdom.
- Prince: He is the next member of the royal family that could take the throne once the king died. His work is to attend meetings of the royal court.
- The Princesses: She can also inherit the throne, but she is usually married of to secure friendly political and economic relations between kingdoms.
- Clergy: Because the church during the Middle Ages played an important role in the kingdom, the clergy had immense influence in the society.
- Nobility: Consisting of the lords, dukes, counts, and squires, these nobles were granted land from the monarch. In compensation for the land given to them, these feudal lords have responsibilities to the king. These include the following:
- Serving the royal council
- Providing the king with knights during war
- Providing food and accommodation to the king during his travels
- Paying the taxes required by the king
- Knights:As the lowest level of nobility, they do not own land. There main function was to protect the king and the kingdom.
The Middle Class
In the Middle Ages, the middle class, which consisted of tradesmen, merchants, doctors, and professional people, no longer worked the land but were not part of the upper class. They are the society’s most economically active section.
The middle class represented a new and powerful social class as they were not bound by the feudal social structure. Toward the later part of the Middle Ages, because of their wealth and influence, they were able to challenge the power of the nobility. New political and cultural ideas developed because of the rise of the middle class, and these that had a profound impact on the society.
The Lower Class
In medieval times, the upper class had total control of the land while most of the population lived a life of poverty.
- Serfs: Considered the poorest in the social hierarchy of the feudal system, they could not own land and live on the property of the noble vassal. They worked on the land in exchange for a home and protection.
- Peasants: Marginally better off, they had control of small portions of land. In return, they are obligated to provide food and service to the upper class.
The hierarchal social structure that existed during the Middle Ages was clear cut and distinct, and although these classes are very different, they were all vital to the society.
Ducksters. “Middle Ages: Feudal System.” Accessed January 7, 2024. https://www.ducksters.com/history/middle_ages_feudal_system.php.
Give Me History. “Social Classes in the Middle Ages.” Last modified November 1, 2022. https://www.givemehistory.com/social-classes-in-the-middle-ages.
PLC Perth. “Medieval Europe.” Accessed January 7, 2024. https://library.plc.wa.edu.au/year8/history/medievaleurope/life_in_medieval_europe.