Decline of feudalism


Lessons from history prove it’s an ever growing possibility


The collapse of the mighty Roman Empire paved the way towards oligarchic feudalism in Europe. When feudalism in Europe originated, the continent was structured aristocratically.

Prior to the French Revolution, Europe was inextricably enmeshed with imperialism and obsolete rule of feudalism, despotism and absolutist monarchy. Which thus impeded both gradual and rapid growth of development and integration for generations in Europe.

Above all, feudalism in France was idiosyncratic in nature. Which had different set of history and culture. The French society was comprised of three different estates. Nobles or the feudal lords being the first estate, the clergy second; followed by the general French population.

The fall of feudalism in France

Regrettably, everywhere in France, the social, economic, religious and political condition of the peasants was in a miserable state of bondage to their feudal lords. They were suppressed, heavily taxed and forced to serfdom in order to exploit their visible frailties and resources. The peasants were regarded as their subjects and were treated inhumanely. They had to pay certain direct taxes to the state; and certain indirect taxes to the nobles and the Catholic Church. The catholic clergy was a hereditary class; who enjoyed outstanding privileges, and, were totally exempted from taxation. The peasants were bound to pay tithe tax in order to assist them.

The role of the second estate

According to Jeffrey Brautigam: “together, the clergy and the nobility wielded enormous power and enjoyed tremendous privilege, while the various groups that made up the Third Estate bore the tax burden. The Catholic Church in France functioned as a branch of the government bureaucracy. It registered births, marriages, and deaths; collected certain kinds of agricultural taxes; and oversaw both education and relief for the poor. The Church owned approximately 10 percent of land in France but paid no taxes to the government.”

Moreover, the ‘Catholic Church’ was an established institution in France. H.L. Peacock in his book 1789-1981: A History of Modern Europe argues that “various forms of the Protestant faith existed in France, but were not recognised by the law. The only public worship allowed was that of the Catholic Church. This monopoly of religious power was the subject of violent attacks by many great French writers, among whom the most outstanding was Voltaire, who demanded complete religious toleration.”

It comes down to land

On the other hand, the nobility owned nearly 25 percent of land in France and relished a notable position in the society. The key jobs in military services were earmarked for them. They sat on special seats in the church far from commoners. This class was also tax exempted and particularly hinged on the taxes of peasants. Consequently, they accumulated wealth and built Châteaux and citadels — on their land-owning property — in order to live an extravagant and luxurious life.

So, these structural inequalities and accumulated ills in France — inflicted by mildly selfish and callous landlords — prodded peasants for uprising. Several times, the peasants revolted against the barbaric deeds of their ruthless landlords. But, unfortunately, the rebellions were crashed meteorically. Because they did not have arms, military training and intellectual support to resist the might of “professional and well-equipped army.”

The bloody revolution and the August decrees

But, the outbreak of the French Revolution, 1789, brought spectacular alterations in France, and evolved its unequal political, social, religious and economic structure. It also marked the beginning of a new revolutionary spirit in Europe, and disrupted the “Ancient Régime, or Old Regime,” of the absolutist monarchy.

On July 14, 1789, an angry mob stormed the ancient fortress of Bastille in Paris. The Governor and his guard were killed, and their heads were paraded on pikes through the city. In the aftermath, the prisoners were released, and marked the commencement of the revolution. As the news of the fall of Bastille reached the countryside, the peasants and farmers were electrified and revolted against their feudal contracts by assaulting their Châteaux and destroyed whatever found there.

The following day, the state of affairs was further deteriorated in Paris. And it took a terrible shape, when an irritated throng pillaged shops in search of foods and munitions. Not only had this happened but they also captured the galleries of assembly in Paris to watch a session of the national assembly, which was underway.

However, the revolutionary activities further galvanised the French populace to pressurise nobility and the clergy to capitulate their privileges. In the midst of these crisis, the privileged order did not have any other feasible option than to relent its privileges. On Aug 4, 1789, a radical decision was taken by members of national assembly. By which nobility and the clergy came one by one and surrendered their privileges. It was rather inevitable, however.

With the issuing of the August decrees, feudalism came to an end in France. And the peasants were completely unfettered from the yoke of their feudal contracts. The assembly thereafter, issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, which preserved the self-sufficiency of the French people.

In the meantime, the national convention executed King Louis XVI, on the grounds of treason in January, 1793, and declared France as a republic. This is how feudalism, despotism and absolutist monarchy was abolished in France and society evolved successively “on the basis of equality and justice.”

What lessons can Pakistan learn?

But in modern time feudalism is still intact and deeply-embedded in Pakistan’s politics, society and culture. Which is an existential threat and real impediment in the way of development and integration in society. The feudal landlords hitherto enjoy prodigious power and riches and as well as “claiming to be” the progenies of the “Sufi saints” in order to exploit the insensible public.

The landlords in Pakistan need to understand the changing environment abroad. Which has no space for landlordism, feudalism and its redundant institutions. Once feudalism is eliminated, the young and talented people will arise and contribute their valuable services to the progress of society. It is, vitally indispensable, to end feudalism voluntarily. If not so, perhaps violence and bloodshed would come and obliterate it eventually.



  1. This article is biased against feudals and landlords.Landlords contribute to pakistans economy by growing for pakistan and the people.honest land holders pay their taxes and invest in their lands.we shouldn't envy each other for what GOD has given us.And please stop bashing feudals all the time.sorry you can't take someone else's property and say thats how we will remove poverty its ethically wrong.For once someone write an article about the success of agriculture in pakistan thanks to landholders please.

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