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In medieval times, there were three major groups of people - the nobility, the

church, and the commoners. Relationships between groups and people were
based on a balance system, a sort of 'you do this for me, and I'll do this for you'
approach.

It's easy to understand the job of the common people. Their job was to do all
the work. But what about the lord of the manor? His job was to defend the
common people. How did he plan on doing this? There were thousands of
armed warriors across Europe who would like his land and who would have no
problem killing him for it.

When the Frankish Empire collapsed, things really got bad for a while. Without
a strong central government to act as a control, people were always fighting.
Many fief owners were former warriors. They thought of terms of battle. If they
wanted more land or more workers, they would start a war with someone.

Around 900 CE, the continued lack of a strong, central government led to a
new form of government called feudalism. Manorialism had to do with the
land. Feudalism had to do with organizing an army quickly. But it went far
beyond that. Feudal obligation was a huge thing.

In the feudal system, everyone was a vassal. The word vassal means servant. At
the top of the secular heap was the local king. At the bottom were the knights,
the professional fighting men. In the middle were the lords, other nobles,
counts and officials.

Vassals could promise their loyalty to more than one person. A vassal might
pledge their support to 10 or 12 lords. Problems arose when lords went to war.
For example, let's imagine you have pledged your support to the lord on either
side of your land. These two lords are both counting on you. Both have given
you gifts of land, weapons, and goods. What happens if these two lords go to
war? You have promised your support to both. You could find yourself quite
literally in the middle, and you would lose no matter who won.
Being a vassal was taken quite seriously. Written agreements were rare, as very
few vassals could read. But a ceremony, called a homage, was held and
witnessed.

It was critical for everyone's survival that the lord had strong vassals. The
peasants were not armed. They had no defense. They had to count on the lord
of the manor to protect them. The lord had to count on his vassals. Everything
circled around violence - preparing, defending, recovering from battle. The
people were terrified and exhausted.

The Catholic Church tried to limit the battles. First, the church issued a decree
(a law) that said no one could fight in church. They they decreed that no one
could fight on a holiday or on a weekend. Then they issued a decree that made
fighting legal on only 80 days a year. Since the Church had no army of its own
to enforce these decrees, private wars continued to ravage Western Europe.