The English Experience of Feudalism


  • Michael Bennett


English   scholarship has never been comfortable with feudalism. Anglo-Saxon distrust   of all grand theorising is well-established, and so protean a concept as   feudalism inevitably gives grounds for such diffidence. Almost a hundred   years ago the redoubtable J.H. Round lent his authority to the narrow,   institutional definition of the term.l Even F.W. Maitland, elsewhere rather   more adventurous, at one stage claimed rather whimsically that 'the feudal   system' was simply an early 'essay in comparative jurisprudence', .which   attained 'its most perfect development' in the middle of the nineteenth   century.2 Despite the convenience of the term in titles of books and courses,   subsequent generations of English medievalists have tended to heed his   advice, for the most part limiting the use of the term 'feudal' to describe   the institutions and arrangements associated with the feudum or fief. It is   presumably significant that the ancien regime in England never experienced   the sort of revolutionary challenge which elsewhere gave ideological force to   a more broadly conceived notion of feudalism.