Perfect Feudalism

What medieval country had the most perfect instantiation of feudalism, in the sense of a king with vassals, who in turn had vassals, who in turn had vassals, with subinfeudation, scutage, manorialism, etc. Or, put another way, which historical realm or era comes closest to the Platonic ideal of feudalism?

It can't be England, because England combines the remains of the Anglo-Saxon county system, with earls, sheriffs, and reeves, with the Norman feudal system.


Not an expert on the topic, but I thought that post-Carolignian Empire France, or the Iberian kingdoms would come closest. With France I know that there were instances of counts and their vassals fighting against the king and his allies in some wars/crusades. Loyalty was definitely to your lord, not the idea of a country, at least for a while.

I don't think the Holy Roman Empire would be as good a fit with its governance tied to its Electors picking the Emporer, and its rule that only the Pope could confirm the title of Emperor.

(For campaigns that have some degree of organized religion it would be interesting to try to fit sub-domains that actually are ran by a temple. How is their relationship to the overlord different than other vassals? Their primary loyalty would be to their church, not their temporal overlord. Do they provide the same military service and taxes? Do they provide a different kind of boon to the overlord? This is a bit of a tangent, but historically quite a few manors were held by the clerical class, and if a setting has a centralized hierarchy controlling the clerics separate from secular authority this could have an impact. Probably less so if the clerics are disorganized. An Acolyte, Priest, Bishop System might be attempting to address too specific a concern, and difficult to make generic enough to work with the various religious systems. However, if a significant number of sub-domains are ran by monasteries and temples it seems this would have an impact. Maybe they slow down the civil wars breaking apart a future dissolving Auran Empire because the various Bishops keep getting in the way of the various Exarchs from "getting their war on" to determine a new Emporer. Apologies for the run off the main topic.)

I would suggest the Holy Roman Empire/the Germanies/Germany. Everything was awarded as afief, including offices (such as the Postlehen of the House of Thurn and Taxis), and it wasn't legally abolished until 1849 (and some of the Rittergut manors still existed until the Allies eliminated them in 1947). Originally it was an in persona enfeoffment, so the death of either party terminated the agreement and returned the land to the superior or the superior's heir. It gradually became hereditary, but subinfeudation was always common.


The German manor system was known as Villikationsverfassung (from the Latin villicus, an estate official appointed by the owner). There were also Rentengrundherrschaft, where the "manor" was just a collection point for rents from the farmers, so it wasn't totally pure, but I don't think there was a pure manorial system anywhere. They started to break up during the High Middle Ages when trade and urbanization increased, but as mentioned, some lasted until World War 2, and particularly during the Early Middle Ages, either France or Germany probably had the "purest" manorial system.


Scutage wasn't as developed as in England, though. Nobody developed it to the same level as England, whose monarchs used it as a supplement to taxation (likely due to their much smaller population). It was also short-lived, being first mentioned in 1100 and last used in the 1300s. Additionally, English scutage was demanded by the king; German scutage was a choice of the vassal.

Don't forget about Asia. The Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Siamese all had Feudal Systems. If you want an example of a perfect Feudal System, I would look at Japan during the Kamakura period (1185–1333)

"The Kamakura period marks the transition to land-based economies and a concentration of advanced military technologies in the hands of a specialized fighting class. Lords required the loyal services of vassals, who were rewarded with fiefs of their own. The fief holders exercised local military rule."




My first thought was France, but that's probably biased by reading about the Hundred Years' War recently.  I don't actually know enough about Germany to rule it out.

I sort of assume the OP knows more about this than I do, but I'll put it out for discussion:  My understanding is that top-down feudalism in the sense of starting with a king who decided to sub-infeudiate what he already had happened practically nowhere.  That European kingdoms at least got hammered together out of smaller, previously independent domains, often but not exclusively at swordpoint.

The kind of platonic desription of feudalism we have now was laid out as a theory late in the game (I want to say 15th century, but that's from memory and could be off), possibly as a way of tidying things up once kings actually had the power in hand to take back and reassign domains.  Supposedly there are even contemporary reactions along the lines of "alright, maybe in theory or maybe somewhere, but here in [country] that's not how it works."  For just about every country that heard of it.

I think your assessment is correct. Nevertheless the extent to which the theory retroactively explained the set-up varied from realm to realm. I'm just curious if anyone is aware of one realm that was closer to the theoretical ideal than others.