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The Three Orders | Class 11 History

The chapter introduces the students to the three orders or the three social categories: Christian priests, landowning nobles and peasants. We also highlight the new agricultural technologies and many other Germanic tribes of France & England.


The Rise of Christianity

After the fall of the Roman Empire, a group of Germanic people from eastern and central Europe settled in regions of Italy, Spain, and France. The Social organisation was dictated by land ownership, also it was a synthesis of Roman and German traditions in many ways.

After the Fall of Rome, 'Christianity' became the official religion of the Roman Empire and spread across central and northern Europe.

Additionally, it grew to be one of the largest landowners and political powers in Europe.

The Information & Records

What are the sources to understand European history?

According to historians, a great amount of paperwork, records detailing land ownership, prices and legal cases are a great source.

● The churches' recording of births, marriages, and deaths, is also a great source to grasp the family and population structures.

● Churches and monuments are excellent resources for learning about mercantile societies, while songs and stories provide context for festivals and neighbourhood activities.

All of these can be used by historians to decipher the economic and social context of a long-term trend, such as population growth, or a short-term phenomenon, such as an economic crash (like peasant revolts).

Who was Marc Bloch?

Marc Bloch was one of the mediaeval scholars in France who contributed to the development of feudalism. During World War II, Marc Bloch and other historians argued that history was not limited to political history, international relations, and the lives of famous people.

● He was extremely passionate about geography's impact on human history and emphasised the critical nature of being able to identify large groups of people's collective behaviours and attitudes.

● Bloch's Feudal Society, the social hierarchy, land management, and popular culture of the period are all detailed in this remarkable work.

● He was assassinated by the Nazis during World War II.

What is Feudalism?

The term "feudalism" was coined by historians to refer to the economic, legal, political, and social relationships prevalent in mediaeval Europe.

It was a Middle Ages social system in Europe in which people worked and fought for landowners in exchange for land and protection.

This type of society developed in mediaeval France, England, and southern Italy.

Feudalism in Economic Sense

The agricultural production of peasants is referred to as tributary agriculture because it is dependent on the cooperation of lords and peasants.

Peasants worked on both their own and their lord's land. Peasants rendered services to lords in exchange for protection against invaders.

Furthermore, the feudal state exercised extensive judicial control over peasants. Along with economics, feudalism encompassed social and political aspects of life.

Despite its roots in the Roman Empire and Charlemagne's time, its practices continue to evolve and develop (742-814).

Who was Charlemagne?

Charlemagne or Charles the Great, also known as Charles I, was King of the Franks, King of the Lombards, and Emperor of the Romans from 768 to 800.

● He united the majority of western and central Europe, during the middle ages.

● Also, he championed the Carolingian Renaissance in Europe, a period of a cultural and intellectual renaissance. Charles ruled a vast empire that encompassed portions of modern-day France, Germany, and Italy.

● He advocated for education and founded schools.

● He invaded eastern Germany, defeating the Saxons and capturing Spain's northeastern corner from the Muslims.

France & England

The Franks were a Germanic people who bestowed the name "FRANCE" on Gaul (Roman Province).

Gaul was endowed with two lengthy coastlines, mountain ranges, long rivers, forests, and vast agricultural plains.

This kingdom was Christian and ruled by Frankish/French kings. The French had strong ties to the Church, which were strengthened in 800 when the Pope bestowed on King Charlemagne the title of "Holy Roman Emperor" to ensure his support.

Across a narrow channel lay the island of England–Scotland, which was conquered in the eleventh century by a duke from the French province of Normandy.

The Three Orders

The concept of creating orders in society was believed by the French Priests. The people were the members of one of the three orders. The orders of the society were the Clergy, the Nobility, the peasantry.

The First Order: The Clergy

The order included all individuals who were ordained as Catholic priests, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals.

● The Catholic Church had its own laws, lands granted to it by rulers, and had the authority to tax. As a result, it was a very powerful institution independent of the king. The Pope was the head of the western Church. He was the Pope of Rome.

● Bishops and clerics guided the Christians in Europe. Most villages had their own church, where residents gathered every Sunday to hear the priest's sermon and pray together.

● It was impossible for anyone to become a priest. Serfs, the physically challenged, and women were all barred from becoming priests. Priests were not allowed to marry.

● Bishops were the nobility of the church. The bishops, like the lords who owned vast landed estates, had access to vast estates and lived in grand palaces.

● The Church was entitled to a tenth share of whatever the peasants produced from their land during the year, referred to as a 'tithe.'

In addition, gifts of money were made to the poor in the afterlife, as a charity from the wealthy for themselves and their deceased relatives. Many of the church ceremonies were modelled on the customs of the feudal upper class. It was as if a knight was kneeling and praying as he made a vow of loyalty to his lord.

A good example of this is the use of the term “lord” to refer to God. This cultural practice began as a form of feudalism and became incorporated into Church practice.

There were a great many customs and symbols in the religious and lay worlds of feudalism that the two worlds shared.


A group of deeply religious individuals who chose to live in seclusion. They lived in religious communities known as abbeys or monasteries, which were frequently located in remote areas devoid of human habitation.

Monks took vows to live in the abbey, praying, studying, and performing manual labour such as farming.

Men and women were both eligible to become monks or nuns during this life.

All abbeys were monogamous. Nuns, like priests, monks, and nuns, were prohibited from marrying. The Monasteries expanded as the communities grew, with larger buildings and estates that included educational and medical facilities.

Their works aided in the development of the arts.

In the thirteenth century, "Friars" a group of Monks chose to roam from town to town, spreading the word and receiving donations. The manuscript, which contains 73 chapters of rules, was followed by monks in Benedictine monasteries for centuries.

The Church And The Society

Europeans kept some of their ancient ideas in magic and folklore after becoming Christians.

Christmas and Easter have been major dates since the fourth century. The celebration of Christ's birth on December 25, supplanted an older pre-Roman holiday, dictated by the solar calendar.

On Easter Sunday, Christians remembered Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. The residents from each village would take a tour of their respective villages' lands.

Overworked peasants anticipated 'holy days' as holidays when they wouldn't have to work. Many people travelled considerable distances to visit martyrs' shrines or large churches, and pilgrimage was an important part of a Christian's life.

The Second Order: The Nobility

The nobility controlled land, as it provided the majority of the population with their sole source of income. This control was achieved through the use of a technique known as 'vassalage'.

"Vassalage" was a term used by Germanic peoples such as the Franks, who were ruled by Frankish kings.

Peasants were landowners' vassals, and nobles were the king's vassals. When the country's king became his vassal, a nobleman accepted this and struck a mutual agreement: the lord (one who provided bread) would look after his vassal, who would remain loyal to him.

A complex relationship was developed, involving numerous rituals and pledges taken on the Bible in a church. When the vassal received a written charter, staff, or even a clod of earth as a symbol of the land being given to him by his master, he was finally able to lay down his sword and claim his possessions.

The noble held an eminent position.

  • He possessed complete control over his property, which would endure in perpetuity.

  • He possessed the ability to raise "feudal levies" of troops.

  • His courts of justice stood up to the lord's.

  • He was able to support himself. His master was the king of all those who lived on his land.

  • He owned vast tracts of land for the majority of his life, including his own residences, fields, and pastures, as well as the dwellings and properties of his tenant farmers.

  • It was referred to as a Manor.

Along with farming their own land, peasants were expected to fight in battle when necessary.

The Manorial State

What did the manorial state consist of?

The lord of the manor owned his own manor-house. He was also in charge of smaller settlements controlled by some powerful lords.

Larger manorial estates contained as many as fifty or sixty families.

On the estate, nearly everything one would need was found: there were grain fields that supplied grain, blacksmiths and carpenters that maintained the estate's implements and weapons, while stonemasons were on hand to care for the estate's buildings.

Women spun and wove cloth, and young children toiled in the wine-presses of the lords. Many generations of lords hunted in the woodlands and forests surrounding the estate.

The pastures where his cows and horses grazed were on the property. A church was on the estate, as well as a fort for defence.

Some castles in the 13th century were built larger to serve as the home of a knight's family.

Of course, before the Norman Conquest, England didn't have many castles; they first appeared as places for political administration and military power during the feudal system.

Outside sources were required to supplement the manor's own supplies of salt, millstones, and metalware.

In order to enjoy a lavish lifestyle and acquire luxurious goods such as fine furniture, musical instruments, and ornaments that were not made locally, those lords had to obtain them from other locations.

The Knights

The Knights were frequently involved in localised wars throughout Europe. Amateur peasant-soldiers were insufficient, and cavalry reinforcements were required.

As a result, a new class of people gained prominence – the knights.

Similarly to how the latter was connected to the king, the lords were connected to the royals.

Following the knight's receipt of his plot of land, the Lord (whom the knight addressed as "Sir") promised to defend it. It is possible to inherit. Although it began with 1,000 acres or more, including a castle, a church, and other structures for the knight's dependents, it later expanded to 2,000 acres or more, including a house for the knight and his family, a church, and other structures.

Peasants were required to farm the fief's land in the same manner as they would on a feudal manor.

Thus, the knight compensated his lord for fighting for him in battle in exchange for regular fees. Every day, training took place to keep knights' combat skills current.

His primary allegiance was to his own lord, but he could serve multiple lords. Throughout mediaeval France, minstrels travelled from manor to manor, singing tales of heroes and warriors that mixed historical facts and legends.

Due to a general lack of literacy during this era, travelling bards were especially popular.

Numerous balconies adorned the large hall, allowing diners to observe the proceedings below. This was the minstrels' gallery, where singers entertained noblemen as they dined on sumptuous repasts.

The Third Order: Peasants, Free and Unfree

What did the 'Third Order' comprise of?

Cultivators were classified into two categories:

● Free peasants

● Serfs.

Free peasants managed their farms as tenants of the lord.

The men were compelled to serve in the armed forces (at least forty days every year). Peasant families were required to set aside certain days of the week for work on the lord's estate, typically three but occasionally more.

Labour-rent, the result of such labour, would be paid directly to the lord.

Additionally, they may be required to perform other unpaid labour tasks such as ditch digging, firewood gathering, fence erecting, and road and structure repair.

In addition to assisting in the fields, women and children were required to perform other tasks. They woven cloth, spun thread, fashioned candles, and pressed grapes for the Lord's use.

On occasion, kings imposed a direct tax known as 'taille' on peasants (the clergy and nobles were exempted from paying this).

Serfs farmed small plots of the lord's land. A substantial portion of the harvest was required to be paid to the lord. Additionally, they were required to work on land that was solely owned by the lord.

They were not compensated and were not permitted to leave the estate without the lord's permission. The lord claimed a number of monopolies at the expense of his serfs.

Serfs were limited to grinding their own flour in their lord's mill, baking their own bread in his oven, and distilling their own wine and beer in their lord's wine presses.

The lord could either choose a serf's spouse or grant his blessing in exchange for a fee to the serf's choice.

England: The beginning of Feudalism

In the eleventh century, England adopted feudalism as a model of government.

By the sixth century, central Europeans, the Angles and Saxons, had established themselves in England. England derives its name from the Old English word "Angle-land."

In the eleventh century, William, Duke of Normandy, successfully led an army across the English Channel and defeated England's Saxon king. England and France were perpetually at war due to territorial and commercial disputes.

According to legend, when 'William I' inherited the Duchy of Normandy, he bestowed land upon 180 Norman noblemen who accompanied him to England.

As a result, the lords were elevated to the status of the king's chief tenants and were expected to provide him with military support. They were required to provide a certain number of knights in order to fulfil their obligations to the king.

As they served the king, they began gifting lands to knight members of their courts who would serve them in the same way the king had served them.

However, because they were prohibited from using their knights for private warfare, they were unable to use them in England. Anglo-Saxon peasants evolved into their current state over time as tenants of various levels of landowners.

What were the factors affecting Social and Economic Relations?

The first two orders saw the social system as stable and unchanging, there were several processes that were transforming the system.

The changes in the environment were gradual and almost imperceptible. Others were more dramatic, like the changes in agricultural technology and land use.

These in turn were shaped by and had an effect on the social and economic ties between lords and vassals.

The Environment

Large forests dominated most of Europe. Thus, only a certain amount of land was available for farming.

As long as they can avoid oppression, the peasants can flee from their conditions and seek refuge in the forest.

During this time, Europe was experiencing a particularly harsh climatic spell. As a result, the winters were severe and long, and the growing season for crops was shortened. As a result, crop yields were reduced.

Europe entered a warm period between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. Agriculture was greatly affected by rising temperatures. The peasants' growing season was longer, so the soil was better able to be ploughed now that the temperature was not as often influenced by frost.

As environmental historians have discovered, there was a significant receding of the forest line in many parts of Europe. Expansion of the cultivated area was possible because of this.

Land Use / Agricultural Technology

Agricultural technology was extremely primitive in the beginning. All the peasants had was a wooden plough drawn by a team of oxen. The plough was unable to unearth the soil's full productivity. As a result, agriculture was extremely labour- and resource-intensive.

However, because fields were located in inaccessible locations, they had to be tilled manually once every four years, necessitating an enormous amount of manual labour.

While crop rotation is generally regarded as ineffective, it was in fact used. In the autumn, one field was planted with wheat, while the other was left fallow for the winter.

The following year, while the remainder of the field was left fallow, this field was planted with rye.

This system resulted in widespread soil deterioration and frequent famines.

Chronically malnourished children and adults faced near-famine conditions during life's difficulties.

Lords were eager to amass as much wealth as possible. The peasants were compelled to work more than was legally required, and the manorial estate's entire land area was brought under cultivation, resulting in a decrease in output.

Peasants did not accept their position as exploited subjects meekly. After being denied the opportunity to protest openly, they resorted to passive resistance.

They invested more time and effort in their own farms and thus reaped much greater rewards for their efforts.

Additionally, they abstained from performing unpaid services. They were at odds with landowners over land rights and resources, believing that land and natural resources should be shared by all, whereas landowners viewed land and natural resources as private property.

New Agricultural Technologies

What type of agricultural Technologies were prevalent?

This period saw several apparent technological advances. When cultivators started using iron-tipped ploughs and mould-boards, wooden ploughs were replaced.

These ploughs can dig deeper, allowing for better nutrient use.

Since then, animal ploughing has grown. Currently, shoulder harnesses replace neck harnesses. This increased animal strength.

● Iron horseshoes protected the hooves from dry rot.

● Wind and water power are helping agriculture.

Way Forward

By this time, Europe had hundreds of water and wind-powered mills, which were used for everything from corn milling to wine pressing. Additionally, land use patterns have shifted. Notably, the transition from a two-field to a three-field system altered the game's fundamental structure.

It has been nearly a year and a half since peasants were able to use a field for two distinct crops two-thirds of the time. Farmers must first divide their property into three distinct fields. Wheat and rye can be harvested in the fall and consumed by humans. Additionally, during the spring, oats and barley can be planted for horses. The third field was entirely superfluous.

Each unit of land produced an additional year's worth of food as a result of these changes. As a result, the yield doubled. Peas and beans also contributed to the increase in animal protein and provided additional fodder for livestock. Growers now have a better chance. It is possible to produce more food on less land with new technology.

Throughout the majority of the 13th century, a typical peasant farm consisted of no more than 20 to 30 acres. Smaller businesses require less labour and are generally more efficiently managed.

Additionally, this freed up time for the peasants to engage in other activities. Utilizing new technologies is not inexpensive. Poverty precluded peasants from purchasing watermills or windmills. The nobility took care of it. This peasant knowledge of the land provided them with a significant advantage in farming areas, particularly in terms of arable land expansion.

Ploughs and horseshoes with iron tips became a part of the village smithies. In a village forge, iron-tipped ploughs and horseshoes were forged.

Personal relationships were diminished in the feudal system, as economic transactions were conducted primarily in monetary terms. A farmer's produce was sold to a middleman, who profited by transporting it to cities.

Prices increased during bad harvests as money was spent more frequently. In the mid-13th century, agricultural prices in England doubled.

New Towns and Townspeople (A Fourth Order?)

Significant technological advancements have occurred since the 11th century. Farmers shifted away from wooden ploughs in favour of iron-tipped ploughs and mould-boards. Reduced digging would aid in the better utilisation of soil nutrients.

Animal ploughing has improved significantly since then. Shoulders took the place of neck harnesses. This endowed animals with authority. Iron horseshoes aided in the maintenance of healthy hooves. It benefits agriculture.

Numerous water and windmills were milling corn and pressing grapes at this point. Land use patterns shifted. Essentially a three-field system rather than a two-field system. Farmers plant two crops in autumn and spring the following year to account for two-thirds of field use.

Divide your assets into three categories. Wheat and rye can be planted and consumed in the fall.

Harvesting in the spring for human and horse feed. Three fields were superfluous. Each year, all land units increased their food production. Yield has doubled. It resulted in an increase in animal protein and feed consumption in Europe.

It benefited farmers. This is possible with modern technology.

By the 13th century, peasant farms numbered only 20-30 acres. Businesses with fewer employees can be managed more effectively.

As a result, the peasants gained additional time.


Modernization is not free. Watermills and windmills were out of reach of peasants due to a lack of funds. The nobles made a mistake. Peasants excelled at tasks such as expanding arable land.

Iron tip ploughs and horseshoes of a new design emerged. Historically, village forges manufactured iron-tipped ploughs.

Personal relationships waned in importance as commerce became more monetary in nature. Because farmers sold their crops to traders, aristocrats demanded cash rent rather than providing services.

Poor harvests result in increased food prices. Agricultural prices doubled in the mid-13th century.

Cathedral - Towns

Churches received funds from wealthy merchants. The 12th century saw France build large cathedrals.

These belonged to monasteries, but various groups helped build them. Many years went into building stone cathedrals.

● They became pilgrimage sites as the surrounding area grew in population.

● They spawned small towns. To hear the priest clearly within a large hall, and the monks' singing and chiming bells calling people to prayer. Stained-glass windows

● The cathedral's light illuminated them during the day, and candles illuminated them at night. Blind people could ‘read' the Bible stories in stained glass.

The Crisis Of The Fourteen Century

Europe's economic expansion stalled in the 14th century. This situation was caused by three factors. Northern Europe's mild summers of the 12th century were replaced by exceptionally cold summers by the end of the 13th century.

The crop season was halved, and crops on higher ground couldn't be harvested. Storms and ocean flooding reduced tax revenue. Favourable climatic conditions aided the rise of agriculture in the thirteenth century, leading to widespread reclamation of previously forested and grazed land.

Insufficient soil conservation led to extensive ploughing, so three-field crop rotation was used.

Pasture became scarce, reducing cattle numbers. Population growth outpaced resource availability, causing famine. Following the 1315–17 famine, massive cattle deaths occurred in the 1320s.

Reduced silver mine output in Austria and Serbia also hampered trade. Governments stopped issuing silver coins because the silver content was reduced. It was going to get worse. Foreign ships arrived in European ports as trade expanded in the 13th and 14th centuries.

The ships brought rats infected with the Black Death, causing the "rat plague".

In the mid-1300s, a previously isolated epidemic swept across Western Europe. The epidemic killed 20% of Europe's population, with some areas losing 40%.

When someone in a closed community like a monastery or convent got the plague, everyone got it and died. The plague killed many babies, children, and the elderly. Other minor plagues occurred in the 1360s and 1370s.

Europe had 73 million people in 1300, but only 45 million in 1400. This disaster, coupled with the economic crisis, wreaked havoc on society. Because of the labour shortage, wages rose. Serious inequalities arose due to the lack of participants. Prices fell as fewer people bought farm goods.

After the Black Death, agricultural labour demand increased by 250-400% in England. Workers can now demand double their previous salary.

Social Unrest

As a result, lords' income suffered a significant reduction. The price of agricultural products declined, as well as wages for labourers, and thus the value of agricultural land declined.

Realising they were in dire straits, they desperately tried to return to labour services and let go of the money contracts they had entered into. Peasants, particularly the better-educated and more prosperous ones, fiercely resisted this decision.

Flemish peasants, the French peasantry, and the English peasantry all revolted in 1323, 1358, and 1381. The uprisings were ruthlessly put down in these areas where people experienced economic prosperity, suggesting that peasants were trying to preserve their gains in the past.

Peasant resistance was so widespread that the feudal order could not be restored.

A major obstacle to returning to a barter economy was the money economy. Since the lords were successful in suppressing the revolts, the peasants were able to protect the feudal privileges that had been established in the past.

Political Changes

Political developments occurred at the same time as social developments. In the 15th and 16th centuries, England's Henry VIII and France's Francis I expanded Europe's military and financial might.

The new states they spawned proved as vital to Europe as the economic changes.

In other words, they are the “new monarchs”. These absolutist rulers organised standing armies, permanent bureaucracies, and national taxation.

The major reason these monarchies prevailed was the dramatic social change that occurred in the 12th and 13th centuries.

After the feudal system disintegrated, rulers began to gain control over their powerful and less powerful subjects.

Since no feudal levy system could provide a professional infantry with guns and siege artillery, rulers established their own regiments directly under their control.


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