In writing a novel series set in a feudal society, I researched the Medieval Age. While my Celts missed the Middle Ages in Europe, they have developed along similar lines to their cousins.
The second element of the manorial system was compulsory labor. The villeins, or serfs, (or the smallfolk) who were occupants on the land, were given the right to cultivate some of the lord’s land for their own benefit in exchange for their labor in tilling the remainder of the land for the benefit of the feudal lord.
The villeins (a word derived because they were tied to a villa under Roman rule) also paid various dues in the form of money (from portions of the crops they grew on the land they were permitted to use for their own purposes, and which they sold in the local towns and villages), and other in-kind services, such as compulsory road building and maintenance at certain times of the year.
From morning to night the tenants were watched, supervised, reprimanded, and ordered to do various tasks. They were required to work the lord’s fields for a certain amount each day, including caring for the lord’s livestock, and maintaining and repairing the tools and implements owned by the lord.
Only when all of this work had been done were they allowed to work their personal plots of land for their own family purposes. Closely watched and supervised, it was in their own self-interest to finish their work on the lord’s land as quickly as possible to get to work on their own plots of land from which they personally benefited. Explained Marc Bloch:
To this Lord, as they called him, the cultivators of the soil owed, first, a more or less important part of their time; days of agricultural labor devoted to the cultivation of the fields, meadows, and vineyards of his demense [estate]; carting and carrying services; and sometimes services as builders and craftsmen.
Further, they were obliged to divert to his use a considerable part of their own harvests, sometimes in the form of rents and sometimes by means of taxes in money, and preliminary exchange of produce for money being in this case their own affair.
The very fields that they cultivated were not held to be theirs in full ownership, nor was their community – at least in most cases – the full owner of those lands over which common rights were exercised.
But were said to be ‘held’ by the Lord, which means that as landowner he had a superior right over them, recognized by dues to him, and capable in certain circumstances of overriding the concurrent rights of the individual cultivators and of the community.
The villeins, or serfs, were born on the land and lived out their lives there. Few ever traveled more than 30 miles from their birthplace. If a feudal lord were to sell one of his manors to another nobleman, it included not only the land, livestock, and working tools, but the serfs on the land as well.
The only escape from serfdom on the manor was to successfully go to and hide in one of the Medieval walled cities for one year and a day. After that, the villein, or serf, was considered a “free man.” Thus, in the Middle Ages it was said, “City air makes you free.”
I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around that system, so my smallfolk own their own land, but pay rents to their lord in exchange for law and order and roads (sometimes). They are free to move about, to buy and sell their lands and to open unclaimed land to cultivation. Because Celdrya has been without a king for 100 years, the feudal system is under pressure and may be dissolving. You have to read the books to discover what I do with that.