Feudalism in Medieval Europe Social Classes in Feudal Europe

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Feudalism in Medieval Europe

Social Classes in Feudal Europe

Pope / Church,   Monarch, Nobles, Knights, Vassals, Merchants, Farmers, Craftsmen, Peasants, Serfs

*NOTE: There were very few members of the monarchy, whereas there were a lot of people in the serf/ peasant class at the base of the pyramid.  Also, the people at the top of the pyramid had a lot of power over their own lives and those of others.  Those at the bottom had little power, even over their own lives.



Extension Activity: “M&M game” (from http://users.manchester.edu/Student/SRKauffman/professionalwebsite/MiddleAgesLessons.pdf

1. Assign one student to play the King/ Queen.

2. Assign two students to be Nobles and two to be Vassals. 

3.  The remaining students are Peasants.  (To make the selection process fairer, students can cast lots for these positions if desired).   

4.  Tell the students that one of the Nobles has a bigger estate than the other, and split the Peasants unequally, such that about 1/3 answers to the Vassal for one of the Lords (Lord A) while the other 2/3 of the Peasants live on the estate of "Lord B' and so answer to his / her Vassal.

5. Give each Peasant a plastic cup with exactly ten M&Ms in it. Let them know that they are not to touch the M&M’s until instructed. Tell the students that the M&M’s represent the crops from the land that the Peasants have tended. Then tell the Peasants that they must pay for the protection that they receive from their Lords with their crops. Their assigned Vassals will confiscate seven M&M’s (for classes under 20 students, have Vassals confiscate seven M+Ms to make this work better) from each Peasant in that Noble’s fiefdom.

6. From each Peasant’s payment, the Vassal may keep two of the M&Ms but he / she must give five of them to his Noble to pay for his loyalty.

7. From each of the Vassal’s payment, the Noble may keep two M&Ms for his / her services but must give the remaining three pieces to the King / Queen.

8.  At the end of the exercise the Peasants should each have the fewest M+Ms and the King  /  Queen should have the most.

9.  Ask each different role or students how they feel about what they received.

10.  If desired a discussion of the church and its power could be added here.  In the middle ages, tithing (in which the biblical suggestion that 10% of what one earned should be provided to the church) was taken very seriously.  Have the students calculate how much money (M+Ms) would have gone to the church had everyone in the group tithed their income to the church.  Given that money and power are closely related in most social systems, have the students discuss the implications of this for the power of the church during this period.

11.  Ask the students if they think that the Feudal System was fair and why / why not? 

12.  Ask them why they think that the people at the bottom might have put up with this for centuries before eventually revolting (http://www.zum.de/whkmla/sp/0910/yes/yes1.html#iv) .  Indeed most of the wars during this period were between different monarchs, or between different members of the royal family seeking the power of the monarchy.  With rare exceptions (e.g. French Revolution) the peasants did not rise up in protest against this system, and indeed in some cases, fought to preserve the status quo.  

13.  If appropriate (concerns about hygiene may intervene here!), allow students to eat their M&M’s, but don’t let the lower status players have anymore to reinforce the unfairness of the system.

14.  Discuss the simulation:  Explain that in this system, there are a few winners and many losers. Also note that, if you are higher up the chain, it is better to have more peasants underneath you.  Explain that different kings and nobles had different sized kingdoms / estates and so, even within the upper classes, some people were better off than others.


Teacher will review some of the important occurrences that happened during the presentations (specifically if there was a role-playing showing how the feudal system worked) and have a discussion about what the students thought about it.  Given extra time have an open discussion about the similarities and differences between the Middle Ages and present day.


Teacher will grade students based on accuracy, creativity, and (if applicable) teamwork during their chosen presentation on the teacher-assigned Middle Ages character the second day of lesson plan.

Accommodations and Modification:

If there are not enough computers to access the website for the entire classroom, students may use the given information printed out for them to research information and relay the following day. Students with disabilities may move up during the PowerPoint presentation or have the slides printed out.  Allow students to listen to a recording of the readings from the website.  Give students vocabulary sheets that define unfamiliar words. Assist students in small groups in discussing these terms to assure understanding. Meet with small groups of students before starting the simulation if students have difficulty reading the role cards and interpreting what they are supposed to do during the simulation.  Allow students who are not comfortable with role playing to observe the simulation and record what is happening on paper. Ask a couple of students to videotape or digitally record the simulation.  Provide a set of questions to students before the discussion to help focus their attention on certain aspects of the simulation.

Answer Sheet for the Pyramid Exercise

Note: The order of the different job descriptions within a tier is not meaningful.  For example on the bottom row peasants and serfs are interchangeable in terms of their location and on the second row, merchants, farmers and craftsmen can be filled in on the chart in any order.  The important thing is which tier each is in, not the order of positions within a tier. 

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