A summary of the feudal system and the Domesday Book

Domesday Book showing overview of the feudal system with king, barons, knights and peasants

The feudal system was a way of organising people

In the 20th century, historians grouped society into a set of ranks and responsibilities:

RankResponsibility
KingRuled and protected the country.
BaronsGiven high rank by the king who had land and power.
KnightsFought for the king and country.
PeasantsDid all the work, like farming.

All medieval people did homage, a promise to be loyal, to their 'lord' and there were no rules or restrictions on the power of the king.

But was it that simple?

Portrait of William I of England, also known as William the Conqueror.
William I

William the Conqueror, one of the kings in the Middle Ages, created the Domesday Book (1086). He sent officials all over England to assess and value the wealth of the land and who owned it. The Domesday Book shows medieval society was much more complicated than this, and historians nowadays do not believe that the 'feudal system' ever really existed.

The idea of the 'feudal system' does still provide a good starting point for your study of Britain's government.

How has the system changed today?

In theory, the government of William the Conqueror was 'absolute' – he owned all the land, ruled all of the people and did whatever he wanted. Over the next millennium this absolute authority was challenged and defeated. Britain chose instead a system of government where power goes bottom-upwards from the people to Parliament, who make the laws, rather than top-down from the king to the people.