A Guide to Serfdom
Let us start with a definition:
Serf – a medieval term for a peasant, or actually the condition of being a peasant in relation to a lord or land-holder. In other words a serf or someone experiencing serfdom is always a peasant but a peasant might not always be a serf.
When you are a serf or you are experiencing serfdom you are bonded or in bondage to a manorial lord, a land-holder, a nobleman. You are going to work on the land and have your daily tasks set forth by someone a little higher up the food chain that is taking there marching orders from the lord or land-holder themselves. Serfdom was the lowest part of a society that was based on land. The serf held a plot of land on the lord’s land. The lord held the land due to a relationship or arrangement with the king. The serf agreed to work the land and was guaranteed protection, justice and the right to part of the produced resources of the land. The lord in turn returned part of the resources to the king in the form of taxes.
Now, part of the problem of being a serf are the things you are ‘guaranteed’ for working the land.
The lord of the manorial piece of property is supposed to protect the vassals / serfs that live on his land. But, if the peasant and his family are in the way of an oncoming army, they are not going to get protected as much as the people that make up the lord’s household. And, due to the fact that the serf forms part of the supply chain due to the fact they are farming and mining and smithing and practicing carpentry… the serf could very easily find themselves in the way of said oncoming army.
Justice, this is another tricky term. You are expecting justice from someone that sees you as a slave or at best little better then a slave. You are expecting justice from someone that sees you as replaceable and disposable. Most lords of the manor found that a serf was disposable and therefore it was the serf that provided the most output from their plot of land or job that was usually ruled as being in the ‘right.’
A Portion of the Resources
You are guaranteed a portion of the resources that you produce from your plot of ground or from the task that you perform on the held-land. If you are farming, this becomes pretty easy. You grow 10 carrots, you keep one. You harvest 10 planks of lumber, you keep one. But, what if the lord of the manor needs a little more lumber that month to give to the king due to the fact that there is a war going on? Well, in this case, the one you should be keeping will be given to the king. Sad but true.
One thing is for sure, if you had the choice to be a serf or to not be a serf, you would rather not be a serf. Think of serfdom as another form of indentured servitude without a possibility of ever leaving the experience of serfdom. Think of serfdom as slavery.