In volume two of "Feudal Society", Marc Bloch writes in the chapter about nobility, under the section named "THE PROFESSION OF ARMS", that:

"the possession of manors was the mark of a genuinely noble status and, along with treasure in money or jewels, the only form of wealth which seemed compatible with high rank, this was due in the first place to the authority over other men which it implied. (Could there ever be a surer basis of prestige than to be able to say: ‘It is my will’?) But another reason was that the very vocation of the noble prevented him from engaging in any direct economic activity. He was committed body and soul to his particular function—that of the warrior. This fact, which is of fundamental importance, explains the rôle of the military vassals in the formation of medieval aristocracy."

It is not so clear to me the part i emphasized in bold-face. I think he is trying here to suggest that nobles had a vocation for war that prevented them from working directly. But I think I did not get the point: why do nobles have this vocation in the first place and what is it that justify this point?

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    Bloch has no idea what he's blabbering about. Notably, his ignorance is highlighted by his conflation of manors - held by knights, who were distinctly NOT noble, but common, even though privileged - and baronies composed of a great many manors. The House of Commons originated as two knights from each borough. What better proof of being common could one need. Jun 5, 2021 at 22:25
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    History of the House of Commons - Britannica: "The origins of the House of Commons date from the second half of the 13th century, when landholders and other property owners in the counties and towns began sending representatives to Parliament .... In the 14th century the knights and burgesses chosen as representatives (i.e., the commons) began sitting in a separate chamber, or “house,” from that used by the nobles and high clergy (i.e., the lords)." Jun 5, 2021 at 22:41

2 Answers 2


Details differed from place to place and era to era, but very generally speaking in a feudal system the vassal received a fief from the overlord in exchange for fealty, including the duty to provide a military unit to the overlord. If the vassal did not train his unit properly, he would be failing in his duty to the overlord. And (again generally speaking) the vassal would be expected to lead his unit by himself. Bloch speaks mostly of continental Europe, a few centuries before and after the millenium, when this feudal system was fully developed.

Basically it was a two-sided contract. The vassal would get land or other income-generating rights from the overlord, take part of the income for administrative costs, another part to provide services to the overlord, and finally a part for himself and his family. They did not use the term contract as we do today, with personal loyalty thrown into the mix, but it was usually spelled out somewhere what the overlord could expect from the vassal. So-and-so many lances of troops, for so-and-so many days.

Society would find different ways to reinforce this expected role. It would be either a loss of face or a loss of legal standing to engage in trade, while both warfare and land management were considered to be consistent with noble dignity.

  • Not sure what the downvote here was about. This seems like more or less the correct answer. Feudalism was essentially Europe's answer to the question "How do we field a competitive military in an era where that requires full-time professional soldiers, and we are a rural farming society largely operating on barter with essentially no money flowing around?"
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 5, 2021 at 22:41

Devolution from warriors to parasitic class

In feudal society there was very meager choice of occupation:

a) You could be a peasant (and likely serf) working the land. Very hard job, requiring lots of work and full time dedication. Of course, nobility did not want to do that.

b) You could belong to clergy, which included all kind of scholars. Members of nobility sometimes did become clergy, and although nominally they should have led monastic life, some of them lived in luxury. See for example Black nobility and Papal nobility

c) You could be town(city) dweller, and this included various merchants, artisans, money lenders, craftsmen etc ... Now, while some of town dwellers like merchants and money lenders (bankers) became very rich trough their trade, they were still below nobility in feudal order. Of course, this would change, because after all money is form of power. But, at first, it would be somehow degrading for a nobleman to engage in banking or trade with various goods.

In theory, nobleman should be completely loyal warrior, ready to go to war in any time for his lord. For his fealty he would be rewarded with a fief, it would serve for his sustenance and his duty would be to dispense justice of his lord on this land.

In practice, vassal's loyalty depended on many factors, switching sides to keep or increase possessions became common. Nobility became less and less engaged in warfare, they were gradually replaced by class professional soldiers (mercenaries) who worked for money. Of course, these two groups (mercenaries and nobility) often overlapped, but it was no longer required from nobleman to don his armor in case of war.

In latter phases of feudalism nobility became self-serving class of parasites , engaging itself in various entertaining endeavors, with little benefit for whole of society. As such, they were gradually replaced as ruling class in various countries. More industrious of them finally used their wealth as capital in various enterprises, so idea of non-working nobleman no longer applied.

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