This paper is a review on the articles on the models of the manorial system considering its rise and fall by Douglass North and Robert Thomas and Fenoaltea. The history of economy in Europe has always been a topic of discussion when it comes to the transition of feudalism to capitalism. The article has four sections examining different aspects of the system. There are different ways of examining the transition, and many models have been put forth to try and establish how the transition took place (Fenoaltea, 1975). The second part of the article mainly concerns the feudalism and focuses on the voluntary and non- exploitive interpretations as used by Thomas and Douglass in their work. The third section is concerned with the manor especially the costs of labor and the fourth section are about the evolution of the system over time. There are different vies from Marxists and other theorists trying to explain how the manor system worked and how the serfs were used by the lords in an effort to minimize the costs of trade and protection (North & Thomas, 1971).
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There are claims that the serfs were some kind of slaves as they were not given much of a choice when it came to the terms of their trade and protection. The aspect of serfdom was prevalent in Western Europe, and it consisted of a system where the lord offered protection and justice to the serfs in exchange for labor. The serfs had no legal rights to change the terms of an agreement and only the lord could help change the terms when he considered it suitable. The preference of serf labor over slavery is not well understood as there are more benefits when using slaves than using the serfs.
There was a dire need for protection by the peasant farmers who volunteered to feudalism in exchange for protection by the lord. This is because they did not have enough funds for the protection fee required by their protectors and would even let their neighbors take the burden. The feudal system was, therefore, not as exploitive as it seemed, but only served as an easy solution to the problem of obtaining goods which were rare in the middle ages. The order, according to the manor system, expected that one village could be served by one manor providing all the goods and services the villagers needed. This may not have been the case in many villages as the manors were sometimes dispersed in different areas and the organization of the vills was highly fragmented. The other problem with the feudalism system was the lack of consistency in the protection system (North & Thomas, 1971). This is because most of the lands in Europe were not fully occupied and the arable lands were easily available for settlement. It is not clear how the lord claimed to be offering protection to the peasants yet the military defense was located inside the walls while the villages were outside. The lack of a central authority due to the constant wars left the people under the lords in manors that used the opportunity to offer protection to the serfs in exchange for labor. There were, however, inconsistencies in protection as it seemed that the serfs did not get everything they bargained for (Fenoaltea, 1975). One of the inconsistencies seen is in the technology used is the fact that static defense was better off than the military power used. The system favored the lord as it was apparent that the villagers were offering him protection from the outside while exploitative attackers were raiding upon them. There was no guarantee of safety to the villagers as the lord had the power to grant or refuse a villager from getting protection in his manor.
The feudalism system also claimed to offer protection and justice to the villages; however, the lord seemed to be getting the benefits at the expense of the villagers. The lord used threats to administer the villages, which cannot be applied to the system claiming to operate on justice. The peasants had to buy protection from the militaries that were supposed to protect them.
The model used in explaining the manor system attempts to use the modern terms of contracts where there are the rent, wages and the share of the contract. In the tie of the manor system, the terms of input played a key role in shaping the contracts. The lords tried to minimize the costs of input and increase their outputs and in the process used the market demands to establish the terms of the contracts.
The manor labor might have been exploitative or mutually beneficial to both parties. In the case of the manor system, it is not clear whether the system was mutually beneficial to both parties or whether it was exploitative. The question here is whether the peasants benefited from working hard and providing labor to the lord in exchange for security and secured markets for their goods. The arguments given by Thomas and Douglass are that the costs of transporting the goods from one manor to the other were high and that there was a high risk for the security if the villagers were to provide it themselves (North & Thomas, 1971). There were punishments accorded to the villagers who did not work to the stipulated level. The solution of the problem of cutting down the costs for the villagers in the manor system does not seem to apply in this case. The solution where the peasants would be offering free services depending on the input does not apply either as the distribution of the input was required. This was not the case as there were seasons where the labor was not needed. The negotiations part was long and did not guarantee a directly proportional consumption rate. The terms were not flexible and were not easy to alter once signed. The serfs had to provide some minimal costs in case of negotiations. They had to, for example, provide firewood to the manor. There is the aspect of why there was no consideration of internal trade considering that the cost of external trade was very high. This seems to be an exploitative system as there were other options to use as a means of payment other than labor.
The evolution of the manorial system is another aspect dealt with in the articles. The evolution began with the change from labor payment to rent payment, the labor dues, and then back to rents again. The lack of authorities to take care of the transaction terms and offer protection to its citizens was a contributing fact in the evolution of the manor system. People had to depend on people with skills able to provide protection, and this led to exploitation using trade terms that benefited the latter. The changes in the form of payment are thought to have helped in minimizing the costs of transactions. The markets seemed to determine the form of payment, and any shift in the market led to a change in the form of payment. The factors influencing the market like population led to a change in the trade demands and the cost of protection in the external forms of trade. The shift to labor as a form of payment was caused by inflation and, at times, by the demand for cheap labor as the countries in Europe exchanged goods and services and explored other markets (Fenoaltea, 1975). Custom played a key role in shaping the form of payment. Rents as a means of payments took a long time to negotiate and did not provide much room for renegotiation. Later on, there was a need for the lords to use legislative means to control the rising costs of labor. There aroused a need to create local, regional and international markets for trade as the population grew and the demand for goods and services increased.
The arable lands that were easily available, but had minimal settlers began to fill up, and the lords had to adjust their terms of payments to wages. This led to the rise of the crown that at first seemed to protect the lord, but eventually protected and returned the serfs. Tenures came into existence, and the king provided the tenants with the right to make their own choices concerning labor and means of payments. This led to an increased protection because of the emergence of laws like the custom laws that increased the gains from trade especially the ones that used different goods and services as exchange terms. The changes in the market and populations further altered the traditional manor system to suit the changing times to the market economy. This is where the value of labor and land is taken into consideration before setting the terms of labor. The lords began making money payments in exchange for labor, as opposed to using protection and justice as the ultimate means of payment for the labor provided.
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