A Medieval Take on the Survivalist Philosophy: Fealty and Land-Tenure

If you haven’t already, please read the first article in this ongoing series, in order to familiarize yourself with the basics, before continuing here.
With respect to this subject, I’m going to ask you to hear me out fully before allowing your nearly-instinctive revulsion to pull you away from the scenario I will be presenting.  I recognize the fact that it might be difficult; survivalists and preppers alike cherish our individual freedoms, often more than our very lives.  Many of us even readily-identify ourselves as Libertarians, so I can see where some of the things I’m about to say will not initially sit well, but please bear with me.
First off, if you have a large extended family, network, or group who you feel will be able to maintain and defend your retreat, then there’s a possibility that what I’m about to say will not apply to you.  You are already in an ideal situation.  Some, however, are not so lucky. 
Allow me to describe my own situation: I come from a large family, but many of my kin are far-flung.  In any extended TEOTWAWKI scenario, there are only a handful of them who I can guarantee will be able to safely reach my retreat.  Of those, a few are elderly/infirm; only perhaps six are fit for heavy work and seven more for lighter work – at least five are either completely infirm or are small children.  Another group lives just over a hundred miles away that, if they made it, would bring another two able-bodies and one capable of lighter work.  I suspect, however, that they would be more likely to try to ride things out with folks from their church than to risk traveling so far in uncertain times. 
So, all in all, I’m not too bad off.  After all, even those who aren’t fit for the heavier labor can still carry a weapon, walk a perimeter patrol, tend the garden, etc.; and, among my kin, you will find military veterans, a registered nurse, a certified nurse’s assistant, hunters, people who are mechanically-inclined, etc.  The problem is, what if – God forbid – they don’t make it here?  And what are people to do if they have no such help on the horizon?  That’s what this article is all about.
Now, it’s time for some background and for me to clear-up a few misconceptions. 
The average medieval lord is a much-maligned figure, because a significant number of them were tyrants.  Being a serf meant you were bonded to the land.  You weren’t technically a slave, but you might as well have been; you couldn’t leave without the lord’s permission (to do so was a crime), and you had no choice but to submit to his every whim.  You had few rights.  The lord’s rule was the law, and there was no effective system for redressing any grievances you might have against him.  I think we can all agree that would not be a pleasant way to live.  Too much power concentrated in such a way invariably leads to tyranny.  Does that mean every medieval lord was an evil oppressor?  No.  In fact, some were quite good to their subjects.  The problem is that, even if the lord presiding over your particular little village of wattle-and-daub mud huts is a great guy, who is to say whether his sons and grandsons will be when it’s their turn to run things?
But, if you update such a system of governance to today’s sensibilities and leave people’s rights intact, things can turn-out entirely differently.  In fact, many of you reading this regularly deal with a modern-day holdover of medieval feudal lordship, if you pay rent that is.  Where do you think the term landlord comes from?  Medieval serfs paid rent to their land lord, just like many of you do today, only it was usually just referred to as taxes back then.   
The only difference between then and now is that they were bondsmen and you are freemen (although, it might interest you to know that some of them were freemen too); bonded serfs couldn’t just pick-up and leave, whereas you can (unless you have a lease to fulfill); and, your landlord can’t just barge into your place and have you whipped for the insolent stare you gave him on the elevator yesterday.  Hurray for progress on that last one especially!  Although, in ye olde days, if you were short on coin when the rent was due, you could make-up the difference by presenting his lordship with a bushel of veggies from your garden and a brace of rabbits for his stew-pot.  I dare you to try that with your landlord next month.  Oh well, I guess all progress can’t be positive. 😉
So, if you strip away all of the worst parts of living under a medieval lord, what you are left with is remarkably similar to paying rent to a modern-day landlord… only with more flexibility in how you pay him.  In fact, many serfs paid their rent/taxes wholly in grain, delivered to his lordship immediately following harvest.  Needless to say, the lord was paid his share out of the first rows harvested.  The exact vocabulary terms aren’t necessarily important to remember, but if you’re interested, paying rent via a transfer of money or goods (a share of crop/herd) was a form of land-tenure known as socage.
Another non-military (we’ll get to the military stuff in the next article) way for one to pay their rent was under the system of medieval land-tenure known as serjeanty.  This was, essentially, life-service.  Those enjoying this sort of agreement with their lord would be responsible for performing some pre-defined and needed service for the lord and his estate.  Examples of this type of arrangement might include acting as a huntsman and seeing to it that firewood is cut, hauled, and stacked daily.  Remove the “life-service” connotation from such an agreement and tell me how many of you reading this right now wouldn’t jump at the chance to be able to pay your monthly rent simply by providing meat for the land owner’s table.
Such agreements were entered into by an oath known as fealty, from the Latin fidelitas, which translates as “faithfulness.”  It is, essentially, an oath (we’ll get to oaths and their importance in a later article as well) of allegiance between an individual and a land owner.  The individual pledges their service in return for the use of a plot of land, the security of living under the lord’s protection, and the guarantee that the necessities of life will be provided.
So, I’m sure that you can see by this point what I’m getting at with this article.  I spoke earlier about family I have in the area whom I expect to have as house-guests in a protracted TEOTWAWKI scenario and how that all might play-out.  But, in addition to them, I also have trusted friends, many of which bring with them useful skills and gear and whose presence would ultimately lighten the shared load with respect to standing guard rotations, etc.  If they (or others) show-up at my place in an emergency, I won’t turn them away; I’ll be putting them to work, and there’s no reason other land owners shouldn’t do the same.