Definition of villein noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary



BrE BrE//ˈvɪleɪn//
; NAmE NAmE//ˈvɪleɪn//
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(in the Middle Ages) a poor man who had to work for a richer man in return for a small piece of land to grow food on Word OriginMiddle English: variant of villain. CulturefeudalismFeudalism is a social system that was introduced to England by the Normans in the 11th century and lasted throughout much of the medieval period (1066–1485) .Under the Normans, English society was divided into a pyramid-like structure with the king at the top, below him the barons, then less powerful local lords, and finally the peasants. An area of land owned by a lord was called a manor and this was the basic farm unit. Lords gave peasants several long strips of their land to grow crops in a system known as strip-farming. In exchange, peasants had to promise loyalty to the lord and do military service when required. Villeins or serfs had a lower status than peasants and had to work a specified number of days on the lord's land. In 1086 a detailed survey of land was carried out in every village in order to decide its ownership and value, and the information was recorded in the Domesday Book.The feudal system started to break down in the 12th century, when the king and the barons began to rely on professional soldiers instead of peasant armies. Instead of doing military service peasants paid dues (= money) for working their land. By the end of the 14th century many peasants had bought their land and become the yeomen (= small farmers). The system of holding land with permission from the local lord finally ended in England in 1661, though not until 1914 in Scotland.The influence of feudalism can still be seen in modern British land law and in the British class system.
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: villein