To continue my previous post I want to state that, at least in the
HRE, most peasants entered serfdom willingly and gladly. Under the
feudal system, yeoman were required to follow a call to arms. This
could mean being away during harvest time, having to leave your
fields unworked etc. In addition, arms and armor were very expensive.
So many peasants were glad to enter the service and protection of
somebody who would then serve in times of war on their behalf, the
knights. In return, peasants agreed to give a certain amount of
the crop yield to the knight, and to work his land part of the time.
So you can say the knights were the very basis of the feudal system.
They formed the backbone of most armies and provided administration
and basic jurisdiction.
The Renaisance saw the decline of Chivalry and the rise of the middle
class. The changing social and economic conditions more or less made
knights obsolete, and the power was more and more concentrated in the
hands of a few "domain rulers" (in BR terms), such as the duke of
Bavaria and others (well, it was before, but know matters got worse).
Around 1500 an uprising of knights took place, and the leader (can't
remember his name) was celebrated almost like a "people's king". But
he could not wait long enough. The king laid siege to the leader's
new built castle, and the wall crumbled because the mortar was not
yet dry.
Another interesting point: Originally, the king had the right to
appoint the upper layer of nobility (those who swore fealty directly
to the king) as well as the bishops, arschbishops and abbots. Later,
the king lost this power. In the early 12th cent. It came to a
conflict between the pope and king Henry IV over the investiture of
spiritual posts, and Henry was even exkommunicated. A kind of
agreement was struck (of course the pope got the better end of the
deal) and from 1122 on the pope appointed the bishops etc. and the
king invested them with their temporal power. The nobility also
forced the king to recognise their right to pass their titles along
in the family, which lead to the rise of the powerful noble families.