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About.com:Medieval History has an interesting piece about about feudalism. Turns out feudalism was a complete flight of fancy on the part of 16th and 17th century historians looking at a 12th century legal text that was more theoretical than descriptive.

But it sounded reasonable, and it made it seem like you understood the middle ages, so no one questioned that feudalism was real, even once they acknowledge that the word post-dated what it supposedly described. Not until 1974 did anyone start to dismantle the idea, and the dismantling is proceeding slowly, and building something new in its place, even slowlier.