Vassal

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A vassal or feudatory[1] is a person who has entered into a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The obligations often included military support and mutual protection, in exchange for certain privileges, usually including the grant of land held as a fiefdom.[2] The term can be applied to similar arrangements in other feudal societies. In contrast, a fidelity, or fidelitas, was a sworn loyalty, subject to the king.[3]

Western vassalage[edit]

In a fully developed vassalage, the lord and the vassal would undertake a commendation ceremony composed of two parts, the homage and the fealty, including the use of Christian sacraments to show its importance. According to Eginhard's brief description, the commendatio made to Pippin the Younger in 757 by Tassillo, Duke of Bavaria, involved the relics of Saints Denis, Rusticus, and Éleuthère, Saint Martin, and Saint Germain, which had apparently been assembled at Compiègne for the event.[4] Such refinements were not included from the outset when it was time of crisis, war, hunger, etc., and those who were the weakest needed the protection of the knights who owned the weapons and knew how to fight. Feudal society was increasingly based on the concept of "lordship" (French seigneur), which was one of the distinguishing features of the Early Middle Ages and had evolved out of Late Antiquity.[5]

In Charlemagne's time, the connection slowly developed between vassalage and the grant of land, the main form of capital at that time. Contemporaneous social developments included agricultural "manorialism" and the social and legal structures labelled — but only since the 18th century — "feudalism". These developments proceeded at different rates in various regions. In Merovingian times, monarchs would reward only the greatest and most trusted vassals with lands. Even at the most extreme devolution of any remnants of central power, in 10th-century France, the majority of vassals still had no fixed estates.[6]

The stratification of a fighting band of vassals into distinct groups might roughly be correlated with the new term "fief" that hat started to supersede "benefice" in the 9th century. An "upper" group comprised great territorial magnates, who were strong enough to ensure the inheritance of their benefice to the heirs of their family. A "lower" group consisted of landless knights attached to a count or duke. This social settling process also received impetus in fundamental changes in the conducting of warfare. As cavalry superseded disorganised infantry, armies became more expensive to maintain. A vassal needed economic resources to equip the cavalry he was bound to contribute to his lord to fight his frequent wars. Such resources, in the absence of a money economy, came only from land and its associated assets, which included peasants as well as wood and water.

Difference between "vassal" and "vassal state"[edit]

Many empires have created vassal states out of cities, kingdoms, and tribes that they wish to bring under their auspices without having to conquer or govern them. In these cases, vassalage (or suzerainty) just means forfeiting foreign policy independence in exchange for full autonomy and perhaps a formal tribute. A lesser state that might be called a "junior ally" would be called a "vassal" as a reference to a domestic "fiefholder" or "trustee", simply to apply a common domestic norm to diplomatic culture. This allows different cultures to understand formal hegemonic relationships in personal terms, even among states using non-personal forms of rule. Imperial states that have used this terminology include Ancient Rome, the Mongol Empire, and the British Empire.

See also[edit]

Compare[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Hughes, Michael (1992). Early Modern Germany, 1477-1806, MacMillan Press and University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, p. 18. ISBN 0-8122-1427-7.
  2. ^ F. L. Ganshof, "Benefice and Vassalage in the Age of Charlemagne" Cambridge Historical Journal 6.2 (1939:147-75).
  3. ^ Ganshof 151 note 23 and passim; the essential point was made again, and the documents on which the historian's view of vassalage are based were reviewed, with translation and commentary, by Elizabeth Magnou-Nortier, Foi et Fidélité. Recherches sur l'évolution des liens personnels chez les Francs du VIIe au IXe siècle (University of Toulouse Press) 1975.
  4. ^ "at". Noctes-gallicanae.org. Retrieved 2012-02-13. 
  5. ^ The Tours formulary, which a mutual contract of rural patronage, offered parallels; it was probably derived from Late Antique Gallo-Roman precedents, according to Magnou-Nortier 1975.
  6. ^ Ganshof, François Louis, Feudalism translated 1964

References[edit]

  • Cantor, Norman, The Civilization of the Middle Ages 1993
  • Rouche, Michel, "Private life conquers state and society," in A History of Private Life vol I, Paul Veyne, editor, Harvard University Press 1987 ISBN 0-674-39974-9