|Feudal land tenure|
|Feudalism in England|
A vassal or feudatory 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. 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.
Western vassalage 
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. Such refinements were not included from the outset, however.
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 "feudalism"—but only since the 18th century. These developments proceeded at different rates in various regions. In Merovingian times, only the greatest and most trusted vassals would be rewarded 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.
The stratification of a fighting band of vassals into distinct groups might roughly be correlated with the new term "fief" that was superseding "benefice" in the 9th century. An "upper" group was composed of great territorial magnates, which were strong enough to ensure the inheritance of their benefice to the heirs of their family. The "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 As disorganised infantry were superseded by cavalry, armies became more expensive to maintain.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, were only to be found in land and its associated assets, which included peasants, as well as wood and water.
Difference between "vassal" and "vassal state" 
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (November 2011)|
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 
- Vassal state
- Feudalism in the Holy Roman Empire
- Mandala (political model)
- Vavasour, a type of vassal
- Manrent, Scottish Clan treaties of offensive and defensive alliance
- Gokenin, vassals of the shogunate in Japan
- nöken (plural: nöker) was the Mongol term for a tribal leader acknowledging another as his liege
- Hughes, Michael (1992). Early Modern Germany, 1477-1806, MacMillan Press and University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, p. 18. ISBN 0-8122-1427-7.
- F. L. Ganshof, "Benefice and Vassalage in the Age of Charlemagne" Cambridge Historical Journal 6.2 (1939:147-75).
- 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.
- "at". Noctes-gallicanae.org. Retrieved 2012-02-13.
- 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.
- Ganshof, François Louis, Feudalism translated 1964