Vidame, a French term descended from mediaeval Latin vicedominus ('vice-lord', which may mean 'vice-count', depending on the feudal status of the territory), was a feudal title in France. The vidame was originally, like the avoué (advocatus), the royal or crown judge, a secular official chosen by the bishop of the diocese, with the consent of the count, to perform functions on-behalf of the prince-count in the church's earthly interest, canonically incompatible with the clerical state, or at least deemed inappropriate, especially involving violence, even in the service of justice, and to act as protector, rather in the tradition of the Roman Defensores.
Unlike the advocate, however, the vice-dominus was at the outset an ecclesiastic, who acted as the bishop's lieutenant (locum tenens) or vicar. But the causes that changed the character of the advocatus operated also in the case of the vidame.
During the Carolingian epoch, advocatus and vice-dominus were interchangeable terms; and it was only in the 11th century that they became generally differentiated: the title of avoué being commonly reserved for nobles charged with the protection of an abbey, that of vidame for those guarding an episcopal see.
With the crystallization of the feudal system in the 12th century the office of vidame, like that of avoué, had become an hereditary fief. As a title, however, it was much less common and also less dignified than that of avoué. The advocati were often great barons who added their function of protector of an abbey to their own temporal sovereignty; whereas the vidames were usually petty nobles, who exercised their office in strict subordination to the bishop.
The vidames usually took their title from the see they represented, but not infrequently they styled themselves, not after their official fief, but after their private seigneuries. Thus the vidame de Picquigny was the representative of the bishop of Amiens, the vidame de Gerberoy of the bishop of Beauvais (since King Philip Augustus himself was a pair de France, i.e., peer of the realm).
In many sees there were no vidames, their function being exercised by viscounts or chatelains. With the growth of the central power and of that of the municipalities the vidames gradually lost all importance, and the title became merely honorary.
Their chief functions were to protect the temporalities of the see, to represent the bishop at the count's court of justice, to exercise the bishop's temporal jurisdiction in his name (''placitum or curia vice-domini) and to lead the episcopal levies to war. In return, they usually had a house near the episcopal palace, a domain within and without the city, and sometimes the right to levy certain dues on the city.
- Nouveau Larousse Illustré (undated, early 20th century; in French)