Everything You Wanted to Know About Vassals in the Middle Ages

Vassals in the Middle Ages
Vassals is a term, that is commonly used in connection with the concept of feudalism, that was prominently seen in the medieval times. Here, we shall shed some light on the concept of medieval vassal and elaborate upon the role of vassals in the middle ages.
In the modern times, most historians and experts define the word 'vassal' as, "a person who holds the fief and owes alliance and service to his feudal lord or the king himself." It is believed that the term 'vassal' evolved from middle English and Anglo-French delicate. Other languages like European also had words, corresponding to the term vassal.
  • Medieval Latin term: vassallus and
  • Roman and Latin term: vassus which means a servant.
  • Celtic and Welsh term: gwas which means a young man, who is a servant or a feudal tenant.
History of Medieval Vassals

As mentioned earlier, the concept of vassals originated in the middle ages. The exact place of origin of this designation in the feudal system is said to be England. Indeed some of the earliest vassals were seen in England after the Norman conquest in 1066.

William, the conquer, who invaded England in 1066, claimed that all the land mass of the island belonged to him. The Normans, infantry and soldiers, were rewarded a huge part of England's land mass, for aiding William the conquer in his campaign. The whole of England was thus practically ruled, owned and controlled by Normans. The only exception was of two Englishmen, who had turned traitors against their motherland. The land of England was distributed among the nobles and military leaders. Some of the nobles, thus became feudal lords and their deputies became the vassals. It must be also noted that some of the vassals also served directly under the king. They had independent land and did not live in the manor house of the feudal lord, whom they served. They were gifted with large portions of land, the standard or average size being 1200 to 1800 acres. Often, the land that they were gifted also consisted of farm lands, pastures, a church and a whole village. If the vassal did not live in the castle of his feudal lord, he had the privilege of owning his own manor house.

Duties of a Medieval Vassal

People interested in the feudal system would want to probe further into the life of a vassal. Let's know more about what they do.

In modern English language, the designation of a vassal can be termed as a multi-tasking position in the feudal pyramid. The basic task was, to act as the second in command of the feudal lord or king. The king or feudal lords enjoyed a luxurious and comfortable life. Meanwhile, the vassal managed the estates of the feudal lords and supervised, the day-to-day affairs of the whole feudal estate. In return of these services, the vassal was gifted land and more authority. A vassal not only managed the estates of their lords or kings but fulfilled many other duties. One of the most important duties was to attend to his lord or king, during the court. The vassal was also responsible for recruiting more men for the army of his lord. He was also expected to manage and protect his lords manor house. Serfs or the peasants working on the estate of a feudal lord were supervised by the vassal. At times, he also acted as a mercenary for his lord. In case of the death of a vassal, the male offspring of the vassal's family took his position in the feudal system. If the family did not have a suitable male member, then the feudal lord or the king was supposed to take care of the vassal's family. From the whole list of duties of vassals, it can be concluded that they played a very important role in the feudal system and life as a vassal was certainly not very luxurious.

A vassal was always bound to his master by an oath, that was known as 'The Oath of Fealty', which is as follows,

"I promise on my faith that I will in the future be faithful to the lord, never cause him harm and will observe my homage to him completely against all persons in good faith and without deceit."
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