What is a vassal in the middle ages Obligation and characteristics

Vassal and vassalage

The concepts of vassal and vassalage are typical of feudalism , a class of social organization that prevailed between the 9th and 15th centuries in the Western European region, the Middle Ages. This society was based on the cultivation of the land by the vassals or serfs, who delivered part of the production to the lord and this in turn demonstrated loyalty to a king . The relationship established between the vassal and overlord is subordinate. In this article we will let you know about What is a vassal in the middle ages?

What was a vassal in ancient times

The vassal was the one who was obliged to pay a fiefdom , he was the subject of some sovereign or of any kind of supreme government. He was attached to a member of the nobility or feudal lord through a bond known as vassalage. It was the vassal who requested protection from the nobleman who was in a higher link in the social hierarchy of that time and had to swear allegiance to him. Between the two a vassalage contract was established in which a series of mutual obligations were established.

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What was a vassal in middle ages

He was one who was subject to a feudal lord , and was part of the chain of vassalage in the European Middle Agesbeing at the same time the feudal lord of other vassals . Although the vassal had various duties to his master, he also had duties to the vassal.

The vassal was the man who demanded the protection of a superior nobleman (from the point of view of the social hierarchy ) and to whom he swore allegiance in his favor. Both established a vassalage contract that implied mutual obligations.

With the Roman expansion and the long duration of the campaigns, the generals and their troops developed a mutual loyalty (and leaving Rome aside, provoking long and bloody civil wars that would cause the dismemberment of the empire in the fiefdoms that compose it) It became in a protovasailage. And to ensure this loyalty, there had to be a constant expansion that would give enough territory to distribute among the troops, that each would have work in their land .

What was vassalage

The vassalage refers to the relationship that formerly existed between a vassal and his lord . This bond carried loyalty, dependency, and submission. The vassal offered political and military assistance to his lord, who in exchange gave him some lands for his benefit. We must not forget that feudalism is characterized by a highly hierarchical society where the military conquest is the rule, so it is important for a man to have a large number of followers who owed loyalty and mobilization campaigns against an opponent.

How a person became a vassal

For a person to become a vassal of a nobleman, it began with a ceremony to celebrate the homage and the investiture. On this occasion, the vassalage contract was consecrated and the vassal relationship began to take effect. The vassal placed his hands on those of the nobleman or lord and declared himself “his man” and swore fidelity to him . Mr. immediately offered land to the vassal or a handful of soil, thus symbolizing the land that he was giving.

Obligations of the vassal

The vassal had a series of obligations towards his lord . It had to offer military services, advice and financial aid. For his part, the nobleman had to provide him with military protection, maintenance, judicial defense, apart from the lands.

Serfdom and vassalage are not equivalent terms. In the case of servitude, the servant was like a slave and the feudal lord owned it to the point of being able to sell it together with the land he worked. In the case of vassalage, a bond was instituted between people of a similar class and they were free men , however the relationship is one of subordination. These vassals are characterized by their military actions. War is a means by which prestige is achieved in this society.

Although these differences existed between these two conditions, it should be clarified that the vassalage was voluntary only in the beginning . As the feudal lords grew more powerful, they eventually made this kind of regime mandatory. So no individual had a choice not to submit to it.

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Characteristics of vassalage

  • The vassalage was regulated by means of a bilateral contract , that is, both had obligations to each other. In the event that one of the parties seriously breached the contract, the vassalage could be dissolved.
  • Another notable characteristic of vassalage is that a relationship was only established between two men who were free . It could be between a commoner and a nobleman or a nobleman of lower status with another nobleman of higher status.
  • The lord had to offer the benefit of a fiefdom to his vassal , he administered it and took advantage of the income from it even without owning the property. The vassal had to deliver part of the agrarian production to the lord as payment for granting him the usufruct of the fiefdom.
  • pyramid of vassalage could be established , with different relationships between vassals and lords.

Vassalage pyramid

It was very common for pyramids to be created where a vassal was in turn lord of another vassal of lower status. So an individual could be the vassal of another and at the same time have lord privileges with respect to another subject. Thus a kind of social pyramid was formed that was headed by the emperor and followed in succession by the rest of the vassals.

These pyramids were commonly known as vassalage or feudal pyramid and represented a whole network of vassal relationships. The hierarchical order of the pyramids was as follows:

  • Starting with the emperor and followed by kings .
  • Then followed the high nobility ( count , marquis and duke ).
  • He was followed by the intermediate nobility represented by the lords.
  • Finally, the last ladder was occupied by the lower nobilitybaron , viscount, knight, infanzón, squire and nobleman, among others).

At each level that made up the pyramid, the size of the fiefdom varied . It could cover an entire region, a county, or just a village.

Particular vassalage relations

Very particular vassal relations existed in his time . For example, the king of France was lord of the monarch of England. On many occasions, the true power that each had was not corresponding to the place occupied in the feudal contract, but was completely opposite.

To the subjects and vassalage

The pyramid of vassalage began to fall from the top of its peak, when the Empire of Charlemagne faced internal disputes of the heirs in 800. At the same time, feudalism began to lose strength as the vassals gained more rights. Uncertainly, the nobles lost the power to dissociate the vassals from the fiefdoms, becoming hereditary properties.

The dissolution of the bond that the vassals had with the feudal lords was legally expressed over several centuries, by recognizing kings as emperors of their kingdoms. So the kings were vassals of the pontiff, however they were disconnected from the emperors. Something similar happened with some members of the nobility.

Finally, it is in the period of the Low Middle Ages that the dissolution of the vassalage relationship is markedly noted . When the crisis occurred in the fourteenth century, an obvious separation developed between the high nobility and the low nobility. The real power was strengthened and political growth was experienced bourgeoisie in the cities  .

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