A vassal or feudatory is a person who has entered into a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch
A monarch is the person who heads a monarchy. This is a form of government in which a state or polity is ruled or controlled by an individual who typically inherits the throne by birth and occasionally rules for life or until abdication...

 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
"Fidelity" is the quality of being faithful or loyal. Its original meaning regarded duty to a lord or a king, in a broader sense than the related concept of fealty. Both derive from the Latin word fidēlis, meaning "faithful or loyal"....

, or fidelitas, was a sworn loyalty, subject to the king. A Vassal works under a baron who works under the king. The king usually has 5 Barons.

Western vassalage

In a fully developed vassalage, the lord and the vassal would undertake a commendation ceremony
Commendation ceremony
A commendation ceremony is a formal ceremony that evolved during the Early Medieval period to create a bond between a lord and his fighting man, called his vassal . The first recorded ceremony of commendatio was in 7th century France, but the relationship of vassalage was older, and predated even...

, composed of two parts: the homage
Homage is a show or demonstration of respect or dedication to someone or something, sometimes by simple declaration but often by some more oblique reference, artistic or poetic....

 and the fealty
An oath of fealty, from the Latin fidelitas , is a pledge of allegiance of one person to another. Typically the oath is made upon a religious object such as a Bible or saint's relic, often contained within an altar, thus binding the oath-taker before God.In medieval Europe, fealty was sworn between...

, including the use of Christian sacraments to show its importance. Such refinements were not included from the outset, however: according to Eginhard's brief description, the commendatio made to Pippin
Pippin the Younger
Pepin , called the Short or the Younger , rarely the Great , was the first King of the Franks of the Carolingian dynasty...

 in 757 by Tassillo, duke of Bavaria
Tassilo III of Bavaria
Tassilo III was duke of Bavaria from 748 to 788, the last of the house of the Agilolfings.Tassilo, then still an infant, began his rule as a Frankish ward under the tutelage of the Merovingian Mayor of the Palace Pepin the Short after Tassilo's father, Duke Odilo of Bavaria, had died in 747 and...

, involved the relics of Saint Denis, Saint Rusticus and Saint Éleuthère, Saint Martin and Saint Germain, which had apparently been assembled at Compiègne
Compiègne is a city in northern France. It is designated municipally as a commune within the département of Oise.The city is located along the Oise River...

 for the event

Feudal society was increasingly based on the concept of "lordship"— in French the seigneur
A fee was the central element of feudalism and consisted of heritable lands granted under one of several varieties of feudal tenure by an overlord to a vassal who held it in fealty in return for a form of feudal allegiance and service, usually given by the...

— which was one of the distinguishing features of the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

, and had evolved out of Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...


In Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

'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
Manorialism, an essential element of feudal society, was the organizing principle of rural economy that originated in the villa system of the Late Roman Empire, was widely practiced in medieval western and parts of central Europe, and was slowly replaced by the advent of a money-based market...

" and the social and legal structures labelled— but only since the 18th century— "feudalism
Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

". 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 (Ganshof 1964).

The stratification of a fighting band of vassals into an upper group composed of great territorial magnates, strong enough to ensure the inheritance of their benefice to the heirs of their family, and a lower group of landless knights attached to a "count
A count or countess is an aristocratic nobleman in European countries. The word count came into English from the French comte, itself from Latin comes—in its accusative comitem—meaning "companion", and later "companion of the emperor, delegate of the emperor". The adjective form of the word is...

" or "duke
A duke or duchess is a member of the nobility, historically of highest rank below the monarch, and historically controlling a duchy...

", might roughly be correlated with the new term "fief" that was superseding "benefice" in the 9th century. The social settling out process also received impetus in fundamental changes in conducting warfare. The example of the Huns
The Huns were a group of nomadic people who, appearing from east of the Volga River, migrated into Europe c. AD 370 and established the vast Hunnic Empire there. Since de Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu, who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years prior to the emergence of the Huns,...

 resulted in the supersession in the Romanised world of disorganised infantry 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, was only to be found in land and its associated assets, which included peasant
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

s, as well as wood and water.

Difference between "vassal" and "vassal state"

Many empires have "created" vassal states out of cities, kingdoms, and tribes that they wish to bring under their auspices without having to conquer and/or govern. In these cases, "vassalage" (or suzerainty
Suzerainty occurs where a region or people is a tributary to a more powerful entity which controls its foreign affairs while allowing the tributary vassal state some limited domestic autonomy. The dominant entity in the suzerainty relationship, or the more powerful entity itself, is called a...

) 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 the Romans
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

, Mongols
Mongols ) are a Central-East Asian ethnic group that lives mainly in the countries of Mongolia, China, and Russia. In China, ethnic Mongols can be found mainly in the central north region of China such as Inner Mongolia...

, and British
British people
The British are citizens of the United Kingdom, of the Isle of Man, any of the Channel Islands, or of any of the British overseas territories, and their descendants...


See also

  • Vassal state
    Vassal state
    A vassal state is any state that is subordinate to another. The vassal in these cases is the ruler, rather than the state itself. Being a vassal most commonly implies providing military assistance to the dominant state when requested to do so; it sometimes implies paying tribute, but a state which...

  • Feudalism
    Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

  • Freeborn
    "Freeborn" is a term associated with political agitator John Lilburne , a member of the Levellers, a 17th-century English political party. As a word, "freeborn" means to be born free, rather than to be born in slavery or bondage or vassalage...

  • Mandala (Southeast Asian history)
    Mandala (Southeast Asian history)
    Mandala is a Sanskrit word that means "circle". The mandala is a model for describing the patterns of diffuse political power in early Southeast Asian history when local power was more important...

  • Suzerainty
    Suzerainty occurs where a region or people is a tributary to a more powerful entity which controls its foreign affairs while allowing the tributary vassal state some limited domestic autonomy. The dominant entity in the suzerainty relationship, or the more powerful entity itself, is called a...

  • Thegn
    The term thegn , from OE þegn, ðegn "servant, attendant, retainer", is commonly used to describe either an aristocratic retainer of a king or nobleman in Anglo-Saxon England, or as a class term, the majority of the aristocracy below the ranks of ealdormen and high-reeves...

  • Vavasour
    A vavasour, is a term in Feudal law. A vavasour was the vassal or tenant of a baron, one who held their tenancy under a baron, and who also had tenants under him...

    , a type of vassal
  • Zamindar
    A Zamindar or zemindar , was an aristocrat, typically hereditary, who held enormous tracts of land and ruled over and taxed the bhikaaris who lived on batavaslam. Over time, they took princely and royal titles such as Maharaja , Raja , Nawab , and Mirza , Chowdhury , among others...


  • Manrent
    Manrent refers to a Scottish mid 15th century to the early 17th century type of contract, usually military in nature and involving Scottish clans...

    , Scottish Clan
    Scottish clan
    Scottish clans , give a sense of identity and shared descent to people in Scotland and to their relations throughout the world, with a formal structure of Clan Chiefs recognised by the court of the Lord Lyon, King of Arms which acts as an authority concerning matters of heraldry and Coat of Arms...

     treaties of offensive and defensive alliance
  • Gokenin
    A was initially a vassal of the shogunate of the Kamakura and the Muromachi periods. In exchange for protection and the right to become shugo or jitō , in times of peace a gokenin had the duty to protect the imperial court and Kamakura, in case of war had to fight with his forces under the...

    , vassals of the shogunate in Japan
    Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

  • nöken (plural: nöker) was the Mongol term for a tribal leader acknowledging another as his liege
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