During the medieval period, kings ruled large areas of land. In order to protect these lands from invasion, the king would give portions of their lands to the local lords which were called the Vassals. They governed the lands granted to them by the king and promised to defend it against conquerors.
The Medieval name “vassals” was believed to have been derived from the Latin word vassallus and the Roman word vassus, which meant servant. However, it was also said to have originated from the Celtic and Welsh term gwas which meant a young male feudal tenant.
In the feudal system, Medieval Vassals by definition were people granted the use of a King’s land in return for their services, which included homage, fealty and military services equivalent to that of a lord. Vassals can also be referred to as “feudal tenants”.
Medieval vassals were free men given authority to handle some of the King’s or the Lords estates, which were called a fief. The term vassal originally emerged during the medieval era of the middle ages as the feudal system was established in England in 1066 after the rest of the country was usurped by William, The Conqueror.
The first vassals during the medieval period came from England and were appointed right after the Norman Conquest. When William the Conqueror invaded the country, all estates that belonged to England were declared as his property. And to give honor to the Normal soldiers who fought with him during the conquest, he awarded the majority of the lands to them. After William gained control, the Norman soldier who became and were declared Lords of these lands began to rule with him. Noble men became Lords and lower military officers became vassals. The idea of awarding the lands to the Lords basically was to assist the new ruler in protecting the kingdom from invasion as each Lord was in-charged of protecting his own land.
The medieval vassal lands varied in size. The average size of these land, known as fief, were as small as 1200 acres and as big as 1800 acres. Most of the feudal lands consisted of farm and cultural lands. Meanwhile, the vassals either lived in castles of the lords or they owned their own manor. Aside from farm and cultural lands, medieval vassal lands would typically have forested areas, pasture lands, villages, mills and churches, depending on the size of the estate. Most importantly, it would include a Manor House. In most cases, the Manor House served as a residence for the Lord or Vassal and his family. The manor house ideally would be built apart from the villages where peasants and other workers lived.
In the feudal system, medieval vassals were expected to perform certain duties, render services in exchange for the fiefs that were awarded to them. Primarily, vassals were considered second in command to whomever directs the estate, be it a Lord or the King.One of the main duties of medieval vassals during the middle ages was to keep the manor and watch over the daily activities within the manor. They were also more powerful than other workers in the estate such as the peasants. They usually had privileges which included judicial rights.
Among other duties, a medieval vassals was required to attend to the feudal lord especially during court. It was his responsibility as well to recruit men for military duties. It was also his duty to supervise the peasants, serfs and other workers who lived in the manor estate. He was the mercenary of the feudal lord.
Feudalism was based primarily on the exchange of land for military services. Medieval vassals were required to pay allegiance to the King or the Lords, and everyone was expected to pay for the lands by providing services that included completing chores from the lord, training soldiers to fight and preparing them for battle, and providing weapons and other supplies for medieval soldiers.
However, most vassals during the medieval era functioned as both vassal and lord. This only meant that they were vassals to a lord but had the ability to lease the land to other lower class vassals. This kind of setup was very common among nobles during this period since this served as means for them to earn money.
Vassals and Lords usually shared common loyalty. In most cases, medieval vassals served the lords and fought in battles along with the lord. Since it was one of his core responsibilities to train men to fight and prepare them for battle, the vassal’s men most likely would levy the lord in times of war. In some rare cases depending on his rank, he may also have been tasked to train the lord’s son to become a knight. In turn, the lord had to reward the vassal’s loyalty to him. With this, the lord provide additional lands, money or even give gifts and granted certain privileges to the vassal.
In the medieval era, a chivalric system applied among noble classes, including the lords. Even if the vassals owed the lords, the vassal and his family still deserved the lord’s protection.
Feudalism was a combination of customs both legal and military that flourished during the medieval period specifically between the 9th and 15th century. This was considered the system that structured society during the middle ages, where relationships were chiefly sprang from trading lands for services. Medieval vassals were bounded by mutual obligation to lord or king in the context of feudalism. These obligations included but were not only limited to military services and communal protection. In exchange, vassals were granted lands in the form of fiefs and were given certain privileges to manage the manors or estates.
The vassal-lord relationship was founded on loyalty and mutual commitment. Vassals committed to performing their duties and responsibilities to the lord, while the lord granted him lands, protection and privileges.
This bond was further strengthened as medieval vassals were subject to an oath called Fealty, which derived from the Latin word Fidelitas that meant fidelity. This oath was taken during the commendation ceremony and aimed to outline and strictly impose a vassal’s dedication and commitment to the lord.