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 high-ranking nobility such as Duke’s *lords, in turn, they became Vassals of the King. They governed the lands granted to them by the king and promised to defend them against conquerors.
The Medieval name “vassal" 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 a King’s or the Lord’s 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.
Importance of Vassals in the Feudal System
The first vassals during the medieval period came from England and were appointed right after the Norman Conquest.
The Norman nobility who helped the Duke of Normandy *Later King of England in his conquest of England were given land in thanks for their services and began to rule England with him. These Norman Noblemen were vassals of the king and lower military officers became vassals of the nobles. 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 charge of protecting his own land.
Vassals Land ‘Fief’*
The vassal lands were known as a ‘fief and varied in size, most of the feudal lands consisted of farm and cultural lands. Meanwhile, the vassals either lived in castles of the lords or owned their own manors. 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.
Medieval Manor 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, and render services in exchange for the fiefs that were awarded to them. 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 estate.
Among other duties, It was his responsibility as well to recruit men for military duties. It was also his duty to supervise the peasants and other workers who lived in and around the manor estate.
Medieval Vassal Summary
Feudalism was a combination of customs both legal and military that flourished during the medieval period specifically between the 9th and 15th centuries. This was considered the system that structured society during the middle ages, where relationships were chiefly sprung from trading lands for services.
Medieval vassals were bounded by the mutual obligation to the 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 which 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.