Nursery Rhymes


Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Vassals in the Middle Ages
The term 'vassal' originated with the emergence of feudalism during the Medieval era of the Middle Ages - not to be confused with a 'villein' who was a peasant. The feudal system was established in England following the Norman Conquest in 1066. All of the land in England was claimed by William the Conqueror and distributed amongst his Norman vassals as their reward for fighting for William.

The seizure of English land was ruthless, the vassals were well rewarded, and only two Englishmen, who had turned traitor, were left with their own land. The sections of land given to the loyal Norman vassals was called a fief. The fiefs were occupied by the vassals and became known as Manors. The vassals owed allegiance to the King and his immediate superior. Vassals were expected to pay for the land by providing the services to their immediate lord. The lord of the manors are described as Vassals or Liege lords. The 'Lord of the Manor' or the vassals were free man who held land ( a fief ) from a lord to whom he paid homage and swore fealty. A vassal could be a lord of the manor but was also directly subservient to a Noble or the King.

The Vassal's land
The land owned by the Medieval vassals varied in size but were typically between 1200 - 1800 acres. The vassals land was called his "demesne," or domain. Vassals required this land, or fief, to support himself and his retinue. The rest of the fief was allotted to the peasants who were the vassals tenants. A vassals manor would typically include farming land, forests, common pasture land, a village, a mill, a church and a Manor House. The Manor House was the place of residence of the vassals and their families and were built apart from the village where the peasants lived. The Medieval vassals were all powerful over the peasants, holding privileges including Hunting and Judicial rights.

The Roles of the Vassals in Feudalism
What roles did the vassals play in feudalism? What part did the vassals play in feudal life? Middle Ages Feudalism was based on the exchange of land for military service. Life for Medieval vassals under the Feudal System, or Feudalism, demanded that everyone owed allegiance to the King and their immediate superior, or lord. Everyone was expected to pay for the land by providing the following services:

  • Work days - completing any chores required
  • Providing trained soldiers to fight for the King
  • Providing equipment - clothes and weapons - for the soldiers

The peasants, or villeins, who worked on the lands of the vassals paid dues in return for the use of his land. The dues were usually in the form of labor on the vassal's land. Medieval Serfs, or villeins, were expected to work for approximately 3 days each week on the land designated to the vassals.

Medieval Vassals and the Feudal System
The feudal system was a pyramid of power, which any ambitious man could climb. Vassals who fought well for their king or lord might be rewarded with even more land. The vassals could in turn reward their soldiers with land. The feudal system demanded that all vassals would swear allegiance and pay homage to his lord in a commendation ceremony - the Oath of Fealty. The commendation ceremony was designed to create a lasting bond between the vassals and their lord. Fealty and homage were key elements of feudalism.

Lords and Vassals
The vassals became the lords of their land. The role the vassals were varied. The base of the vassals was the manor house. From here the vassals, or lords of the manor, would preside over complaints of the people in his manor and oversee the running of his farm lands on the manor. The role of the vassals revolved around the Oath of Fealty sworn to his immediate superior - a great noble or even the King. Vassals would be expected to fight and to provide soldiers and arms from his manor.

Middle Ages Index

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