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Vassals in the Middle Ages

Are you interested in learning about vassals in the Middle Ages? Vassal is a term that was used in the Middle Ages to describe a class of people who were directly subservient to the king. The term came about after the Norman Conquests in 1066. For their service to the king and doing his deeds, vassals were given ownership of land.

Vassals in the Middle Ages

Understanding the Role of Vassals in the Middle Ages

The land owned by a vassal was called a fief. The land was usually about 1,200 to 1,800 acres in size. The piece of land owned by vassals was called the vassal's demesne or domain.

Each piece of land included a manor house, farming land, forestry, pasture or grazing land, a village, a church, and a mill. The vassals in the Middle Ages and their families lived in the manor houses and were regarded as lords. Peasants lived in the villages and were directly in the service of the vassals.

The peasants worked the land and paid homage to the vassal, who was in charge of keeping the peasants in line for the king. The vassals were governed the conduct and behavior of the peasants and were given both hunting and judicial rights over the peasants. In exchange for serving the vassals, the peasants were provided with some degree of protection by the vassals in the form of protective walls that keep enemies out.


To understand the role of vassals in the Middle Ages, it is important to understand the social structures of this time. There was a rigid social class or caste system in place, with royalty and nobility living a dramatically different life from the peasants of the time. There wasn't a lot of options for upward mobility. Those who served the king, especially as knights, tended to fare best, but it was very expensive to become a knight.

Feudalism came about during the Middle Ages as a part of this rigid class system and required everyone pay homage to the king in some form. The vassals did this by providing service to the king by keeping the peasants in line. The peasants were given access to the vassal's land but they had to work the land and give some of their harvest to the vassal in exchange for living there. Under normal circumstance, they were required to work the land at least three days out of the week. Often, the peasants ended up giving over much of what they made to the vassal.

The feudal system of the Medieval Ages was essentially organized in the shape of a pyramid. Kings and nobles were at the top of this pyramid with the vassals directly below. A vassal who fought well for his king would become known as a lord himself and the king might eventually give him more land and title. The feudal system also demanded all vassals take an oath to their king known as the Oath of Fealty. This oath was taken during a ceremony of commendation and was done to create a bond of loyalty that would last between the vassal and the lord he was sworn to serve.