XI

VASSAL HOMAGE

1 THE MAN OF ANOTHER MAN

TO be the ‘man’ of another man: in the vocabulary of feudalism, no combination of words was more widely used or more comprehensive in meaning. In both the Romance and the Germanic tongues it was used to express personal dependence per se and applied to persons of all social classes regardless of the precise legal nature of the bond. The count was the ‘man’ of the king, as the serf was the ‘man’ of his manorial lord. Sometimes even in the same text, within the space of a few lines, radically different social stations were thus evoked. An instance of this, dating from the end of the eleventh century, is a petition of Norman nuns, complaining that their ‘men’—that is to say their peasants—were forced by a great baron to work at the castles of his ‘men’, meaning the knights who were his vassals.1 The ambiguity disturbed no one, because, in spite of the gulf between the orders of society, the emphasis was on the fundamental element in common: the subordination of one individual to another.

If, however, the principle of this human nexus permeated the whole life of society, the forms which it assumed were none the less very diverse—with sometimes almost imperceptible transitions, from the highest to the humblest. Moreover there were many variations from country to country. It will be useful if we take as a guiding thread one of the most significant of these relationships of dependence, the tie of vassalage; studying it first in the most highly ‘feudalized’ zone of Europe, namely, the heart of the former Carolingian Empire, northern France, the German Rhineland and Swabia; and endeavouring, before we embark on any inquiries into its origins, to describe the most striking features of the institution at the period of its greatest expansion, that is to say, from the tenth to the twelfth century.


2 HOMAGE IN THE FEUDAL ERA

Imagine two men face to face; one wishing to serve, the other willing or anxious to be served. The former puts his hands together and places them, thus joined, between the hands of the other man—a plain symbol of

1 C.H. Haskins, Norman Institutions, Cambridge (Mass.), 1918 (Harvard Historical Studies, XXIV), p. 63.

-145-

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