XV

THE MAN OF SEVERAL MASTERS

1 THE PLURALITY OF HOMAGE

‘A samurai does not have two masters.’ This old Japanese maxim, which as late as 1912 was invoked by Marshal Nogi to justify his refusal to survive his emperor, expresses the ineluctable law of any system of personal allegiance, strictly conceived. This was, beyond doubt, the rule of Frankish vassalage at the outset. Although not expressly formulated in the Carolingian capitularies, probably because it seemed self-evident, it is taken for granted in all their provisions. The commended man could change his lord, if the person to whom he had first sworn fealty agreed to release him from his oath. To pledge himself to a second master while remaining the man of the first was strictly forbidden. Regularly, in the partitions of the Empire, the necessary measures were taken to prevent any overlapping of vassal engagements, and the memory of this original strictness was preserved for a long time. About 1160, a monk of Reichenau, having set down in writing the rule regarding military service as required by the emperors of his time for their Roman expeditions, conceived the idea of falsely placing this text under the venerable name of Charlemagne. ‘If by chance,’ he says, in terms which no doubt he believed to be in conformity with the spirit of ancient custom, ‘it happens that the same knight is bound to several lords, by reason of different “benefits”, a thing which is not pleasing to God…’1

But by this time it had long been usual for members of the knightly class to be the vassals at one and the same time of two masters or even more. The oldest example which has so far been brought to light belongs to the year 895 and comes from Tours.2 Everywhere cases multiply in the following centuries—so much so that in the eleventh a Bavarian poet, and towards the end of the twelfth a Lombard jurist, treat this situation as perfectly normal. The number of these successive acts of homage was sometimes

1M.G.H., Constitutiones, I, no. 447, c. 5.

2 H. Mitteis (Lehnrecht und Staatsgewalt, Weimar, 1933, p. 103) and W. Kienast (Historische Zeitschrift, CXLI, 1929-30) point to what they believe to be earlier examples. But the only one which really appears to represent a double fealty relates to the division of authority at Rome between pope and emperor—a dualism of sovereignty, not of fealty. The charter of Saint-Gall, which neither Professor Ganshof nor Professor Mitteis has been able to find, and which in fact bears the number 440 in the Urkundenbuch, refers to a grant of land charged with rent.

-211-

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