XVI

VASSAL AND LORD

1 AID AND PROTECTION

‘TO serve’ or (as it was sometimes put) ‘to aid’, and ‘to protect’—it was in these very simple terms that the oldest texts summed up the mutual obligations of the armed retainer and his lord. Never was the bond felt to be stronger than in the period when its effects were thus stated in the vaguest and, consequently, the most comprehensive fashion. When we define something, do we not always impose limitations on it? It was inevitable, never theless, that the need to define the legal consequences of the contract of homage should be felt with increasing urgency, especially in so far as they affected the obligations of the subordinate. Once vassalage had emerged from the humble sphere of domestic loyalty, what vassal thenceforth would have regarded it as compatible with his dignity if it had been frankly stated, as in early times, that he was compelled ‘to serve the lord in all manner of tasks which may be required of him’?1 Furthermore, could the lord continue to expect to have always at his beck and call persons who thenceforward—since they were for the most part settled on fiefs—lived at a distance from their master?

In the gradual work of definition professional jurists played only a belated and, on the whole, insignificant part. It is true that, as early as about 1020, Bishop Fulbert of Chartres, whose study of the canon law had trained him in the methods of legal reflection, attempted an analysis of homage and its effects. But interesting though it was as a symptom of the penetration of jurisprudence into a sphere which had hitherto been alien to it, this endeavour scarcely succeeded in rising above the level of a rather barren scholastic exercise. The decisive influence, here as elsewhere, was that of custom, formed by precedents and progressively crystallized by the legal practice of courts attended by many vassals. More and more frequently, the practice was adopted of having these stipulations, which but a short while before had been purely traditional, included in the agreement itself. The oath of fealty, since it could be expanded at will, formed a better vehicle for the details of these conditions than the few words that accompanied the act of homage. Thus a detailed contract, carefully drawn up, replaced an unqualified submission. As a further precaution, which clearly

1M.G.H., EE., V., p. 127, no. 34.

-219-

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