A set of web links to information on medieval oaths of fealty, loyalty and homage by Dame Aoife Finn of Ynos Mon.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: liontamr at ptd.net
Subject: Links: I Swear! Historical Oaths of Fealty, Loyalty, and Homage
Date: June 26, 2004 2:40:30 PM CDT
To: StefanliRous at austin.rr.com
Greetings, my faithful readers!
This week's Links List is about Swearing--Oaths of Loyalty, Fealty, or
Homage, that is. They aren't all the same thing: In my opinion: An Oath of
Fealty is a purposeful subjugation of ones self to an overlord, offering
your (usually military) services in exchange for protection. Fealty is often
combined with other oaths, which makes the business of sorting out the oath
a little tricky; Oaths of Loyalty will bind you to another's cause, opinion,
and interest until released; Lastly, an Oath of Homage is a promise of
friendship, honor, common interest, and support whenever it is needed or
called upon. Don't take my interpretation at face value, however. Read on,
and make up your own mind!
Below you will find excerpts of various Historical Oaths (no matter what
they are called, they sound remarkably alike--the difference, I suspect is
in the sub-text and small print). In addition, there are articles on the
subject and several historical images of Oaths in action. Several of the
Images include the traditional clasping of the swearer's hands between that
of the Royal/Lord, or the presence of holy relics upon which to swear. In
addition, you might find it interesting to note that a kiss of peace is
historically traditional to seal the bargain (and may be the root of the
hand-clasping and kiss at the alter between bride and groom, since a
permanent legal bargain has been struck). If you read through all of the
below information, you may find that some researchers are of the opinion
that women did not swear oaths, but could receive them. It's all food for
Dame Aoife Finn of Ynos Mon
modernly known as Lisbeth Herr-Gelatt
THE OATH OF FEALTY TO ONES LORD
3 Historical Images, slow to load, of Oaths in progress. Well worth waiting
Charles the Bold receiving oath of fealty from his military captains
Military ordinance of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy
Master of Fitzwilliam 268
Image and description
Bayeaux Tapestry Harold's oath of Homage over Holy Relics
Image and description. Heavy on the graphics, may be slow to load.
image of the same panel at bottom of page.
The High Middle Ages STUDY QUESTIONS ON TEXTBOOK READING
This is a professor's study page---but there are some great images including
an uncredited one wherein a noble swears an oath to a king (note the clasped
hands and the nobel's four arms--two clasping hands, and two pointing out
the extent of the lands around him).
Charter of Homage and Fealty: Medieval Source Book
(Site Excerpt) "I become your liege man of life and limb and truth and
earthly honors, bearing to you against all men that love, move or die, so
help me God and the Holy Dame. " The same shall be said in French. .....Then
shall the clergy and the people that stand about hold up their arms and
hands on [brode] and loudly answer, "We will it and we grant it. Be it so!
Be it so! Amen."
HAROLD'S OATH TO WILLIAM--A.D. 1064
(Site Excerpt) If William and Harold had ever met, it could have been only
Harold's journey in Gaul. Whatever negotiations Harold made during
that journey were negotiations unfriendly to William; still he may,
in the course of that journey, have visited Normandy as well as
France or Anjou. It is hard to avoid the thought that the tale of
Harold's visit to William, of his oath to William, arose out of
something that happened on Harold's way back from his Roman
Fief Ceremonies 12th Century
First they did their homage thus, the count asked if he was willing to
become completely his man, and the other replied, "I am willing' ; and with
clasped hands, surrounded by the hands of the count, they were bound
together by a kiss. Secondly, he who had done homage gave his fealty to the
representative of the count in these words, "I promise on my faith that I
will in future be faithful to count William, and will observe my homage to
him completely against all persons in good faith and without deceit."
Thirdly, he took his oath to this upon the relics of the saints. Afterward,
with a little rod which the count held in his hand, he gave investitures to
all who by this agreement had given their security and homage and
Campus Library: Homage
Site Excerpt) Knights did homage to the lord. Afterwards they would take up
their fiefs and offices and whatever they had rightfully and legitimately
obtained. Homage was the act of a feudal tenant by which he declared
himself, on his knees, to be the hommage or bondman of the lord.
The Manner and Form of the Coronation of the Kings and Queens of England
1385 - 1460 from Chronique website
(Site Excerpt) The Archbishops shall ask the Will of the People: When the
prince has rested himself in his chair or other throne ordained in the
aforesaid pulpit, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the four costs of the
pulpit, with a high voice, shall inquire the will of the people touching on
the king's coronation. While this is done he king shall stand in his throne,
facing the corners to which the Archbishop speaks. After the question, an
anthem will be sung: Ffirmenteur manus tua.
The 'Lectric Law Library's Legal Lexicon On
(Site Excerpt) HOMAGE - Obs. The oath taken by a vassal to signify his
relationship with the lord. it is a "contract," and binds both parties to
Land and Feudalism in Medieval England by Magistra Rosemounde of Mercia
(Site Excerpt) Two other ceremonies, homage and fealty were also performed.
These were the most significant features of the feudal relationship. Homage
was the oath by which the vassal became the "man" of the lord. The vassal
placed his hands between those of the lord and pledged service, loyalty, and
devotion, and the lord pledged protection of the vassals rights.
An Oath of Robert the Bruce
During the Easter period while Edward was staying at Wark several Earls,
including both Bruce's, had declared fealty to him and they also promised:
'I will be faithful and loyal, and will maintain faith and loyalty to King
Edward, King of England, and to his heirs, in matters of life and limb and
of earthly honour against all mortal men; and never will I bear arms for
anyone against him or his heirs ... so may God help me and the Saints.'
"Feudal" Oaths of Fidelity
(Site Excerpt) I: An Anglo Saxon Form of Commendation [from Schmidt: Gesetze
der Angelsachsen, p. 404] Thus shall one take the oath of fidelity: By the
Lord before whom this sanctuary is holy, I will to N. be true and faithful,
and love all which he loves and shun all which he shuns, according to the
laws of God and the order of the world. Nor will I ever with will or action,
through word or deed, do anything which is unpleasing to him, on condition
that he will hold to me as I shall deserve it, and that he will perform
everything as it was in our agreement when I submitted myself to him and
chose his will.
Chivalry, Knighthood, and Castles
(Site Excerpt) The acts of homage and fealty created an arrangement that was
of mutual advantage to the king and the noble. The king gave certain
authority to the noble to rule within his territory and promised to protect
him. Usually he also granted a fief, which meant he gave the noble the use
of a certain piece of land. It was here that the vassal governed from a
castle. There was almost none of today's business, manufacturing, or
commerce. The serfs tilled the land on the noble's fief, or manor, and gave
part of the crops, as well as their labor on other projects, to the noble in
return for his protection and the right to farm the land.
Stefan's Florilegium: "The Feudal Contract: On Fealty in the SCA" by Ioseph
Click Chivalry, then Fealty-art. (Article Excerpt) Each of these historical
periods, and cultures, had differing
concepts of the world, and we -can- accomodate all of them, with a little
effort -not- to be ethnocentric; to not take the attitude that
our -personal-period-of-choice, or our personal -interpretation- of that
period, is the "One True Medievalism."
One of the major dividing lines is "fealty." In the SCA, we use
something that we call "fealty," but there seems to be a great deal of
misunderstanding about it .... many people seem to think that "liege-fealty"
is the only "real" kind .... so why do we allow "Masters of Arms" and other
non-fealty swearing Peers?
SEE ALSO Fealty-msg: (Message Excerpt from ONE message in this file) The
lord gained: 1. Military service (usually forty days a year offensive
action, all the defensive action necessairly, and some "garrison duty" in the
lord's keep. The vassal would have to provide all of his own equipment. For
larger fiefs, the lord may have to provide more warriors than himself, which
led to the layering system (ie, King would give land to barons, who would
give land to knights, etc.)
2. Prestige. The lord could summon his vassals to him when entertaining
visitors. The more vassals, the more prestige.
3. Advice. The lord could call upon his vassals for advice
(Site Excerpt) vocal affirmation of the truth of one's statements, generally
made by appealing to a deity. From the earliest days of human history,
calling upon the gods of a community to witness the truth of a statement or
the solemnity of a promise has been commonly practiced. The force of the
oath depends on the belief that supernatural powers will punish falsehood
spoken under oath or the violation of a promise. The oath thus performs wide
legal and quasi-legal functions. It was the basis of the medieval process of
compurgation . It is still used in legal proceedings today...
Netserf: Hypertext Medieval Glossary: F
Fealty, Oath of:
1) The oath by which a vassal swore loyalty to his lord, usually on a relic
of saints or on the Bible.
(MEDIEV-L. Medieval Terms)
2) The fidelity of a feudal vassal to his lord; a promise under oath to be
(Hogue, Arthur R. Origins of the Common Law, 256)