Medieval Act of Homage

The Medieval Oath of Fealty

Kai, the hero of DawnSinger, Tales of Faeraven, book one, must choose whether to surrender himself in service to the high ruler of Faeraven or reign in his own kingdom after his older brother goes missing and is presumed dead. Making this a gut-wrenching decision is the fact that Kai grew up at Torindan, High Hold of Faeraven, during High Queen Maeven’s rule. He has risen to become a guardian of Rivenn, and Torindan is more of a home to him than his ancestral stronghold in Whellein. Kai wants to please his father, however, and his strong sense of duty puts him in conflict with himself over either course of action.

The medieval practices of pledging homage and fidelity to a liege lord served as the model for the pledge Kai had to make or deny. In the early middle ages, a commendation ceremony to give homage and take an oath of fealty sealed the relationship between a lord and a member of his fighting forces.

The Commendation Ceremony

The commendation ceremony was divided into two parts: the act of homage and oath of fealty.

Act of Homage

Medieval Act of Homage
Medieval Act of Homage (Hommage_au_Moyen_Age_-_miniature from the Archives Department of Perpignan

In the first part of the ceremony, a prospective vassal knelt before the lord, bare-headed and weaponless. The vassal clasped his hands in a gesture of prayer and extended them to the lord, who grasped them between his own. This expressed the vassal’s submission to the lord’s power.  The vassal stated his desire to become ‘the man,’ a request the lord would accept.

Today's Christian prayer posture, kneeling with hands clasped, evolved from the medieval commendation ceremony. Before this time, people stood with outstretched arms when they prayed in the orans position.

Oath of Fealty

Medieval Oath of Fealty
Bayeux Tapestry. “HAROLD SACRAMENTUM FECIT WILLELMO DUCI”, (Harold makes his oath to the Duke). King Harold makes an oath of fealty to William, Duke of Normandy, by touching two altars containing relics of saints. It was the breaking of this purported oath which caused the Norman Conquest of England. The scene occurred at Bagia (Bayeux), as the previous scene in the Tapestry states. Image by Myrabella – Own work, Public Domain

In the second part of the commendation ceremony, the vassal placed his hands upon a Bible or saint’s relic and promise never to harm or deceive the lord, to remain loyal, and to protect the lord.

The oath of fealty was considered a bond made before God, and any knight who violated it could expect dire consequences from the Almighty.

In exchange, the liege lord offered protection, loyalty, and often the use of lands to his vassal.  Beneficial ownership (dominium utile), the land rights conferred on the vassal, closely resembled actual possession of property. Later in the Middle Ages, these transactions were recorded by deed.

The oath of fealty was a fundamental element of feudalism.

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Written by Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt

As an author I love to escape with readers into creative worlds of fiction in three genres: medieval epic fantasy, historical fiction, and romantic mystery. My aim is to make this website an immersive experience for readers. Care to join us?

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