Lords of the Middle Ages
Written by Simon Newman
History - Middle Ages
Lords of the Middle Ages were those who leased land or other property to an individual or many individuals. Usually lords had more than one tenant on their property. In the Middle Ages one had to be of nobility before he could even be considered a lord. Lords leased property to a vassal, who then paid them and was responsible to them. Lords and vassals existed under the feudal system. Today, a lord would be the equivalent of a landlord.
Lord is a respectful title for a person, almost always male, who has authority or power over others. It can also be used in respect to a religious deity. There are not many times in which “lord” is an official title. However, in the Middle Ages during the feudal system, “Lord of the Manor” was often used to denote someone who was in control of land.
The Feudal System
Lords of the Middle Ages have varied meanings under the feudal system. Overlords were those whose manors were held by a mesne lord or vassal. This was under different forms of feudal land tenure agreements. This is where a landlord would be similar today. A liege lord was someone to whom a vassal owed services and allegiance. These were not social constructs, but rather the vassal swore an oath to the liege lord that he would always uphold these two duties. Sometimes a lord played the role of both vassal and lord. For example, he might be a vassal to the king but a lord to a knight.
The Commendation Ceremony, Vassals, and the Oath of Fealty
A commendation ceremony was the ceremony in which a vassal’s and a lord’s relationship to one another became official. This ceremony was comprised of two parts, one of which was the Oath of Fealty. The second part was a two-part act of homage. In this part of the commendation ceremony, a contract was entered by the lord and vassal in which the lord promised to always protect the vassal, while the vassal promised to always fight for the lord and his command.
Oath of Fealty
The first part of the commendation ceremony was for the vassal to take the Oath of Fealty for the lord. The word “fealty” comes from the Latin word “fidelitas.” This word means fidelity, and it is symbolic of the fidelity that a vassal owed to his lord. “Fealty” also refers to another oath that more strictly outlined a vassal’s dedicated commitments to his lord during his time of service. This second oath was taken after the second part of the commendation ceremony.
The Oath of Fealty:
"I promise on my faith that I will in the future be faithful to the lord, never cause him harm and will observe my homage to him completely against all persons in good faith and without deceit."
After the end of the commendation ceremony the vassal and lord were officially in a feudal relationship. They now had to follow the agreed-upon mutual obligations made with one another during the commendation ceremony.
The main obligation of the vassal was to provide military service on command for the lord, and provide soldiers when the lord needed them. Generally, military aid and security was the reasoning behind a lord entering a feudal relationship. Also, the vassal had to keep his other responsibilities to the lord, which often included tending to the lord’s manor, assisting the lord at court, and overseeing the serfs and peasants on the manor.
Both a Lord and a Vassal
Many Lords of the Middle Ages led the role of both vassal and lord simultaneously. This meant that they had control of a piece of land, and leased some of that land (meaning that they were a lord. At the same time, the land they had control of was leased to them by a lord who was higher up in nobility (meaning that they were a vassal at the same time). In fact, in the feudal system, a majority of the nobility at the time were most likely in this type of a situation. Because no one but the King was in ultimate power and a land owner, most likely the only way for a vassal to make money was by leasing his land to another vassal.
Lord of the Manor
Following the Norman Conquest of 1066 and the establishment of Feudalism, the title of “Lord of the Manor” was established. The title of Lord of the Manor is a supposed feudal overseer who gained power through a court baron or manorial court. Lords of the Manor or their stewards appeared at court. Lords of the Manor had power over their tenants to the points of being able to execute them if the tenants misbehaved in a way that displeased their lord.
Lords of the Manor were referred to as “Lord of [name of manor].” They were not referred to literally as “Lord of the Manor” as “Lord of the Manor” is a recent term coined by historians. The term was created to distinguish lords of the manor from other powerful lords of the middle ages such as feudal barons. These peoples were usually referred to as “Sire” in French, “Dominus” in Latin, or simply as “Lord.” Today, lords of the manor no longer exist in Europe, as the legal construct of the manor was abolished when manorial courts were also abolished.
As such, residents of someone who was a former owner of a manor do not owe anything to one who formerly owned that title. There are still a few cases in which persons have claimed the “Lord of the Manor” title over village greens. These are mostly English families with ancient land-owning ties, who continue today to be “lords of the Manor” in name only.
Usage of their title in a political or social situation would be inappropriate. However, they can be issued passports noting “The Passport holder is the Lord of the Manor of [name of manor].” This is provided that the passport owner can show proof of the ownership of his property.