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Baldwin, M. W. (ed.) / The first hundred years

I: Western Europe on the Eve of the Crusades,   pp. [2]-29 PDF (10.8 MB)

Page 14

it was the lord's right and duty to choose a husband for her. This was a
valuable prerogative as it allowed the lord to reward a faithful knight at
no cost to himself. When a vassal died leaving children under age, the lord
could insist that someone be found to perform the service due from the fief
unless custom gave him the custody of the heirs and their lands. If a vassal
died without heirs that were recognized by the custom of the fief- —
second cousins were rarely accepted and more distant relatives practically
— -the fief escheated, that is, returned to the lord. In case a vassal
violated the feudal bond by some offense against his lord and was condemned
by his fellow vassals in the lord's court, he could forfeit his fief. Forfeiture
was rather rare. The assembled vassals hesitated to declare a fief forfeited
because each of them felt that he might be in the same position some day.
 When a man became a vassal, he did homage and swore fidelity to his lord.
There has been a great deal of essentially fruitless dis cussion about the
distinction between homage and fidelity. The fact that prelates often were
willing to swear fidelity but refused to do homage would seem to indicate
that fidelity was personal loyalty while homage represented a promise to
perform the ser vices due from a fief. But household knights who held no
fief often swore fidelity and did homage. Actually it seems doubtful that
there was any clear, generally accepted distinction. Ordinarily the two were
part of a single ceremony. The vassal knelt before his lord, put his hands
between his lord's hands, and swore to be faithful to him "against all men
living or dead". Often the lord then gave the vassal a clod of earth to symbolize
the granting of the fief. The personal relationship between lord and vassal
was an important element in feudalism — each was expected to be loyal
to the other. It was a horrible crime for a vassal to slay or wound his lord
or seduce his wife or daughter, but a lord was also bound not to injure his
vassal in person or honor. The vassal was expected to aid his lord in every
way possible. 
 As a form of government feudalism had both advantages and disadvantages.
It supplied a military force of heavy cavalry at every stage in the hierarchy.
Thus each barony, each county, and each kingdom had its army. It also furnished
vigorous and inter ested local government. The extensive reclamation of land
and the founding of towns were largely the result of the desire of feudal
lords to increase their resources. It is highly doubtful that mere agents
working for the benefit of a central government could have accomplished so
much. But as a means of keeping peace and 

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