Basics of Feudalism
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The rules and laws of feudalism govern the world of this campaign. The following sections deal with facts and beliefs that were prevalent in the Middle Ages. Note that the rules and laws of the realm are generally based on the considerably more well-known laws of Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries, not those of 6th-century Britain. Still, they are historical facts — the reality of a brutal and violent world.
Feudalism begins with the fact that everything belongs to the king, the highest lord of the land. All rights derive from the king, who has distributed some of his rights and responsibilities among his lords; they, in turn, distribute some of these rights and responsibilities to their knights. All obligations are personal and dependent upon the relationship between a lord and his followers. The followers swear fealty to the lord and afterward are known as vassals of that lord.
The lord ensures the loyalty of his favored followers by giving them land, the single most valuable and permanent commodity in the realm. To receive gold is a slightly dubious honor since even a peasant can be bribed with gold. However, a transfer of land is sacred. Two types of land transfer are common:
- A gift is given for the duration of the recipient's life but upon death reverts to the lord.
- A grant is given for the life of the recipient and his heirs.
A vassal does not really own the land he is given, but he does own all the granted benefits collected from that land. The vassal receives his grant in return for loyalty and services. As long as the knight's obligations are satisfied, the benefits are legally his and cannot be easily taken away. Typically, a knight's obligations are to serve loyally in his lord's military campaigns and to advise his lord on important matters. In return, the lord owes his vassal protection, sustenance, and livelihood. Thus, there is a nonequal but reciprocal agreement between lord and vassal.
Obligations may be changed only if both parties agree. Usually, they are only changed when one person has done something significant for the other. If the vassal rescued the king on the battlefield, he might receive his former gift as a permanent grant. If the knight violates his loyalty, he can lose the land he has of the lord. Typical reasons for land to revert to the lord include treason, failure to support the lord or the lack of an heir when the grant holder dies. Daughters may inherit their father's grants only if there are no male heirs.
Ranks of feudal vassalage begin with those closest to the king, both in friendship and in wealth. In this campaign, these are the British kings, lords, and officeholders. In turn, these men appoint their own vassals. Knights (and squires, as knights-in-training) are the lowest class of noble vassals. They may hold land from the king, an earl, a lower lord, or even from another knight; in some rare cases, a knight may become a vassal without a gift or grant of land. Church officials and monasteries also rely upon land grants to knightly vassals in return for loyal service. Monasteries often became powerful landowners with their own knights to protect them.