Charles d’Orleans receives the homage of a vassal.
The feudal bond was an extremely personal relationship imbued with the family spirit. In fact, the institution began when desperate families entered the households of local leaders who led them in the fight for survival from barbarian invasion and social strife.
Historian Franz Funck-Brentano notes that, in this way, a relationship was formed “whose members are identified one with another, like those of the same family when there is question of joy or sorrow.”(1)
Unlike the cold bureaucratic relationships that bind modern man to abstract corporate and governmental structures, the feudal bond was extremely personal. In the widespread feudal bond of vassalage, for example, the vassal freely put himself under his lord whom he treated with all the duties and sentiments of a son to a father to whom he owed affection, counsel, aid, and fidelity. On his part, the lord was like a father obliged to give protection, help, security, and means of support. Each party, in its great need, was forced to appeal for help and resources beyond that of his own family. As a result, this forged bond was so strong that it often “was comparable to, and frequently stronger than, the solidarity of the kinship group.”(2)
Chancellor Antoine Chaumont La Galaizière receives the homage of the First President of the Court of Lorraine in Nancy on March 21, 1737. Painting by François-André Vincent
In the misunderstood feudal bond, there is an extremely practical application of the principle of subsidiarity where one appeals to higher authority for one’s needs, and the superior delegates the rule of lands and offices to those in his service. In this way, sovereignty is parceled out at all levels, and a nation of vibrant little nations is formed.
(1) Franz Funck-Brentano, The Middle Ages, trans. Elizabeth O’Neill (New York: G. P. Putnam and Sons, 1923), 11.
(2) David Herlihy, ed., The History of Feudalism (New York: Walker, 1971), 69.