Date: Wed, 26 May 2004 16:50:14 -0400
Subject: I Swear! Historical Oaths of Fealty, Loyalty, and Homage]

Greetings, my faithful readers!

This week's Links List is about Swearing--Oaths of Loyalty, Fealty, or Homage, that is. They aren't all the same thing: In my opinion: An Oath of Fealty is a purposeful subjugation of ones self to an overlord, offering your (usually military) services in exchange for protection. Fealty is often combined with other oaths, which makes the business of sorting out the oath a little tricky; Oaths of Loyalty will bind you to another's cause, opinion, and interest until released; Lastly, an Oath of Homage is a promise of friendship, honor, common interest, and support whenever it is needed or called upon. Don't take my interpretation at face value, however. Read on, and make up your own mind!

Below you will find excerpts of various Historical Oaths (no matter what they are called, they sound remarkably alike--the difference, I suspect is in the sub-text and small print). In addition, there are articles on the subject and several historical images of Oaths in action. Several of the Images include the traditional clasping of the swearer's hands between that of the Royal/Lord, or the presence of holy relics upon which to swear. In addition, you might find it interesting to note that a kiss of peace is historically traditional to seal the bargain (and may be the root of the hand-clasping and kiss at the alter between bride and groom, since a permanent legal bargain has been struck). If you read through all of the below information, you may find that some researchers are of the opinion that women did not swear oaths, but could receive them. It's all food for thought.

Your faithfully,

Dame Aoife Finn of Ynos Mon
modernly known as Lisbeth Herr-Gelatt

3 Historical Images, slow to load, of Oaths in progress. Well worth waiting for.

Charles the Bold receiving oath of fealty from his military captains
Military ordinance of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy
Master of Fitzwilliam 268
Bruges, 1475
Image and description

Bayeaux Tapestry Harold's oath of Homage over Holy Relics
Image and description. Heavy on the graphics, may be slow to load.
Also see for a wider image of the same panel at bottom of page.

This is a professor's study page---but there are some great images including an uncredited one wherein a noble swears an oath to a king (note the clasped hands and the nobel's four arms--two clasping hands, and two pointing out the extent of the lands around him).

Charter of Homage and Fealty: Medieval Source Book
(Site Excerpt) "I become your liege man of life and limb and truth and earthly honors, bearing to you against all men that love, move or die, so help me God and the Holy Dame. " The same shall be said in French. .....Then shall the clergy and the people that stand about hold up their arms and hands on [brode] and loudly answer, "We will it and we grant it. Be it so! Be it so! Amen. "

(Site Excerpt) If William and Harold had ever met, it could have been only during Harold's journey in Gaul. Whatever negotiations Harold made during that journey were negotiations unfriendly to William; still he may, in the course of that journey, have visited Normandy as well as France or Anjou. It is hard to avoid the thought that the tale of Harold's visit to William, of his oath to William, arose out of something that happened on Harold's way back from his Roman pilgrimage.

Fief Ceremonies 12th Century
(Site Excerpt) First they did their homage thus, the count asked if he was willing to become completely his man, and the other replied, "I am willing' ; and with clasped hands, surrounded by the hands of the count, they were bound together by a kiss. Secondly, he who had done homage gave his fealty to the representative of the count in these words, "I promise on my faith that I will in future be faithful to count William, and will observe my homage to him completely against all persons in good faith and without deceit." Thirdly, he took his oath to this upon the relics of the saints. Afterward, with a little rod which the count held in his hand, he gave investitures to all who by this agreement had given their security and homage and accompanying oath.

Campus Library: Homage
Site Excerpt) Knights did homage to the lord. Afterwards they would take up their fiefs and offices and whatever they had rightfully and legitimately obtained. Homage was the act of a feudal tenant by which he declared himself, on his knees, to be the hommage or bondman of the lord.

The Manner and Form of the Coronation of the Kings and Queens of England
1385 - 1460 from Chronique website
(Site Excerpt) The Archbishops shall ask the Will of the People: When the prince has rested himself in his chair or other throne ordained in the aforesaid pulpit, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the four costs of the pulpit, with a high voice, shall inquire the will of the people touching on the king's coronation. While this is done he king shall stand in his throne, facing the corners to which the Archbishop speaks. After the question, an anthem will be sung: Ffirmenteur manus tua.

The 'Lectric Law Library's Legal Lexicon On
(Site Excerpt) HOMAGE - Obs. The oath taken by a vassal to signify his relationship with the lord. it is a "contract," and binds both parties to certain acts.

Land and Feudalism in Medieval England by Magistra Rosemounde of Mercia
(Site Excerpt) Two other ceremonies, homage and fealty were also performed. These were the most significant features of the feudal relationship. Homage was the oath by which the vassal became the "man" of the lord. The vassal placed his hands between those of the lord and pledged service, loyalty, and devotion, and the lord pledged protection of the vassals rights.

An Oath of Robert the Bruce
During the Easter period while Edward was staying at Wark several Earls, including both Bruce's, had declared fealty to him and they also promised:
'I will be faithful and loyal, and will maintain faith and loyalty to King Edward, King of England, and to his heirs, in matters of life and limb and of earthly honour against all mortal men; and never will I bear arms for anyone against him or his heirs ... so may God help me and the Saints.'

Medieval Sourcebook:
"Feudal" Oaths of Fidelity
(Site Excerpt) I: An Anglo Saxon Form of Commendation [from Schmidt: Gesetze der Angelsachsen, p. 404] Thus shall one take the oath of fidelity: By the Lord before whom this sanctuary is holy, I will to N. be true and faithful, and love all which he loves and shun all which he shuns, according to the laws of God and the order of the world. Nor will I ever with will or action, through word or deed, do anything which is unpleasing to him, on condition that he will hold to me as I shall deserve it, and that he will perform everything as it was in our agreement when I submitted myself to him and chose his will.

Chivalry, Knighthood, and Castles
(Site Excerpt) The acts of homage and fealty created an arrangement that was of mutual advantage to the king and the noble. The king gave certain authority to the noble to rule within his territory and promised to protect him. Usually he also granted a fief, which meant he gave the noble the use of a certain piece of land. It was here that the vassal governed from a castle. There was almost none of today's business, manufacturing, or commerce. The serfs tilled the land on the noble's fief, or manor, and gave part of the crops, as well as their labor on other projects, to the noble in return for his protection and the right to farm the land.

Stefan's Florilegium: "The Feudal Contract: On Fealty in the SCA" by Ioseph of Locksley.
Click Chivalry, then Fealty-art. (Article Excerpt) Each of these historical periods, and cultures, had differing concepts of the world, and we -can- accomodate all of them, with a little effort -not- to be ethnocentric; to not take the attitude that our -personal-period-of-choice, or our personal -interpetation- of that period, is the "One True Medievalism."
One of the major dividing lines is "fealty." In the SCA, we use something that we call "fealty," but there seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding about it .... many people seem to think that "liege-fealty" is the only "real" kind .... so why do we allow "Masters of Arms" and other non-fealty swearing Peers?
SEE ALSO Fealty-msg: (Mesage Excerpt from ONE message in this file) The lord gained: 1. Military service (usually fourty days a year offensive action, all the defensive action necessairy, and some "garrison duty" in the lord's keep. The vassal would have to provide all of his own equipment. For larger fiefs, the lord may have to provide more warriors than himself, which led to the layering system (ie, King would give land to barons, who would give land to knights, etc.)
2. Prestige. The lord could summon his vassals to him when entertaining visitors. The more vassals, the more prestige.
3. Advice. The lord could call upon his vassals for advice Oaths
(Site Excerpt) vocal affirmation of the truth of one's statements, generally made by appealing to a deity. From the earliest days of human history, calling upon the gods of a community to witness the truth of a statement or the solemnity of a promise has been commonly practiced. The force of the oath depends on the belief that supernatural powers will punish falsehood spoken under oath or the violation of a promise. The oath thus performs wide legal and quasi-legal functions. It was the basis of the medieval process of compurgation . It is still used in legal proceedings today...

Netserf: Hypertext Medieval Glossary: F
(Site Excerpt) Fealty, Oath of:
1) The oath by which a vassal swore loyalty to his lord, usually on a relic of saints or on the Bible.
(MEDIEV-L. Medieval Terms)
2) The fidelity of a feudal vassal to his lord; a promise under oath to be loyal.
(Hogue, Arthur R. Origins of the Common Law, 256)