A feudal vassal was someone who depended on a larger feudal lord – suzerain – and received land and patronage from them for military service and other duties.


The most important characteristic of medieval Western European society was its hierarchical structure and the vassal system. At the head of the feudal hierarchy was the king – the supreme overlord, who was the nominal head of state. In contrast to the monarchies of the East, this convention of the authority in the states of Western Europe was also an essential feature of Western European society. It was typical that the king, occupying the first step of the hierarchical ladder in their state, could also be a vassal of another king or pope.

At the second step of the feudal ladder were the immediate vassals of the king. These were large feudal lords – dukes, archbishops, bishops, abbots. According to the certificates received from the king, they possessed various types of immunity. The most common types were tax, judicial, and administrative immunity. The owners of such certificates were able to collect taxes from their peasants and townspeople and make administrative decisions. Vassals in the Middle Ages could mint their own coin, which often circulated not only within this estate but also outside it. Submission of such feudal lords to the king was often only formal.

At the third step of the feudal system were vassals of dukes, counts, bishops; as a rule, these were barons. They also possessed immunity on their estates. Knights were also part of this system. Some of them could have their own vassals (knights of even lower rank), while others were subordinate only to peasants who stood outside the feudal ladder.