Were Medieval European Nobles Vassals of Other Nobles?


Ad Honorem
Jan 2009
In the Past
Often times they were vassals to similar ranks or even vassals to one another. Your vassalage was tied to the land and to obligations based off it.

If I gained control of a demesne which is under your overlordship, I owe you fealty, but only for that strip of land. So I may owe you soldiers and money derived from it. If you also own land for which I am the overlord, you would also owe me fealty. So we would owe each other fealty in certain regards.

It wasn't uncommon for Kings to owe each other fealty. And though I can't think of an example, it wasn't inherently impossible for a King to owe some fealty to a Duke or Count under him, if he gained control of land for which his subservient Duke or Count was the suzereign of.
Jun 2015
Often, yes. A Duke may owe allegiance to a king, but the Duke may lease out land for taxes or military support.
This how Normandy operated essentially, and the Anglo-Saxon thegns often had bodyguards to whom they gave land or regular pay. Thegns were appointed and sworn to offer military support to kings.
The standard model of the medieval period of the king, nobles, knights, and then serfs is a simplification. it was, in reality, more complex than this, since a knight could get a blacksmith to make him his armour or mail in exchange for food or lodging. And the smith may have to travel with the knight on this campaigns, when he in turn was called up by a duke, earl, or the king himself.
The smith also may hire some free peasant to supply him leather, or work as an apprentice/assistant, and in turn give him a wage or lodgings. Or the knight would ensure he had a team of weapons/tool-makers, and keep them all in his retinue as required.


Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
Kings could be vassals of other kings (English kings were vassals of the king of France for their French posessions), the pope (Ie John Lackland), other nobles (iirc some of the English possessions were a fief from French dukes, although in practice that wasn't really the case) and obviously the emperor. Same goes for lower nobility.
Apr 2017
If a King acquired a tract of land with no nobility (conquered from barbarians or what not) and he appointed one of his vassal's sons to rule it, granting him the title of Count. Would said Count then grant his new (previously non-noble) vassals titles or what would they be called?


Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
Canary Islands-Spain
Of course, that was the basis of all the system.

All nobles were, ultimately, vassals of the King, since in theory, all the kingdom was a property of the King. Intermediate levels of vassalage existed, so that a count could pay homage to the King directly, or to a duke. Lower noblity, castillians and other men in charge of small bands and infrastructures usually paid homage to their direct lord (in practice, the King had no real power over these men). Some very low ranking nobles could be vassals of a lord with no fief in exchange.

It is important to understand the key factor here: that a noble paid homage in exchange of a territory (a fief). This resulted in combulated situations. Let me put two examples:

First. A noble could be vassal of a King, but just in a certain territory. The count of Normandy was a vassal of the King of French because of Normandy; however, when one of them conquered England and became king (William the Conqueror), the Kingdom of England was not subjected to the King of France. The King of England was vassal of the King of France not because of England, but just because he was count of Normandy, an integral part of the Kingdom of France (and then, Anjou, Aquitaine or other territories).

Second: A noble could be vassal of two lords. Charles the Bold was vassal of the King of France because of the County of Burgundy (and other territories), and vassal of the Emperor because of the Duchy of Luxemburg (and other territories)

In the late Middle Ages, lot of petty nobility became lordless (although, as I said, ultimately they had a king). They filled the ranks of mercenary bands that served the kings of France, England, Castile, Aragon, in Italy, Germany etc If defeated or in trouble, or during peace time, they went into banditry in all of Europe, causing lot of troubles (and myths). When the royal armies were developed by the mid and late 15th century, these petty nobles filled their ranks (as men-at-arms, swordmen, pikemen etc), with increasing presence of plebeians, mostly from the cities (armed with polearms and crossbows, then with handguns, increasingly adopted by nobles). The longbowmen of England were in a intermediate level: they were usually yeomen, a social class on the fringe of nobility and peasantry

Curiously, a similar situation developed in Japan with the ashigarus, ronin etc


Ad Honorem
Jan 2009
In the Past
If a King acquired a tract of land with no nobility (conquered from barbarians or what not) and he appointed one of his vassal's sons to rule it, granting him the title of Count. Would said Count then grant his new (previously non-noble) vassals titles or what would they be called?
who knows what titles he would give. He may find it beneficial to offer land to mere knights, who may only have a village or so. Or he may provide land to another count. Alternately, there wasn't really a major requirement for them to be called anything. Petty nobles may simply have local title, or have a generic title added to their name (such as Von).


Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
If a King acquired a tract of land with no nobility (conquered from barbarians or what not) and he appointed one of his vassal's sons to rule it, granting him the title of Count. Would said Count then grant his new (previously non-noble) vassals titles or what would they be called?
New lands were relatively rare and a monarch had competing interests to appease or enrage by creating new noble titles or confiscating current titles due to high crimes or the line of succession dying out. Usually if a title was created that family would be expected to be especially grateful and loyal to the sovereign while also possibly inheriting some enemies right away but the main way a Kingdom acquired new land aside from marriage was warfare and usually a monarch would want to put hard fighting warriors in the new lands because it was expected more rebellions or attacks from the former owners would be a high risk.

In that regard if a monarch had a preference for a lower ranking noble who was a good warrior they might feel they either had to appease higher ranking Lords with some other lands or more likely divide the new land among several lower ranked nobbles who lacked the power to stand on their own so perforce had to remain loyal to the monarch... at least in theory. Since most of the time those men ended up passing their lands down thru the lines and often became close to the people they ruled within a generation or two rebellions were fairly common.

The other option that was often followed in creating new titles was not from new lands but from dividing up current lands into smaller parcels. It could be what happened in German where annual income was somewhat tied to titles so the richer a land became theoretically the more titles it could support but usually this was a corrupt game. France and Italy it was more common to simply auctioning off titles and there was huge growth in the numbers of noble titles from the 15th century thru the 18th somewhat as a combination of factors of increasing wealth, corruption, and population growth.

Really the examples of monarch creating entirely new titles is actually relatively rare- even when a Kingdom expanded it often co-opted the titles that already existed. Dux becomes dukes etc.


Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
In Medieval Europe, were nobles vassals of other nobles (excluding Kings/Emperors)? An example being would a Count be a vassal of a Duke or a Baron of a Count?
A king could be a vassal too.

William I and his immediate descendants were both King of England and Duke of Normandy, and thus were vassals of the King of France in their capacity as Duke of Normandy.