The Feudal Bond: Establishing Friendship not Hatred

September 30, 2013

While there were exceptions, the feudal bond tended to generate ties of great friendship. Those who swore such bonds, Bloch notes, were addressed as “friend” to the point that “friend” and “vassal” were considered synonymous. There was a true linking together of lives, a great interpenetration of interests and ideas.

Representation of the tripartite soial order of the middle ages. oratores :"Those who pray", bellatores "those who fight", and laboratores "those who work".

Representation of the tripartite soial order of the middle ages. oratores :”Those who pray”, bellatores “those who fight”, and laboratores “those who work”.

In general, feudal bonds were bonds of deep sentiment based on mutual affection and the free choice of one who put himself under the protection of the other. It was not a mere economic contract but a giving of self whereby the individual gave devoted service, counsel, and great dedication. The superior gave affection, trust, livelihood, and advancement. He looked after the other’s welfare, helped arrange and endow marriages, and gave protection. It was a truly paternal relationship where the greater perceived opportunities and sought the growth and advancement of the lesser. Just as a father does not see his son as a rival, he does not see the lesser as a competitor.


In this atmosphere of trust and confidence, touching manifestations of affection flowed both ways between the two parties, even to the point that both were disposed to die for the other or the family of the other, in this way recalling the teaching of Our Divine Savior: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Feudalism

This same solicitude can be found in the weaker and more primitive feudal-like bonds like those of servants or tenants. Mousnier relates many cases where the local seigneur (lord) appears as a great head of the family and protector of the community. “Seigneurs took as godparents for their children their manservants or maidservants, who were drawn from among their peasants. Seigneurs signed the marriage contracts of the villagers, stood godfather to the peasants’ children, joined in the village festivals.”(1) He further explains how they gave advice to local authorities, interceded for the community before the State, protected the communities against invading troops, and gave shelter to the peasants and their cattle in times of danger. They also relieved the hunger of the community in time of dearth.(2)


(1) Roland Mousnier, Society and State, vol. 1 of The Institutions of France under the Absolute Monarchy 1598-1789, trans. Brian Pearce (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 528.

(2)   Mousnier concludes, “This is an aspect of life in the seigneuries which has necessarily left fewer traces in the records than leases and loans, and it needs systematic study” (ibid., 529).


John Horvat II, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need To Go (York, Penn.: York Press, 2013), 193-4.


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