The Polish Wikipedia about the battle of Kowal (1327) says (translation mine, maybe in some places duke and prince are not used correctly):

In 1327 Władysław I Łokietek [the Polish king] begun the process of subordinating the [Duchy of] Masovia from Poland. The successful process was giving to Łokietek a chance of unifying subsequent Polish lands, increasing access to Teutonic [Order] boundaries and improving relations with allied Lithuania. The divided Masovia was then ruled by: Rawa [Mazowiecka] prince Siemowit II, Czersk prince Trojden I and Płock prince Wacław, who on January 2, 1326 in Brodnica signed a defence treaty with Teutonic knights. The treaty was directed against aggressive and claim-ful politics of the Polish king and was to guarantee by the Order the independence and integrity of Mazovia. The fact of negotiations with the Teutonic Knights was not accepted by Władysław Łokietek. After refusal of homage to the Polish king by the rulers of Mazovia, in July 1327 Polish troops invaded the Płock principality of Wacław, while the Lithuanians of Gediminas - lands of Siemowit II. In accordance to the treaty, the Teutonic [Knights] came with an assistance to the Płock prince.

(The war was eventually won by Poland, but Masovia managed to stay independent).

Of course I understand that such a type of war was common those days, and there could have been many different casi belli, but the question is whether a king (or other ruler) could demand a homage from anybody?

The Wikipedia article about vassals is very brief, so is Britannica article, but also other sources do not say it was obligatory to have a senior (lord) and the system is shown as some sort of a contract.

(Please do not include examples where a ruler became a vassal because of a lost war).

  • 1
    Thorny question. The British History Podcasts has many examples of this prince paying homage to that prince. Whether the prince remains independent is probably a matter of opinion. And of course in theory almost all European rulers pay a form of "eyewash homage" to the Pope and some to the HRE. Ultimately I think this is opinion based. I suspect that there are many cases where "homage" and "independence" are like the Roman legions beating the sea into submission; more PR than fact.
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 11:48
  • 5
    A ruler can demand anything he wants. The key point of absolute monarchy is that there is no limit on the ruler's ability to demand or decree other than the ability to enforce. The Prince of Monaco can demand homage from the President of the United Stated, and he can demand that the value of PI be set to 7.
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 11:55
  • 3
    Absolute monarchy is a little later than the example. Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 12:13
  • 6
    Actually, anyone can demand anything they want, whether they were absolute rulers (but the question's timeframe predates absolutism in Europe, as SamuelRussel points out) or otherwise. Of course, a peasant demanding homage form the King of France is unlikely to a wise act. Similarly the practical ability to demand homage successfully would have been limited by diplomatic influence and strategic considerations.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 12:31
  • 1
    @Semaphore I know anyone can. I also can kill you, but in that case somebody will try to catch me, police come, in some countries I will be killed too by the law, if not, I will end in prison, losing my family, friends, job etc. Also, one can imagine that a lord demands lands of his vassal. Yes, he can, maybe e has enough power to take it, but probably other vassals meet in secret and try to prepare in case the lord demands lands from other one. So a lord could not demand lands from his vassal, because he made himself a risk of mutiny.
    – Voitcus
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 4:57

1 Answer 1


I will start by making two suppositions (OP: please correct me if this is not what was meant).

  1. The question is relative to a specific time (Middle Ages, approx. 10th to 14th centuries), place (Western Europe) and society (feudalism).
  2. The term "prince" may be taken in a broad sense, to include other nobles with some local power base (barons, counts, ...)

The term "homage" can have two different meanings. According to the Collins English Dictionary, in a feudal context we can have either

a. the act of respect and allegiance made by a vassal to his lord. See also fealty


b. something done in acknowledgment of vassalage

This perhaps covers rather well the two aspects of the relationship between major and minor lords, from the point of view of the minor (dependent) party. On the one hand, he owed the major lord due respect, perhaps externalized by a solemn promise. On the other, he needed to come to his lord's assistance when required - which was a reciprocal undertaking by both parties.

This dual nature of the minor lord's obligations is perhaps reflected by the formal act of allegiance. In 12th- and 13th-century Catalonia, the rather ceremonious form of homagium ore et manibus was well established, and has been documented in Valencia at least until the middle of the 14th century[1]. The minor lord promises his fealty in words "ore", but also places himself symbolically into his hands "manibus".

Back to the question:

  • Could a ruler demand homage from an independent prince, in the sense (b) of military help? I think not, if the prince was truly independent of the ruler, i.e. did not depend on the ruler's military might to conserve his domain and position. This happened often, when minor vassals on the periphery of a king's area of influence were far enough from the king's center of power and had accumulated enough local influence. For example, the counts in late 8th- and 9th-century Marca Hispanica were in theory vassals of Charlemagne and his descendants, but in practice were very much independent.
  • Could a ruler demand homage, in the sense (a) of showing respect and allegiance? This is perhaps a more complex question. The legal basis of the vassal's position was in the feudal system the territory that the major lord had given him. If he openly flaunted the terms of his relationship, he would in essence be undermining his own legal right to hold the land and the people. This is quite different from inventing some suitable excuse so as not to reply to the lord's summons for men (a bad harvest, local troubles needing attention, ... whatever). I am under the impression the prince would have needed to feel very sure of his own position to risk going that far.

[1] Culturas Políticas Monárquicas en la España Liberal, Mateu Rodrigo Lizondo, Universitat de Valencia. ISBN: 8437093252

  • The sense is (a). Łokietek was a Polish king, while Masovian rulers were independent. The king demanded the princes the act of homage, so they would become his vassals, having in fact no other excuse than common language. The king wanted to make them his vassals and he stated the demand I have cited, after they refused, he began a military action. In the question there is no lord-vassal conflict, this is a strong ruler-weak ruler conflict. So thank you for your answer, but I am afraid it is not relevant in this context.
    – Voitcus
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 5:09
  • Also, the background is that in 12th century Poland has been divided in many pieces (like eg. Germany). Władysław Łokietek was the one who united the country - he was able to join Greater and Lesser Poland (and some minor Silesia lands). Masovia was a Polish speaking country, but in 13th century became independent from Polish kings.
    – Voitcus
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 5:14
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    @Voitcus, please do not take this badly, but I think you are making things more complicated than they really were. Either there existed a previous agreement that obligated Masovian rulers to perform homagium, or there did not. Is such an agreement documented with Lokietek's father or grandfather? If not, he had no legal base for his demands - the key word being "legal".
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 7:15
  • I think this comment would be perfect as an answer: "he could not, because there were no legal means or he would risk death without confession, excommunication, rebellion or something". Some sources (or even examples of unsuccessful attempts) would be welcome.
    – Voitcus
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 7:26
  • I really don't think the actual consequences of demanding homage without legal grounds were nearly as dire as the "perfect" answer you envision.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 7:31

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