So, let's say your feudal overlord is rebelling against the king. Who do you owe your allegiance to, the lord, or the king? It's best to fight for the one who's going to win, obviously, but what would the lawful decision be?

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    Excellent question. Your oath is to your lord, and If I recall correctly, retainers would frequently be treated with mercy. THe real problem is when you hold from both your lord and your king.
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 17:17
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    Today I Learned: The word "Subinfeudation" faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/Courses/Phil%20281b/…
    – AllInOne
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 17:48
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    The Margrave of Flanders actually required the vassals of his vassals to support him over their direct lord. IIRC many kings passed laws to enforce this as well. In general lower vassals would choose to behold allegiance to their lord's lord rather then their own lord when it suited them.
    – Jeroen K
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 18:30
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    There was a BBC4 documentary a while ago about a knight who was loyal to his lord even while his lord was fighting the king... I wish I could remember the names. When lord was beaten, he surrendered, and entered the king's service. The king spared him because he had shown loyalty. IOW, your best bet might have been to pick one side and stick with it. A straightforward enemy was more likely to get mercy than an unreliable servant.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 11:41

1 Answer 1


In practice, throughout most of Western Europe, the nobility rapidly descended into just that subset of tenants who owed allegiance directly to the monarch - the tenants-in-chief.

Likewise, only those tenants-in-chief were generally liable for treason - those below the nobility being both too valuable and too numerous to hold accountable for the acts of their liege-lords. Provided they subsequently swore fealty to whomever the monarch replaced their treasonous former lord with, all was in general forgiven.

The primary exception to this was in the Holy Roman Empire, where the original stem duchies splintered into far more numerous imperial princes holding Landhoheit - sovereignty - within their own territory and entitled to inter-marry with reigning dynasties.

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    Do you have references for your assertion that nobility rapidly descended into just tenants-in-chief?
    – user69715
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 4:58

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