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
    Apr 27 '18 at 17:17
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    Today I Learned: The word "Subinfeudation" faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/Courses/Phil%20281b/…
    – AllInOne
    Apr 27 '18 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
    Apr 27 '18 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
    Apr 28 '18 at 11:41

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
    May 2 '18 at 4:58

As Matthew Mantrell said:

-"What is the first duty of a knight?"

-"To his lord, ... then to his lord's lady."

-"And what of the king?"

-"A knight is loyal to the king, of course - but that loyalty goes up through the chain of vassal and suzerain to his lord, and his lord's lord, on up to the king."

-"And if the king wars with the knight's lord?"

 -"Then the knight must side with the right. But if his lord is wrong, and the king is right, the knight must go to his lord and formally remove himself from the lord's service. After that, if there's anything left of him, he can go offer his services to the king."

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    I'm not convinced a writer of fantasy novels is a reliable source, to be frank. Moreover, this would appear to privilege the vassal's view of right and wrong above his lord's or his king's - which seems a subversion of the feudal system. Who is Sir Joe Bloggs to disagree with the Duke of York /Gloucester etc? I don't know the answer - I hope someone does, it's a fascinating question - but I'd need a more authoritative source.
    – TheHonRose
    Apr 27 '18 at 23:42
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    Answers (particularly non-wiki, non-locked ones) should not be used for humor. SE is for factual answers, is not a forum.
    – Federico
    Apr 30 '18 at 11:16

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