I was continuing my research on the strained relationship of France and England during the Middle-Ages. As I was reading up on Philip II Augustus of France in Wikipedia I stumbled upon this:

The Angevin kings of England (the line of rulers to which Henry II belonged), were Philip's most powerful and dangerous vassals as Dukes of Normandy and Aquitaine and Counts of Anjou. Philip made it his life's work to destroy Angevin power in France.


In 1202, disaffected patrons petitioned the French king to summon John to answer their charges in his capacity as John's feudal lord in France.

And finally:

What Philip had gained through victory in war, he sought to confirm by legal means. Philip, again acting as John's liege lord over his French lands, summoned him to appear before the Court of the Twelve Peers of France to answer for the murder of Arthur of Brittany. John requested safe conduct, but Philip only agreed to allow him to come in peace, while providing for his return only if it were allowed to after the judgment of his peers. Not willing to risk his life on such a guarantee, John refused to appear, so Philip summarily dispossessed the English of all lands.

These quotes strike me as peculiar. It implies either that the crown of England was not considered equal to the crown to France or that the Kings of England were at the same time bound to the French Kingdom due to holding lands within its de jure territory. For me it creates more confusion over an already hazy subject, the rules/laws that governed feudal society and hierarchy. As I understand might was right during the Middle Ages in international relations and I shouldn't be surprised that Philip dispossessed the English from their lands having defeated them. However there were laws that governed inheritance and the English Plantagenet Kings had inherited the Angevin lands. Interesting unrelated note: both John and his brother Richard were accused of murder and lost possessions on such dubious accusations.

To conclude my question is how were de jure lands of a crown decided? Since the Kings of England inherited lands from another kingdom weren't they automatically transferred to the jurisdiction of the English crown?

My search insofar has come up with nothing other than references on feudal law in relation to specific kingdoms and not on international relations law such as this.

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    Each title that a person held was separate from the others, a king could own titles for duchy, counties ecc... If a title was created by the kingdom of France (County of Anjou for example) and acquired (by various means) by the King of England, the county still remains a de jure county of the kingdom of France, thus making the king of France a de jure liege of the Count, that in this case, hold others titles such as the Kingdom of England
    – Viralk
    Sep 26, 2019 at 9:13
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    The Kings of England weren't the only example. Another great example of this was the Duchy of Burgundy. Nominally the Valois-Burgundy dukes were vassals of France, but in the end they held so much territory outside of it (within the HRE) that they were as powerful if not more than most kings in that period. Yet another is of course Brandenburg-Prussia, whose situation both in and out of the HRE allowed its rulers to fancy themselves King in Prussia. Sep 26, 2019 at 11:38
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    Someone with more time will hopefully post a helpful answer. If not, I highly recommend the two Tides of History episodes on the Duchy of Burgundy -- which should give you a good answer to your question. player.fm/series/tides-of-history/the-rise-and-fall-of-burgundy player.fm/series/tides-of-history/… Sep 26, 2019 at 11:42
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    the crown of England was not considered equal to the crown to France This actually is true as well; England was kind of a backwater compared to France. there were laws that governed inheritance and the English had inherited the Angevin lands. I think this is the crux. The English did not inherit the Angevin lands; John Lackland the King of England did. Imagine a Chinese owning properties in the US. Even if he happens to be President of China, those properties are still subject to US laws. IOW, Philip's confiscation was an application of feudal French law rather than international law.
    – Semaphore
    Sep 26, 2019 at 12:06

2 Answers 2


I will try to explain the complexity of this question using the Duchy of Normandy as an example.

Duchy of Normandy

As reported by Wikipedia in the Duke of Normandy page the duchy arose out of a grant of land to the Viking leader Rollo by the French king Charles III in 911. with the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte. Rollo receive the duchy in exchange for his loyalty to the king, making him a direct vassal of the kingdom of West Francia (future kingdom of France).

William the Conqueror (Rollo's descendant) who held the title of Duke of Normandy in 1066 became the first Norman King of England, reigning from 1066 until his death in 1087. From 1066, when William II conquered England, becoming King William I, the title Duke of Normandy was often held by the King of England.

In 1087, William died and the title passed to his eldest son, Robert Curthose, while his second surviving son, William Rufus, inherited England. In 1096, Robert mortgaged Normandy to William, who was succeeded by another brother, Henry I, in 1100. In 1106, Henry conquered Normandy. It remained with the King of England down to 1144, when, during the civil war known as the Anarchy, it was conquered by Geoffrey Plantagenet, the Count of Anjou. Geoffrey's son, Henry II, inherited Normandy (1150) and then England (1154), reuniting the two titles.

In 1202, King Philip II of France, as feudal suzerain, declared Normandy forfeit and by 1204 his armies had conquered it. Henry III finally renounced the English claim in the Treaty of Paris (1259).

The struggle between the Kings of France and the Kings of England, in particular the outcome of the Anglo-French war (1213-1214) would have a lasting impact on western European politics: the authority of the French king became unchallenged

De Jure

As explained by the Wikipedia article of the latin term de jure everything that is considered de jure is a practice that is legally recognised, regardless whether the practice exists in reality. This is the exact opposite of the de facto which describes situations that exist in reality, even if not legally recognised.

The territories in France associated with the titles held by the England rules were de jure vassals of the kingdom of France but were de facto territories under direct control and influence of the Kingdom of England.

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    If the King of France was suzerain of the Duke of Normandy, did the King of England swore any oaths of fealty to him? Wasn't that a necessary part of the whole feudal hierarchy? Some form of recognizing someone as your immediate overlord? And wouldn't it be strange from a King-tier noble to do something like this? Both John and Richard had paid homage to Philip at some point of their lives though for different reasons. Sep 26, 2019 at 12:58
  • The House of Plantagenet was already a vassal of the kingdom of France as Count of Anjou, before Geoffrey Plantagenet conquered the duchy of Normandy and by marriage made his son inherit both the title of duke of normady and king of england. His son Henry II of England did homage to Louis (king of France) for Normandy, accepting Louis as his feudal lord, and gave him the disputed lands of the Norman Vexin; in return, Louis recognised him as duke. From what i can read every Plantagenet ruler until 1204 did pay homage to the French rulers.
    – Viralk
    Sep 26, 2019 at 13:14
  • So as you say the Plantagenet rules never did any actions to legally remove their French holdings from the de jure territory of the French crown and therefore Phillip had every right to dispossess a disloyal vassal. If no other answer comes along I will accept this one. Thanks for clarifying this! Sep 27, 2019 at 8:47
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    "the authority of the French king became unchallenged", this is kinda wrong in many many way, and very wrong when you know what peculiar conflict arose afterwards... John Lackland during his reign famously challenged the French king for quite some time.
    – LamaDelRay
    Sep 27, 2019 at 9:06
  • @LamaDelRay Viralk refers to after the end of the Anglo-French war in 1214 as the point of supremacy of the French king. John died 2 years later. You are right though John did try to challenge Phillip after he became king. Sep 27, 2019 at 9:23

There was a difference between the hierarchy of ranks and the hierarchy of feudal positions.

The hierarchy of ranks might go from landless knight or man of arms to lord of a manor to count to duke to king.

The hierarchy of feudal positions might go from a fief holder who had no vassals of his own to his immediate superior overlord to his overlord's lord to his overlord's lord's lord, and so on up. People's position in that hierarchy depended on who they held fiefs from and who they granted fiefs to.

Similarly in the US army the hierarchy of officer ranks goes from second lieutenant to first lieutenant to captain to major to lieutenant colonel to colonel to brigadier general to major general to lieutenant general to general. Ten ranks.

But that does not mean that in the hierarchy of command positions in the US army each officer has to be subordinated to an officer one grade of rank higher than him. There are often more levels in the hierarchy of command positions than their are separate officer ranks.

For example, during the US civil War of 1861-1865 regiments were grouped into brigades that were commanded by colonels or by brigadier generals, brigades were grouped into divisions that were commanded by brigadier generals or by major generals, divisions were grouped into corps commanded by major generals, corps were grouped into field armies commanded by major generals, field armies were sometimes grouped into larger units commanded by major generals, and all units were part of the US army commanded by a major general until U.S. Grant was promoted to lieutenant general in March, 1864.

So in the hierarchy of command positions in the US army during the Civil War three, or four, or even five different levels in the hierarchy of command positions were filled by officers of the same grade, major general.

In the feudal system, it was perfectly possible for someone to inherit, buy, or be rewarded with, several different fiefs and hold different fiefs from different overlords. It was possible for two lords to each be an overlord of the other lord, for different fiefs. It was possible for someone to be his own overlord.

Acquiring another fief could often complicate someone's feudal relationships, but nobody would pass up a chance to acquire more land and wealth merely because it would make his web of feudal relationships more tangled and harder to visualize.

My answer to this question: What was the relation of Barons to Counts/Dukes/Earls in England during the medieval ages?1

has a discussion of the feudal hierarchy which may be useful.

In the hierarchy of ranks the kings of England and France were equals.

In the hierarchy of feudal positions the Duke of Normandy, for example, was a vassal and subordinate of the King of France. And the Duke of Normandy, etc. happened to also be the King of England for centuries.

England was a separate independent country from France, making the two kings equal as kings. The King of England was also a count and duke in France, and as such subordinate to the King of France.

If the King of France tried to make the King of England his vassal for England the same way the King of England was his vassal for Normandy, he would be committing aggression against the King of England.

If the Duke of Normandy, who also happened to have the other job of King of England, tried to make Normandy independent of France the way England was independent of France, he would be committing treason against the King of France.

My answer to this question: Which European nation had the most kings in the 18th century?2

Shows that there was a period of a few months in 1762 when the rulers of 10 European states outside of the Holy Roman Empire were also the holders of fiefs inside the Holy Roman Empire.

Thus those ten rulers were both rulers of independent states outside the Holy Roman Empire and also subordinate vassals of the Emperor for those fiefs inside the Holy Roman Empire. As my answer shows, similar situations had existed for centuries, and those months in 1762 were only unusual in having as many as ten rulers in that situation.

So it was quite normal for a king or other ruler to also be a vassal of another king or ruler for part of their lands, and in most cases being a vassal of another ruler for some of their lands didn't cause nearly as much trouble as it did in the case of the Plantagenet lands in France. Presumably because most persons were able to act differently as a vassal for some of their lands than as a monarch for their other lands.

It seems that some of the kings of England and of France were unable to function differently in different relationships as well as many young children manage to do, and thus there was trouble between England and France over the fiefs which the English king had in France.

  • So as I understand , my question stems from my mistaken perception of the traditional feudal hierarchy of King > lower tier vassals + clergy > peasants. Sep 27, 2019 at 6:39
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    @YokedSinger8062 There was a difference between the hierarchy of ranks and the hierarchy of feudal positions. In the hierarchy of ranks the kings of England and France were equals. In the hierarchy of feudal positions the Duke of Normandy, for example, was a vassal and subordinate of the King of France. And the Duke of Normandy, etc. happened to also be the King of England for centuries. England was a separate independent country from France, making the two kings equal as kings. The King of England was also a count and duke in France, and as such subordinate to the King of France.
    – MAGolding
    Sep 27, 2019 at 19:14
  • @YokedSinger8062 I have revised my answer at 1 AM local time Saturday 09-28-19 to help you understand better.
    – MAGolding
    Sep 28, 2019 at 5:02
  • @YokedSinger8062 I have added to my answer yet again.
    – MAGolding
    Sep 28, 2019 at 21:51
  • Using a simple example - I may own my house, owing rent/mortgage to no one. I might simultaneously rent some land /buildings from a local farmer to keep my horses on. The farmer can demand rent for the grazing land if I don't pay, and ultimately take me to Court, but s/he has no claim on my house.
    – TheHonRose
    Sep 29, 2019 at 13:22

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