I was trying to do some research on the subject of feudal contracts. I found some example contracts here. This contains two contracts and one oath of fealty which as I understand it is part of the contract. The oath of fealty mentioned in the link settles the matters of allegiance for John of Toul towards his multiple lieges.

I, John of Toul, make known that I am the liege man of the lady Beatrice, countess of Troyes, and of her son,Theobald, count of Champagne, against every creature, living or dead, saving my allegiance to lord Enjorand of Coucy, lord John of Arcis, and the count of Grandpré. If it should happen that the count of Grandpré should be at war with the countess and count of Champagne on his own quarrel, I will aid the count of Grandpré in my own person, and will send to the count and the countess of Champagne the knights whose service I owe to them for the fief which I hold of them. But if the count of Grandpré shall make war on the countess and the count of Champagne on behalf of his friends and not in his own quarrel, I will aid in my own person the countess and count of Champagne, and will send one knight to the count of Grandpré for the service which I owe him for the fief which I hold of him, but I will not go myself into the territory of the count of Grandpré to make war on him

As a matter of fact I found it surprising that such provisions were indeed made.

For example, Enguerrand VII de Coucy who may be the Enjorand of Coucy mentioned in the oath (him or his father), found himself in such a predicament being given lands from King Edward III of England while also being a vassal to the Crown of France. It is mentioned that he diplomatically kept his allegiance to both lords:

Always diplomatic, Coucy managed to maintain both his allegiance to the King of France and to his English father-in-law during the period of intermittent armed conflict between England and France known as the Hundred Years' War. At various times, he acted as a captain, envoy, councillor and mediator during the conflict. However, Coucy resigned all of his English honours on the accession of King Richard II on 26 August 1377.

I would like if possible to get some more specifics on how he managed to pull this off as I haven't found any. How did he mediate the conflict? And did he put some provision in his feudal contract like John of Toul to establish his neutrality?

  • 5
    I suspect the answer will be boiled down to "with difficulty, ad hoc"
    – MCW
    Sep 28, 2020 at 14:22

1 Answer 1


Ok, after continuing my research on the subject and digging deeper, I found a source from Henry L. Savage, I didn't have access previously to, that goes into a little more detail on the relationship of Enguerrand VII de Coucy with his 2 lieges. Enguerrand was sent along with other French nobles to England as hostages for the ransom of the King:

In 1363 Coucy went to England as hostage for the ransom of his king, who had been captured at Poitiers in 1356...

There he gained favor with Edward III and was married to his daughter Isabella.

But at London, Eltham, and Windsor he probably met and conversed with some of the most brilliant soldiers of whom England boasts, the Black Prince, Chandos, Audley, Burghersh, and Loryng. He could not have failed to have prof- ited by such association. His marriage to Isabella, eldest daughter of the English monarch, in 1365, his assumption of the title of Earl of Bedford iLa the succeeding year, the grant to him of lands that had belonged to him in Kendal and Lanca- shire, led to consequences that were important for his military career. If one wonders why the English monarch should have loaded a hostage with such favors, the answer is to be found in the fact that the Sire de Coucy, as perhaps the most powerful baron in Northern France, could have been very useful to the monarch's schemes, if he had been won over to the English cause. And I believe that a second motive for Edward's favors is to be found in the high respect he entertained for the Sire de Coucy's military ability.

When hostilities resumed between France and England, Enguerrand chose to support neither.

In 1369 war again broke out between Coucy's liege lord and his royal father-in- law. To which side should, or could, he adhere? He hit upon a solution that was as tactful towards his superiors as it was honorable to himself. Renouncing a theatre of activity that would have provided full opportunity for the exercise of his powers and the enhancement of his prestige, he withdrew to Italy to evince his loyalty to the church by serving in the papal forces operating against the Visconti, tyrants of Milan.

Upon his return from this expedition, he again found a way to avoid direct involvement in the conflict.

King Charles V now (quite tactfully) suggested that, following the example set by Du Guesclin in his Spanish expedition, Coucy should rid the country of many of the 'thugs' enrolled in the free-companies. Enguerrand's oft denied claim of the allodial possessions in Alsace and Switzerland belonging to his mother by right of her being an Austrian princess, furnished a convenient excuse for the enrollment of numerous 'thugs' to enforce it against the Hapsburgs.

Additionally respect and tactful approach was shown from the English as well towards de Coucy as told in this source:

Enguerrand returned to Coucy in 1374 where he found his lands in good order. Robert Knollys who had traveled through Picardy, had been ordered by Edward III to leave the lands of Enguerrand intact. On 4th August 1374 Charles paid Enguerrand 6,000 Francs and in November 1374 asked him to become the Marshal of France, but Enguerrand declined.

Finally, he was freed from his dual obligations with the death of Edward.

By the early months of 1376, Coucy was back in France, and in the next year there occurred an event which allowed him to play a much more active role in affairs than he had done. The death of his royal father-in-law removed one to whom Coucy was under deep obligations for favors and for a solicitous regard for his interests and prestige. He renounced his English honors, and returned his Garter, and, since she seemed to wish it, his wife as well, to the nation that had given him all three. He was now free to devote his interests to his suzerain.

Enguerrand stayed neutral in this conflict as neither of his lieges really pressured him in joining the war. He was a skilled diplomat as well as a commander and it seems his neutrality was indeed thanks to personal charm:

Few of his countrymen have practised diplomacy as successfully as Enguerrand de Coucy. It was not that he was false or evasive, or prolific in promises - he could be canny enough, when there was need of canniness. His ability came from a rare personal charm. All his life he was praised for his graciousness and generosity, and thrice at important moments of his career he refused promotions or honors that he might have obtained, out of consideration for others - or for the preservation of his own self-respect. His desire to conciliate and appease ruffled feelings, the knowledge of men which enabled him to clothe a suggestion in its most enticing form, his reluctance to bring matters to an issue - until he had to do so - made him one to whom kings, regents, and trained civil administrators turned in the last resort with the request that he take the matter in hand.

I haven't been able to find his feudal contract, if such thing even exists. But, to answer my original, more general question about how a vassal could deal with dual allegiances, I think it is safe to say that in the Middle-Ages personal ability mattered the most when dealing with sovereigns.

  • 4
    "personal ability mattered the most" - that is a decent summary of the entire feudal period.
    – MCW
    Oct 2, 2020 at 12:51
  • 1
    @MCW: Never mind just "the entire feudal period"; I'd posit "being an adult human, at any time in history". Sep 20, 2023 at 14:53

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