Commendation ceremony

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Charlemagne receiving the oath of fidelity and homage from one of his great vassals:facsimile of a monochrome miniature in a 14th century Ms of the "Chronicles of St. Denis." (Library of the Arsenal)

A commendation ceremony (commendatio) is a formal ceremony that evolved during the Early Medieval period to create a bond between a lord and his fighting man, called his vassal (Latin vassus). The first recorded ceremony of commendatio was in 7th century France, but the relationship of vassalage was older, and predated even the medieval formulations of a noble class. The lord's "man" ("vassal" comes from a Celtic word for "boy") might be born unfree, but the commendatio freed him. (See Vassal).

When two men entered into a feudal relationship, they underwent a ceremony known as commendation ceremony. The purpose of the commendation was to make a chosen person a vassal of a lord. The commendation ceremony is composed of two elements, one to perform the act of homage and the other an oath of fealty.

Missing image
Papacy and monarchy: Catholic Marie de' Medici assumes the traditional position of a vassal in a commendation ceremony at her coronation following Henri IV's assassination, as painted by Peter Paul Rubens

Act of homage ceremony

The junior who was to become the vassal of his senior (seigneur) appeared bareheaded and weaponless as a sign of his submission to the will of the lord and knelt before him. The vassal would clasp his hands before him in the ultimate sign of submission, the standard Christian attitude of prayer, and would stretch his clasped hands outward to the lord.

The lord in turn grasped the vassals hands between his own, showing he was the superior in the relationship. The vassal would announce he wished to become "the man", and the lord would announce his acceptance. The act of homage was complete.

"The vassus thus entered into a new realm of protection and mutual services. Through the touching of hands the warrior chief caused to passs from this own body into the body of the vassal something like a sacred fluid, the hail. Made taboo. as it were, the vassal thereupon fell under the charismatic power, pagan in origin, of the lord: his mundeburdium, or mainbour, true power, at once possessive and protective." (Rouche 1987 p 429).

Interestingly, the physical position for Christian prayer that is thought of as typical today -- kneeling, with hands clasped -- originates from the commendation ceremony. Before this time, European Christians prayed in the orans, which is the Latin, or "praying" position that people had used in antiquity: standing, with hands outstretched, a gesture still used today in many Christian rituals.

Oath of fealty ceremony

The vassal would then place his hands on a Bible, or a saint's relic, and swear he would never injure the lord in any way and to remain faithful.

An example of an oath of fealty: "I promise on my faith that I will in the future be faithful to the lord, never cause him harm and will observe my homage to him completely against all persons in good faith and without deceit."

Significance of commendation

Once the vassal hard sworn the oath of fealty, the lord and vassal had a feudal relationship.


  • Rouche, Michel, "Private life conquers state and society," in A History of Private Life vol I, Paul Veyne, editor, Harvard University Press 1987 ISBN 0-674-39974-9

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