The Knight and the Lion

Find out more about the lords of Medieval castles and the people who lived on their land.

At the time when Chrétien de Troyes lived, there were thousands of castles like this all over France, and all over Europe, each with its own lord. Each lord held the castle and the land (with the peasants who lived on it, and their villages, and sometimes towns as well) as a gift from a greater lord. This greater lord might hold his land and castles from a still more powerful noble or from the king. In return for this gift of land (or 'fief' as it was called) the less powerful lord had to provide the more powerful one with armed knights to fight in his wars.

The lesser lord was called the 'vassal' of the greater one, whom he called his 'liege lord'. The vassal had to perform an act of 'homage' to his liege lord by kneeling down and putting his hands between his lord's hands and promising to be loyal to him.

King Edward I (1239 - 1307) gving Wales to his son, who is doing homage in return.

The lord then kissed the vassal on the cheek to seal the bargain and raised him to his feet. In the twelfth century the Kings of England still had to go through this ceremony and kneel to the king of France. They had to do this to keep the lands in France which they inherited from their Norman ancestors This system of giving land in return for the promise to provide fighting men is called the 'feudal system'.

The peasants who lived on the lord's land worked on their own small farms for some days of the week, but on others they had to work for the lord. Also they had to give to the lord a certain share of all the crops they grew, or the animals they killed, or the things they made.

In return, the lord was meant to provide justice for his villagers, and to sort out disagreements between them fairly. The lord also offered protection. If the village was attacked, the people could run into the castle for safety. However, villages were often only attacked because of a quarrel between one lord and another. Since an angry lord could not easily attack his enemy's castle, he would send men to burn the enemy lord's villages, steal the cattle and take the peasants prisoner for ransom. One writer of the time wrote: 'When two lords quarrel, the poor man's thatch goes up in flames'.

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