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Medieval Sourcebook: Fulbert of Chartres: On Feudal Obligations, c. 1025

This document represents the response of Fulbert, Bishop of Chartres (1006-28) to a request from Count William V of Aquitaine to enumerate the obligations of vassals and lords.  The occasion for the letter may well have been the dispute between Count William and his man viscount Hugh IV of Lusignan that gave rise to the text known as the 'Conventum' or 'Agreement of Hugh and Count William' ( Agreement ). William appears to have been seeking 'ammunition' against a stubborn vassal who had either already defied him or was getting ready to do so.
     The cathedral school of Chartres in the early eleventh century was one of the great centers of learning in western Christendom and Bishop Fulbert was its most renowned scholar and jurist.  Fulbert's response to William shows off the bishop's great learning, drawing as it does upon two works by Cicero, Ad Herennium and De Inventione.  The privatization of public power, which characterized the political world of the early eleventh century, is reflected in the changes Fulbert made to Cicero's texts. For example, where Cicero wrote of the corpus civitatis, the body politic or the body of civil society, Fulbert changed it to the corpus domini, the physical body of one's lord.

To William most glorious duke of the Aquitanians, bishop Fulbert the favor of his prayers.

Asked to write something concerning the form of fealty, I have noted briefly for you on the authority of the books the things which follow. He who swears fealty to his lord ought always to have these six things in memory; what is harmless, safe, honorable, useful, easy, practicable. Harmless, that is to say that he should not be injurious to his lord in his body; safe, that he should not be injurious to him in his secrets or in the defences through which he is able to be secure; honorable, that he should not be injurious to him in his justice or in other matters that pertain to his honor; useful, that he should not be injurious to him in his possessions; easy or practicable, that that good which his lord is able to do easily, he make not difficult, nor that which is practicable he make impossible to him.

However, that the faithful vassal should avoid these injuries is proper, but not for this does he deserve his holding; for it is not sufficient to abstain from evil, unless what is good is done also. It remains, therefore, that in the same six things mentioned above he should faithfully counsel and aid his lord, if he wishes to be looked upon as worthy of his benefice and to be safe concerning the fealty which he has sworn.

The lord also ought to act toward his faithful vassal reciprocally in all these things. And if he does not do this he will be justly considered guilty of bad faith, just as the former, if he should be detected in the avoidance of or the doing of or the consenting to them, would be perfidious and perjured.

I would have written to you at greater length, if I had not been occupied with many other things, including the rebuilding of our city and church which was lately entirely consumed in a great fire; from which loss though we could not for a while be diverted, yet by the hope of the comfort of God and of you we breathe again.

From Recueil des Hist. des Gaules et de la France , (Loan), translated by E.P. Cheyney in University of Pennsylvania Translations and Reprints, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1898), Vol 4:, no, 3, pp. 23-24

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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(c)Paul Halsall Jan 1996