ANST - Re: Fealty oaths in period - was long courts

Mjccmc01 at Mjccmc01 at
Tue Aug 5 08:23:56 PDT 1997

Hello from Siobhan,

In response to the discussion on whether or not the oaths we take in the SCA
are based on territorial oaths, my admittedly very limited research into the
area has revealed the following:

1.  Every one I've been able to run down in period is religious - swearing
"upon the Holy Gospels," relics, or whatever.  Obviously, an SCA oath is not
going to be able to match this element without a huge uproar, violation of
Corpora, etc. 

2.  They are predominantly concerned with land.  The text of the oaths quite
often outlines, in lawyerly detail, which estates are held, which rivers they
are bounded by, etc.  So, the oaths of the landed barons are at least
somewhat reminiscent of this. 

3.  In the actual legal records of oaths taken, there is not much of this
"love what you love, hate what you hate" language.  They read like what they
essentially are, legal contracts.  They are also very specific about what
constitutes breaking the oath, and what penalties result.  I've never seen
one with an "at will of the Sovereign" type of clause.  Now, the more
romantic language we tend to prefer for SCA oaths does appear, but in
literature.  What I theorize (and this is just my idea), is that the oaths
related in the various literature were more concerned with illustrated the
chivalric ideals of the time than in portraying fealty oaths and lord/vassal
relationships accurately, kind of like the way courtly love portrayed
romantic ideals as opposed to the real relations between the sexes.  However,
since most in the SCA are more interested in the romantic ideals held in the
Middle Ages (as it "should have been") than in the actual practice, I think
these more romantic oaths at least have some period roots.

If any of you are interested in reading the text of a period fealty oath, you
can find one very easily in "The Medieval Reader," ed. Norman Cantor.  This
book is an anthology of various documents from the period and contains, among
other wonderful stuff, the text of the fealty oath taken by the Viscount of
Carcassonne to the Abbott of St. Mary of Grasse in 1110, and the military
debenture between John, Duke of Bedford and the mercenary captain Sir John
Fastolf, made in 1425.  Or, e-mail me and I'll send you a copy of the text.

Sorry for the mini-lecture.  Never ask a research Laurel a question like that
when she's being held hostage waiting for repairmen.


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