In common modern usage paying homage is to respectfully acknowledge superiority of someone or something. In the context of the manor, homage has more specific meanings. To do or make homage was a formal and public acknowledgement of the feudal relationship of a vassal (tenant) with the lord of the manor, a form of allegiance. Such an allegiance was one of the terms under which a tenant may hold land from his lord. The service of homage could only be made by tenants with an estate greater than for life and only be made directly to the lord himself.
Coke describes the oath taking ceremony. The unarmed and unguarded, bare headed tenant kneels on both knees and holds both hands up to the lord (symbolic of reverence and subjection). The lord incloses the tenant’s hands between his own (symbolic of protection and defense) while the tenant says:
” I become your man from this day forward of life and limb, and of earthly worship, and unto you shall be true and faithful, and bear you faith for the tenements that I claim to hold of you, saving the faith that I owe unto our sovereign lord the king”
Churchmen and unattached women (femme sole, single women or widows) could not become the lord’s man or woman, because they had commitments to God or a potential future husband. So they did an partial homage, swearing to be true and faithful only.
What did becoming the lord’s man entail? In the Court Baron or Customary Court, the lord’s men or homage, which acted as judges or jury, depending on the type of case. Duties included attendance at the court, reporting events affecting property rights (e.g. deaths of tenants), reporting breaches of the lord’s rights (e.g. encroachment of common land) and resolving disputes between tenants.
The legal Latin term for homage is homagium or humagium.
© Sue Adams 2015
Feudal systems closely connected governance and land tenure. It was based on the relationship between two free men, a lord and a vassal. The lord gave the use of his land, rights and privileges to his vassal in return for a variety of services, including military service, money, labour, something symbolic, or prayers. Over time services were commuted to money rents.
A hierarchy of ownership developed with the monarch as the ultimate lord. The king’s vassals could pass on rights and privileges to their own vassals.
Feudal systems arose in parts of Europe between the 10th and 12th centuries. In England the feudal system was finally abolished on 1 January 1926 by the Law of Property Act 1922 and related acts.
Feudal is derived from medieval Latin feudum , feodum or French féodal.