Definition of vassal in English:


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  • 1 historical A holder of land by feudal tenure on conditions of homage and allegiance.

    ‘Liege homage involved the vassal admitting his obligation to pay all services, including the provision of military assistance.’
    • ‘These oath-takings are critical to Tolkien's mythologising of the past because they reproduce the feudal bonds that a vassal pays to his liege lord.’
    • ‘In the feudal relationship, a vassal owed loyalty and service to a lord according to the terms of their personal agreement.’
    • ‘The term feudal is often associated with William and the Normans, suggesting a system whereby a tenant or vassal held land from the King or his superiors.’
    • ‘After all, the majority of barons treated their vassals and serfs reasonably well, awarding them land to grow what they needed to eat and even paying them enough to replace lost livestock.’
    villein, liege, liegeman, man, bondsman, vavasour, serf, helot, slave, thrall, subject
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    1. 1.1A person or country in a subordinate position to another.
      as modifier ‘a much stronger nation can also turn a weaker one into a vassal state’
      • ‘The last king, who possessed only the land on the right bank of the Bosna, sought to strengthen his position by becoming a vassal of the pope.’
      • ‘About 800 years ago it was also the site of the legendary vassal state, the Western Xia Kingdom, which was finally conquered by Genghis Khan.’
      • ‘A restored Stuart monarchy would have made Britain a vassal state of France.’
      • ‘A much stronger nation can also turn a weaker one into a vassal state.’
      • ‘The impractical nature of one sovereign having to perform homage as a vassal to another, with ties of fealty that theoretically prevented an independent foreign policy, were unworkable and was a major cause of the Hundred Years War.’
      • ‘In the 11th century it became an independent countship, and from the 12th century its rulers were vassals of the Holy Roman Emperor and came to style themselves ‘princes’.’
      subordinate, inferior, deputy, junior, assistant, adjutant, aide, minion, lackey, flunkey, menial, retainer, vassal, subject, serf, hireling, servant, henchman, myrmidon, right-hand man, right-hand woman, girl Friday, man Friday, factotum, stooge
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/ˈvas(ə)l/ /ˈvæs(ə)l/


Late Middle English via Old French from medieval Latin vassallus ‘retainer’, of Celtic origin; compare with vavasour.