Vavasour

A vavasour (also vavasor; Old French vavassor, vavassour; Modern French vavasseur; Late Latin vavassor), is a term in feudal law. A vavasour was the vassal or tenant of a baron, one who held his tenancy under a baron, and who also had tenants under him.

The derivation of the word is obscure. It may be derived from vassi ad valvas (at the folding-doors, valvae), i.e. servants of the royal antechamber. Du Cange regarded it merely as an obscure variant of vassus, probably from vassus vassorum "vassal of the vassals".[1] Alternative spellings include vavasor, valvasor, vasseur, vasvassor, oavassor, and others.

In its most general sense the word thus indicated a mediate vassal, i.e. one holding a fief under a vassal. The word was, however, applied at various times to the most diverse ranks in the feudal hierarchy, being used practically as the synonym of vassal. Thus tenants-in-chief of the crown are described by the Emperor Conrad II as valvassores majores,[2] as distinguished from mediate tenants, valvassores minores.[1]

Gradually the term without qualification was found convenient for describing sub-vassals, tenants-in-chief being called capitanei or barones; but its implication, however, still varied in different places and times. Bracton ranked the magnates seu valvassores between barons and knights;[3] for him they are "men of great dignity," and in this order they are found in a charter of Henry II of England (1166). But in the regestum of Philip II Augustus we find that five vavassors are reckoned as the equivalent of one knight.[4] Finally, Du Cange quotes two charters, one of 1187, another of 1349, in which vavassors are clearly distinguished from nobles.[1]

Vavasours subdivide again to vassals, exchanging land and cattle, human or otherwise, against fealty. - Motley.