Daalder, Joost, ed. Sir Thomas Wyatt: Collected Poems. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.
FEUDAL OATHS In the Middle Ages, when the basic political organization was founded on a contract between a lord and his retainers, men took oaths of fealty to their lords in return for protection and support. The retainer (vassal) was bound to defend his lord in military campaigns, and the lord was bound to protect the interests of his men. For example:
Robert count of Flanders pledges to king Henry by faith and oath . . . that he will help him to hold and defend the kingdom of England against all men who can live and die . . . The king promises to protect count Robert in life and limb, . . . and to assure him against the loss of his land . . . as long as the count shall hold to these agreements. And in return for these agreements and this service king Henry will give as a fief to count Robert 500 pounds of English money every year. . . . (Strayer, pp. 144-145)
This agreement, dated 1103 between King Henry I of England and Count Robert of Flanders, clearly sets out the obligations of both parties. As chivalry grew more important, feudal oaths became part of chivalric ideals. When vassals swore fealty to their lords, they also, by extension, swore loyalty to God. The lord or king was a stand-in for God, so a vassal became morally bound to remain loyal to one's earthly lord. This system of loyalties could get quite elaborate, as chivalry required one also to defend and honor women as well, which caused Gawain's dilemma in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Gawain is above all interested in being a good Chris-tian—that is, loyal to God. But he is also Arthur's knight, housed on his quest by Lord Bertilak and tempted by Lady Bertilak. When he is propositioned by the Lady, then, his oath to God to be chaste, his oath to Bertilak as his new host, and his oath to serve and obey ladies conflict with one another, and Gawain must negotiate his loyalties without breaking any oaths.
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