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vavassor

Latin, vavassorius.

Domesday Book records the earliest references to vavassors in England. The term is normally used by historians with the meaning of a
feudal vassal; but the two references in Great Domesday suggest tenants distinctly lower in the social scale. One records two vavassors paying a modest rent (BUK 12,30), the other a vavassor 'who has 2 cows' (HAM IoW7,15). Little Domesday Book is even more explicit. It records several dozen vavassors, all holding a few acres apiece from the Crown, all evidently free peasants of the kind found in very large numbers throughout eastern England. There is no sign here of the twelfth-century concept that feudal society was 'composed of earls, barons and vavassors'. By the early twelfth century, however, the term vavassor, like that of miles, had acquired something of the noble status it connoted during the later middle ages.

For further information, see Peter Coss, 'Literature and terminology: the vavassor in England', Social relations and ideas, edited by T.H. Aston, P.R. Coss, Christopher C. Dyer, and Joan Thirsk (1983), pages 109-50; Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and vassals: the medieval evidence reinterpreted (1994); and Frank Barlow, William Rufus (new edition, 2000).
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