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[vas-uh l] /ˈvæs əl/
(in the feudal system) a person granted the use of land, in return for rendering homage, fealty, and usually military service or its equivalent to a lord or other superior; feudal tenant.
a person holding some similar relation to a superior; a subject, subordinate, follower, or retainer.
a servant or slave.
of, relating to, or characteristic of a vassal.
having the status or position of a vassal.
Origin of vassal
1300-50; Middle English < Middle French < Medieval Latin vassallus, equivalent to vass(us) servant (< Celtic; compare Welsh gwas young man, Irish foss servant) + -allus noun suffix
Related forms
vassalless, adjective
nonvassal, noun
subvassal, noun
undervassal, noun
Can be confused
vassal, vessel. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for vassal
Historical Examples
  • She had, indeed, given up her position as queen of the less to be vassal of the greater.

    A Pair of Blue Eyes Thomas Hardy
  • King Gunther receives the fair Recken into his service as a vassal.

    Legends of the Rhine Wilhelm Ruland
  • The second is a king who was a vassal of Tiglath-Pilezer, king of Assyria.

  • The Duke looked sharply at him, then turned his gaze on his vassal.

    Millennium Everett B. Cole
  • Highness—tell me, your Highness, a vassal doesn't amount to much, does he?

    The Ghost Breaker Paul Dickey
  • I'll round up this spook tonight for good, and then the vassal's task is done.

    The Ghost Breaker Paul Dickey
  • For, in the end, was not the Duke of Cleves a vassal of the Emperor?

    Privy Seal Ford Madox Ford
  • And he will become your vassal, and do homage for the kingdom of Spain.'

  • I will take nothing from you, and henceforth will neither be your friend nor your vassal.'

  • He signed to the girl to retire with the air of a grandee dismissing some vassal.

    The Duke's Motto Justin Huntly McCarthy
British Dictionary definitions for vassal


(in feudal society) a man who entered into a personal relationship with a lord to whom he paid homage and fealty in return for protection and often a fief. A great vassal was in vassalage to a king and a rear vassal to a great vassal
  1. a person, nation, etc, in a subordinate, suppliant, or dependent position relative to another
  2. (as modifier): vassal status
of or relating to a vassal
Derived Forms
vassal-less, adjective
Word Origin
C14: via Old French from Medieval Latin vassallus, from vassus servant, of Celtic origin; compare Welsh gwas boy, Old Irish foss servant
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for vassal

mid-15c. (c.1200 as a surname) "tenant who pledges fealty to a lord," from Old French vassal, from Medieval Latin vassallus "manservant, domestic, retainer," from vassus "servant," from Old Celtic *wasso- "young man, squire" (cf. Welsh gwas "youth, servant," Breton goaz "servant, vassal, man," Irish foss "servant"). The adjective is recorded from 1590s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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vassal in Culture

vassal definition

Under feudalism, a subordinate who placed himself in service to a lord in return for the lord's protection.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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