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vassal

[vas-uh l]
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noun
  1. (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.
  2. a person holding some similar relation to a superior; a subject, subordinate, follower, or retainer.
  3. a servant or slave.
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adjective
  1. of, relating to, or characteristic of a vassal.
  2. having the status or position of a vassal.
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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 formsvas·sal·less, adjectivenon·vas·sal, nounsub·vas·sal, nounun·der·vas·sal, noun
Can be confusedvassal vessel
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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?


British Dictionary definitions for vassal

vassal

noun
  1. (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
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adjective
  1. of or relating to a vassal
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Derived Formsvassal-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

Word Origin and History for vassal

n.

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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

vassal in Culture

vassal

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

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