The Poem Of The Cid is a one of the only surviving documents (not to mention one of the most detailed) from 11th century Iberia. Though this is a story, and not one hundred percent accurate, many of the people and things written on have been confirmed. Because of both of these (its rarity and its validation) we can consider this to be an accurate reflect of what life was like at that time, covering class; and shall use it as if there were no fictional occurrences written about.
In the poem, the lord and vassal relationship is a major concept in the 11th century. The relationship that the vassal has to his lord, is one that falls somewhere between a slave and a best friend. A vassal has pledged loyalty to his lord (be it a king, a knight, etc) and this pledge is one that shall not be broken even under the most strenuous circumstances. A vassal is loyal no matter what might happen. As the Cid said, " For the love I bear King Alfonso, who has banished me, no shears shall tough [my beard] and not a hair shall be cut. Let this be common talk among the Moors and Christians alike (89).' " In this passage, the Cid wants it to be known that he serves his lord, even when his lord has disowned him. This brings up the point of leaving; a vassal leaving is considered one of the highest insults and, generally, is punishable (due to the fact that most insults ended in a punishment), yet sometimes the lord decides to withdrawal the vassal's services (as is the case for the Cid). The only way for a vassal to leave service with dignity, is to be granted freedom by his lord (or his lord's lord). Álvar Fáñez left with El Cid, early in the campaign and lost his land and property, but it was returned to him after talking to King Alfonso (69).
Vassals do not have to do whatever their lord wants, but you'll never catch one saying, "no." When you are a vassal, you often owe your life, income, and livelihood to your lord; to say no, is to insult you lord, and essentially throw your life away. All of those who disobeyed King Alfonso's decree not to help the Cid, lost all property and would be killed if seen (referred to as everyone fearing for their lives) (69). You may be banished and forced to find shelter with another king. This isn't common, and there are no blatant examples from the text, but history and the Infantes of Carrión want to clear up their altercation (187) with the king (they do not care if the Cid is satisfied, so long as King Alfonso isn't mad), shows that going against a powerful lord is not something even noble families wish to do.
The real question is, however, why would you become a vassal in the first place? Some have been saved in war, or been bought out of poverty, or some just really like their lord and wish to serve them. For example, Martín Antolínez decided to help the Cid and his cause, even though his king forbade it (p27); for this, the Cid took Antolínez as his vassal. Being in service isn't as terrible as it might sound; your lord could be a great military leader (like the Cid) or a King (like King Alfonso). The vassals of these men often get great rewards for their service; money, weapons, and a large cut of everything they bring in, is often incentive enough to want be a vassal. As the text says, "The Cid Ruy Díaz has sold Alcocer, and how well he had rewarded his own vassals! He had enriched them all, knights and foot soldiers you could not have found one poor man among them. Those who serve a good master are always well off! (67)" Yet, a vassal not only receives monetary tokens, they also get prestige; for if you serve a lord, you are a representative of him and your actions reflect back on to him. Álvar Fáñez was greeted with the utmost respect, by the King himself, when he made one of his many trips as a messenger for the Cid (119). If you are righteous, then people will respect you and your lord, however if you act without reverence, then it not only reflects badly on you,...
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