1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vavassor
VAVASSOR (Med. Lat. valvassor, vasvassor; Fr. vavassour, vavassor, vasseur, &c.), in its most general sense a mediate vassal, i.e. one holding a fief under a vassal. The word was, however, applied at various times to the most diverse ranks in the feudal hierarchy, being used practically as the synonym of vassal. Thus tenants-in-chief of the crown are described by the Emperor Conrad (Lex Lamgob. lib. iii. tit. 8, § 4) as valvassores majores as distinguished from mediate tenants, valvassores minores. Gradually the term without qualification was found convenient for describing sub-vassals, tenants-in-chief being called capitanei or barones (see Baron); Its implication, however, still varied in different places and times. Bracton (lib. i. cap. 8, § 2) ranks the magnates seu valvassores between barons and knights; for him they are “ men of great dignity,” and in this order they arc found in a charter of Henry II. (1166). But in the regestum of Philip Augustus (fol. 158) we find that five vavassors are reckoned as the, equivalent of one knight. Finally, Du Cange quotes two charters, one of 1187, another of 1349, in which vavassors are clearly distinguished from nobles.
The derivation of the word vavassor is very obscure. The fanciful interpretation of Bracton, vas sortitum ad valetudinem (a vessel chosen to honour), may be at once rejected. Others would derive it from varsi ad valvas (at the folding-doors, valvae), i.e. servants of the royal antechamber. Du Cange, with more justice, regards it merely as an obscure variant of vassus. (W. A. P.)