Values Of Feudalism In “The Song Of Roland”

The French epic The Song of Roland, written in ca. 1100, echoes the feudal values of its time. The feudal values that dominated the time are loudly echoed in The Song of Roland (ca. The epic describes France as a Christian country united by loyalties towards the king or country. This embodies a spirit of loyalty between the lord and vassal. While “Aucassin and Nicolette”, another anonymous work written in French at roughly the same time, appears to move in a completely different direction. The medieval romance describes the exact same feudal world, but in a satirical manner. Despite the satire, “Aucassin and Nicolette” remains a chronicle of feudalism and reinforces the values of the period.

By the twelfth, feudalism, that had started in France during Charlemagne’s eighth and nineth centuries, had become the dominant governmental principle of Europe. Feudalism was a system that changed over time and space, but remained based on two fundamental principles: land and warfare. The feudal bonds were created when the lord and vassal pledged allegiance and trust to one another. The vassal was the lesser warrior, and in exchange for a guarantee of personal security as well as land (fief), which would be hereditary property if promises were kept. Even the land that was held by the church was considered feudal. Archbishops, Bishops and Abbots were given fiefs for their reciprocal loyalty to dukes, princes, and kings. This model was mirrored by the relationship between certain countries’ lords and their rulers. The feudal monarchs were considered divinely selected and holy.

The Song of Roland speaks to the feudal values of Europe in the period when it was composed. Roland, as a warrior of great renown, is Charlemagne’s vassal, whose duty it is to defend and expand Christendom. Charlemagne is described in the book as “two hundred years” old (l. 539), which proves his divine status as feudal ruler of “sweet France” (l. 1195-96). Roland is brave, and even foolish. Roland’s vassal qualities drive him not to blow his horn when Oliver asks for help in an apparent futile battle. Then he replies “may God and his saints and angels not want France to be ashamed of me. Let’s not lose our glory, let me first die.” The Emperor loves when we do well in battle.” [my emphasis] (ll. As commander of the rearguard he has the duty to protect his army and the King. Therefore, calling for help is a betrayal. He decides to blow the whistle when it’s already too late.

Roland breaks his holy sword, which contains holy relics. He does this to prevent it from falling into pagan’s hands. While he is breaking the sword against a rock, he recalls everything he did for Charlemagne. He also recounts his many victories for him. The French holy land will never have a vassal like that. He confessed his sins to his lord Charles and remembered him.

The sub-climax emphasizes Roland’s role as a perfect vassal. Ganelon will later use the opportunity to betray both the Franks and his stepson by dumping the glove Charlemagne gave him to show his authority. Roland, on his appointment to the rearguard, knowingly stepping into Ganelon’s trap, refuses to drop the lance Charlemagne has given him. This shows how they feel about their lord. Roland would give anything to Charlemagne. He refused to call for aid until it was too late in order to defend Charlemagne. Even as he realizes that he’s dying, he still tries to break the sword in order for the pagans not to take over. Ganelon is treacherous because of his hatred for Roland. In order to receive the favor of the lord, the vassal is required to be loyal. Roland remained loyal to Charlemagne even after Ganelon had betrayed him.

The feudal system is not glorified in “Aucassin and Nicolette”, unlike The Song of Roland. Aucassin, heir to Count Garin Beaucaire is told by his father that he must “take up [his] weapons, mount [his] pony, defend [his] lands and help [his] sassals”, (II). However, Aucassin rejects all of the values of the feudal system. Instead, Nicolette, his “sweetest friend”, becomes the focus of his attention. It is the author who reveals the writer’s intent by revealing that Nicolette, as well as Aucassin, reject patrimony. This value was integral to feudal life. The fact Nicolette calls him “sweet” friend implies that their relationship is equal, whereas there was no mention of women in The Song of Roland. In feudal society, women were seen as the helpless maidens who needed to be saved, rather than equals. “Aucassin Nicolette”, while it is true that Nicolette must be saved, she still shows her independence in escaping her prison. Aucassin fell hard onto a rock, dislocating his shoulder, because he was so focused on Nicolette. The gender reversal at Torelore is a satire of the treatment women received in feudal society.

The Song of Roland is also markedly different, as are the attitudes of Torelore’s community toward war. Aucassin tried to help with the war by attacking “right and wrong, killing many”, however, the king was very stern about it, as “it is not their custom to murder each other”(XXXII). In feudal societies, the warrior’s role is the most important, but in Torelore war is treated like a game. The inhabitants rule the king. They use food for ammunition. And they do not consider death to be worth it.

But despite the satirical costume the story cannot escape its values. Nicolette needs to gain the status of a Princess in order for her to marry Aucassin. As a parody, the story succeeds by imitating what it is mocking. It is the ultimate medieval love story, because despite the many tests that are put to Aucassin Nicollete, they remain in love with each other and achieve “happily-ever-after”. While the author’s intention was to mock feudal societies, the context around the parody could not be avoided. Even though certain values seem to be inherent, they are not.

Despite “Aucassin and Nicolette,” a satire of a medieval feudal order that mocks its values, and in contrast to The Song of Roland’s glorification of it, it fails to escape from several innate characteristics of its situation. The Song of Roland, in its genre, illustrates the lord-vassal relationship and the feudal compact, whereas, “Aucassin and Nicolette”, tries the opposite. They are both examples of how feudal societies were viewed from the French perspective.


  • kaylarusso

    Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.



Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.

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