Vassals

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The realm tree of the small kingdom of Navarra in 1066

Icon realm hierarchy.png Under feudalism, rulers grant parts of their personal property (their demesne) to vassals in exchange for a cut of their taxes and levies. A vassal's direct ruler is called liege.

In return for his vassals' loyalty, the liege provides protection from external forces. The liege decides his vassals' duties and privileges via demesne law, investiture law and crown authority. It is a type of decentralization that makes ruling easier at the expense of personal power. Vassals can in turn distribute lands to vassals of their own, which is called subinfeudation.

A vassal meeting his duties depends entirely on the relations with his liege. The lower they are the less taxes and levies he will provide. If relations deteriorate enough, the vassal might plot against his liege or join a faction to work with others to overthrow or undermine him.

Landed titles[edit]

In Crusader Kings II there are five levels or tiers of landed titles. Any title can be vassalized to any other at a higher tier but not at the same or a lower tier. Any ruler can also be independent and thus answerable to nobody.

The tiers are as follows from lowest to highest:

Character Title Description
Baron.png Baron Barony.png Holding A baron owns a holding (also called barony), the smallest land unit. Baronies can be cities, temples, or castles.

Barons are not playable and their simulation is simplified compared to higher ranks, to improve game performance.

Count.png Count County.png Province A count rules over a province (also called county), which is the smallest title visible on the map.

A count is simply a baron who holds the capital holding of a province.

Duke.png Duke Duchy.png Duchy A duke rules over a duchy. A duke that owns more than one duchy is called grand-duke.

Dukes and above ranks contribute technology.

King.png King Kingdom.png Kingdom A king rules over a kingdom. Kings and above ranks may define crown laws in their realm.
Emperor.png Emperor Empire.png Empire An emperor rules over an empire and may vassalize kings. Proper management of a large empire can be a complex task.

Taxes[edit]

Main article: Economy

If vassals have a positive relation with their liege they will pay taxes but how much of their income they provide is mainly dependent on two factors:

  1. The income from holdings they own (which can be boosted by constructing buildings)
  2. Their liege's tax laws which determines the percentage of income they have to pay. This law can be different for the nobility, clergy and burghers.

Since high tax law deteriorates relations, a balance must be struck between the two.

Levies[edit]

Main article: Levies

Vassals have a legal obligation to provide a minimum number of troops to their liege based on crown laws and their own manpower. However they might provide more depending on:

  1. The liege's levy laws
  2. Their opinion of their liege

Whichever of crown laws minimums or levy laws is higher will determine the number of levies.

Because relations determine both levy size and a vassal's chance of rebellion, an unpopular liege is in a lot of danger. They risk a situation whereby part of their realm rebels, while the rest of it provides very few troops to counter the rebellion.

Rebellion[edit]

Main article: Factions

Vassals will not always like their liege. As described above, this hurts the liege both economically and militarily, but there's one final aspect to the vassal-liege relationship: the vassal attempting to overthrow his liege.

If a vassal is pushed too far, or they're simply too ambitious, he will rise in rebellion against his liege, and forcefully attempt to gain what they want. To do this, vassals join Factions which pursue goals ranging from independence to lowering crown authority to pushing a pretender's claim or instituting a new succession law. As disaffected vassals join a faction, the power of the faction (measured in their army size/liege's army size) rises. When it gets powerful enough, the faction leader has a decision to send their liege a letter with the faction's demands. If the liege does not comply, war breaks out, with all members of the faction joining the revolt against the liege.

Because vassals can only rebel against their direct liege, a ruler need not be worried about vassals of vassals' opinions. If a vassal's vassals win a war of independence, they become vassals of the original liege instead. E.g., if a count rebels against a duke who has a king over them, success will result in the count becoming a direct vassal of the king.

The faction a vassal will seek to join depends on a number of factors. Characters of the same culture and religion holding de jure territory make the most loyal vassals.

Estates of the realm[edit]

The estates of the realm were the social orders during the Middle Ages in Christian Europe. They are distinguished as the three estates:

  • the clergy (First Estate)
  • the nobility (Second Estate)
  • the commoners (Third Estate)

Though the clergy and the burghers may hold titles above baronies, in CKII only the nobles above baron rank are playable. Controlling any other type will result in instant game over. The only exception is a specific type of burgher, burghers of duke rank or above with a coastal capital, who are Patricians of merchant republics.


The actual titles of the landed characters may have many different names, though it grants the same privileges no matter the name. The alternative names depend on (in the following priority order):

  1. Religion group
  2. Religion
  3. Culture group
  4. Culture.

If no specific type is found then the default is used. Note that cultural and religious-based titles are based on the top liege's culture and religion, not the vassal's.

Nobles[edit]

Main article: Nobles

Nobles normally rule over castle holdings. They are characters of feudal type. In the feudal system most rulers of count or higher level were members of the nobility.

Feudal titles alternate names
Distinction Key Baron Count Duke King Emperor
Default Baron/Baroness Count/Countess Duke/Duchess King/Queen Emperor/Empress
Culture Group Altaic Khan Khagan
Culture Mongol Taishi Chief High Chief
Culture Turkish Timariot Bey Beylerbey Sultan Padishah
Culture Group Arabic Wâli Sheikh Emir Sultan Badshah
Culture Group Iranian Argbadh Marzoban Satrap Shah Shahanshah
Culture Isles Earl
Culture German Freiherr Graf Herzog König Kaiser
Culture Greek Doux Despot Basileus
Culture Russian Grand Prince Tsar
Culture Group West African Wâli Farin Farbas Mansa
Culture Nahuatl Teuctli Calpixqui Huecalpixqui Tlatoani Huetlatoani
Religion Group Pagan Hetman Chief/Chieftess High Chief/Chieftess
Religion Norse Pagan þegn Jarl
Culture,
Status
Celtic, Saxon, Norse
Indepedent
(Petty) King/Queen
Culture Group Indian Damapati/Damapatni Thakur/Thakurani Raja/Rani Maharaja/Maharani Samrat/Samrajni

Clerics[edit]

Main article: Clergy

Clerics are members of the clergy and normally rule over church holdings. Note that due to the melded status of church and state within the Muslim world, any Muslim holding a temple title while being of count-tier or higher will simply be referred to as his feudal counterpart. As such, while the terms Mullah, Ayatollah, Grand Ayatollah and Grand Mufti are defined in the files, they will never appear in the game. Also note that since Sword of Islam, the Caliph is no longer an emperor- or king-tier title, as described, but a duke-tier title.

Clergy titles alternate names
Distinction Key Baron Count Duke King Emperor
Religion Group Christian Bishop Prince-Archbishop King-Bishop Emperor-Bishop
Religion Orthodox Metropolitan
Religion Catholic Prince-Bishop
Religion Group Muslim Caliph
Religion Shiite Mullah Ayatollah Grand Ayatollah
Religion Sunni Mufti Sheikh Grand Mufti
Religion Zoroastrian Herbad
Religion Group Pagan Priest/Priestess High Priest Archpriest Hierophant
Religion Norse Pagan Godi/Gydja Seidh
Religion Tengri, Suomenusko Shaman/Priestess
Religion Jewish Rabbi Kohen Rabban Nasi
Religion Hinduism Pujari
Religion Buddhism Bhikkhu
Religion Jainism Nirgantha

Burghers[edit]

Main article: Burghers

Burghers are commoners and normally rule over city holdings.

Burgher titles alternate names
Distinction Key Baron Count Duke King Emperor
Default Mayor Lord Mayor Grand Mayor Prince Mayor Grand Prince
Culture Group Latin, Byzantine Doge Serene Doge
Culture German Merchant League
Religion Group Muslim Wali Wali-Emir Wali-Malik

Non-feudal governments[edit]

It is possible for a county to be owned by someone who is not a noble. This can benefit the ruler's liege considerably, as he or she will be able to charge different tax rates than he would with a noble. While noble taxes default to 0%, city taxes default to 25% and church taxes to 35%. Even at 10 or 20% noble tax, you'll be getting more from having a burgher or bishop as the ruler of a county. Also, if the land is coastal and you grant a ducal or higher title to a burgher, a vassal merchant republic will form, leading to yet more boosts in tax income as the patricians construct trade posts, extend the trade zone, and otherwise build their own incomes up.

However, doing so is not entirely without penalties. Any ruler at count level or above will get -30 opinion with his liege if his liege is not of the same character type. So if you as a noble have a bishop ruling one of your counties, you'll get -30 opinion with him which could impact both tax and levies.

Second, bishops (if you're catholic) will only pay you taxes if they like you more than they like the Pope. If they like the pope more than you, you'll lose out on tax entirely. You can also appoint burghers or bishops as dukes, once again giving great tax benefits. However, they'll be getting -30 opinion with every vassal they have unless the vassals are the same character type, which is likely to reduce the tax trickling up to you. Even taking this into account, you'll still probably get more tax from a bishop or burgher than you would from a noble. However, due to the -30 opinion, you'll end up getting less levies from that bishop/burgher's demesne.

Another major drawback is that bishop and burgher succession is generally much less predictable than noble succession. If you've got free investiture you can of course appoint every bishop, and thus control the succession entirely. However, if you've got papal investiture you have no control whatsoever over who rules the county/duchy after the first ruler dies. With cities you've got similar problems as cities are generally Open Elective, meaning anyone in the burgher's court can succeed. Thus unless you are orthodox or heretic, you'll risk losing out on taxes with bishops, while with burghers you cannot control the succession. You also as mentioned have to deal with some pretty big opinion penalties. Do note that granting titles to bishops has the added benefit of giving you piety. You get 25 piety from granting a holding, 100 for a county, 200 for a duchy, 800 for a kingdom, and 6400 for an empire. Thus giving a few counties to bishops can be a great way to get piety which greatly facilitates getting the Invasion Casus Belli.

Strategies[edit]

Proper management of vassals is crucial for any ruler whose realm is too large to own personally. A ruler's vassals must be powerful enough to defend against foreign invasion, yet weak enough that they can not rebel and depose their liege.

Keeping nobles happy[edit]

One way to keep nobles happy is by bribing them. Gifting them gold through the diplomacy screen will increase their opinion for five years, the bonus depending on the gifter's diplomacy attribute. This method is not ideal, but sometimes this can make the difference between surviving a succession or not, or between winning a war and suffering defeat. Faction members are likely to rebel, so gifting them gold is wise.

Granting honorary titles is another way of improving opinion. In Catholic realms there are two honorary titles which increase opinion by 15, and four titles which increase opinion by 10, two of which can be granted to both genders. Honorary titles and their opinion modifier persist until death.

Handing out landed titles to a vassal is a good way to make them happy very quickly; it increases opinion by 20 to 100 per title, depending on its tier, and the effect will persist for 10 years. However, vassals become more powerful in the process, making them that much more dangerous if they (or their descendants) rebel.

Another option is transferring one of your direct vassals. This gives a +20 opinion bonus. Obviously, it also makes the vassal more powerful, but not by as much since he'll only get a portion of the money and levies, rather than all of them. Importantly, though, if you have a vassal who holds titles in another vassal's de jure territory - e.g. a city in one of his demesne counties, or a county in his duchy - he gives you a -25 opinion penalty ("Desires Control of the County of X"). Transferring the vassal removes this penalty as well, for a total opinion swing of +45. Be careful when doing this that you don't transfer more land than you intended - check that the vassal to be transferred doesn't have any titles outside the de jure territory you want to transfer him to.

Finally, if you have a closely related child in your court who needs educating, you can arrange for someone in the noble's court to educate him or her, which provides a +20 bonus ("Entrusted Ward") as long as the child is being educated there (up to 10 years).

Distributing power[edit]

Main article: Distribution of power guide

The larger a realm becomes, the more titles need to be distributed, and the less significant the liege's individual strength becomes. It is critical that a liege hands out titles in such a way that vassals stay loyal and any rebellions can be crushed.

Rulers derive their power primarily from their vassals; a king whose dukes rebel against him is king in name only. It is even possible for a single duke to be more powerful than the king, because they have a wealthier demesne—a good example of this would be the relationship between the King of France and the Duke of Aquitaine in 1066, where the duke of Aquitaine has massive personal holdings and a larger power base than his liege.

First and foremost, titles should only be granted to people who share the liege's religion, and preferably their culture. Together these avoid the "Foreigner", "Infidel", and "Heretic" opinion penalties. Trait compatibility is also important - if you're lustful and your vassal is chaste or you're proud and he's humble, he'll despise you. However, there's no guarantee your heirs will have the same traits. Another key factor is Content/Ambitious: content vassals almost never stir up trouble with their lieges while ambitious vassals will hate a liege who keeps them from advancing.

It is also important to keep vassals weak. As a general rule, vassals should not control more than one duchy and the counties inside it. Particularly large duchies should not be held completely by single vassals, especially if they are rebellious, but 2-4 counties can generally be held directly. When distributing land like this, it is important to keep inheritance in mind; granting a duchy each to a husband and wife may lead to the heir controlling both duchies when they inherit.

Not forming ducal titles and holding individual counts as direct vassals is possible but more difficult to manage. In general, forming and distributing duchy titles is a good idea because it increases prestige (which increases opinion), makes raising levies much quicker, and reduces micromanagement due to having lots of vassals (vassals of vassals can't rebel against you, so you need only care about your direct vassals' opinion). Holding only counts as vassals is a safe but more difficult option.

When distributing titles, keeping them inside the dynasty increases dynastic prestige. As dynasty members also get a +5 opinion bonus, they are also somewhat more loyal.

Keeping the de jure structure in mind is important. Vassals are much less likely to rebel if they are vassals to their de jure liege, and vassals get opinion penalties with their liege if their liege holds titles that (de jure) belong to that vassal. Hence, it is good to use "Transfer vassal" in the diplomacy screen so that all direct vassals have their de jure vassals under them, keeping them happy.

Finally, whenever someone rebels and fails, their liege can revoke a single title from them without incurring an opinion penalty with vassals. This can be used to strip a disloyal vassal of their power, and to keep power distributed across many different vassals. If there is no threat from abroad, intentionally provoking certain vassals into rebellion can be used as a means to gain and redistribute their titles.

Personal Strength[edit]

Finally, a liege can keep the peace by maximizing his own personal military power. Vassals and factions judge their strength against their liege's strength. A liege who can call 5000 troops from his own demesne and supplement that with a large retinue will have an advantage in that power-weighing. Additionally, if a liege can successfully wage his wars or handle his rebels with his own troops instead of depending on the troops of his vassals, he won't accumulate raised levy penalties. The risk of doing so, however, is that if a liege's personal levies are depleted, the factions gain more relative power.


Summary[edit]

Keeping vassals happy and powerless keeps the liege powerful. Letting them get too strong and unhappy is a recipe for disaster. In short, to maintain a stable realm:

  • Bribe powerful and unhappy vassals
  • Give out honorary titles to powerful and unhappy vassals
  • Give out landed titles as a last resort
  • Avoid giving titles to infidels and heretics
  • Avoid giving titles to those of a different culture
  • Avoid giving vassals more than one duchy and a few counties in it
  • Try to keep titles within the dynasty
  • Don't put crown authority too high
  • Hold all de jure titles for your realm
  • Form and distribute dukedoms
  • Revoke titles whenever it doesn't incur tyranny


By appointing a burgher or bishop as the ruler of a county or duchy, you could reap major tax rewards. However, you'd likely end up with fewer levies, a higher risk of rebellion, and reduced control over succession. If you think these drawbacks are worth it, it is recommended to experiment with this tactic and see if you like it. Summarized tips are as follows:

  • Don't hold onto cities or bishoprics if you've got baronies you can fill your demesne with instead.
  • If you appoint a burgher or bishop as ruler of a county or duchy, you'll generally get much more tax from them.
  • Burgher/bishop counts and dukes will generally give less levies.
  • Burgher/bishop counts and dukes are more likely to rebel.
  • Burgher/bishop counts and dukes are more likely to get deposed by their vassals.
  • Bishop counts and dukes could end up paying all their taxes to the Pope rather than you.
  • If you don't have Free Investiture you cannot control bishop succession at all.
  • Burgher succession is extremely unpredictable.
  • If you need piety, grant titles to bishops.
Realm