In return for his vassals' loyalty, the liege provides protection from external forces. The liege decides his vassals' duties and privileges via demesne laws, investiture law (for Catholics) 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 his opinion of his liege. The lower it is, 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.
In Crusader Kings II, there are five ranks or tiers of titles. Rulers can only be vassals to a higher-tier liege. The tiers are as follows from lowest to highest, with their respective portrait and coat of arms frames:
|Baron||Holding||A baron owns a holding, the smallest land unit. Holdings can be castles, cities, temples, or tribes.|
|Count||Province|| A count rules over a province (also called county), which is the smallest land area visible on the map.
A count is simply a baron who holds the capital holding of a province (usually a castle). (S)he is also the de jure (and usually the de facto) liege of the other barons within the same province. A character must at least be a count before (s)he can be granted higher-tier titles.
|Duke||Duchy|| A duke rules over a duchy. A duke that owns more than one duchy is called a grand-duke, which grants a slight bonus to their demesne limit.
Dukes and above generate technology points. Vassals have to be at least dukes in order to benefit from the bonus to levies in their capital (+25%).
|King||Kingdom||A king rules over a kingdom. Kings and emperors may define crown laws in their realm.|
|Emperor||Empire||An emperor rules over an empire and may vassalize kings (usually through force). Proper management of a large empire can be a complex task.|
Direct vassal limits
- See also: Distribution of power guide, Kingdoms with special creation requirements, Transfer vassalage
Every ruler of the rank of duke and above should recognise that they cannot have too many direct vassals (of at least the rank of count; barons are not counted towards the limit). Having too many direct vassals will incur various penalties, and some vassals may become independent upon succession.
The limit encourages rulers to consolidate their vassals if their realms are large. Empires that expand beyond their de jure territory are likely to require vassal kings.
The direct vassal limit is affected by:
- Ruler rank
- Bonus for "great dukes" (dukes with multiple duchy titles)
- The rank bonus is somewhat smaller if Conclave DLC is enabled
- Diplomacy skill (0.3 × "ruler and spouse diplomacy"?)
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:
- The income from holdings they own (which can be boosted by constructing buildings)
- 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.
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:
- The liege's levy laws
- Their opinion of their liege
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.
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, rulers need not be worried about the opinions of vassals under their direct vassals. If a direct 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
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 (requiring The Republic DLC) is a specific type of burgher: burghers of duke rank or above with a coastal capital, who are Doges of merchant republics, with four other Patrician families as their vassals (and contesting the title of Doge).
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):
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.
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.
|Default||Baron / Baroness||Count / Countess||Duke / Duchess||King / Queen||Emperor / Empress|
|Culture group||Altaic||Khan / Khanum||Khagan / Khatun|
|Culture group||Arabic||Wâli / Wâlia||Sheikh / Shaykhah||Emir / Emira||Sultan / Sultana||Badshah|
|Culture group||Dravidian / Indo-Aryan||Damapati / Damapatni||Thakur / Thakurani||Raja / Rani||Maharaja / Maharani||Samrat / Samrajni|
|Culture group||Iranian||Argbadh / Wâlia||Marzoban / Shaykhah||Satrap / Emira||Shah / Banebshen||Shahanshah|
|Culture group||West African||Wâli||Farin / Farina||Farbas / Farba||Mansa / Sultana|
|Culture||English / Saxon / Irish / Pictish / Scottish||Earl|
|Culture||German||Kaiser / Kaiserin|
|Culture||Greek||Doux||Despot||Basileus / Basilissa|
|Culture||Mongol||Taishi||Chief||High Chief / High Chieftess|
|Culture||Nahuatl||Teuctli / Teuctli||Calpixqui / Calpixqui||Huecalpixqui / Huecalpixqui||Tlatoani / Tlatoani||Huetlatoani / Huetlatoani|
|Culture||Russian||Grand Prince / Grand Princess||Tsar / Tsaritsa|
|Culture||Turkish||Timariot / Timariota||Bey / Bayan||Beylerbey / Beylerbayan||Sultan / Sultana||Padishah|
|Government||Tribal||Chief||High Chief / High Chieftess|
|Religion group||Pagan||Hetman||Chief / Chieftess|
|Religion||(Reformed) Baltic||High Chief / High Chieftess|
|Religion||(Reformed) Slavic||High Chief / High Chieftess|
|Religion||(Reformed) Suomenusko||High Chief / High Chieftess|
|Religion||(Reformed) Tengri||High Chief / High Chieftess|
|Status||Viceroyalty||Baron Viceroy / Baron Vicereine||Count Viceroy / Count Vicereine||Minor Viceroy / Minor Vicereine||Viceroy / Vicereine||Grand Viceroy / Grand Vicereine|
|Status, Culture||Greek, Viceroyalty||Strategos / Strategitissa||Exarch / Exarchessa||Grand Exarch|
The primary spouse of a ruler gets a minor title of "ruler consort", allowing them to use the gender-appropriate form of their spouse's title. For example, the wife of a Sultan is called a Sultana. Similarly, "Queen Mother" and variants are available to the wives of deceased kings and emperors.
Independent dukes of North Germanic, Celtic, East African, or Anglo-Saxon cultures are referred to as "petty kings".
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.
|Religion||(Reformed) Baltic||Shaman||Witch-King / Witch-Queen|
|Religion||(Reformed) Germanic||Godi / Gydja||Seidsman / Vala||Fylkir (Reformed only, unique)|
|Religion||Hellenic||Priest / Priestess|
|Religion||Manichean / Mazdaki||Vahram|
|Religion group||Muslim||Caliph (post-Sword of Islam)||Caliph (pre-Sword of Islam)|
|Religion group||Pagan||Priest / Priestess||High Priest||Archpriest / Archpriestess||King-Priest / Queen-Priestess||Emperor (both sexes)|
|Religion||Slavic (unreformed only)||Witch-King|
|Religion||(Reformed) West African||Priest / Priestess|
|Religion||(Reformed) Zunist||Sun Guardian|
Burghers are commoners and normally rule over city holdings.
Burghers are responsible for a large part of the world's economy, as they control the largest source of money in the game, the cities. Beyond that, they usually don't have much of an effect upon the world, as unlike nobles they don't push claims, and are relatively isolationist.
|Default||Mayor||Lord Mayor||Grand Mayor||Prince Mayor||Grand Prince|
|Culture group||Latin, Byzantine||Doge||Serene Doge|
The respective states are called:
- Barony: City
- County: Grand City
- Duchy: Republic
- Kingdom: Most Serene Republic
- German culture: Merchant League
- Empire: Principality
Vassals with other government types
It is possible to turn counties into republics or theocracies, government types that usually only rule barony-tier titles. The local ruler will have a "-20 Wrong government type" opinion modifier toward you, but there can be benefits.
There are several ways to get non-feudal, count+ vassals:
- If you hold a county and have a vassal mayor there, you can grant the county to the mayor, causing the mayor's city to become the new county seat and elevating him to Lord Mayor.
- If you hold a county and a city there yourself, you can right-click the city to set it as the new county seat. If you then grant the county to a courtier, he will create a republic government. You can choose whether to give the demoted castle to the mayor (so he pays more taxes) or to another character (so the mayor has fewer troops to use against you).
- Pressing a mayor's or bishop's claim
Republics tend to have more income and pay taxes at a higher rate, but provide fewer troops as levies.
Normal republics use Open Elective succession, with all titles going to the man in court with the highest (age + prestige). You can remove candidates by landing them or add candidates through matri-marriage. Burghers do not seek out marriages, but will accept marriage proposals as long as they are at least 25 years old.
Like republics, theocracies provide more taxes than troops, and generally use Open Elective succession.
A ruler of a powerful vassal theocracy can serve as your Lord Spiritual, potentially relieving some of the pressure to put incompetent feudal vassals in important council positions.
Catholics can use Free Investiture to ensure both loyalty and competence. Catholics can also use their major vassal theocracies to control the election of Popes: "secular power" is a major factor in selection of cardinals. However, Catholics should keep in mind that bishops may stop paying taxes and providing troops if they like the Pope more than their liege.
Vassal mercenaries and holy orders
You may have an opportunity to vassalize a mercenary company or holy order. This lets you hire the company at 1/5 the normal cost and also prevents anyone else from hiring them. They are considered feudal for the purpose of comparing government types, and will not resent having a normal feudal liege.
With Sons of Abraham and Imperial Administration, having a vassal holy order has an additional benefit: free castles. A holy order grandmaster with less than 10 realm size may spend 300g to build a castle in any county belonging to a ruler of his religion. You can use Imperial Administration to retract these castles, allowing him to build new ones.