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investiture, in feudalism, ceremony by which an overlord transferred a fief to a vassal or by which, in ecclesiastical law, an elected cleric received the pastoral ring and staff (the symbols of spiritual office) signifying the transfer of the office. After the oath of fealty, the lord "invested" the vassal with the fief, usually by giving him some symbol of the land or office transferred.

The dispute over clerical investiture was one of the great struggles between church and state in the Middle Ages. The problem stemmed from the dual position of the important bishops and abbots, who were temporal as well as spiritual lords. Thus from early times both king and pope were concerned with clerical election and installation.

History of the Investiture Dispute

When the struggle concerning investiture broke out (late 11th cent.), there was no general agreement as to the powers of the pope and the Holy Roman emperor in installing German bishops; it was only generally recognized that both had rights in the matter. Although investiture meant the ecclesiastical ceremony itself, it also more widely applied to the whole matter of election and installation. Lay investiture was the term used for investiture of clerics by the king or emperor, a layman. The right of a temporal prince to give spiritual power was claimed only by the extremists of the imperial party, but there was wide debate over canonical election, royal assent, and papal assent.

Pope Gregory VII and Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV began the open struggle. The clerical reform movement generated the crisis; it was essential that the church have the power of selecting bishops if church reforms—abolition of simony, clerical marriage, and political and economic abuse—were to be carried out. Holy Roman Emperor Henry III (d. 1056) had cooperated with the reform party, but in the minority of Henry IV, abuses were rife.

The reform party came to feel that complete abolition of lay investiture was the necessary prerequisite for its goals. In 1075, Gregory forbade lay investiture, and the bitter struggle began in earnest. The encouragement of rebellious nobles in Germany and the excommunication of Henry IV were followed by steady warfare. Although only one phase of the contest, investiture was a crucial issue. Especially in such difficult times, the emperor needed power over the bishop-princes. The papacy also maintained its ground.

After the death (1085) of Gregory VII, the argument took a new turn, and after the death (1106) of Henry IV the strain was lessened. However, Pope Paschal II, continuing the policy of his predecessors Gregory VII and Urban II, condemned lay investiture, although he entered negotiations for settlement. Holy Roman Emperor Henry V maintained the claims of his father and extended them ruthlessly. He made a vague settlement before his coronation, but at the last moment refused to surrender lay investiture; he seized the pope and forced him to surrender the church claims. Paschal later disavowed this forced agreement. The emperor and the antipopes he had set up effectively staved off settlement.

Under Pope Gelasius II some progress was made, but it was not until 1122 that churchmen succeeded in bringing about an agreement in the Concordat of Worms (see Worms, Concordat of) between Henry V and Pope Calixtus II. The compromise was a victory, although far from complete, for the church. The same problem recurred in struggles between the pope and other rulers. In France trouble between church and state centered in general on other issues (see Innocent III; Philip IV; Gallicanism).

In England, William I (William the Conqueror) came into conflict with the church, and William II embarked on a struggle over investiture. His abuse of power, particularly in keeping sees vacant, intensified the struggle that reached a climax in the long battle between King Henry I and Anselm. In 1107 a compromise provided that bishops and abbots should be invested by the church but should render homage to the king. Later trouble between church and state in England arose from other issues.


See R. W. Carlyle and A. J. Carlyle, A History of Medieval Political Theory in the West (6 vol., 1903–36, repr. 1962); G. Tellenbach, Church, State, and Christian Society at the Time of the Investiture Contest (tr. 1940, repr. 1970); K. F. Morrison, The Investiture Controversy (1971). See also bibliography under Holy Roman Empire; Middle Ages.

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Investiture (Lat. vestitura, investitura ; Fr. investiture ; Germ. Lehnung ) is a ceremony comprising the symbolic surrender of the fief by the lord to his vassal. Its effect was to put the vassal in possession of his fief (see feudalism). The Libri feudorum (2.2, pref.) call investiture in the strict sense possession or taking possession, i.e., the physical assumption of ownership of the fief (cf. investitura in the sense of possessio in Leges Langobardorum

2.52.17). The Libri consider the use of the word investitura, as designating a symbolic transfer of the right to the fief, to be an impermissible extension of the meaning. But this second sense of the word is the more usual in the Middle Ages.

Investiture must be distinguished from homage (homagium, hominium ), by which the vassal declared himself to be the "man" of his overlord. He thereby assumed the responsibility of furnishing him with the services, especially military and court service, incurred as a result of the ownership of a fief. Homage, like fidelity (fidelitas ), but in a stricter fashion, created a personal bond between vassal and lord. Investiture was concerned with the "material" aspect of the feudal contract, but obviously there was a close tie between the two concepts, and it is debated whether the personal relationship (homage) took precedence over the material relationship (freehold contract) or vice versa.

Investiture normally followed the rendering of homage (except in Italy, cf. Libri feudorum, 2.4), since the feudal lord did not hand over the fief until the vassal had acknowledged himself to be his man. Originally the personal engagement (homage) and the handing over of the fief (investiture) were not connected. There were vassals without a fief and fiefs granted to men who were not vassals. But by the 13th century the bond between homage and investiture was normal, and homage was sworn in order to obtain a fief (Établissements de Saint Louis, ed. Viollet 2:19).

The origin of the investiture ritual must be sought in the procedures for transfer of goods practiced in the Frankish period. The new owner was given possession by having placed in his hands an object symbolic of the real estate to be transferred (a clod of earth, a branch of a tree, a stalk of grain, a knife, a staff, or a glove). The symbols used for investiture were quite varied (C. Du Cange, Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae latinitatis, ed. L. Favre, 4:41018, s.v. investitura, shows 98 of them in the charters of the 11th and 12th centuries). The most frequent were the rod or staff, the glove, the ring, the sword, and the oriflamme (M. Bloch, op. cit., 1:267 and plate V). For ecclesiastical fiefs, feudal lords used the cross and ring, symbols of episcopal or abbatial authority; the use of these symbols gave rise to violent conflicts (see investiture struggle).

Investiture took place in the presence of two witnesses drawn for the most part from among the peers of the new vassal. It was accompanied by the payment of a fee to the suzerain: the seisin fee, or the chamberlain fee paid to the chamberlain if the suzerain were a great feudal lord [cf. its limitation by Philip the Bold in the Ordinance of Aug. 1272 (Isambert, Recueil des anciennes lois 2:648; Loysel, Institutes coutumières, 4:3, 11)].

The new vassal could not take possession of his fief before the investitute on pain of forfeiture (Beaumanoir, Coutumes de Beauvaisis, ed. Salmon, nos 861 and 1398). After the investiture ceremony, an official document known as an enfeoffment or an instrument of enfeoffment was drawn up. This document was given to the vassal and served him as proof of possession. In time the drawing up and handing over of this document replaced the symbolic investiture.

Bibliography: m. bloch, Feudal Society, tr. l. a. manyon (Chicago 1961). c. e. perrin, "La Société féodale," Revue historique 194 (1944) 2341, 114131. f. l. ganshof, Quest-ce que la féodalité (3d ed. Brussels 1957); Feudalism, tr. p. grierson (New York 1952). h. mitteis, Lehnrecht und Staatsgewalt (Weimar 1933; new ed. Darmstadt 1958). r. boutruche, Seigneurie et féodalité (Paris 1959). For further bibliography, see investiture struggle.

[j. gaudemet]

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Investiture contest. Name given by historians to the conflicts which ensued when 11th-cent. church reformers, popes like Gregory VII (1073–85) at their head, tried to free the church from its customary subordination to the secular world. To reformers that subordination was symbolized by the investiture ceremony in which a new bishop or abbot received the staff or ring of office from the hands of the lay ruler, who had in practice appointed him. On the other side, rulers wanted to be sure of the loyalty of churchmen who controlled rich estates. In Germany and Italy the quarrels took on the dimensions of a great 50-year struggle between empire and papacy. In England the contest between kings and church reformers such as Anselm was a relatively brief one and was ended in 1107 by a compromise. Henry I renounced his right of investiture but, as before, prelates continued to be chosen in accordance with royal wishes and swore homage to the king. By focusing attention on a ceremony it proved possible to find a formal solution to a dispute which—as Becket was to show—was probably insoluble when raised to the level of high principle.

John Gillingham

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in·ves·ti·ture / inˈvestichər; -ˌchoŏr/ • n. 1. the action of formally investing a person with honors or rank: the investiture of bishops. ∎  a ceremony at which honors or rank are formally conferred on a particular person. 2. the action of clothing or robing. ∎  a thing that clothes or covers.

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In ecclesiastical law, one of the formalities by which an archbishop confirms the election of a bishop. During the feudal ages, the rite by which an overlord granted a portion of his lands to his vassal.

The investiture ceremony, which took place in the presence of other vassals, consisted of the vassal taking an oath of fealty to the overlord who, in turn, gave him a clod of dirt or a twig, symbolic of the open and notorious transfer of possession of the land. The ritual, used at a time when writing and record keeping were not widely practiced, fixed the date of the vassal's acquisition of the land and, in cases of disputes over the land, provided a source of evidence in the form of testimony of the vassals who witnessed the proceedings.



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Investiture controversy (dispute about the right of laity to make certain Church appointments): see GREGORY VII.