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, 4:410–18, 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) 23–41, 114–131. f. l. ganshof, Qu’est-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.
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.
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.