During the period of the Hundred Years War, virtually every adult was “in service” to a superior, in one way or another: peasants to their manorial lords (lay or ecclesiastic), knights to magnates or kings, clergy to their superiors and eventually to the pope, kings and popes ultimately to God. Even towns and cities were under the patronage of rulers, and owed them service (e.g. troops at need) and money (taxes) in return for protection.
Although the Church used the term “affinity” to characterize relationships by marriage, the higher-ranking laity came to use it to refer to the extended networks of retainers who served individual lords. These networks could include professionals such as lawyers and clerks, gentry and lesser nobility in the lord’s neighborhood, or extended family.
Although the definition feels rather loose, in practice every individual could readily answer the question “whom do you serve?” – and also understand another’s answer to the question. Members of a lord’s affinity would recognize others in his service.
Although the term was generally used for relatively high-ranking people, La Belle Compagnie has adopted it to refer to the greatly extended group of people in service to Sir Geoffrey: tenants (who paid fees and performed agricultural and administrative services in exchange for protection and orderly rule); servants (who performed domestic services in exchange for pay, in money and/or in kind); soldiers (who performed military services in exchange for pay and the possibility of plunder); and family (who partook, to one degree or another, in both Sir Geoffrey’s income and his responsibilities).
Some folk with connections to Sir Geoffrey might not technically owe him more than formal or informal contractual service; and some, while owing Sir Geoffrey paid or unpaid service, might also owe a greater or lesser degree of service to others. For example, clergy in his household might be paid a wage, but they would in turn pass some of that income to their ecclesiastical superiors and they were subject to those superiors’ orders.