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An allegiance is a duty of fidelity said to be owed by a subject or a citizen to his/her state or sovereign.



From Middle English ligeaunce (see medieval Latin ligeantia, "a liegance"). The al- prefix was probably added through confusion with another legal term, allegeance, an "allegation" (the French allegeance comes from the English). Allegiance is formed from "liege," from Old French liege, "liege, free", of Germanic origin. The connection with Latin ligare, "to bind," is erroneous.


The term allegiance was traditionally often used by English legal commentators in a larger sense, divided by them into natural and local, the latter applying to the deference which even a foreigner must pay to the institutions of the country in which he happens to live. However it is in its proper sense, in which it indicates national character and the subjection due to that character, that the word is more important.

In that sense it represents the feudal liege homage, which could be due only to one lord, while simple homage might be due to every lord under whom the person in question held land.

United Kingdom

The English doctrine, which was at one time adopted in the United States, asserted that allegiance was indelible: "Nemo potest exuere patriam". Accordingly, as the law stood before 1870, every person who by birth or naturalisation satisfied the conditions set forth, though he should be removed in infancy to another country where his family resided, owed an allegiance to the British crown which he could never resign or lose, except by act of parliament or by the recognition of the independence or the cession of the portion of British territory in which he resided.

Allegiance is the tie which binds the subject to the Sovereign in return for that protection which the Sovereign affords the subject. It was the mutual bond and obligation between monarch and subjects, whereby subjects are called his liege subjects, because they are bound to obey and serve him; and he is called their liege lord, because he should maintain and defend them (Ex parte Anderson (1861) 3 El & El 487; 121 ER 525; China Navigation Co v Attorney-General (1932) 48 TLR 375; Attorney-General v Nissan [1969] 1 All ER 629; Oppenheimer v Cattermole [1972] 3 All ER 1106). The duty of the Crown towards its subjects is to govern and protect. The reciprocal duty of the subject towards the Crown is that of allegiance.

At common law allegiance is a true and faithful obedience of the subject due to his Sovereign. As the subject owes to his king his true and faithful allegiance and obedience, so the Sovereign is to govern and protect his subjects, regere et protegere subdititos suos, so as between the Sovereign and subject there is:

  • duplex et reciprocum ligamen; quia sicut subditus regi tenetur ad obedientiam, ita rex subdito tenetur ad protectionem; merito igitur ligeantia dicitur a ligando, quia continet in se duplex ligamen (Calvin's Case (1608) 7 Co Rep 1a; Jenk 306; 2 State Tr 559; 77 ER 377).

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