- 1: a superior feudal lord to whom fealty is due : overlord
- 2: a dominant state controlling the foreign relations of a vassal state but allowing it sovereign authority in its internal affairs
Suzerainty (pronounced /ˈsjuːzərənti/ or /ˈsjuːzəreɪnti/) occurs where a region or people is a tributary to a more powerful entity which controls its foreign affairs while allowing the tributary vassal state some limited domestic autonomy. The superior entity in the suzerainty relationship, or the more powerful entity itself, is called a suzerain. The term suzerainty was originally used to describe the relationship between the [Ottoman Empire and its surrounding regions. It differs from sovereignty in that the tributary has some (often limited) self-rule. A suzerain can also refer to a [feudal lord, to whom vassals must pay tribute. Although it is a concept which has existed in a number of historical empires, it is a concept that is very difficult to describe using [20th- or 21st-century theories of international law, in which sovereignty either exists or does not. While a sovereign nation can agree by treaty to become a protectorate of a stronger power, modern [international law does not recognize any way of making this relationship compulsory on the weaker power.