Society & Custom: The Society of Medieval Women

While it can be said that (in human society, anyway) medieval fantasy society is patriarchal in nature, ruled by men, that is a misleading generality, in fact. For the sake of propriety in the period of the game, the society of men and that of women were maintained separately, but the standards for behavior and the expectations that reigned between them were equally as stringent.

Women were not always the second-class citizens in the medieval period of the game that certain modern day special interest groups would have all people believe. By English Common Law, the unmarried (adult) woman, called a “femme sole”, especially if a widow, was on a par with the men of her class and station. She could hold or own land, even doing homage for it and holding it by military tenure, all she had to do was provide her quota of knights on the field when they were called for by lord or Crown. She could make up a legally valid will, or negotiate a contract, or even sue or be sued in the courts.

The argument from men over “who wears the pants” in the household actually stems from the medieval period, when pants (trews, gaskins, pantaloons, etc.) first came into use. There are numerous songs, poems, and literary characters of the period showing women who won the fight over the pants and gave their men nothing but the “rough edge of their tongue” when dissatisfied, just as today.

In contrast to the women of most earlier periods, the free medieval femme sole or wife carries a purse of her own. She can go shopping, give alms where and as she likes, patronize her favorite religious house or church, chapel, or charity, pay fees and fines, hire laborers, and buy privileges, even pay bribes as the occasion arises, make contracts, wage suits at law, and be sued in return. She can do for her children anything that their fathers can do, and dispose of her land and wealth in any way that she sees fit, for their families’, their souls’, or the public benefit. Indeed, in England which was used as the model for writing RoM. The wife’s lands, her dowry, were specifically protected by law against being disposed of by her husband, although when the husband chose to ignore the law it was not uncommon for the wife to wait for his death to recover them in order to avoid a fight, or for her children to pursue recovering them when they came of age after she passes.

In the absence of her husband, the noble and commoner’s wife is expected to run the household and manage her husband’s affairs, seeking advice by correspondence only when necessary and time allows. The widow of every class is free to do just as she wishes. Widows are considered to have “paid their dues”, so to speak.

The social rules for women interacting with other women, in their own “society”, works just as described earlier for the classes in general. The follow the same set of standards and rules, but keep their own society separate from the men. Due to the danger of being caught alone in circumstances that might do their reputations irreparable harm, or result in danger of unwonted contact, there are a few cautionary steps female PC’s should take in the context of the game to safeguard their reputations – IF that is a concern. Certain trades among the lower classes may have no reputation to worry about damaging.

Generally speaking the domestic areas of the house indoors are the women’s domain and outside belongs to the “society of men”. Women of good reputation do not frequent taverns, only common working-class women and women of ill-repute. In the inns, when on the road, women are put up in those rooms that have locks, if any, or at least in those which have bolts (most). The women share rooms between themselves, but never with a man. Husband or not, the innkeep is NOT going to risk his establishment being closed down even temporarily under charges of being a brothel. The scandal would wreck his business, at the very least.

In an inn, common women who cannot afford a “private” room (sharing a room with another lady patron or two) will bed down with the women servants of the inn, never in the common room with the men. Lower class, poorer women who cannot even afford those accommodations will usually bed down on a pallet by the hearth in the kitchen with the scullery maids.

If ever taken to gaol (prison) to await hearing, trial or sentencing, the women prisoners are never put in with the men, but are provided with their own quarters, the gaol sometimes being divided either north-south or east-west between women’s and men’s cells. The men and women are sometimes even housed on separate floors in the gaol.

When going out in the world, in the “society of men”, few women will go unaccompanied. Even those of the poorer classes who have no servants will go on errands and go to market with a neighbor, sibling, or other trusted relative, unless she is only in her own curtilage (the yard surrounding the house or cottage) or in the same block in which she lives, where she and her family are well known. If she comes of the middle class or better, she may go about accompanied by her old nurse, who has shifted to the role of a maid as the girl has grown up, or chaperoned by her magister, if her family is affluent enough to afford one and mindful of her education, or some other household servant of long acquaintance – the son of the chief Cook or Master of Horses, with whom she has grown up, or an upstairs maid just a few years older than she with whom she gets on well. If not accompanied by a household dependent, then a girlfriend with whom she is close whose company she regularly enjoys, or any other woman of her family with whom she cares to spend time, from her mother to her grandmother, sister, aunt or cousin, but a man only if he is a trusted member of the household or a close blood relative (no further removed than 1st cousin or uncle, and well known) – never an outsider, even a friend of the family of long standing only in dire need. She must be accompanied by someone to make sure nothing untoward happens to her and nothing off-color is spoken to her. Men commonly remark on the fact that women go to the restroom in pairs or small groups when they are out in public. This common practice is one of the roots of that behavior. There is safety in numbers. This is doubly true when the women are travelling abroad, whether to the next village or cross-country.

The habit of women in the period of the game is to travel with at least some company due to the fact that they will almost always find themselves in mixed company, but company they will almost always have, unless taken away to address some emergency, such as a midwife suddenly called away to attend to a birthing, or the sudden ailment of a family member. It may be that a woman encountered alone has shed that association with society in general which requires her to be accompanied for the maintenance of her modesty, reputation and safety.

Women who travel alone in the company of men to whom they are neither related nor married, as “one of the guys” in “men’s society”, will quickly achieve a base reputation. They will soon be shunned by the society of “decent women”, should it become known. That sort of behavior is expected and only marginally tolerated, however, from female players, dancers, musicians, acrobats, beastmistresses, and the like (not actors, women may not appear on stage with men, it is considered “lewd”), itinerant entertainers who are already disowned by the Church for their irreligious lives, breaking the Chain of Being, and their often licentious and dissolute lifestyles, wandering rootless and lordless excepting only the king. The common folk tolerate such outcasts for the joy they temporarily bring to their lives, but as soon as their audience has had their fill and their interest begins to wane, the local authorities will see that they keep right on moving on down the road.

Though somewhat confining on the face of it, a lady’s taking the veil, entering the Church by taking the vows of a religious order, can be another solution to a female character’s freedom of travel. Already a part of the structure of the Church, getting permission from the local bishop to go on pilgrimage just about anywhere should not be anything more than a formality. For the purposes of encounters, the roads of the medieval era commonly saw the traffic of all sorts of nuns travelling hither and yon on the business of their religious houses, often to see their bishop to resolve problems with the Church at large, or within the house itself. The convents and nunneries are havens for wealthy ladies who never married, who basically had nowhere else to go. They are also havens to which many wealthy ladies retire after their husbands and even children die off or have taken over the reins of the family business. The vicissitudes of secular politics, old gripes and grievances between families, are often carried by these ladies into the religious houses to be continued.

But these houses of religion will not ALL be the private preserve of the wealthy. Some of the poorer houses and poorer orders will make no such distinctions among who they accept as inmates, and even among the wealthier houses there will often be provision for poorer inmates to be taken in.

For the lady who is also a Scholar, taking the veil is almost the only answer, as there will be little other means by which she might have come by her education, unless by a tutor in a considerable private family library, or in the library of the guild to which her father is beholden. Such education outside the Church is unusual in all but a few notable women of the free commoner class, and would be frowned upon if not actually discouraged in any woman of the landbound class. Even though the noble lady must be adept in conducting all her husband’s business, it is still not considered meet that her intellect exceed her husband’s. For a nun to be freed of the constraints of her house, it is not unusual for her to be assigned to a lady as her personal assistant and secretary, as companion and confidante in the same manner as a monk serving a Lord. A perfect situation if there is a Lady PC in the party to whom to assign her, or she might be assigned on loan to the wife of an influential local official or official of the central bureaucracy with whom the order needs to curry favor. This also is a very common occurrence, easily as much so as the usual monk as secretary and father-confessor. Taking the veil is an especially good tactic when the player cannot attend the game regularly. This way she can be loaned out to the party on request, especially when influential PC family connections allow, and then safely returned to the house until the next occasion that player can attend, the character attending to her religious duties to her house when in-between adventures. Wounded characters might well be deposited at the same house for care, in which case she would be brought up to date on the goings-on in the outside world.

Social pressure towards marriage can be considerable for both women and men, but mostly among the wealthy and noble, where the marriage can be used to cement an alliance and bring two wealthy estates together. Once wed, the man and woman share equally the burden and pressure of producing male children, “an heir and a spare” at the very least. The common and conventional course for women is to marry and have children, BUT this is by no means necessarily the ONLY course available. In the case of free commoners, any woman can learn a trade and go ply it.

Adolescent marriages will be the rule among those with sufficient land and property for inheritance to be a concern, among those both high and low. Girls in the period of the game will be legally eligible to consent to marriage without the possibility of later dissenting at the age of 12, and most were married by the age of 14. Among the landbound, the parents have another motivating factor to seek marriages for their children. On the noble estates, fathers of the landbound class will take the first opportunity to marry their children off so that the right of granting the child in marriage might not fall to the lord, which right could be asserted at any time after the girl reaches her majority (between 18 and 21, 21 being usual for the nobility and accepted by the courts). This principle will apply to the noble’s own lord and his own children, however, not just to those landbound commoners on the lord’s estates.

Marriage is generally the rule for noble ladies, as it is not so much for the free commonalty. Unless she takes the veil, there simply is no place in medieval society for the single noble lady. Even the noble maids- or ladies-in-waiting who serve the wives of great men in the great noble households marry. Indeed, one of the major reasons for sending the maids to serve in the first place, aside from the honor it brings to the family, is to take advantage of the social contacts of their betters and the resulting opportunities to meet eligible men of the proper class in the proper social setting, to get the best match they could. Finding good and proper matches for the ladies in her train (with the parents’ blessings) is considered one of the duties of a great lady.

For the savvy female player, a married character will have several distinct advantages. True, she may have to share power and decisions with her husband, but so long as she isn’t working against him she has the power and influence of her husband to wield as her own – along with her own, if she is noble and has estates and rank in her own right, or a femme sole with a business of her own in addition to her husband’s. In the likely event that her husband’s business takes him away from the household, to the law courts or the king’s Court, to war, or whathaveyou, it is the wife’s duty to look after their estates, to see that all buildings are maintained in good repair, all matters of farming and husbandry are attended to, and all suits in the local (shire) law courts are kept current in the waging, ready for his return. If he should be captured in war or on his travels, she is to raise his ransom, squeezing every penny needed from their estates, selling their plate and jewels, and petitioning the archbishop for indulgences on his behalf.

In war, none will have any hesitation to lay siege or make war upon any fortified manor or castle held only by the lord’s lady wife and the regular contingent of soldiers she can command. Black Agnes, Countess of Dunbar (Scotland), held Dunbar Castle against Edward III of England. The Countess of Buchan (Scotland) defended Castle Berwick from Edward I of England and was hung in a cage on the outer ramparts with her daughter when defeated, naked in the autumn and early winter to be mocked by passersby. But then, the fighting between the Scots and English was particularly ugly and cruel, in which all Chivalry was soon scattered to the winds, unlike most of the English clashes against the French. At Agincourt it was the French who threw out all notions of Chivalry they had carefully helped to cultivate to slaughter the pages and squires and other non-combatants in the English camp and then run away before their conquerors returned to find the carnage.

The noble lady will be expected to take her husband’s place in every way during his absence. She must be versed in the niceties of tenure and feudal law in case her husband’s prerogatives or rights are violated, and also in the management of estates in order to supervise the activities of the bailiffs. Even when her husband is at home, she has the ordering of the domestic staff and the business that touches on their domestic life together. The lady takes her chances and suffers her husbands turns of fortune with him, or in his stead if he be away. On the event of her husband’s death, she acts as his executrix, unless his will specifically names another, which might be contested in court, and will not happen very often in the first place, anyway. This gives the married woman wide-ranging discretionary powers.

The lands a lady brings with her to a marriage from her own family she may do with as she likes. These are actually protected for her by law from being wasted or alienated (sold) by her husband. On the other hand, those lands of her husbands which are given her as her marriage portion by her husband, in the name of “dower”, are only hers in trust. The lands she holds of her husband and whatever is left of her own lands pass in toto to her children on her death. This is conducted by the law of Primogeniture (as described), or being partitioned equally among the heiresses if the only surviving issue are girls. In the event that there are no children, his lands go back to his family and hers return to her family at the death of the last surviving spouse.

The usual “rule of marriage” that prevails for the noble and landbound classes does not really apply to the free commoners, particularly those of the towns. With 2% of all men serving in the clergy, unable to marry, and anywhere from 11 to 13 women to every 10 men in the towns themselves, some women simply cannot get marriages. While gentle and noble ladies get married and manage great households and estates for their husbands, or take the veil and enter a nunnery, the women of the free common classes (and even the landbound) must go to work, engaging in some craft or other as a femme sole. There are a large number of single women engaged in domestic service, as servants in the houses of others, as well.

Single free women must earn a “livelode” (livelihood), so as not to burden their families, and even married free women commonly work to supplement their husbands’ incomes.

The term “spinster”, meaning an unmarried woman, arose over the course of the medieval period, and attests to the popularity of spinning yarn from wool as a homely art or cottage craft among single women, historically.

Many unmarried women as shopkeeps or wage earners. There is hardly a craft that women do not ply. They are engaged as butchers; chandlers; ironmongers; net-makers; shoemakers; glovers; girdlers; haberdashers; purse-makers; cap-makers; skinners; bookbinders; painters; silk-weavers; embroiderers; spicers; smiths; and goldsmiths, among many others. Generally speaking, girls who learn crafts will most commonly learn that practiced in the house in which they grow up, but they may take an apprenticeship out of the house like any boy, only under a mistress of a craft such as spinning, weaving, dying, or one of the other “homely arts” or “womanly arts”. Brewing will be done primarily by women, and is a favorite bye-industry of married women, called “ale wives”, which they do out of their own home. Whether retail or wholesale, the brewster/baxter combination of crafts (masculine, brewer/baker) will be a common one for women to pursue. Regrators or huxters (retailers) will often be women, selling anything from garlic, flour, salt, or tallow candles, to butter, cheese, etc. They also trade in food as tipplers, gannockers, tranters or tapsters (wandering huxters serving beer or ale brewed by another for a small profit), or hostlers (grooms or stablemen). Weavers and innkeeps will usually be men, but that will not stop a determined woman from engaging in the trade now and again.

The attitude toward the work done by women is neither a real restriction nor an insult. In rural areas in an agrarian society, these are the trades that require the most attention while the men work the fields. That rule of thumb just doesn’t apply in the towns, which are where women can be found plying the other trades and crafts listed previously. Better yet, the women will generally be free of the crafthalls and guilds that generally dominate the working society of men in the towns.

Men, as a rule, can follow only one craft – insofar as they can be a member of only one guild. A man cannot be under the jurisdiction of more than one guild.

This was reinforced in a statute of 1363, which stated that each man was to choose his trade and follow it alone, constantly.

All the more reason for the women NOT to organize into guilds. It certainly isn’t unusual for a woman to follow two or three of these “bye-industries”, especially in the rural districts. Indeed, according to the same statute of 1363, women were specifically excepted in regards to their traditional crafts of pursuit : brewsters, baxters, carders, spinners, and workers in wool, linen, and silk, brawdesters, breakers of wools, and the like. And this in post-Plague England when everything was being done to maintain and regiment the work force to make it more stable. A craftsman’s wife will nearly always work his craft at his side, as his assistant in the trade. If not, the wife will often earn extra income in the “bye-industries” of brewing and/or spinning. Very small children will help their mothers sort and card wool at home.

Many wives will pursue occupations after marriage, distinct from their husbands’, sometimes continuing in the craft or trade established when she was a femme sole. Any woman who chooses to continue in her own trade after marriage could continue to be treated as a femme sole :

“If any woman that has a husband use any craft within the city, whereof her husband meddles not, she shall be charged as a single woman as touching such things as belongeth to her craft. And if a plaint be taken against such a woman, she shall answer and plead as a sole woman and make her law and take other advantage in court by plea or otherwise for her discharge. And if she be condemned she shall be committed to prison till she be agreed with the plaintiff, and on all goods or chattels that belongeth to her husband shall be confiscated.”

While women are expressly forbidden membership in the (men’s) labor guilds, exceptions are always made for the craftsmen’s wives and daughters, accepted as a matter of course as their natural assistants.

Even though true professional jealousy between the sexes eventually started to show up in the laws penned following the great tide of guild charters granted to protect the trades, it took 50 to 75 years for it to really make an appearance (well after the period of the game), and even then feelings among the men remained mixed. Allowances for the craftsmen’s wives and daughters remained the rule.

The fullers articles of Lincoln (1297) provide an early exception, stating that none in the craft were to work at the wooden bar with a woman , unless she were the wife of the master or her handmaid.

The girdlers articles of London (1344) stated that no man of the trade should set any woman to work aside from wife or daughter.

In the articles of the leathersellers and pouchmakers and of the dyers serving those two trades in London (1372), the wives of the dyers were sworn along with their husbands into the guild to do their calling.

One thing these restrictions by guild articles make clear, is that by being necessary, they indicate that the prohibition was being violated. The single women in the crafts were being employed.

In addition, large numbers of widows continue to carry on the trade after their husbands’ deaths. Some guild articles historically made specific allowances for the widows to facilitate this. Tools of the various trades (moveable property) are usually left to the widows, obviously to facilitate this practice, if the widow is so inclined. Apprentices are ordered to serve out their apprenticeships under the master’s widow in the event of his death.

This practice will be common from the great merchant houses with many ships down to the small shopkeeps and town craftsmen.

For the sake of her honor and reputation, a woman should abide by the rules of propriety and the restrictions on her interaction with men or invite rumors and suspicion of illegal liaisons, of “putting the horns” on her husband and making him a “cuckhold”, if she is married. She must also be circumspect in the sorts of gifts she accepts and from whom she accepts them, as discussed under the heading “Gift Giving …”, to follow. For an unmarried woman to receive a chaplet or nosegay as a gift from a beau is risky, depending upon how her family feels about him. For a woman to give away a kerchief she has embroidered by her own hand, or especially one of the separable sleeves from a gown, is to give away a visible token of her favor. Her romantic interest in the man is implicit in the gift.

The importance of class and station when men and women interact in public is at least as important as class and station within the respective societies of men and women. Precedence applies more stringently in mixed company than to either the society of men or women alone, BUT the ladies have the tenets of Chivalry on their side when dealing with noble men, even moreso when the ladies are of noble birth or at least gentle blood themselves. High-born Lady PC’s and those of gentle blood should be aware of this fact and should NOT be embarrassed, hesitant or ashamed to use it to their best advantage. The allowances made for ladies of gentle blood and higher are commonly observed by men of all but the base of character, especially when the lady is pretty.

This is one of the great strengths of the Lady’s position in medieval society in general, and no man would ever be less than kind in response for her doing so, unless he were nothing but a base churl at heart in the first place. It is her right. Lack of confidence is the bane of women in the medieval society at large, which can be rather rough in nature if the lady be not strong. Lack of strength and will only lead men to assume weakness and step all over her rights and privileges. Graciousness in asserting precedence will be highly esteemed and respected in general, except among those women with whom she is competing for attention or dispensation (as applicable). It is by no means required when the lady is dealing with those beneath her in station, but graciousness and charity towards those from it can derive no advantage will earn impress them and in time earn her their love and loyalty and a great reputation among those of lower class and station.

For any beneath her socially to expect such treatment from a gentle or noble lady is simply ridiculous; for them to demand it of her is an absurd risk to one’s health. Anyone treating a lady roughly in public will no doubt be faced by those nearby (as applicable) who will be offended just as much as the lady herself, and if the lady has no man capable of standing for her honor it is likely they will at least defuse the situation to allow her to depart in peace.

Of course, some places simply will not be safe to be tread alone, regardless of whether one is a man or woman.

The rules of propriety and social interaction in regards to women of the medieval period may seem a little restrictive on a couple of points, particularly conduct in mixed company (out in public). BUT those restrictions run both ways. The men must accept the consequences of those restrictions and abide by the rules of conduct in mixed company with NPC women AND women PC’s. Players must realize that these rules of propriety are MUCH more lax among the poorer folk, and nearly non-existent among the outcasts of society (the players, entertainers, Knaves and Rogues, Tricksters and their ilk). It is the well-to-do who use their time and money to cultivate such niceties of manner and speech and rules of conduct, to divide them from the masses below them socially. However, regardless of class, let any man try to get too close and especially too intimate too quickly, and he will quickly discover that every women of the medieval period of the game will have absorbed at least some measure of the sense of propriety, simple good sense and personal safety embodied in these social rules.

There will be, of course, those women players who are determined, nonetheless, not to be constrained by their sex and the rules of the medieval gameworld society in which the character grew up, at all. Point blank. Period. For them there is the very obvious (to the modern mind) solution of parading around in the guise of a man of her own class and station. If the woman is of average BTY or less, this is likely to work. With the help of the Masquer and Social Graces skill, she might parade about as a man of any class and station. The average folk encountering her would never suspect. This practice was NOT unknown in the period, though it was scandalous when discovered.

IF the ruse is discovered, the character will suffer a terrible social stigma, likely imprisonment and being hauled up before the canon courts of the Church and fined. She would surely be shunned by polite society. Such a penalty might also be seen as absolutely no loss at all, depending on the player.

The common run of sincerely decent, pious folk will be completely repulsed by the notion of a women dressing as a man, taking a man’s place in society, an unnatural act, a thoroughly irreligious breach of the sacred Golden Chain, and violation of the Natural Order. This is nothing but dogma, however, intended to preserve a certain status quo. Doing so is no bar to having a devout personal relationship with the Forces of Good (howsoever they might be expressed in the GM’s world). There is a difference between religion and Deity. One is created by man. Such a character might still be a Mystic, possessed of holy patronage. Under those circumstances, however, some might consider such a practice as being of questionable honesty, at best.

The perfect and most appropriate social group for such a character to be a member of is, of course, that of the rootless and lordless, already disowned by the Church – the Knaves, and Rogues, pirates, brigands and highwaymen, wandering Players and Tricksters, Acrobats, Beastmasters and -mistresses, charlatans and  Mountebanks, Minstrels, and all their ilk. These are the folk who make up their own rules, who observe the conventional rules of society only when it suits their purposes.

Whatever her leanings, or character concept, it will be up to each female player to get together with her GM to work out the details and extent of her character’s place in gameworld society and the nature or conditions of her freedom prior to the commencement of play.

 

In Mixed Company

When male and female PC’s mix in public, in the medieval society of the gameworld, all of the rules for “polite society” that still remain today should be observed. Pairing the female character up with a brother or cousin PC in the party and making sure their trades are closely entwined so it will be more natural for them to spend time together, and easier and more natural for the man to chaperone without giving offense. Mixing in semi-private conditions and maintaining propriety when mixing in private will be the situations that will be the most difficult for the PC’s to handle with grace without offending the ladies’ pride.

Generally speaking, men and women in the period of the game mix fairly freely in public, in open social settings, where the ladies can gather strength in numbers when they feel the need. The women gather and move in clusters large and small for the men circling, trying to attract their attention. Only men of blood relation are considered “safe” to interact with casually. While women who have discharged their social responsibilities enjoy much the same freedoms as men, lone women only mix socially with men under carefully maintained conditions, or with the utmost of secrecy, ‘lest both of their reputations suffer, she for being “loose” and he for being a “low character”.

Whether at home, as a guest in another’s home, or at an inn, no man can enter a woman’s chamber or bower (bedroom or suite of rooms) except her father, husband, father-in-law, bothers, brothers-in-law, children, or other blood relatives (uncles, cousins), or known and approved upstairs servant. There is NO excuse acceptable for any other man to be in her room(s), and violation of this social rule will be met with violence by family and staff. Women’s quarters are not entered even by the men who might be allowed without the express permission of those women, and no woman is likely to allow it without the presence of at least her personal maid or a female family member, except at dire need. None who are not already well known and trusted are received in solar or private sitting room or parlor, or their messengers, factors, attorneys, or other duly identified agents. No man not of the woman’s own blood or blood-by-marriage should be received without some sort of chaperone or protective family member or staff to ensure that nothing untoward happens or is said. All others will normally be met in the (Great) hall, including important personages, especially of the government or noble blood, all duly identified by the official regalia or tokens they present. The business which they are about will determine whether it is proper for them to be taken to a more private setting such as a parlor.

Society in general in the medieval gameworld requires strangers to find people of their own class and equivalent station with connections to the people they wish to meet, especially when they wish to solicit patronage, when the one sought is not of the same class and/or station, in order to provide them with the entrée they need to initiate communications. In this, the societies of men and women are again divided. Each must work within his own. A woman must approach a powerful man through his lady wife, or through a mother, aunt, sister or cousin, while the man may approach the great lord through the male members of the household staff. In the same manner, when it is a lady or great power a man wishes to address for his cause, he must work through the men in her family to contact her. The only way to avoid this rule is to find an ally of the appropriate sex to make the social connection instead and provide sufficient incentive and reward for that person to take up the cause as agent. This was a commonly used method, and very successful.

Those with whom a character corresponds is equally as important. In the first place, one should never put into writing what one doesn’t wish others to know, or others to find out about in the end, anyway. Strangers must always be introduced by one who is known. The introduction is considered an endorsement of good character, so most are reluctant to do so unless their consciences are clear in the matter, for the repercussions it can have on their own relationships if things do not go well. Letters from strangers must similarly be introduced by a friend. The most common and acceptable method is for the friend to write asking whether it is acceptable for the third party to write, and the general nature of the matter about which that third party wishes to correspond with an endorsement of character and any applicable pedigree of blood, and particular mention made of any common acquaintances between them (if any) to place the acceptance of those letters more firmly within the bounds of propriety. Receiving the letters of those known only in passing, as only a name, or from complete strangers with a good recommendation by a trusted friend, is a little irregular, but certainly harmless enough if the subject is academic, or urgent, or innocent enough and the recipient doesn’t mind being bothered with reading and responding.

As is often done today, many such letters are left in the hands of personal (social) secretaries who read them and then determine whether the recipient should, indeed, be bothered with them or if any response need be penned at all. This will only be the case with those of truly great social standing, due to the great volume of letters and written missives they receive and must issue in a day concerning their varied interests and myriad pursuits, causes at law, estate management, close friends, immediate family and scattered relatives, etc. Unwanted letters will be returned unopened, and persistent unwanted attentions of this sort delivered into the hands of someone, whether servants or family, who can do something about seeing that they stop. The sending and receipt of gifts is both more loosely and more stringently bound by custom, depending on the circumstances. But this is addressed at the end of this passage.

All of the players in the group, men and women, must keep in mind the fact that it is the party’s duty and responsibility to help guard the well-being and reputation of any and all noble and gentle women in their party, whether PC or NPC, to whatever extent those ladies wish to trade on it, up to the limits appropriate to their social class and station. The patient sufferance of the PC’s can only ingratiate them with the lady’s(-ies’) family(-ies), who will no doubt already be acquainted with their identities, character and behavior by letter before they ever meet in person, and may well provide a source of honor and prestige, at least within geographic area(s) (hundreds, shires) that the family holds land and has influence. The men will simply have to learn to belt up and suffer in good humor, especially those of noble blood themselves. Personal service to any prominent lady of gentle or noble blood will be a primary source of good reputation and honorable name for all PC men who wish to carve out a place for themselves among the nobles one day.

These facts are all provided as a guide to the player in a medieval fantasy environment, to give the player as greater appreciation for the basics of the “medieval-ness” of the gameworld in which the characters were born and raised. The people (NPC’s) of the gameworld believe in the practices with which they have lived all their lives WHOLE-HEARTEDLY, and will generally act in the manner described. A better time will be had by all if the player at least pretends that these things are normal to his character. In the gameworld, the status quo and social practices and spiritual beliefs described will NOT be mere superstitions or quaint quirks to be overlooked or ignored, but simple facts of everyday life. Those who scoff will not be treated kindly.

Those who do not pay heed to social custom and the principles of “courtoisie” are likely to run afoul of the law. Those who rebel may find themselves imprisoned or get their necks stretched – unless they have sufficient social rank to command the axe.

 

Gift Giving & Propriety

Fine food and drink are the most common gifts sent to curry favor when there is need, for softening-up a contact or associate prior to asking a favor of them, or broaching any sort of talks in regard to a social alliance. They are perfectly appropriate of strangers, especially government functionaries to get one’s business expedited. Without such gifts one’s business or documents could be many months in the works.

The same is true of riding and hunting gear, if such things might be appropriate, harness for horse, hawk, or hound, or suits of riding leathers, especially if the prospective ally is to be invited out on a hunt. Such invitations are generally issued by those of greater station (who have access to private parks or chases, or may obtain grants for hunting in royal forests) to those of lesser station who do not generally have the opportunity.

Gloves, purses, hats, and shoes or slippers are also generally considered appropriate, but items of personal apparel, tunics, and gown, hose, and the like are a little too personal for mere associates or even friendly acquaintances to exchange, much less to send to the clerk in the Chancery from whom one needs to expedite the sealing or drafting of a single document.

Unmade bolts of cloth can fall on either side of the line of propriety, depending on the amount and the quality of the fabric, to whom it is specifically given, and whether it is clearly given to aid a cause or if its timing can be construed to coincide with a more personal occasion. The same can be said of furs. The quality of furs or cloth sent as gifts must be matched in quality to the recipient’s social class and station.

Jewelry and flowers, ribbons (“ribands”), tassels, buttons and any other similar sorts of decorative notions used to adorn clothing (especially those composed of jewels, silver, and/or gold), are FAR too personal for any except family and spouses and dear friends of long-standing and very close association to exchange, or perhaps with a feudal overlord as a reward or holiday gift. Any similar gift wrought in the giver’s armorial feudal colors, or the device in full (as applicable), or bearing images of hearts of hands will be seen as “tenders of affection” if discovered, and the sender MUST be certain they will be received in the spirit in which they have been sent BEFORE sending them. Woven chaplets (crowns, wreaths) of flowers and small bouquets or nosegays are commonly passed between sweethearts and lovers, BUT are also exchanged between women as friendship gifts.