The Stations of the Nobility: Knight, Squire, Gentleman

Knighthood is the lowest of the ranks of nobility that may be passed through the blood to one’s children. It is exclusive even among the ranks of nobles. While all knights are nobles, not all nobles are knights. Among the nobles, the knights cannot be said to stand among the “baronage” because this implies the holding of land by military tenure (servicium debitum), specifically a lordship or castle-honor, and there are more knights who do not than those who do. While any of the ranks of nobility are eligible to be knighted, not all achieve knighthood, even if they have trained for it. Without other income, such as heirs of lordly titles can count on, the mantle of knighthood is costly and the life is hard, the extra expenses of armor, weapons, and maintaining even a small retinue being prohibitive. Knights alone have the right to enter a church in full armor, to wear the gilded spurs, to be addressed as “Sir”, or wear the furs known as “the vair and the grey” (the mottled belly and the gray back furs of the northern squirrel). All lesser men must rise when a knight enters the room, and may not be seated until after he takes his seat.

The name of Knight of the Bath marks the line drawn between knights who fight for their bread caring for horse, weapons and arms (Knight of the Sword or Knight Simple) and their counterparts the Courtier-Knights, also known in the period of the game as “Holy Mary’s Knights”, thrown into the cult of those who were dedicated to the kind, gentle Lady Mary. Even the law acknowledged the difference between these two breeds of knight. The financially insolvent fighting Knight, or Knight of the Sword, can NOT be deprived of his war-harness or steeds by legal distraint of his moveable property to pay his debts, where the Knight who earns his bread by (political) service at Court rather than arms, a Knight of the Bath, would be allowed to retain only his horse under the same circumstances.

Battle-seasoned Knights of the Sword will always hold in a certain amount of contempt their gentler counterparts who have either no battle skills or little or no actual battle experience. Those who merely profess to fight will be considered to be men of no honor by those who exercise their ancient right and privilege, the original source of their power and authority. It is an expression of the conflict between their martial roots and the trends in gentle society during the medieval period.

Among the ranks of knights there are a number of other titles distinguishing standing and accomplishment: Knight Simple; Knight in Sergeanty; Knight Bachelor; Law-Worthy Knight; Knight Banneret

Knight Simple is a Knight of the Sword with no lands to administer in his own right or fief-rentes to support him, also known as a Knight Errant, particularly when he is wandering in search of adventure, fame and fortune to aid him in securing a position in the retinue of a lord, hoping to become a household knight.

Knight in Sergeanty holds less than a full knight’s feof, down to as small as 1/10th, with a similarly reduced feudal obligation, or even an equivalent in a money-fief, but holds this in return for a lesser form of service, commonly limited to garrison duty (a week to a fortnight) in a particular post at a specific castle nearby, some to carry a lord’s banner on the field of battle, or lead local forces at need, or provide infantrymen, archers, or crossbowmen when Crown or lord call. These will stand as the light cavalry used in reconnaissance and skirmishing, taking part in cavalry actions with other knights, though not as wealthy or well-equipped as some. Tenure by Sergeanty has a variable value. Thus, the title of Sergeant is not indicative of social class and station. A knight is still a knight, a squire still a squire, a gentleman still a gentleman and a commoner still a commoner, regardless of holding tenure in property by sergeanty.

Knight Huntsman or Beastmaster is a knight with a prestigious post in Sergeanty as an officer in one of the royal forests. In the case of the Beastmaster, the individual will be distinguished by the specific beast of the hunt with which his skills are associated (Master of Horse, Falconer, Bracheter, Lymer or other Master of Hounds).

Knight Bachelor is a Knight who has been taken into the household of a lord. He is generally supported by a combination of estates (a Knight’s feof) and feof-rentes (the income of lands of which he has no say in the management) or wages and feof-rentes with yearly gifts of robes and shoes, and the occasional largesse of the lord. The standard feof for a knight is a single manor of roughly 10 hides of land (1200 acres). Between 15 and 30 tenant families are required to support one knight’s family in their manor.

Law-Worthy Knight is able to acquit himself in the language of the courts and to read and write and have mastered basic mathematics. To stand as a law-worthy knight carries with it the requirement to hold land worth 40s. per year in income within a given shire where his services will be sought to aid in local government. In practice, the knight is usually required to hold property not only within the shire, but in the same neighborhood (usually the same hundred, or bordering hundreds). He may also be referred to as a Knight of the Shire.

A Knight Banneret is a seasoned knight distinguished for his service in the field by the specific royal grant of the right to lead a company of troops during time of war under his own private banner showing his armorial bearings (coat of arms). This banner is marked by its square shape, in contrast to the tapering standard or the pennon or pennoncelle flown by the lower-ranking knights. Bannerets are eligible to bear supporters in English heraldry. In heraldry, supporters are figures usually placed on either side of the shield and depicted holding it up, as the lion and the unicorn in the arms of the English crown.

No knight banneret can be created except in the field of battle, and then only when the king is present, or at least where his Majesty’s royal standard is being carried on the field by his appointed representative (a campaign sponsored by the Crown, at the least).

After all of these, below even the Knight Simple or even the Knight of the Bath, are the Esquire and the Gentleman.

An Esquire, or Squire, is the title by which the next social rank below a knight is called, known as “gentry” as opposed to nobility. The title Squire is applied to all those descended of noble blood who have trained for knighthood but who have not yet been granted or sought out that rank. This title may also be hereditary, in the same manner as knighthood. The hereditary title implies noble descent, but the hereditary Squire is only eligible to raise his blood back to that of knighthood again. He doesn’t have it; he must earn it. Otherwise, he is primarily a wealthy landowner of noble descent. The eldest son of a knight bears the title Squire until he should train at arms and earn his knighthood (if ever). The eldest sons of all a knight’s younger sons are all accorded the title “Squire” – all others are referred to as “gentlemen”. Those who bear this title should be addressed as “”Squire” in the same way Knights are hailed as “Sir”.

The average esquire might have a yearly income of about £25. According to the Assize of Arms, any at this income level may be compelled to take up arms and the mantle of knighthood and serve in the Crown in time of war, or pay a stiff fine as high as one year’s income. By ancient custom, a family or a branch of a family passing over their right to knighthood for more than three generations in succession is considered to have abandoned that dignity ever after. Custom hath the force of law.

gentleman is a lapsed knight, a cadet line of a noble house or a knight’s blood, one who has the capacity to seek knighthood through arms, to enlist in service as a Squire, but has no such nobility of his own currently, as discussed above. He may be a farmer working a farm as a yeoman or franklin, may also be a shire official, steward/bailiff or other castle or village official (GM’s discretion).

The Stations of the Nobility: Lord

Barons, or Lords, are the most common of the “magnates” or local nobility, the lowest of the ranks of landed nobility that may be called “peer”, having at least one Lordship (manor- or castle-feof) in the realm. They are allowed council with the Crown in Parliament by right of this peerage. A single manor or castle lordship might take the proceeds of 20 parishes for basic support, commonly more. The lady Baroness might have as many as 20 or so chamber women, not to be confused with her maids-in-waiting of gentle blood.

The baron’s yearly income can vary from £500 to £900.

The term “baron” is not used as an honorific but only to refer to those of that station severally. Inidivually they bear the name of the lordship they hold, called “Lord (x)”. Lords can vary greatly in wealth and social standing. Not all feofs represent the same amount of wealth in richness of soil (thus the yield in crops) or in natural resources such as forests, minerals like coal, iron, lead, or silver, and pasturage especially for sheep), so the income of a few of the Lords might be as great as an earl, and in the same vein, a noble character’s lordly father may not be much better off than a Knight Banneret, only just able to support his staff and maintain his manor or castle.

Many of the castles in the hands of the lords started out as manors, wide-ranging estates carrying with them a wide spectrum of regalian rights, for which a “license to fortify” or to “crenellate” was granted by the crown as a means to provide a strong point in an area of the country where the presence of strength in arms for pacification and/or defense of a region was considered deficient, or to raise the dignity and importance of the lord in the managing of local affairs.

The Stations of the Nobility: Earl

Earl is the English title for count, as “shire” is the English name for county. There will generally be no more than one significant earl for each shire (if even that many), who will be considered the ‘great man’ of that region, with more extensive holdings there than any other noble of equal or lesser rank.

The earls came from the Anglo-Saxon Eorls, each of whom ruled one of the old kingdoms, comprised of several shires. These became earls under the Normans, equivalent to the continental counts, and their areas of influence reduced to no larger an area than a single shire. An official defining characteristic of an earl is the receipt of the “third penny”, one-third of the revenues of justice of a shire, a left over from the Anglo-Saxon days.

Earls are thus the link between the local shire government and the central royal authority. To every earl a shire, but not every shire has an earl. Thus, every earl has an association with a single shire, and the creation of a new earldom commonly takes place in the shire where the new earl already holds large estates and has extensive local influence. True to the origins of the title, just as the “barons” or manor lords are the link between locals and the earls to whom they are often beholden. No female form of the title was ever developed, so the wife of an earl will be referred to as a countess, or contessa, in the continental manner.

The honor of an earl (his feofdom) may consist of as few as three or as many as six castles (more in the case of the palatine earldoms) and upwards of 400 or 450 manors. Each castle might take as much as the proceeds of 20 or more parishes (manors) just to support it. From household officers, knights, gentlemen, yeomen, chamber staff, and the wife’s maids, down to kitchens, stable-hands, and other domestic staff, an earl’s household might number as many as 120, not including the staff resident for castles or manors not occupied, as well as attendant groundsmen, huntsmen, and other outdoor staff for those properties. He can only live in one castle at a time, and generally had one favorite called the “seat” of his honor from which he took his surname, where his administration always resided, and he spends the greatest amount of time in residence there.

An earl’s income can range from £1,000 as high as £10,000.

Historically, there were only six earls in 1327, but 10 by 1336, and 14 by the 1370’s, out of more that 30 shires. Among these were the Clare earls of Gloucester; the Bohun earls of Hereford; the de Lacy earls of Lincoln; the Bigod earls of Norfolk; the Beauchamp earls of Warwick (WAR-ick); Huntingdon; Kent; Lancaster; Leicester; Pembroke; Richmond; Surrey. Of these, Lancaster was a “palatine” earldom composed of five shires, later becoming a duchy which the earl or duke held the right to administer independent of the Crown. The other palatine earldoms were Cornwall, Cheshire, and Durham, with Durham being an ecclesiastical lordship held by a bishop.

The Stations of the Nobility: Marquess

Marquess is the title of a Marcher Lord, a lord enfeoffed with border marches or frontier regions, responsible for the security of the border. The names of their feofdoms often include the word “”march”. The wife or widow of a marquess is a “marchioness”, unless she had that rank prior to the marriage, in which case she is a marquess also. If she achieved this rank through marriage alone, she will carry the title for her lifetime only and cannot pass it to the heirs of her body except those born of the marquess, her husband’s, blood. The female born to the rank of marquess is a peer in her own right, equal to her male counterpart, her dignity heritable by all her children, regardless of their sire.

The French form of marquess is marquis, the German form is margrave. Historically, the marcher lords of England ranged along the rough and troubled Welsh and Scots borders and were barons like most of the other lords, However, due to their positions on the borders they were largely left to their own devices, operating more after the fashion of palatine feofdoms. As the rest of the kingdom was transformed into the wholly English system, the border lords were allowed to retain their old Norman practices. They became touchy of their honor and prerogatives and ran their fiefs more in the Norman or Continental fashion. In their border fiefs they were nearly sovereign and would suffer little interference from the Crown. If the marcher lords took affront, they had many disaffected Welsh or Scots on whom they could call in rebelling against the king.

Although these lords enjoyed the power and influence of the Continental marquesses, the first English noble of the true rank of Marquess was not created until 1385 by Richard II.

The Stations of the Nobility: Duke

A duke is the social equivalent to a sovereign prince within his duchy, roughly equal to the Venetian Doge, the German Herzog, and the Russian Knez (prince). In his fief, a duke’s reign is almost independent of the Crown, though this is much moreso in the continental feudal system than in the English setting of the game. In England, the rank was introduced for the benefit of the king’s sons, to give them greater social standing and precedence, elevating them above the powerful earls to emphasize the value of their royal blood. A duke’s household might number upwards of 240, from household officers, Knights, gentlemen, yeomen, chamber staff, and his wife’s maids, down to kitchens, stable hands, and groundsmen and other domestic staff, not including the staff resident for castles or manors, attendant groundsmen, huntsmen, and other outdoor staff for the properties at which he does not reside.. A duke’s yearly income could range from £5,000 as high as £15,000.

Historically, the only duke in England was the king, who was also Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine. There were no duchies in England itself until the reign of Edward III (1327-1377). The English dukes were created for the benefit of the royal princes, to reinforce the higher status of the royal blood, that everyone recognize their dignity as greater than that of the earls of the realm. Edward III created his four sons the dukes of Clarence, York, Lancaster, and Gloucester. By 1400, the number of dukes had increased to 10, including Northumberland, Somerset, and Suffolk

Marquess is the title of a Marcher Lord, a lord enfeoffed with border marches or frontier regions, responsible for the security of the border. The names of their feofdoms often include the word “”march”. The wife or widow of a marquess is a “marchioness”, unless she had that rank prior to the marriage, in which case she is a marquess also. If she achieved this rank through marriage alone, she will carry the title for her lifetime only and cannot pass it to the heirs of her body except those born of the marquess, her husband’s, blood. The female born to the rank of marquess is a peer in her own right, equal to her male counterpart, her dignity heritable by all her children, regardless of their sire.

The Stations of the Nobility: Prince

A prince is the son of a king or emperor or other (sovereign) prince, directly related in some way to a royal family, or a close branch of it through a royal uncle, aunt, cousin, etc. by either blood or marriage. The relationship to the throne can be both a blessing and a curse, allowing access to the monarch when relations are good, and a means of using the prince to plot against the reigning king otherwise, and the PC of this rank will always be counted in the line of succession. Even if the player doesn’t consider this, those at Court and the other movers and shakers of the realm certainly will.

Historically, there were no sovereign princes in England until Edward I (1272-1307) conquered Wales and made his son it’s prince, devoting it’s revenues to the support of the prince’s household and it’s governance to the prince when he reached his legal majority (21). Prior to the subdual of Wales, the princes were made governors of foreign possessions or given foreign feofs of the Crown (Gascony, Normandy, Calais, etc.), and/or made earls at home to support the dignity of their blood.

Without other lands and titles, the title of prince is largely an empty one, except perhaps for the heir-apparent, the Crown Prince, next in the direct line of succession.