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.

The Noble Class

The nobility comprise the First Estate, Those Who Fight. They stand at the top of medieval society, upon a foundation of feudalism. As “Those Who Fight”, the nobles are born warriors by tradition. Their lot in life is to fight, to be the protectors of all those below them in rank and status and in return to rule them as wisely and well as they can, and also render service to those above them in rank. In general, all nobles are members of the “baronage” (except for Knights Simple who are landless). The barons, sometimes referred to as “magnates”, vary greatly in wealth, power, and influence. Lesser barons are bound to greater barons or “tenants-in-chief” in ties of homage and fealty, and both sorts to the king of the realm in return for their feofs, and all Knights with and without estates.

The term feudalism was actually coined by 18th century historians to describe a society based on “feofs” (pl. “FEEFs”, sing. “FEEF”). The tenure of land ownership and social relationships among the nobility and extending into the classes below share the same general pattern and character of the greater feudal system, so the whole society came to be described as “feudal”.

Feofs are estates, large tracts of land (mostly cultivated), held by noble warriors for life from the king (who ultimately owned all land, in theory), either directly or through another (greater) noble, in return for supplying a set number of knights for a yearly term of military service (servicium debitum, 40 days) usually during the campaign season – late spring to early fall. Feudal practice grew out of the warrior-based systems created by the Franks, Normans, Burgundians, and a host of others, in the wake of the crumbling of the Roman Empire, a brutal, crude, and largely lawless period often referred to as the Dark Ages.

After the Crown, the nobles in the realm are the greatest of the landowners, thus they rule, under the ultimate liege-lord of every nobleman in the realm – the king. The nobleman receiving a feof becomes a “vassal”, the sworn man of the king or lord who has granted him his lands, estates and his rights over all that lies within it, including the residents, which is called his feof. The feof is bestowed in return for the sworn oath of fealty and an act of homage. “Fealty” is the term used to described the nobleman’s obligation, social and military, to the grantor of his feof, and “Homage” is a humble act illustrating the nobleman’s new status under his lord.

When a Freeman shall do Fealty to his Lord of whom he holds in Chief, he shall place his right hand upon a holy book, and shall say thus,

“Hear you, my Lord [A.], that I, [B.], shall be to you both faithful and true, and shall owe my Fidelity unto you, for the Land that I hold of you, and lawfully shall do such Customs and Services, as my Duty is to you, at the times assigned. So help me [Eternal Light and all the sainted spirits within It].”

But when a Villein shall do Fealty unto his Lord, he shall hold his right hand over the holy book, and shall say thus,

“Hear you, my Lord [A.], that I, [B.], from this day forth unto you shall be true and faithful, and shall owe you Faith for the land that I hold of you in Villeinage; and shall be justified by you in Body and Goods.

 So help me [Eternal Light and all the sainted spirits within It].”

When a Freeman shall do Homage to his Lord, he shall hold his hands together between the hands of his Lord, and shall say thus,

“I become your Man from this day forth, for life, for member, and for worldly honor, and shall owe you Faith for the Lands that I hold of you; saving only the Faith that I owe unto our Lord the King.”

But when a Freeman shall do Homage to any other than to his Chief Lord, and for a simple Tenement, he shall hold his hands together between the Hands of his Lord, and shall say thus,

“I become your Man from this day forth, and shall bear you Faith for the Tenement which I claim to hold of you; saving the Faith that I owe to our Lord the King, and to my other Lords.”

The act of homage will always be redressed with a kiss of equality when it is a fellow nobleman who is pledging himself, so no damage is done to the vassal’s honor by the act.

The feof of a nobleman is called his “honor”, the honor is governed from a residential castle. This is what divides the Lord from the Knight. The Knight’s fee is a manor (c.1200 acres), and it might take upwards of 200 manors or more to support a single castle. If a magnate has more than one castle, one of them will be the “capitus”, or head, also known as the  seat, of his honor, the rest will be smaller and of a primarily if not strictly, military nature.

The honor of Pontefract is headed by Castle Pontefract and supported by five subsidiary (military) castles. Castle Framlingham is the seat of the earls of Norfolk.

Though the castle is the basis of military might in the medieval world, the residential castles of the barons and the greater magnates are lived in far more than they see active use in battle. The principle residential castle is the center of (local) baronial government and the main residence of the Lord, where the bulk of his wealth is kept and displayed, and where the archives of records of the business of his estates will be kept.

The honor of Richmond included 424 manors, the honor of Chester some 450.

The greatest of the magnates, the earls, dukes, and marquesses will commonly hold more than one honor, spread across multiple shires.

William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, held honors in Lewes, Sussex and south Yorkshire. Aubrey de Vere was created the first Earl of Oxford (Cambridgeshire), holding the 14 estates in Essex granted to his grandfather by King William I,  9 estates in Suffolk, but only 7 estates actually in Cambridgeshire itself.

The military obligation of a vassal to his lord is determined by the size of the feof he is given, at a rate of 1 knight per £20 in annual income derived from the land. Some of the greater magnates will owe the service of 70 to 80 Knights. The honour of Richmond, in Kent, whose capitus was Castle Richmond, was held for the service of 60 knights, indicating an annual income from it of £1200 per year. The lords generally support the Knights they owe the service of as members of their households, though they may grant manor feofs to those Knights who distinguish themselves by outstanding service. This way they provide a livelihood for the loyal and deserving while relieving themselves of the burden of their support. While they are a part of the lord’s own household, the lord is responsible to equip his knights and provide them with food, quarters, firewood, candles and/or torches, and clothing (often called “livery”).

A lord might employ his Knights as officers over the various departments of his household (in the same manner done by the king himself, though on a smaller scale), or appoint his Knights as stewards over several of his manors, over a body of bailiffs-in-residence. A great Lord might create a lesser baron of a truly deserving retainer by granting him one of his smaller, military castles or allotting him one or more manor estates (lordships) within the greater lord’s own holdings, in return for the service of 3 or 4 or 5 Knights, as appropriate. While some lords will provide estates for all the Knights whose service they owe, some take on and enfeof more Knights than are owing, coming to command substantial private armies. Still others keep most of the Knights whose service the owe as dependents in their households, granting feofs to only a few – a common practice among the lords of the Church. Some of the enfeoffed lesser barons and Knights split their feofs with others, in turn, from whom they demand a portion of the military service they themselves owe. This practice is called “sub-infeudation”.

The first Lord of Richmond sub-infeudated both of his brothers, giving the honor three chief castles.

As feudal society came into full flower in England (the model for RoM) all feudal ties of vassalage were made secondary to the ultimate oaths of the chief lords to the king of the realm, on the strength of the theory that all land belonged to the king, since the lesser lords could not have been enfeoffed by the greater lords if the king had not first granted the chief nobles their estates.

While the notion that these lords were constantly engaged in great pitched battles against one another with the private armies of Knights they were expected to support is prevalent today, this is greatly exaggerated. While there were, indeed, rebellions of some barons and other greater lords, these were usually against the king and his supporters and rather rare, and there were battles with the Welsh on one hand the and Scots on the other, and periodic battles on the Continent to protect or re-conquer the Angevin possessions. But the fighting the continent was also sporadic (excepting the 100 Years’ War). For the nobles to fight private wars between themselves while the rest of the kingdom was at peace is a gross violation of the Pax Regis, the King’s Peace, into which the king and the rest of his vassals would ride to punish both parties if they could not be shamed into desisting.

Disagreements between nobles might be carried out with swords on a field of battle, but it would have to be a private matter settled by judicial duel, otherwise disagreements might be prosecuted in the courts and pursued with bands of their household men on a much smaller scale – stealing livestock; ousting the tenants of coveted manors and installing their own; collecting their rivals’ rents, and the like. Neither are the noblemen allowed to hire mercenaries in their own right – although nobles of questionable morals might maintain agents of dubious character (or even outright bandits, thieves, and outlaws) in their households for ‘special causes’ to be performed on the sly, and those pushed to the edge of their temperament might maintain mercenaries in their household illegally as a part of their retinue. For a lord to take on mercenaries, even under the cover of proper social convention, is known as “bastard feudalism” in modern parlance and requires great care to practice for it is a violation of both law and custom, subject to heavy fines and sanctions, and can far too easily be construed as defiance, fomenting riot, both treasonable offenses. No lord, regardless of rank, raises arms in the kingdom without a specific warrant to do so from the Crown, and none hire mercenaries except the Crown or those agents charged by the Crown to do so for a specific occasion or campaign.

Despite the popularity of foreign mercenaries from Wales and Flanders there, Magna Carta prohibited the use of foreign mercenaries in England except as “supplemental” forces. Those foreigners brought into the realm, especially during “The Anarchy” in Stephen’s reign, created more problems in the end than they aided the Crown in solving.

While a king’s rights over lands and subjects are in many ways sweeping, they do have boundaries. They must be used in the customary methods established by the royal ancestors. Even the common folk have a say in some matters, and the barons of the land and the greater magnates and especially the tenants-in-chief holding directly from the Crown have a say in a great many more matters and royal policies. The most basic of the king’s rights over his vassals and tenants are the same ones enjoyed by every lord over his vassals by feudal custom and tradition, and custom hath the force of law. These rights are called relief, primer seizin, heriot, wardship, fine on alienation, aid, and forfeiture.

While the land held by a vassal is hereditary in practice, the death of the vassal originally ended the contract with the liege-lord. The king or lord legally (theoretically) has the right to take the lands he has granted back at the death of the vassal but, in practice over time, the heir is invested with the lands due him, until it became custom. But custom hath the force of law, and denying Henry Hotspur his extensive inheritance fired him to topple a king.

Before he may assume his father’s feof, the heir must first pay a “relief”. Relief is a sort of inheritance tax paid to the grantor of the feof, and is traditionally equal in value to the produce of the estate for a year, but it is generally agreed among the nobility that up to twice that is also reasonable, particularly on great estates. Even freemen must pay relief to assume their father’s lands when tenants on a lord’s estate.

If the inheritor of an  estate fails to pay the required relief, the king or lord has the right of “primer seizin”, that is, to seize the land and all its proceeds and to continue to enjoy that income until the relief is paid.

When a landed tenant dies, “heriot” is required to be paid first out of the estate. This stems from the practice of returning the horse, weapons and armor originally supplied to the vassal by his lord for use in serving his feudal duty when the feof was first received. With the advent of “scutage” (money  payment in lieu of military service), this was transformed into the gift of the best of the tenant’s livestock out of the estate prior to inheritance. One of the differences between the free commoner and the landbound is the fact that, while freemen tenants must pay relief, freemen tenants do not pay heriot.

In the event that the heir of an estate is too young to inherit (15 for commoners, 21 for nobles), the king or lord has not only the right, but the responsibility, of “wardship”. When the wardship of an estate is assumed, the king or lord reaps all the proceeds and benefits until the heir grows to an age to fulfill his family obligations, specifically military obligations in the case of noble wards. Oftentimes the ward is brought to the king’s or lord’s own court and household to be fostered until he reaches the age of majority and can assume his estates. Wardships are commonly sold to families seeking marriage partners for their children, or given as temporary sources of additional income to those who have earned the favor of the Crown.

An extension of the principle of wardship, the king or lord has the right to select a husband for any heiress to whom a feofdom or estate has fallen, to guard against the passing of the lands into the hands of his enemies, or into the hands of any who cannot fulfill the family’s (military) responsibilities. The king or lord will commonly use this right as a way to reward those in his favor with a wife of rich estates. The only restriction upon the king or lord in this right is that he may not marry the lady to a man who is her social inferior, nor make her marry a man she truly cannot abide, though the latter is not likely to occur. This is also expressed as the king’s or lord’s right to forbid any undesirable marriage he finds his vassals negotiating. While the vassal may not be told who he will marry (though his Majesty may make his preference known), he can say who he may NOT.

When a vassal dies without any surviving heirs of the blood, without issue and without relatives on his own or his wife’s sides of the family, the estate becomes subject to “escheat”. An escheat is an estate that returns part and parcel to the king or lord, no matter how it has been increased or changed in extent since the original grant, to be kept and enjoyed by him or regranted to some other worthy vassal, or otherwise disposed as he sees fit.

If a noble wishes to alienate a portion of his feof, whether to sub-infeudate by giving a portion of it to a vassal or to give a portion of it to another landholder in an exchange, he may do so without having to obtain the permission of the Crown, although doing so involves a fee, a “fine on alienation”.

Though selling land was originally illegal, due to the fact that (at least in theory) all of the land belonged to the Crown, feofdoms were granted under the guise of vassalage in return for a fee. Since the Crown was unable to put a stop to the practice, this fine eventually amounted to a tax on the sale of land.

In order to offset the costs of certain extraordinary times or ceremonies, the king or lord occasionally claim an “aid”, or the award of supplementary monies (an extraordinary tax) from his tenants. The king or lord actually has the right to demand an aid upon the marriage(s) of his daughter(s) and upon the knighting of his son(s), because of the great cost of these affairs, which are attended by the nobility at large (the reason the affairs are so expensive in the first place). More importantly, the ling or lord can request an aid in the event of (accompanying the king to) war, to help finance the mercenaries that will supplement his own Knights, and also to pay for provisions and the carriage of equipment to the battle site. An aid may also be collected on the king’s or lord’s behalf in case of his capture in order to pay his ransom.

Each aid requested is a separate thing to be determined individually, there will be no fixed rate (though a customary rate did prevail). Each aid will be negotiated between the Crown and those who will have to pay it. The nobility will commonly protest the paying of an aid for war, and dicker sharply over the percentage to be paid. Money aids are generally based upon the money value of the moveable goods owned by the nobility on their various estates, but might be based upon the extent of their lands, measured in “hideage” (parcels of land of 120 acres each). Carucage (carriage of freight) might be rendered in place of money for an aid, as well, the transport of men and supplies to a negotiated staging area.

The penalty for breaking the constraints of or failure to abide by the feudal contract by a vassal is called “forfeiture”. By this, the estates granted are claimed again by the grantor in the same manner as an escheat. In the same vein, when a tenant refuses to provide the labor dues attached to the land he occupies, he forfeits it and is put out of the property.  On the other hand, when the lord breaks his own obligations to his vassal, the vassal can attempt a “defiance”, refusing in turn to uphold his end of the feudal contract and attempting to hold his feof free of all feudal duty or obligations. This is rarely of benefit to the vassal, unless he is strong enough to make his revolt a success.

If the vassal loses a defiance, forfeiture is only a part of the penalty, the headsman’s axe awaits as well if he cannot get free and flee to safety.

As the king holds these rights over the greatest lords of the realm, the greater lords hold these same rights over their vassal barons and lesser nobles, and the barons hold these same rights over their vassal knights, as the Knights do over the tenant bordars, cottars, and serfs bound to their lands. But these relationships work both ways. While the lesser must do good service unto the greater, the greater must serve the interests of the lesser in turn where their influence will do them the most good, especially where the lesser is in need of a patron to succeed or face failure. As mentioned, the key to the feudal system is the personal relationships between dependents and superiors.

The player and GM must understand that all the fuss about land and rulership only really describes the upper-most layers of medieval society, the nobility as a whole comprising only 1% of the total population, Among the common people, the townsfolk only comprised about 10% of the population. The feudal system really has little if anything to do with most (free) commoners, even the wealthy merchants, except insofar as the feudal rights of the lords restrict their activities, a toll here and a tax there, purveyance, carucage, etc. The lower classes will be hedged about by the obligations created by the feudal system, in particular by the manorial, or signeurial, system over which the feudal lords preside, by which they rule, particularly influencing the customs and requirements by which the poor farmers and the landbound classes hold their property. Since their lot is to work the land, all tenants both free and landbound are bound by custom to provide a fixed number of days of work on the lord’s land, called week-work, and a certain number of specific farming tasks, almost invariably having to do with getting the lord’s fields harvested and his grain threshed each year. These are called signeurial dues, representing a system of customs and requirements extending from the manorial lord down through their tenants from commoners to the lowest serf. These are charged in lieu of the military services the nobles themselves are charged by their liege-lords or the Crown for their own lands. The signeurial dues are a matter of custom, handed down from time immemorial regardless of whether the lord of the land was an Anglo-Saxon, Dane, or Norman. and the tenants will fight their lords even in the lord’s own baronial courts to protect those rights, and win due to the unique way in which the medieval courts worked.