Landbound Commoner Stations

For a description of Household Officer see both the free townsman and free rural commoner entries. The only difference between those entries and this one is the fact that landbound families are only found in the lower-ranking household positions such as butler, Pantler, cook, huntsman, groomsman, body servant, personal messenger, usher or Doorward, and are not tolerated as hangers-on after the fashion of a courtier.

The “Steward/Bailiff” entry indicates that the parent is an officer of his lord, but specifically involved in supervising and expediting the agricultural work of the estate on which he lives, or the administrative block of estates of which it is a part. He will be very popular with many of the locals as a result, generally, due to the usually oppressive nature of his work enforcing the requirements of week-work, making boon-work demands during the harvest when the tenants have crops of their own to get it, and so on.

Village Officers” are those elected by the residents of a village to be in charge of the ordering and management of the resources and labor of the village in cultivating the land and livestock to the best advantage and greatest profit. Of these, the reeve is chief, but these also include the hayward who makes sure the drainage and boundary ditches in the village remain clear, and that all hedging and hurdles between lands and for keeping livestock on private property and/or out of the common fields remain in good repair, and the aletasters who make sure that all of the beer brewed by the local alewives for serving the villagers is of proper strength and purity, as required by the law – the Assize of Beer and Bread. These offices can only be held by landbound tenants, and are generally rotated through the residents so the burden of serving in these offices doesn’t become too onerous. Indeed, providing proof (sufficient corroborating testimony) that one has never had a parent required to serve in any such office is deemed legally sufficient to prove free status.

The ploughman is a husbandman who works for an entire village and/or on the local lord’s demesne. Those he works for all contribute to the teams that pull the ploughs, and the ploughman directs and manages the work of the ploughing while also helping to care for the beasts through the ploughing seasons.

The herdsman or herder makes his living working for an entire village and/or the local lord’s demesne by caring for their beasts as well as his own, or he may have none of his own. He may be a cow-or oxherd, swineherd or shepherd (player’s discretion). The oxherder takes the beasts in his charge from the entire village or lord’s demesne at the end of the fall ploughing and sees to their care through the winter.

The dairyman or deye (female) not only collects the milk from the village milchcows in the morning but culls the cream, makes the cheeses and ages them, churns the milk for butter and then presses it into the forms to make it usable, and commonly also keeps the village chickens, ducks, geese and other fowl. He commonly makes his home and headquarters at the home farm of the local lord or religious house that rules the village or dominates it, hard by the village grange and tithing barn(s) even in the absence of such a dominant presence in the village.

The simple farmer is just that. Farming is all he is concerned with, that and taking care of his agricultural responsibilities to his lord. The extent of his lands are determined by his landbound class (villein, bordar, cottar, serf).

For a description of Craftsman see both the free townsman and free rural commoner entries. The only difference between those entries and this is the fact that, at the landbound social level, the family is also engaged in a craft or manufacturing trade of some sort, most commonly one of the domestic household crafts (chandlery, spinning, weaving, dying, etc.) , in order to supplement their income from farming which is likely insufficient on its own to provide for the needs of a whole family.

The Household Servant entry is fairly self explanatory. The GM must determine the Station of the household to which the character’s servant parent(s) is attached. They are generally discharged in the evening after the clean-up following supper has been completed each day, returning at daybreak. only those working upstairs as personal servants directly for the master of the house or estate, or their officers, sleep overnight in the house.

Common laborer families are engaged in various forms of labor for rather small daily wages, porting parcels for shoppers at market, carrying building materials, clearing and digging ditches, raking refuse, hauling water, as the results of table 2-8.d indicate, whatever can be found to keep bread on the table, particularly seasonal harvest work and maintenance in the rural districts.

Those of these stations generally also have at least a “toft and croft” to tend and till in addition to their housework or labors.

Free Rural Commoner Stations

The Government Service (local shire) entry indicates a member of the royal administration, but more specifically on the local, shire level, or one of the offices of the King’s Officers of the Realm, in the offices of the Sheriff, Coroner, or King’s Escheator, Justices of the Forests, Justices’ Keepers, and so on, as laid out under the heading “Shire Government” following table 2-13., as their assistants and/or clerk. The actual positions of Sheriff, Coroner, and Escheator are reserved for those of knightly rank, the natural place and function of the resident local Law-worthy Knights, Knights Bachelor or Knights Banneret in local medieval government. Many of the other, lesser, keeperships of manors or forests, chases, or parks  may be open to common administration, though this speaks of connections and higher (university, Church) education.

A gentleman, or man of gentle birth, is a farmer descended from a line of pastoral (minor, landed) Knights who either no longer desire or do not have the financial means to afford the trappings of their former knightly Station. If any branch of a knightly family fails to train for and earn the gilded spurs of knighthood for three generations in succession, that branch loses that right thenceforth. They simply become “gentlemen”. This does not mean that they have no privileges, they still have access through their family to positions in great lordly houses as clerks or officers, and their children may be taken in as pages and grow into positions of their own in the household, perhaps eventually recovering knighthood through service.

Gentlemen are accorded a degree of respect in their local communities due to their blood, recorded even in the Sumptuary Laws as above their commoner neighbors, and their circumstances are considered unfortunate, viewed with sympathy by the nobility in whose houses they usually render service in order to maintain some dignity and ties to their Class of origin. Their lands are worth a minimum of £12 up to £20 a year (somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 to 480 acres).

Franklins, a purely English term, are freeholders of extensive property. They are wealthy men of the country, farmers and husbandmen, who have prospered and raised themselves up without the benefit of noble blood. Their lands may be worth anywhere from £2 up to £10 a year, certainly no less than 60 acres and up to 240 acres.

The Scholar/Lawyer is just that, but in this instance it indicates a clergyman in the rural areas, a lawyer on retainer to one or more noble families to look after their interests in the local courts and the royal shire court (as appropriate to the character’s origins), a scholar working in the noble household directly either temporarily as a chronicler writing the (most flattering) history of the family, or as a magister (tutor and chaperone) to one or more of the household children.  The lower the station of the noble, the more children a single magister may be responsible for, those serving nobles of the rank of earl or greater will have only a single charge each. If there is a university town in the region, the scholar or lawyer parent might alternately be involved in teaching one or more lectures to the students periodically, even a master with a fellowship there.

The Courtier, Household Service entry is explained under the Free Townsman notes, but for the Rural Classes it should be understood to also specifically include the men of business or men of affairs employed by the nobles to send hither and yon about the country to sell the produce of their estates, to act as keepers for smaller blocks of lands and manor estates, take care of procuring their household needs in the markets and especially the fine imports they crave from the larger ports, to make inquiries into the houses of other nobles after marriages for their children, to consult well-connected Recommendresses for the same, as a messenger or go-between to facilitate communications and business with those of lesser rank, and to work alongside their legal counsel on their behalf in the courts and offices of government in securing the documents and dispensations they require to make their affairs run as desired as smoothly as may be. Without such agents or courtiers working for their interests at court and abroad in the realm they would never have time to attend to the details of running their honors and estates and orchestrating the complex details, social and legal, of their families, their personal needs, and the wide range of other assets and associations.

This Courtier works in the same manner as the Courtier described above, having the same duties and responsibilities, BUT with the difference that he is something of a “free lance” or free agent. He works wherever he finds opportunity to cultivate relationships with various patrons, but without being counted as a member of any one noble’s household as is the Courtier discussed above. Achieving that level of patronage is what this Courtier aspires to.

The Chapman indicated here is the same as that discussed under Free Townsman, except that the character’s family either owns or rents their home and land out in the rural areas and the itinerant merchant father must make a stop at the major market towns first when he starts his yearly circuit to purchase and pick up the stock he will peddle for the season. At the end of the season he will return to winter at the farm with his family.

The Yeoman/Common Farmer owns his own farm. Yeomen are the class from which the ranks of footmen soldiers in the service of the Crown are drawn, especially the archers, who often may also serve in a domestic capacity during peacetime. The GM will find a number of household positions noted as being held by Yeomen in the rosters of the King’s and Queen’s household in the pages following the Craftsman Crafts &Trades Notes. He is the master of a farm as large as roughly 90 acres, but generally around 30 to 50 acres, which may be a combination of owned and rented fields. He brings in about £1 in profits each year, more in  bumper crop years, less in years of dearth, and keeps at least one servant if not three or four.

None who fall below this Station are allowed to vote in the general elections for the Knights of the Shire when they are summoned to appear in Parliament (the King’s Great Council), or take any part in government aside from civil service (shire or royal clerk, radman/messenger, or the like).

The Craftsman/Farmer is equivalent to the impoverished Craftsman described under the Free Townsman notes insofar as the extent of his business in his craft. He enjoys a higher standard of living, however, due to the portion of lands he holds and farms in the common fields in addition, on the order of a villein’s virgate or smaller yeoman farmer. His fellow villagers lend him aid in return for his labor at his craft. Between the two he and his family are comfortable.

The Household Servant entry is fairly self-explanatory, but there is a distinction drawn among those in service between those working “above stairs” (valets and chambermaids) and those that work “below stairs” (cooks and kitchen sluts, stablehands, etc.). The GM must determine the Station of the household to which his servant parents are attached.

The Dayworker/Common Laborer will be engaged in various forms of labor for rather small daily wages, carrying materials, digging ditches, raking refuse, whatever can be found to keep bread on the table, in addition to farming a small plot such as a Cottar or Bordar might hold.

Free Townsman Commoner Stations

The Steward/Sheriff (Shire Gov’t Service) or Mayor (Town Government) is in charge of the administration of the town. The steward or sheriff is an appointed official serving at the king’s (sheriff) or his lord’s (steward) pleasure administering the affairs of a town in his lord’s feof, thus falling within feudal or baronial law under that lord’s care. If the pleasure and confidence of the lord has been earned, this appointment can last for life. In the case of the chief town of a shire, the official in charge will be a sheriff, based at the castle attached to the town. If the town has a royal charter, the sheriff will have no part of the administration of the town itself. that will be in the hands of a mayor. In the case of a town in a lord’s feof, all business must come through the office of the steward, including writs and official correspondence. Even royal agents aren’t allowed to trespass on their official business but must deliver the papers up to the steward, except by a special writ when the steward fails to act in accordance with the dictates of the Crown.

The Mayor part of this entry applies only to free-chartered towns. The mayor is a man elected by the aldermen of the wards into which the town is divided, from among their own ranks. To be chosen for either position, or for any of the other posts in the town government (secretary, treasurer, coroner, etc), one must be a property-owning burgess – the wealthiest members of the guild merchant, doctors, lawyers, or other well-heeled professionals, but including the members of the wealthy craft-guild halls only occasionally. The term of service was for life or at pleasure unless ousted for misconduct. The mayor is responsible for representing the town interests to the Crown or his sheriff, or the lord by whom the charter was granted, for finding collectors to gather tax monies, for organizing the levies when called for, Some towns may have a mayor and no councilors or aldermen, or there may be a panel of councilors or aldermen and no mayor. When there are both, the mayor acts as the chairman. The mayor might make as much as £125 per year. Often the relationship between a town and the local sheriff is adversarial, the sheriffs always attempting to assert feudal rights where charters have granted freedoms.

In London, the candidate for mayor must have proven his worthiness for the office first by having served as sheriff for the city for a year before standing for the mayoral election.

The Alderman/Councilor (Town Government Service) is a representative of one of the wards into which a town is divided for the purposes of government, To be chosen for this position, or for any of the other posts in the town government (secretary, treasurer, coroner, etc), one must be a property-owning burgess – the wealthiest members of the guild merchant, doctors, lawyers, or other well-heeled professionals, but including the members of the wealthy craft-guild halls only occasionally. The aldermen call themselves barons, and take for themselves the rank and dignity of peers. They are chosen from among the wealthier and wiser of each of the wards by those of the much more numerous body of common councilors, whose numbers are set by the town charter, varying between four and twelve per ward. The term of service was for life or at pleasure unless ousted for misconduct. The aldermen with or without a mayor are powerless to enact any legislation regarding the citizens of the town without the assent of the councilors. The councilors of Norwich numbered 80, and each of the four wards into which the town was divided (Conesford, Mancroft, Wymer, and Ultra Aquam) was represented by six aldermen. London had 24 wards, with an alderman for each and 12 common councilors.

An Affluent Merchant includes all wealthy members of the guild merchant, wardens and masters who, with their ready capital, finance the acquisition and shipping of the majority of the kingdom’s imports and exports. The larger and more wealthy the merchant guild, the more likely the merchants will be to form splinter guilds devoted to interests concerning a limited variety of goods, such as the grocers or drapers. The affluent generally rule their guilds, setting rules for quality of goods and measures, setting rules and regulations for apprentices, journeymen, and the admittance of new masters. They are always burgesses, that being a basic requirement for membership in the guild.

With the greatest disposable wealth, and hence clout, this Station commonly the strongest and most influential body in town society, due mostly to their constant concern with the affairs of the town. The more numerous by less affluent will generally be more difficult to motivate to raise their voice in public policy except when there is a persistent abuse being suffered that they require redressed, but even then, they are not likely to stay focused.

The Lawyer-Attorney/Pleader/Solicitor practices law in one of the several roles in the courts. An attorney is a lawyer with full power to conduct his client’s affairs at law, with full leave to act as his client’s agent, to argue his cases and causes, buy writs in his name, and receive judgements without having to get his constant approval and ratification at every step. These highly skilled and responsible men keep in close contact with their clients, however, as those whom they serve generally take a very active interest and closely supervise them, Unless they have no knowledge or interest in the law, or simply have no time for it due to the volume of domestic concerns (very common for great magnates), most clients will keep in as regular contact as they may with their attorneys to ensure their “great causes” are properly and zealously pursued.

A pleader is a man trained at law, a lawyer, but more specifically he is trained in the arts of rhetoric and belles lettres. He is hired for his skill in speaking to plead the cases of others in court so that a man’s ignorance need not be bared before the world. Their arguments and points are summed up for the client as the pleader proceeds, and must actually be ratified by the client and verified before being accepted by the court, to ensure that the case is argued as the client intends.

The solicitor is a clerk at law who works in a town where a particular court is located (hundred, shire, central royal). He is hired to search the rolls in which the writs and actions of the court are recorded and to keep his client informed of any actions taken against him, so that the client have sufficient time to prepare his defense or an answering suit. The solicitor is also present to keep tabs on the workings of the court, the cases on the dockets, the judges assigned, and the like to advise the client on the timing of his actions and the furthering the pursuit of any cases he may have pending.

Affluent Craftsman encompasses all wealthy members of the craft-guilds, their wardens and elders, and masters of manufactories that can be found in the towns. They are always burgesses, like their merchant counterparts, and members of the influential crafthalls or guilds. In the chartered towns, common councilors often be drawn from those of this Station. These men generally rule their crafthalls setting the standards for the trade, setting rules and regulations concerning apprentices, journeymen, and the admittance of new masters. When there are not enough craftsmen of a single trade to make a guild, several crafts may band together to form a regional corporation for mutual support. The banding together of diverse craftsmen will be much more common among the smaller boroughs of the countryside, often a measure taken out of self-defense against the powerful guilds-merchant in their own towns and in the larger shipping ports. With their wealth  and hence clout, these men are normally voted into administrative positions not only in their own guilds, but also occasionally over the towns as well. The crafts tend to clash over economic priorities with the merchants, who import and export manufactured goods, but the merchants tend to dominate the crafts.

Affluent craftsmen generally keep three to five domestic servants, some times more, in their fine half-timbered houses, usually with a brick or stone undercroft (cellar) and first floor. The annual income of an affluent craftsman can range from £15 to £20 a year. .

Courtier, Government Service or Noble Service indicates the parent is an untitled dependent to the court of a nobleman. They can be found in the courts of greater barons and those of higher magnates, dealing in favors of one kind or another, running errands, personal favors, full purses, and business concessions, testing allegiances and loyalties, looking to glean what secrets he may find. But there are courtiers of all levels and means to be found hanging on to noble courts and households of all ranks. Those who have gained sufficient favor and proved useful can be found as household officers.

The Constable/Beadle/Sergeant is an officer charged with maintaining the peace, of responding to and issuing the Hue and Cry to apprehend malefactors and then hold and present them to the courts, especially in the wards of the chartered towns, While there are others of this title, rank, and function as a part of the policing of each shire, we are concerned here with the constable, two to four beadles and four to six sergeants attached to the alderman of each ward in a town.

The Merchant/Chapman entry covers the entire gamut of importers and exporters who ply the roads and waters of the realm with their goods, making sure they get where they are needed. The attics or garrets of their half-timbered homes, and also commonly the stone undercrofts (cellars) are used to store the wares awaiting a buyer or carrier for shipment, as the average merchant cannot generally afford to build and maintain a separate warehouse of their own. The town guild is likely to have large a few warehouses for the storage of commodities commonly traded in bulk through the town.

The chapman is a type of wandering merchant who takes his wares by cart, horse, or mule on a circuit of the more remote rural areas from spring through fall. The takes orders to fill the particular needs of the people on his circuit, lord and commoner alike. Due to the remoteness of the areas served, the lesser lords as well as the common folk depend upon his services.

The merchant entry is strictly tied to Town environs, where the chapman is a wanderer and can have his base in either Town or Rural areas, though leaning to Town in order to get his stock to travel with, however, just as easy for the towns to be the first stop on his route from a Rural home.

Craftsman stands for just that, a common craftsman working for his bread at the craft indicated by table 2-12. If there is a local craft hall, this craftsman will be a member, admitted to the freedom of the town, but not necessarily a burgess (GM’s discretion). Those who do not own property will not be allowed to participate in elections or stand for office such as common councilor or alderman. Either way, this craftsman is assumed to own the tools of the trade and make enough of a living to afford to rent a shop and home. The craftsman with burgess status will be better off financially, maintaining two or three domestic servants.

The renter will be known as an impoverished craftsman, though he will have the means of maintaining a two- or three-room half-timbered cot with a bedroom loft above built up some alley or side-street, or a single-floor flat above his workshop, built up against the sturdier home of a burgess or tucked up against the town walls. This level of craftsman has enough business to take on one apprentice at a time, and perhaps to use the services of a journeyman occasionally to keep things rolling along. Most of these have only a little extra to keep in stock or materials on hand, but enough to maintain a servant.

Because they cannot afford the fees to take the freedom of a free town, the impoverished craftsmen are usually found gathered in the liberty or neighborhood designated as under the view of the Church where no such fees are charged. Unfortunately these are not the best of neighborhoods. For the ease of entry, they also attract many low types of poor reputation. In the free towns, residents lacking burgess status must seek permission from the town to marry, for that right belongs to the free burgesses. In practice, this causes a great number of Common Law marriages and illegitimate children.

The common farmer is a simple master of a farm as large as roughly 90 acres, but generally around 30 to 50 acres (equivalent to a rural yeoman), which may be a combination of owned and rented fields located in the immediate precincts of the town. He owns his own plough, team, tools, and other supplementary livestock (cows, chickens, etc.) and sells what he doesn’t personally need of his crop within the town where it is most often needed. He is a burgess keeping a half-timbered or timber and stone house either within the walls of the town or within a safe, close distance outside convenient to a gate. He will bring in about £1 in profits each year, more in  bumper crop years, less in years of dearth, and will keep at least one servant if not three or four.

The Gentleman, Franklin, Common Farmer and Craftsman/Farmer entries on the Free Rural Commoners table provide additional incidents of farmers of varying Stations to reflect their predominance in the primarily agrarian medieval society. There must be farmers to raise the crops to feed the people, especially the high concentrations of people in the towns where most of the residents are concerned with manufacturing goods and movement of those goods and raw materials.

A Journeyman is a man duly trained in a craft by way of a registered apprenticeship who is either too poor or too new to the craft to afford their own tools, or to afford even to rent a shop of his own if he does own the tools. Most crafthalls and guilds have a minimum requirement that all journeymen travel and practice their craft for no fewer than three years, during which time they are sometimes referred to as “improvers”. Journeymen hire out on either piece-work or a weekly basis to masters who need additional hands to work the materials to fill the orders for goods they have taken on. They often stay on in the shops in which they served their apprenticeships, thus increasing the income of the shop. When the master has no son, he may marry his daughter off to his journeyman so she will have a strong and capable pair of hands to help her keep the business going on his death. Because the licenses to take the freedom of the town, purchase property, and enter the craft hall or guild are expensive, many journeymen never become recognized masters of their crafts, but work their entire lives in other men’s shops. Lacking burgess status, journeymen must seek permission from the town to marry, for that right belongs to the free burgesses. In practice, this causes a great number of Common Law marriages and illegitimate children.

The Dayworker/Laborers form the body of common and temporary residents in the towns, made up of itinerant journeymen, maids and house servants, boatmen, bargemen, sailors, dock workers, porters, ditchdiggers, waterleaders, manual construction laborers, scavengers, refusemen, ragpickers, and all other manual laborers and all those seeking piecework for daily wages. They rent the damp, musty cellars or drafty empty garrets of the wealthier burgesses homes, or flats in apartment towers, throw up wooden shacks in alleyways, up side-streets, or under the steps of the larger homes of the better-off, where ever they can find a place. Lacking burgess status, journeymen must seek permission from the town to marry, for that right belongs to the free burgesses. In practice, this causes a great number of Common Law marriages and illegitimate children.

The Common Classes

The remaining people of the medieval world, the commoners or simply “Commons”, comprise the Third Estate, the lowest of society’s three recognized classes. These are “Those Who Work” or “Those Who Toil”, responsible for producing most of the food in the medieval agrarian society and producing all consumer goods, raising buildings, repairing them, carrying goods from place to place, and so on. The Commons are composed of both free and un-free elements, the un-free elements ranging from largely self-directing Villiens to the sometimes harshly oppressed Serfs.

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The Freemen

The Free Commoners have the right to travel as they please about their lawful business (despite the fact that this is discouraged and frowned on by the Crown and governing nobility, who prefer they at least stay within their native shire, if not their home village or even their hundred), to engage in the trade of their choice, to dispose of their produce and property as they see fit, marry whom they wish, and similarly dispose of their children in marriages.

Freemen are just that, free, to conduct their lives and business as they wish within the bounds of the law. These rights are what separate them from their landbound cousins who are also accounted among the Commons, who fill much the same function in society, doing much the same work. The Class of freemen encompasses the merchants and itinerant chapmen, and laborers of the towns, as well as the ubiquitous farmers of the agrarian medieval world who make up the overwhelming majority.

For those who do not enjoy the success available to many in commerce of the towns (the overwhelming majority), the Clergy is an open avenue for advancement in prestige, influence, and income freely available to free folk (roughly 2% of the overall population). The wandering Players, Troubadors, Minstrels, Acrobats and other entertainers without land and without lords, are traditionally forsaken by the Church as standing outside the social structure, and are primarily comprised of younger sons of the free Classes or runaways of the landbound Classes. This is the readiest source of adventurers, their retinues and servants, except for the younger sons of nobles who have the advantage of a tradition of arms as well as the freedom to wander, and so just as perfect for the purposes of the game.

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Free Townsmen Commoners

Of “Those Who Work”, free townsmen make up the approximately 10% of the population dwelling in the towns. Those who live in the towns are somewhat of an anomaly in the feudal world, for they are often free of most feudal ties and signeurial and manorial duties. Those that remain to them are generally discharged as a yearly money payment, collected by the chartered town government as ‘scot and lot’(taxes) and paid to the lord or the Crown in a lump sum. The nobility struggled throughout the period to bring them under their thumb and define them in more concrete feudal or signeurial terms. Due to their wealth, they resisted, almost an emergent Fourth Estate, but due to the fact that their role in society is still to work, to transport, to trade in the goods that all desire and need to live, they remain part and parcel of the Third Estate. As a body, the towns act as a necessary part of the manorial and feudal systems, providing the means for redistributing goods where they are most needed, taking on the role of lords as a body over the lands and villages in the hinterlands that support them, yet another cog in the great bureaucratic medieval machine.

Those folk who are drawn to the towns come because they have the freedom to do so, and usually as a means of improving their lives, for the towns represent opportunities in commerce, crafts, and society. Living in a town isn’t generally enough to give a man rights or representation in the government of the town. This lies in the hands of “burgesses”, free men of the towns, who own property and pay a yearly tax to help discharge the signeurial debt to the chartering lord (“scot”), and also subject to being chosen to serve in town government (“lot”). Being subject to “scot and lot” are considered requisites to being counted among the burgesses of a given town or borough.

Crafts and trade are only brisk enough for the greatest few in the towns to ignore the agricultural basis of life in the surrounding medieval world. At harvest time, even the laborers of the towns come out into the fields and surrounding rural lands to help bring the crops in, however. They could well go hungry if the harvest is not gathered in time, and the pay for harvest-work is better than that paid for farm work at any other time of the year.

The wealthiest of the free folk of the towns love nothing better than using their wealth to ape the ways of their noble superiors, buying small estates in the countryside where they can take their leisure, like gentlemen-born, so the wealthiest townsfolk return to working the land like noble lords, bringing the social cycle full circle.

Free Rural Commoners

The Free Commoners have the right to travel as they please about their lawful business (despite the fact that this is discouraged and frowned on by the Crown and governing nobility, who prefer they at least stay within their native shire, if not their home village or even their hundred), to engage in the trade of their choice, to dispose of their produce and property as they see fit, marry whom they wish, and similarly dispose of their children in marriages.

Freemen are just that, free, to conduct their lives and business as they wish within the bounds of the law. These rights are what separate them from their landbound cousins who are also accounted among the Commons, who fill much the same function in society, doing much the same work. The Class of freemen encompasses the merchants and itinerant chapmen, and laborers of the towns, as well as the ubiquitous farmers of the agrarian medieval world who make up the overwhelming majority.

For those who do not enjoy the success available to many in commerce of the towns (the overwhelming majority), the Clergy is an open avenue for advancement in prestige, influence, and income freely available to free folk (roughly 2% of the overall population). The wandering Players, Troubadors, Minstrels, Acrobats and other entertainers without land and without lords, are traditionally forsaken by the Church as standing outside the social structure, and are primarily comprised of younger sons of the free Classes or runaways of the landbound Classes. This is the readiest source of adventurers, their retinues and servants, except for the younger sons of nobles who have the advantage of a tradition of arms as well as the freedom to wander, and so just as perfect for the purposes of the game.

When the Free Common family comes from the vicinity of a town (or city), the village, hamlet, thorpe, isolated farmstead or manor, etc. (GM’s discretion) in which they dwell is administered by an agent – bailiff or reeve – of the municipality that holds sway there. The town or city of administering the district lies within roughly 10 or 15 miles of the family home, and holds no less than c.500-1,000 in population (GM’s discretion). Produce of all similar villages and farms in the district is brought to the town or city to contribute to the markets there. While they are still disparaged by the town residents as being “rustics”, they at least have exposure to town life and commerce, much more sophisticated than those hailing from truly rural reaches of the countryside.

When the Free Common family is located in a rural setting, it is located in a village, thorpe, or hamlet of a castellarium (a group of villages, etc, designated to support a castle) or the demesne of a manor (the manor’s immediate lands) of a noble or ecclesiastical lord (GM’s discretion). This is likely to lie at least 10 or 15 miles from any village, etc. that lies within 10 or 15 miles of any town, city or borough (GM’s discretion). These lands are administered either by a lord in residence, or by an absentee lord through his resident agent, known as a bailiff.

These lands are located more towards the outskirts of whatever village (etc.) they fall within, or may be a completely self-contained freehold farm outside the village (etc.) itself completely. When the family also rent lands from the local lord, those rented lands are found within the demesne itself.

Of the full-time farmers among “Those Who Work”, freeman farmers are largely the upper crust. Most folk of this Class have a fair holding in land, no less than 30 acres, most commonly 50 to 90 acres, and sometimes as much as 120+ acres. This more than feeds them and provides them with a fair amount of profit to buy apprenticeships for their sons into a craft in town, dower off any daughters to help build the family fortune, perhaps send a child off to be educated for a career in the Clergy, but concentrating on adding to their land holdings, perhaps even enough to partition off parcels for any beloved younger sons. Those so fortunate as to achieve a large enough holding of land may attract the attention of the impoverished gentry or lesser nobility, and through an advantageous marriage match gain a little blue blood, and thus begin to climb the social ladder in earnest. Though the loss of the labor of young hands cane be a burden to a common farming household, they comprise another great resource for adventurers, their retinues, and servants in the context of the game. Some contract the wanderlust from traveling players or chapmen and strike out alongside them to see the wider world and perhaps find their fortunes.

The familiar term of “peasant” is actually a generic label applied to the body of common freeman craftsmen, farmers, and/or laborers by those of higher station, who also refer to them as the “great common rabble”. Nevertheless, peasants are free men.

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The Un-Free:

Landbound Commoners

Landbound Commoners are primarily concerned with farming, though they may well be engaged in other activities to supplement that, as seen in the stations available for them. Families of this class are found in the villages, thorpes, or hamlets of a castellarium (a group of villages, etc, designated to support a castle) or the demesne of a manor (the manor’s immediate lands) of a noble or ecclesiastical lord, or municipal council (GM’s discretion).

When the family comes from the vicinity of a town (or city), the village, hamlet, thorpe, isolated farmstead or manor, etc. (GM’s discretion) in which they dwell is administered by an agent – bailiff or reeve – of the municipality that holds sway there. The town or city of administering the district lies within roughly 10 or 15 miles of the family home, and holds no less than c.500-1,000 in population (GM’s discretion). Produce of all similar villages and farms in the district is brought to the town or city to contribute to the markets there. While they are still disparaged by the town residents as being “rustics”, they at least have exposure to town life and commerce, much more sophisticated than those hailing from truly rural reaches of the countryside.

When the family is located in a rural setting, it is located in a village, thorpe, or hamlet of a castellarium (a group of villages, etc, designated to support a castle) or the demesne of a manor (the manor’s immediate lands) of a noble or ecclesiastical lord (GM’s discretion). This is likely to lie at least 10 or 15 miles from any village, etc. that lies within 10 or 15 miles of any town, city or borough (GM’s discretion). These lands are administered either by a lord in residence, or by an absentee lord through his resident agent, known as a bailiff.

The class of “villein” is the highest of the landbound Classes of the Third Estate. A villein is a common village farmer or Husbandman who has some limited personal and landed property rights, and most importantly is not bound to his land as a serf is. The term villein and its modern day definition comes from the fact that the folk of this Class and all those of the Classes beneath them were generally rude and crude in their way of life, lacking all the refinements of nature, manners, and living that marked and were pursued by the Classes above them, and so they were considered prone to evil ways.

Like most of the landbound Classes, the villein is something of a slave, bound to his lord, but the villein has guarantees against being maimed or killed by him. The average landholding of a villein is a “virgate”, consisting of roughly 30 to 40 acres (depending on the quality of the land) in the common village fields. This is the amount of land a pair of oxen are able to cultivate in the course of a year, which by his wealth and station the villein will own and contribute to a village team of 8. This amount of land is also considered sufficient to support the average commoner and his family. Poorer villeins may certainly have smaller holdings, as small as 15 acres, while a well-to-do villein might have as many as 90 acres, or so. The head of a villein household night also pursue some other trade in addition to farming, but generally in the cold winter months when the fields lie under snow and he has more time on his hands, and the land will still be his primary source of his bread. Pursuit of a hand-craft will be much more prevalent among those villeins with smaller holdings in land to supplement the proceeds of their fields to support their families.

The “bordar” is a lower Class of villein bound to manorial (signeurial) service to his lord. Bordars are farmers also, who occupy “cots” – small one- or two-room cottages with a loft above and a croft (field) of roughly five acres of tillable land in the village extending back behind the house, rather than in the surrounding common village fields. He may also hold from five to as much as 15 acres (called a “bovate”) in the lord’s demesne, which he works at the lord’s will (GM’s discretion). The bovate is the amount of land a single ox is able to cultivate in the course of a year, which lone ox those bordars who hold this much land will also own and contribute to a village team of 8. The head of a bordar household (and those children who are old enough), might also sell his labor services, or pursue some craft or trade in addition to farming during lulls in the work on the land, particularly in winter, to provide the additional income needed to support his family. Though he does not own his home or the land he occupies, the bordar’s heirs usually assume the cot after he dies, once the fees are paid from the estate and by the heir (heriot and relief).

Serfs are the bottom rung on the social ladder, the lowest members of the Third Estate, save only actual slaves. Unlike slaves, serfs are protected from their lord’s abuses by custom. The serf is bound to the manor whose lands he works, and he must get approval for his comings and goings when leaving the estate from the lord himself or one of his appointed officers (reeve, bailiff, steward, etc.) if he can find one who will take the responsibility for that decision. If the lord is willing, the serf may pay an annual tax to his lord in order to pursue a life away from the manor.

While the serf is bound to the land, the land is also bound to the serf. Although the lord might sell off some land and its serfs, by force of custom the lord may not sell the land and move the serfs on them to other lands he still owns. Serfs have no rights in property at all, and all property, including personal belongings whether earned or gifted to him, are considered to have been lent to him and actually belong to his lord. This includes the hut/hovel in which he lives, which the lord is said to have “allowed” him to build.

In practice, the serf can buy a license from his lord to live outside the manor and pursue his own aims and goals. the only weakness in this lies with the fact that the PC might be called back to service when the lord has a need for him.

IF a landbound commoner can escape his lord and live his life openly in the confines of a town with a royal charter as a free man for a year and a day or longer, and prove it in open court if or when found again and summoned to court on account of a writ of neifty, by common custom (law) he is freed utterly of any signeurial bonds and the heirs of his body along with him, in perpetuity.

“Town air makes men free.”

Running off and hiding in plain sight for a year in a royal borough might be a plan the landbound PC might try to execute to obtain his freedom permanently, rather than living with paying for the yearly license to live away from the demesne, always subject to recall if his lord has a need for him.

Alternately, any characters of the Serf Class might be paired with a character of noble birth related by blood to the lord of the manor whence he comes, and should be allowed an opportunity to earn his freedom through service so he can actually enjoy the fruits of his labors and adventures, marry, and pass them on to his children. This is a much more difficult path to take, but richer for the opportunities to roleplay, and rewarding in the end when the goal is achieved.

The Stations of the Clergy: Priest

The priest is a is a member of the clergy who has been through the minor orders and ordained in all the major holy orders.

Priests make up 2-5% of the general population.

Minor orders are conferred upon those pursuing an education in the Church or specifically studying for the priesthood, involving first tonsure and ordination as either an Acolyte, Lector (one who reads), Ostiary (doorkeeper), or Exorcist. Of these, the Acolyte is the highest in prestige. These four are called “minor orders” because perpetual celibacy was not required of them.

Those studying for the practice of law rarely go beyond minor orders in their career path unless they specialize in canon law or civil law. No prospective clergyman would take further vows (major orders) in the church unless a benefice was offered for his maintenance.

The usual minister bestowing minor orders was a bishop; but some abbots could give the tonsure and minor orders to their subjects.

After receiving all the minor orders, the clergyman could receive ordination in the major orders.

The major orders are the final ones: Subdeacon, Deacon, and finally Priest. The reason these orders are considered “major” is with ordination to the subdiaconate, both the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours (the Divine Offices) and perpetual celibacy become mandatory. An acolyte does not have to perform the Divine Office and can marry without Papal dispensation if he leaves his holy course of study before becoming a subdeacon.

Neither the minor orders nor the subdiaconate are considered a part of the sacrament of Holy Orders, but are instead viewed as preparatory offices to the priesthood.

The parish priest is in charge of a town or village chapel or church and its parish, generally equal to a whole large village/small town or collection of small villages, generally encompassing about 100 families. He is responsible for teaching the congregation the equivalents of the Paternoster, Ave, Creed, and the seven (or nine) Virtues and deadly sins four times during the course of the year. He is supported by the tithes and the proceeds of the glebe lands allotted to his church, which he must help work with his own hands, right alongside the common farm folk of his parish. The house appendant to the church  in the priest’s care, in which he lives, is called the parsonage.

A monk or priest who dwells exclusively in a religious house of some sort, either in a town or a rural setting, who is unable to come or go except by the permission of his abbot/prior (monks) or Father/Mother Superior (priests) is called “cloistered”.

rector is a type of priest appointed to take care of a church that does not belong to either a parish, a chapter of canons, or a religious order. Thus, he is not the parish priest, his church is not be the central parish church or belong to a religious house or community, though he may have charge of a seminary or university college. A rector is not allowed to perform baptisms, confirmations, anoint the sick, or conduct a marriage or funeral without the permission of his parish priest except in an emergency. His regular duties are comprised essentially of regular masses, taking confessions, teaching (“song school”), and administration. Unlike the vicar who fills in for an absentee priest, to whom all excess income must be sent, the rector takes care of a satellite church of a parish founded because the population is too great for the parish church alone to serve its needs. He is allowed to manage the lands and income awarded to the rectory wholly on his own behalf and that of his congregation.

The chaplain/confessor is a priest or monk in the service of a noble family or higher clergyman, whose duties include performing private services for the family/household, supervising private devotions for family members, hearing confessions (as applicable) and also working as a scribe, bookkeeper or personal secretary. They are often assigned to individual members of the household, particularly the lady of the house, or the daughters, for whom they may also act as chaperone, or the eldest son and heir, also often filling the position of family tutor (“magister”).

The Stations of the Clergy: Friar

Friars live among the poor in the towns, tending to the sick and destitute, preaching to the poor commons, the most neglected by the Church at large. Friars differ from monks in that they are called to a life of poverty and sworn in service to whatever community they encounter. The Franciscan order, or Friars Minor, stressed minority or humility. The humble wandering friars stop and minister to those in need where ever they may be found, allowed the use of the parish churches to celebrate the High Mass, and to hear confessions and imposes penances (as applicable). The organizations of the friars themselves stand outside the hierarchy of the regular clergy, bishops, archbishops, etc.;  friars are responsible only to the superiors of the religious house whence they hail, which superiors themselves are bound only to answer to the high prelate of the Church himself.

The Stations of the Clergy: Pardoner

The wandering pardoner, also called a “questor”, is an official appointed by the high prelate of the prevailing religion and invested with the power to grant indulgences (absolution in advance for transgressions against the faith) for various sins in exchange for alms, of which he is allowed to keep a small portion (from 1//10th to 1 in 8). Pardoners commonly carry saints’ relics and for a nominal (set) fee in alms he will allow his patrons to view them, perhaps even touch them. An ambitious pardoner can bring in more than £60 per year in income. These men are not well-liked by their brothers in the Church, however, as can be seen by the following contemporary quote :

“Fie! Penny preacher, murderer of all the world. How many a soul dost thou cast with thy filthy lucre (money) from [the Light’s] own sunlight to the bottom of [Darkness], where there is no more hope for them! Thou promisest so much indulgence for a single halfpenny or a single penny, that many people trust thee and dream falsely that they have done penance for all their sins with that penny or that halfpenny as thou babblest to them. so they will do no right penance and will go straight to [the Darkness] where there is no more hope for them …. Thou murderer of right penance, thou hast murdered right penitence in our midst, which is one of the seven most holy things of the highest that God hath, It hath been so murdered by penny-preachers that there are few among us who will still do penance for our sins; for they count on thy false promises. For the penny-preacher preacheth to them so long and in such manifold words of our [Light’s] passion that men take him as a true messenger of [the Light] : for he weepeth in his preaching and useth all manner of deceit whereby he may coax pennies from his hearers, and their souls into the bargain.”

A wonderful piece of clerical invective out of the history books, and stemming from the common occurrence not so much of corruption among the pardoners as of knaves, rogues and other tricksters pretending and posing as pardoners for the sole purpose of seducing the innocent into parting with their ready coin. The common religious is appalled at the basic premise of the trade, as well, however, and especially at its impact on the people, their piety and respect for the Church, their habits of worship, and also the sapping of monies that could otherwise have found its way into the poor-boxes of the local churches, which are expected to provide constant charitable services to the needy who daily flock to their doors. This does not mean that the people do not take comfort from the ministrations of the pardoners, just the same. Few think of the impact elsewhere when the pardoner comes calling down their own lane – such a convenience! All the servants of the Church are largely considered to be equal by the people, so giving money to one is as good as giving it to the local parish priest in their eyes. The fact that it goes straight to the prelate and into the pardoner’s purse doesn’t even occur to most of them.

The Stations of the Clergy: Prior

prior is either the right-hand man or second in command of an abbot, usually in a large abbey that requires much energy and attention to administer, or he rules a satellite monastery of his own which has been created by some other house because it became too large in population and wealth, in which case he answers to the abbot of the founding house. All priory lands belong to the sponsoring house, but are completely subject to the discretion of the prior of the satellite house, called a “priory”. Priors and their successors are always appointed and anointed by the abbot of the house that sponsored them. They are elected for life or until the majority of the inmates can convince the local bishop that a new one is needed due to advanced age, incompetence, corruption, and so on.

The Stations of the Clergy: Abbot

The abbot is the official in charge of a monastery or abbey and is not necessarily a priest, though he must be a brother or monk sworn to the vows of the order to which the abbey or monastery belongs. The abbot can be the equivalent of anything from a prince to a baron in the hierarchy of the Church, depending on the wealth of the religious house in his care, how well endowed it is with lands and income. Abbots and their successors are always elected by the inmates of the monastery from among their own number. They are elected for life or until the majority of the inmates can convince the local bishop that a new one is needed due to advanced age, incompetence, corruption, or the like. If he rules a large abbey that requires much energy and attention to administer, the abbot may well have a prior as his right-hand man or second in command.

The Stations of the Clergy: Monsignor

monsignor is a lesser official under a bishop, the equivalent of a baron(Lord) in the Church hierarchy, responsible for overseeing a certain number of church/chapel priests in the diocese and the maintenance of their parishes. Monsignors are always fully ordained priests and always have a church and parish of their own which they use as the center for their administrations.