The Landed Gentry
The vast majority of the remaining Aristocratic Hierarchy is made up of the Landed Gentry. These are individuals who have been given either a gift or a grant of land from an overlord. This gift or grant generally takes the form of a manor, it's associated farms and villages, and the people upon it. The holder of such a gift or grant is normally referred to as the lord of the manor. In return for this land, the overlord will generally expect some sort of service and/or tax, and in a feudal society the lord is a vassal of the overlord. Another rather archaic term for the landed gentry is thus vavasor, which translates to "vassal of a vassal," because the overlords of the landed gentry are almost always vassals of their own overlord.
However in a feudal/medieval society the vast majority of the Landed Gentry are actually members of the Military Caste. They are generally the elite soldiers of the nation, such as heavily armoured knights or samurai (or even hopilites in early eras). In fact the manorial system generally exists purely to support the existence of the knight. Thus the most common service owed to an overlord (in addition to certain rents) is military duty (the traditional value is 60 days of service, plus defence of the overlord's holdings against invaders). In later eras this service was replaced by scutage (or shield tax), which allowed the overlord (typically the sovereign) to employ professional soldiers (a Royal Army). naturally this increased the power of the sovereign, since he no longer had to rely on the loyalty of his noble vassals.
When an overlord bestows the gift of a manor on an individual it is generally for the life of the individual (unless the lord has been attainted for treason or other similar crime). At the death of the lord, the manor technically reverts back to being part of the overlord's estates, to be gifted again. However the expectation is that the heir of the lord will receives the gift (unless they have somehow alienated the overlord).
When an overlord bestows a grant of a manor on an individual then they have alienated the manor from their own estates. The manor will automatically pass to the heir (however distant that heir may be). It is only when their is no heir that the estate passes back into the custody of the overlord. However the new lord will still be expected to swear fealty to the overlord as part of taking up the lordship of the manor. If they don't they may be considered in revolt, and the manor seized.
Because of a general lack of of portable wealth (money) the manor/fief is generally the lowest economic unit within a society. That is, the manor grows the food to support the inhabitants of the manor, as well as additional food which the lord can then sell to the nearest town, mine, or other site that does not produce its own food. The lord can then use the cash income that results to buy those items that only towns and cities can manufacture ... and to pay the rents they owe their own overlord. Within the manor the lord adjudicates disputes and manages the community, and collects hs own rents, both in coin (from tenants) and (more likely) labour in his fields and on his projects (from his serfs).
A manor consists of
- The manor house itself, which is considered a Noble Asset. The vast majority of these manors take the form of a fortified manor house (especially in a feudal society). In earlier eras or more peaceful times they might simply be country villas (walled or not). On the other hand more powerful members of the landed gentry might even have a fort or keep, or even a small castle (the larger castles are generally closely held by the Titled Nobility because of their military power). The manor always contains the Great Hall, where the lord sits in judgement and his household knights sleep (most servants sleep where they work). They will be associated with a manor farm which is effectively the lord's own private lands, which are worked by his serfs (in addition to their working their own lands). The lord is often capable of investing in longer term projects than the typical peasant (whose first objective is to feed themselves and their family and pay their rents), and so a manor farm may feature orchards and vineyards (whereas a peasant farm might be very lucky to have a single fruit tree). Similarly the lord's garden may feature a wider variety of herbs (including medicinal herbs) than would be found in a peasant's garden. It might even feature a purely ornamental garden with flowers.
- The manor is always associated with a village [ Settlement E ]. The village often provides the speciality services required by the inhabitants of the manor, such as a blacksmith, miller (especially since the lord can traditionally take a cut of any grain ground in hs mill), baker (it is cheaper to bake a lot of bread at once than for each family to bake their own), and a village priest. The village will also generally have access to an apothecary in the form of a the village healer/midwife (which is often better than what people in town have). Larger manors will have more prosperous villages that can support more specialists, such as a carpenter, brewer, or innkeeper (especially if the village can expect travellers such as pilgrims and merchants to pass through). [Remember that inns are often used as freight distribution nodes by merchants. Which is they often have guards/watchmen of their very own.] If the manor has access to special resources then it can usually have some sort of specialist tradesman or guildsman. For example a manor with a quarry might support a stonemason, or a manor with a clay pit might support a potter. These specialists generally produce material directly for the lord of the manor for trade outside of the village itself.
- A large manor may also support a number of hamlets [ Settlement F ]. These are small villages that cannot support any specialists, and depend economically on the central manor/village, but are located at valuable resources (usually good farmland, but they may also direct support a quarry or mine. In which case the hamlet is composed of the quarry or mine workers, and is supported by the rest of the manor.
- The larger manors may also have a number of smaller vassal holdings. These are smaller Noble Assets whose lords owe fealty to the holder of the larger manor as overlord. They may be gifts or grants. They provide the main holding with extra income (in the form of coin, which is always valuable), and the overlord with military service. However that military service is owed by the lord of the manor to their own overlord. So if your manor contains two small manors as vassals, when called to service by your own overlord you will be expected to provide both yourself (and any household knights), and these two vassal knights as well.
Note that in the pre-modern era, when the military operates on a more professional basis, there is less of a need for the traditional manor/estate. In which case the noble often takes the role of absentee landlord, and merely collects rents from the villagers (in the manner of a true member of the Aristocratic Caste). In such cases the village is usually run by a Village Mayor [ Commoner 3 ] who organises the activities of the village, which still generally operates as a single economic unit (although one that is much more like a modern corporation in which the villages own shares).
Most Noble Assets are extant (and inherited). Creating a new grant requires alienating a part of a noble's own demesnes so they are naturally very reluctant to do that. And most of the existing gifts are already occupied. There is the option of developing the wilderness, but this is very expensive. In order to create a new Noble Asset in the wilderness it is first necessary to attract the people to the new holding (workers are valuable in an agrarian economy, which is why the vast majority of the Peasant Caste are serfs and legally bound to the land). Assuming you can attract the people to the area, you can use them to build a new holding at the indicated cost. They can then use the resources (raw material and labour) of the holding to erect the actual Noble Asset. If the holding has vassal holdings of it's own, then they must be built (including their Noble Assets), before the main holding can be built. So that small castle, while it may seem outrageously cheap in monetary terms, actually requires the full resources of a barony to actually create it. You are just paying for the stuff you can't resource locally.
The base cost for the standard Noble Assets that can be owned by the Landed Gentry are given in the following table.
|Shell Keep A||1,875||1,250||3,125||3,500||6,625|
|Shell Keep B||1,250||500||1,750||1,750||3,500|
|Manor House A||1,875||1,250||3,125||2,750||5,875|
|Manor House B||875||625||1,500||1,750||3,250|
|Manor House C||750||500||1,250||750||2,000|
|Manor House D||625||375||1,000||—||1,000|
|Manor House E||500||250||750||—||750|
All costs are in gp, and represents incidental costs (such as the employ of an Architect and other Master Builders to direct the unskilled labour, and materials not normally able to be resourced from the local holdings that are needed in the construction). If imported materials are used, and labour hired and fed, then the actual costs increase dramatically. Decorating the manor house and adding features to it or the holding will also attract increased costs (although in many caes this will just be in labour and food supplied by the holding).
The exact details of a typical manorial holding will be discussed elsewhere. Generally as the size of the holding (indicated by the letter and determined in the normal manner) increases, so does the size of the manor house, as well as the number of vassal holdings.
Living Expenses for Landed Gentry
The living expenses for landed gentry depend upon their rank, which is determined primarily by the size of their holdings. However if they possess the appropriate holding, then their maintenance is paid for by the holding (as well as that of their spouse and their family). The holding will also support a number of additional employees automatically (mostly servants and military personnel).
Lord / Manorial Knight [ Noble 4 ]
This is the most common form of Landed Gentry, the lord of a small manor [ Manor House D or Manor House E ] who has no vassals of their own. Effectively the leaves of the feudal tree. They usually hold their land as a gift from their overlord, although it may also be provided as a grant (in which case it belongs to their family).
The vast majority of these lords are manorial knights, who, as part of their fealty to their overlord, are required to provide a certain amount of military service. This will be specified in the contract defining the gift or grant of the land, and will usually involve the lord himself and a number of additional troops from the manor. Failure to provide the overlord with this service is a serious matter (often because the overlord effectively owes this service to their own overlord). Traditionally the required term of this service is 60 days, although customarily this applies to military ventures outside the lord's domain. The lord may extend the term of militray service (especially in times of war), but the knight would traditionally expect to be paid for this additional duty. On the other hand defensive military service usually has no limit, because part of the oath of fealty is to defend the overlord's domains.
In later periods the lord of the manor could replace their military service with scutage (or shield tax), which was money sufficient to hire a replacement for the military service they owe their overlord. Kings liked scutage because it allows them to form a professional Royal Army and not rely on their noble vassals to muster troops on their behalf. On the other hand,in this situation the nobles tend to lose a lot of their power. But as a result of this shift in policy, more and more of teh landed gentry become absentee landlords, simply drawing rent from their estates (or even passing on the right to collect rents to others). Things can get very complicated very fast.
|Lord / Manorial Knight [ Noble 4 ]|
|Monthly Expenses:||48 sp ( 4 gp)|
|Supporting Assets:||The gift or grant of a small manor.|
|Customary Titles:||Lord. [Sir if a knight.]|
Knight Bannerette / Baronet [ Noble 5 ]
A knight bannerette is a senior knight with vassals of their own. These vassal holdings are considered part of the knight bannerettes own holdings and are almost always gifts, rather than grants. They are usually geographically co-located, although there may be some physical separation. The knight bannerette is typically allowed to fly a special pennant so that their vassals can find them on the battlefield. They and their vassals typically fight as a unit (a lance).
They typically have a larger manorial holding [ Manor House A to Manor House C ] featuring a large fortified manor house. Again they hold their land as a gift or garnt from their own overlord, and owe him military service as well as rents. They typically also owe them the military service of their own vassals as well (they are a knight, not an actual noble).
A baronet is a knight that holds a shell keep, tower, hill fort, or other primarily defensive construction. Whilst not a true castle with outer works, a shell keep or a tower, is still a formidable military obstacle to take, although, since outbuildings are not protected, has limited offensive value. Whilst economically they are not that power, they gain extra status from their control of a military strongpoint.
Note that hill forts may actually be considered castles, especially for barbarian tribes. In which case the holder of the hill fort (a wooden castle) is considered a baron (clan chief) in their own right, and the hill fort will be the clan's stronghold. However the importance of hill forts declined with the introduction of stone and brick castles. For one point, they are far less flammable.
|Knight Bannerette [ Noble 5 ]|
|Monthly Expenses:||30 sp ( 5 gp)|
|Supporting Assets:||A large manor|
|Baronet [ Noble 5 ]|
|Monthly Expenses:||30 sp ( 5 gp)|
|Supporting Assets:||A shell keep or tower.|
|Customary Titles:||Sir or Lord.|
Baron [ Noble 6 ]
A baron is the holder of a small castle and the supporting holdings. A baron may be a vassal of an overlord or sovereign in their own right. Usually their sovereignty is simply a result of the general lawlessness of the region, allowing them to set up independently (for example as robber barons). If independent they generally maintain their position through military force.
The rank of baron represents the facts on the ground, as it were. It is not a title awarded directly by a sovereign, which means that they can be considered either the highest of the knightly class or the lowest of the noble class. The deciding factor is that most barons will not be related to the ruling dynasty. For example after the Normans invaded England a lot of the Anglo-Saxon nobles remained, but they were reduced in status to that of baron, whereas the Norman rulers actually had titles.
This means that anyone establishing a standard D&D-style domain in the wilderness with a stronghold could claim the rank of baron.
Amongst barbarian tribes the rank of baron typically equates to that of the individual clan chief, and the baron's castle will be a hill fort (or similar construction) that is the clan's stronghold. The knights being the clan's warrior thanes (essentially the owners of manorial farms or sufficient wealth to support a military elite warrior. In addition the baron will raise his own huscarls (household knights). Because the clan is tied together by blood and kinship, there is less of the civilised feudal hierarchy in the relationships.
|Baron [ Noble 6 ]|
|Social Status:||6 to 8 [depending on estates]|
|Monthly Expenses:||72 to 96 sp ( 6 tp 8 gp) [depending on estates]|
|Supporting Assets:||A small castle.|
[ The next part will deal with the Titled Nobility (Nobles of level 7 to 9). ]