y dear reader, I was recently at court invited to write an article regarding the social structure of Nirath, unfortunately, the complexities of our society cannot be unleashed in a single broadsheet and set loose to sow confusion even among those who should know better. While we, of course, understand the written and unwritten rules within our society I feel it unfair to future generations and to visiting foreigners to condense a native’s comprehension into a thousand words and so I present a series on The Five Estates of Nirath for you dear reader. We define these estates as Those Who Rule, Those Who Pray, Those Who Work, Those Who Travel and Those Who Fight. Each estate has a function within society and each is important in its own sphere. In this series, I shall examine each estate how they interact with each other and a ruler’s relation to them. In this part I will discuss Those Who Rule
((This is mostly an exploration of feudalism in a fantasy setting with some leadership and governance tips thrown in. Obviously, each tribe has its own cultural foibles which unfortunately takes some of the strategies of government out of the hands of the players because they are stuck with the cultures and governments the developers have set for them so your mileage may vary.))
Those Who Rule
Sometimes called the First Estate, those who rule are simply those who have an active role in the leadership or administration of civilian domains. This is most often taken to mean the nobility and the aristocracy, however, members of the gentry that have joined either a national or local ministry fall within these bounds. More than any other estate those who rule are tied intimately to the land and it is not for nothing that it is commonly said: “for every lord a land, for every land a lord.” Those who rule often oversee vast tracts of land that need to be populated by those who work, protected by those who fight, blessed by those who pray and visited by those who travel. This administration of land for a liege is important, for it is those who rule who are ultimately responsible for collecting taxes and for improving the lot of their peoples.
At the core of the First Estate is the concept of vassalage. Vassalage at its heart is the relinquishing of some independence in exchange for protection by a stronger, or more powerful liege. Vassals usually receive a plot of land or a stipend in exchange for their loyalty. Vassalage is an obligation not to be entered upon lightly, for the lord as well as the vassal. Each party has rights and obligations to the other, with serious consequences should either fail to perform their promised duties.
A vassal’s oath follows these five words: safe, sure, honest, useful, and pliable. A lord must have a safe vassal, who does not cause his lord physical or fiscal injury. A lord must be sure of his vassal’s discretion, leaking none of his secrets, such as castle locations, resources, or alliances that are his security. A vassal must be honest to do no injury to the rights, prerogatives, and justice of his lord. A vassal must have useful resources, perspective, connections or skills to add to his lord’s resources. And lastly, a vassal must be pliable ensuring his lord has no difficulties from his vassal in accomplishing his desires. A vassal swears more than the absence of harm to his lord. He holds his lands from his constant right action towards his lord’s interest. A vassal provides his strength and wisdom to his lord’s abilities. A vassal provides counsel and support to his lord. If he fails to do any of these things, his lord can accuse him of bad faith and take back his benefice. There is much that remains to be said concerning the role of the vassal. His oath is just the beginning of his obligations to his lord. There are three primary obligations that every vassal must provide first among these is service, a vassal must either provide troops for his lord’s service or the funds to pay for such troops. Second is that of good-governance, a vassal must make every effort to maintain or improve their holdings, repeated mismanagement and incompetence may give a liege ample reason to revoke a benefice. The third obligation is that of counsel a vassal is obligated to appear when summoned by his lord. Most lords take this obligation seriously. Vassals who refuse a summons may even lose their benefice. A vassal is required to serve time in his lord’s court as an advisor, as well as judge disputes brought before his lord.
In vassalage, lords are also obligated to their vassals. Like vassals, lords are obligated to keep good faith with their vassal and not act in any way that would injure the life, honour, or property of the vassal. A lord must also materially support his vassal with protection and maintenance. Protection is the oldest of obligations that a lord has to his vassals. Protection requires a lord to come to the assistance of his vassal if he is unjustly attacked, requiring a lord to defend his vassals against their enemies. Such obligation may even propel a lord to war in defence of a vassal. This is not just militarily lords are required to protect their vassals legally and politically. In disputes and infringements, lords vouch for their vassals, offering counsel, advice, and greater resources and wealth to the vassal’s side. Maintenance entails lords providing their vassals with the means to support themselves. This can either be through the grant of a fief which can be taxed or subinfeudated or the provision of a stipend. Lords generally prefer to grant fiefs as the excess income from these can be taxed, or otherwise subjected to various aids and reliefs.
Types of Fief
There are two types of fief those held by the lord in his own right and those held from another lord. Lands held by a lord in his own right are called allods and are the least common form of fief. Though almost every ruler is a freeholder of some sort most do not hold their entire demesne allodially instead holding their fief (or at least the rights to tax the residents of their fief) through being a vassal to their lord. A lords lands are generally divided into two, there is the land he directly controls, called eminent domain, and the part of his land he has used to enfeoff others, known as the utile domain.
Six Rights of Land
Holding a fief grants several inalienable rights to the person who holds it. The most important of these is the right of Homage and Fealty, by holding land, a vassal can become a lord to his own vassals. Through such subinfeudation, men build up networks of social, fiscal, and military responsibility. The second benefit is Service, once a lord acquires a vassal his vassal must provide him troops or the funds for such troops as well as providing counsel and justice duties. The third benefit is the right to Feudal Aids, in other words, the right to set taxes on those who live within the lord’s fief. Almost every fiefdom has the right to raise taxes to maintain infrastructure or to maintain the lord’s household and many have the right to set other taxes. The fourth right is that of Social Rights. Certain events, such as festivals such as festivals and markets are so financially beneficial that vassals are required to consult their lords, often paying a portion of the income, in order to gain the right to host such an event. Included in these Social Rights is the right of entertainment, while travelling a lord may call upon his vassal’s manors and he and his entourage must be hosted there at the vassal’s expense. The fifth right of a lord is Justice. Most benefices contain a small community or manor to which a lord provides justice. Lords receive coin from settling civil disputes among peasants and gentry and fines when peasants and gentry do not follow the lord’s manorial laws. The sixth right of lords is that of Feudal Incidents, like Feudal Aids Incidents are a form of tax, unlike Aids they are not ongoing. The most common are forfeiture, relief, wardship, and escheat. Forfeiture, the sundering of vassalage due to loss of faith or felony against obligation, is the only incident that does not deal with inheritance. Relief allows lords to charge one year’s gain as an entry fee on the potential inheritor of a fief. Wardship allows a lord to hold the fief as eminent domain until an heir of his deceased vassal comes of age, commends himself to the lord and claims his fiefdom. Escheat reverts the fief back to the lord when his vassal dies without heirs.
Those who rule all share certain experiences and thinking, despite their different stations. They share similar experiences gained in exercising feudal rights and the privileges of lordship. Every aristocrat and noble has their station, and they must perform the duties of their station. Even the meanest gentry understand the rights, powers, and responsibilities they wield. Those who rule also have an implicit and ingrained understanding that they are separate from the common cotter, craftsman, or merchant. Such separation is the natural state supported in all things.
Education is the primary way the upper classes pass down their understanding of the universe and their natural place in society. Both the aristocracy and the nobility learn the methods and rights of rulership through a more experienced mentor. The nobility have an immersion system of education. Young nobles learn what nobility is by watching and mimicking elder nobles. Their early years are usually spent with their mother. After six or seven years they follow their fathers around, learning how to manage affairs and social interactions, which are direly important in aristocratic circles. Some nobles send their children to a greater noble’s household to learn these same skills. Noble youths who reach the age of twelve either continue their education at court or enter religious or legal training. While education at universities is considered to primarily be the realm of the aristocracy and the middle classes in recent years the expense of private tutors is increasingly being forgone in favour of a communal education. Young aristocrats also learn what they need to know by following their father around while he performs his daily routine. They learn to dispense manorial justice and the traditions and customs of their area. Children of aristocrats gain what refinement the family can afford, often skipping on the more noble pursuits of dancing and poetry in favour of more practical concerns like riding and fencing. The education of the upper clases focuses upon very practical matters. Besides management and financial concerns, the education of aristocrats and nobles largely involves the duties of one’s station. Young aristocrats and nobles learn the social obligations of their station and the particular relationships between stations.
Every member of the upper classes supports a household. Households are collections of servants and other supporters, normally living under the same roof as the lord, whose purpose is to cater to
his needs, advertise his status and create the mode of life that he desires. This typically includes ladies-in-waiting, the sons of other nobles, their body servants, and any other people the lord supports in his main manor. The size of households varies on the status of the individual but a rough estimate of 10 to 30 for a member of the aristocracy, 20 to 50 for a member of the nobility, 50 to 200 for a duke, and over 200 in the King’s Household. Households have two tiers: the officers and the lesser servants. The upper tier is composed of stewards, treasurers, chamberlains and the head of each function in the household. Some larger households often have a separate secretariat to manage the lord’s correspondence and writs, which are also included in the upper tier of the household. Officers are usually from a social class similar to their lord’s. A noble’s officers are usually from the aristocracy or minor nobility, while the King’s are solely from the nobility. The lesser servants perform the mundane tasks associated with running the household and caring for the lord and officials.
Order of Precedence of Those who Rule.
Every member of the ruling classes has a position on the Order of Precedence, this position determines their rights and duties within the Nirathi Court and it is an important part of the existance of the ruling classes.
(Defunct within Nirath but included for reference)
Younger sons of the emperor
Grandsons of the emperor
Brothers of the emperor
Uncles of the emperor
Nephews of the emperor
(The King, his immediate family and the Ministers of State)
Younger sons of the sovereign
Grandsons of the sovereign
Brothers of the sovereign
Uncles of the sovereign
Nephews of the sovereign
Arch-clergy (of the highest patron god)
Lord High Chancellor
Lord High Treasurer
Lord Great Chamberlain
Lord High Constable
Keeper of the Great Seal
Lord High Admiral
Arch-Clergy (of lesser patron gods)
Lord Steward of the Household
Lord Chamberlain of the Household
(The nobility of Nirath and the leading members of the ruling classes)
Dukes’ eldest sons
Dukes’ younger sons
Count’s/Earls’ eldest sons
High-Clergy (of patron gods)
(The bulk of the ruling classes and the closest to the people)
Commissioners of the Great Seal
Treasurer of the Household (Noble Household)
Comptroller of the Household (Noble Household)
Master of the Horse (Noble Household)
Vice-chamberlain of the Household (Noble Household)
Count’s/Earls’ younger sons
Barons’ eldest sons
Knights of the Royal Orders
Lord Chief Justices (King’s Court)
Master of the Rolls (Noble Household)
Judges of the High Court of Justice (Ducal Courts)
Knights Bannerets by the Sovereign in Person
Barons’ younger sons
Knights Bannerets Not by the Sovereign in Person (Ducal Bannerets)
Knights of the Ducal Orders
Knights of the Second Class of the Ducal Orders
Knights of the Free Orders
Knights Bachelor (‘Hedge Knights’)
Judges of County Courts
Eldest sons of the younger sons of peers
Knights’ eldest sons
Knights’ younger sons
Interactions with Other Estates
Those Who Rule interact with other estates from the position of the superior to the inferior. In the areas where the estates cross (many nobility and aristocracy are among Those Who Fight and senior members of Those Who Pray are often considered to be minor nobility) Those Who Rule are in positions of command, dictating instructions to those of the lesser estates. While none will dispute that this is the natural order of things, the ablest of Those Who Rule remember that the other estates are essential to the prosperity of Nirath and each is deserving of respect in their own way. It is important however that Those Who Rule remember that they are in charge and prevent “misrule by committee” and punish disobedience and disrespect firmly, fairly and swiftly.
Relation to the Ruler
Rulers are almost certainly going to be from this estate and this estate is the most likely to be the estate that rulers interact with most. This estate is also the greatest threat to a ruler and must be managed and watched carefully.