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Building a comprehensive ‘world’


toujours gai, archie
Much depends on how you define nobility. In Europe, anyway, nobility was a quality of blood, quite literally. Today we would say it's in the DNA--a quality of existence independent of behavior or of external validation. Marrying outside nobility literally diluted the purity of the blood and required several generations to restore.

But people often confuse nobility with titles, and titles did need a monarch. This was more true in some places than in others. By the time we're in Norman England, for example, the crown was the source of all titles. By the time of ... the Tudors? ... even noble status had to be granted from above.

France was more complicated (of course). The greater titles--particularly duke and count--were not only granted by the king but could be revoked by the king. In theory, the king could even make a commoner a count, but I don't believe that was ever done. But almost anyone could be made a "sieur" (we would call this a knight). Curious side note: the word knight derives from Knecht, which in German translates to "boy" or "servant". Roughly equivalent to garçon in French. The German for knight is Ritter. Which means rider. Which has the same sense as caballero in Spanish, or chevalier in French. All three languages basically have "guy who rides a horse." But the English just had to do things differently.


Down in Italy, nobles got some titles from the Emperor (who was also King of Italy), and a few from the Pope, but they did not hesitate to bestow titles on themselves. I confess I'm not sure how it worked in the Iberian peninsula, nor over in Hungary or Poland. But the general rule is easy: there was no general rule. Welcome to the Middle Ages!

Mad Swede

You've effectively described the situation in Wales before the English conquest, and also the situation in Sweden before the Union of Kalmar. In both countries leaders were elected by the freemen, and the criteria for election varied depending on the situation. Wales only had a single ruler when there was a major threat to everyone, otherwise each of the regions (the English referred to them as princedoms although they weren't) ran itself. In Sweden the King was elected by the clans, which consisted of freemen who lived in an area and who were often related to one another. The clan leaders were usually chosen from amongst those who had travelled inside and outside Sweden, and a part of life in the clan was ensuring that suitable youngsters got to travel so that there would be a cadre of people with the experience and contacts needed to act as leaders. In both countries the idea of nobility and titles came much later.

You should also not confuse nobles with those who have power. An English and later British example of this is the group known as the landed gentry. These were people (originally freemen and later usually farmers) who owned large areas of land but who didn't (and don't) have titles. They had a great deal of practical power, because they had money and they were literate. In the later 1700s and the 1800s they made up the largest part of the electorate (often because they had votes in several constituencies as a result of their land ownership) and provided most of the administrators needed to run things: JPs, parish clerks, parish overseers etc.


Lots more research to do! Wales and Scotland are big inspo for this project.

I’m toying with the idea of calling it the Gifted Blood series where I explore social mobility and class divides etc too.