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Knights of the (Not So Old) Republic

Discussion in 'Research' started by D. Gray Warrior, Oct 11, 2017.

  1. D. Gray Warrior

    D. Gray Warrior Troubadour

    I'm working on a setting with the main nation being a republic, but it has medieval knights. Are knights necessarily a product of feudalism or monarchies? What about medieval republics like Venice? Did it have knights?

    One possible explanation I'm considering is that the nation was once a feudal monarchy, but it was overthrown and replaced with a republic. The knights are what is left over from the old system and may have even led the coup. I figured they would play a prominent role in politics either under the service of the new government, or running the governments themselves either directly, or influencing the government officials. Maybe they found an order dedicated to justice and peace where they try to maintain order, enforce the law, and protect the weak.
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    You absolutely can have knights in a republic. Venice did not have them, but Florence did, as did other Italian city-states. I'm pretty sure the Free Imperial Cities in Germany also had them. It worked like this.

    Nobility gets created by kings (or emperors). They were all over the place. As cities found ways to become quasi-independent, they came to an arrangement with the local nobility. Rather famously, Florence forced the knights in its contado (the rural area controlled by the city) to retain a residence in the city, as a way of keeping them in line. It sorta worked.

    More generally, have your king or emperor be remote. He is an overlord, but mostly in theory only. But he's the source of the noble status for the knights.

    The source is important. There has to be some external authority, or else everyone and anyone could declare themselves knights. Nobility gets diluted over time anyway, as impoverished nobles marry rich merchants, so again there needs to be a process by which status is gained, retained, or lost.

    That last idea you mention has potential, though. You could think of the remaining knights as a kind of guild. Membership is through co-optation. They have standards of purity, behavior, and of course membership fees. A system like that could be maintained independent of any external authority. You could have one in each city. Or you could try to have something more widespread. Use the organizational principle of the Cistercians, with a central chapter and daughter houses, with an annual general council to keep everyone more or less on the same page.

    This sort of organization could be in power, out of power, in league with power ... lots of possibilities. Hm. I may have to "borrow" this myself!
    Russ likes this.
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Oh, my previous post blithely (you did notice me being blithe, didn't you?) ignores the distinction between nobility and knighthood. The two were interwoven in medieval Europe, but it was possible to be a knight without being noble, and to be a noble without being knighted. As with all things medieval, arrangements were much looser in the earlier centuries, tighter and more restrictive later.

    I mention this in case the distinction matters for your story.
  4. Russ

    Russ Istar

    Skip has got you on the right path.

    Knighthood was as extremely complicated concept in various parts of Europe at various times, so you can do pretty much what you want with it in fiction and not look like a tool.

    Don't even get me started on the difference between Liberi and Ministrale in the Habsburg empire...
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    *obscure historian chortle*

    There is one consideration. Not an especially big one, but you ought to be aware. Most people have a very clear notion about medieval knights and knighthood--there are two or three basic stereotypes. If you violate those, be prepared to hear readers say you got it wrong, maybe even blast you for not knowing your history. Don't sweat it. Like Russ said, we're dealing with a thousand years of history and an entire continent. Whatever you choose probably has a historical precedent somewhere/when.
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