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Feudalistic Concerns


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I'm working on designing the feudalistic breakdown of a kingdom for my next fantasy campaign and I've run into a few "problems". I'm hoping that someone can answer a few questions to help me understand this all better.

 

Note: I'm trying to base this off of the English feudalistic system for reference. While reference to Germanic and French systems may be useful, I'm looking specifically for English system answers.

 

Regarding land ownership, the King owns the land of the kingdom, the land is given to grand lords as a fief. The grand lord gives sections of their land to lords for smaller fiefs. Now from what I'm seeing, these lords also break down the land even smaller to what are known as vassals. The vassals see that the land is worked by the peasants. First question: Is this correct or are the vassals and lords of this breakdown the same thing?

 

The second question is based on counties. In the English Feudalism system, a county is known as a shire. What I cannot find is how large a shire is. Is a shire the realm of a Grand Lord, the realm of a Lord, or an entirely different entity?

 

Finally, a sheriff (aka a Shire Reefe) is the judicial body of a county. Who does a sheriff report to? This, I cannot find information on as well.

 

 

In modern Robin Hood references, I suspect the feudalism of the story is badly mauled. Most Robin Hood stories seem to imply that the Sheriff of Nottingham reported directly to Prince John which does not seem to be correct.

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Re: Feudalistic Concerns

 

I may have just answered two of my questions.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheriff_of_Nottingham

 

According to wiki, the Sheriff was appointed his position by the Lord Mayor. That would be who he would be responsible to. I hope to learn more about what exactly a mayor is in the next few minutes. :D

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Re: Feudalistic Concerns

 

My understanding is that the King owns all the land, always, except for some which belonged to the church, and as time went on, a small but growing number of other establishments (free cities, universities if they weren't operated by the church). Early on, only the church establishments existed.

 

Great nobles who had their land from the King could (and did) give grants to lesser nobles and knights.

 

Fiefdoms were usually extended for the lifetime of the landholder. They could be revoked for cause but it had to be a drastic one (treason, apostasy, failure to fulfill feudal obligation). It was generally the case that the legitimate heir of a feudal lord more or less automatically received the fief of his father, but this wasn't absolutely required.

 

Nothing stopped anyone from holding land from multiple different lords. This could (and did) put people in the awkward position of owing war services to opponents in a war; as long as the lord (or knight or squire) provided all the services required by his enfiefment (not sure that's the right word) then he was OK, legally. If prudent, a landholder only owed personal war service (that is, he himself has to go to fight) to at most one person, while owing other service (N horse, or X foot, for instance) to as many others as he could provide. I remember hearing that cases existed where someone owed personal service to multiple lords, and ended up having to forfeit (or win back by conquest) those lands belonging to the lord he jilted on his personal war service.

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Re: Feudalistic Concerns

 

That fits with what I have read and understood about the feudalistic process in England. Its good to get that assurance that most of my understanding was correct. I also appreciate the addition to churches AND universities being given free land. That will change elements of this campaign for me quite a bit.

 

Also knowing that a lord can own land in Grand Lord A and Grand Lord B's feifdom is great information.

 

It looks like, overall, I need to understand the distinction of exactly what a shire is (besides being what we call a county today). More specifically, what determined what is a shire, who is in charge of it, and so on.

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Re: Feudalistic Concerns

 

Here's some short answers. A vassal is anyone who has sworn an oath of loyalty. That could be a knight to his lord, the lord to a greater lord and the greater lord to the king. So it's possible to be the richest and most powerful lord in the Kingdom - but still be a vassal (to the king, for example).

 

In general, a vassal would get an income (usually from a specific bit - or bits - of land) in exchange for swearing fealty. This was called a fief. Note - usually the land itself did not change hands: only the income from it. In practice, however, this was pretty hard distinction to make. Occasionally however instead of income from land, he'd get a title and the right to (for example) collect and keep certain taxes, or freedom from certain taxes. These were sometimes called "money fiefs" or "bastard fiefs". A fief could be "in perpetuity" - meaning essentially it went to the family, as long as they fulfilled the obligations attached to it and swore an oath of fealty for the inheritors. Or it could be "in the gift of" whoever granted it, meaning they could ask for it back and would, in any case get it back when the grantee died.

 

The various offices (like Sherrif, warden, etc) were simply specific fiefs which came with specific jobs.

 

The structure (top down) went King -> Duke (rules a duchy or large province) -> Earl (rules a county: Count as a title was never very popular in England, though. A shire is also more or less equivalent to a county) -> Baron (rules "a region smaller than a county". This is really hard to define. A wealthy Baron might have huge lands, a poor baron very little) -> Knight (A knight holds a manor ie: one place. It might be a single village, it might be a cluster of villages).

 

In addition, at later times you got Marquises (1300's on) in between Earls and Dukes and then (1400's on), you got viscounts squeezed in between Earls and Barons. Technically speaking, everybody from Knights up were "Gentle", Baron and up were Nobility, Earl and up were Aristocracy. This issue is a bit fuzzy though since "barons" were not equal in rank. Some old baronial families were called Great Barons and were considered aristocracy, while the others were called Little Barons and were not. A commoner who was knighted was not considered 'of gentle birth" and his children might or might not inherit his social standing.

 

With regard to landholding there were important distinctions. The King held a lot - but not all - of the land. Some older noble families actually held land in their own right (in perpetuity). In other cases, the King could (and occasionally did) give away land permanently (alienation: this was mostly to the Church or to corporations, which in those days meant mostly city governments). In most cases, though he could give (and take away) land - in theory. In practice, there were all sorts of forms to be obeyed, special deals, etc, making it hard for him to actually do so in a lot of cases.

 

There's a thousand and one gotchas and exception to these general guidelines, but that should give a general overview. I've skipped the Church pretty much entirely in this outline: let me know if you need more detail there.

 

cheers, Mark

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Re: Feudalistic Concerns

 

"Feudalism" describes a neat package of laws and principles that might organise a tidy little state.

That's why it is a myth. (Susan R. Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals, presents an interestingly argument on just how much of a myth it was.)

It is certainly not the case that the king owned all the land. I think that started out as a story of the Enlightenment, like the jus nocturne, but it is a surprisingly enduring one. I remember telling students who argued that Louis XIV "owned all the land in France" that Canada is still partly run by Louis XIV's laws. Their eyes would bug out. Everone knows how kings 'n stuff worked. It wasn't like now.

Well, they're right about that, but wrong about just what was different. We are talking about a society in which there were not even comprehensive legal codes, just various incomplete and contradictory law codes enforced by multiple legal systems of unclear jurisdiction.

We think of stable successions as the main advantage to monarchy, but in fact the laws of succession were rarely worked out thoroughly, and often ignored when they were. Lines of secular (never mind temporal) authority were mixed. It wasn't even clear that the king, as opposed to either Emperor or Pope, was in charge.

We imagine a secure social order, with a neat hierarchy of deference and authority. Well, this society ran on deference, but not in the way that you'e imagining. Dukes did not give orders to Counts. As late as 1500 there were noble families that rejected hereditary titles as demeaning. (Or, at least, so they said.)

Even figuring out who was, or wasn't noble was a full time job. Whole provinces claimed "noble" status. Within communities, normative social orderings shifted from patrimonial family to clan. (When things were going well, you emphasise family; when they go bad, it is good to have a clan behind you. Contrary to popular notions, it wasn't just in Scotland that the chief of the clan could raise an army. It happened in Normany, in Bavaria, in Holland....

Which comes to the key point of difference between now and then. These were weak states. People could resist the tyranny of system because "system" had no power to enforce its rules. Don't like the king/property/bishop/taxes that this law forced upon you? Raise some men and see if you can get yourself a new law. Or run away to the marsh or the hills or the fishing fleet and wait for things to change.

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Re: Feudalistic Concerns

 

It looks like between Markdoc, Cancer, and my own additional research, I have all of the information I needed.

 

In case anyone is curious, I'm working on a Robin Hood-style campaign. The similarities are few. The players are outlaws in a large forest that is relatively the same size as Sherwood forest (I'm calling it Shirewood which was the original name of Sherwood). The King is away at war against a great necromancer army in the south. The king's brother is equally compared to the way modern Robin Hood depictions speak of Prince John. There is no Maid Marion, Sheriff of Nottingham, Nottingham, or even Robin Hood. It is up to the players to figure out how they want to go with the game.

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Re: Feudalistic Concerns

 

On the Sherrif thing...there were more than one sort of office...I always thought Nottingham was apointed by the King (for royal lands...no Noble interferance, the commoner is beholden to the King personally..) To use his office he had a "badge" that clearly warned filks he was acting with "royal" authority...

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Re: Feudalistic Concerns

 

Ran my first Fanasty hero campin set during this age (richard the Lion Heart). You should get the old rolemaster book, it is one of my top ten role playing assets.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Robin-Hood-Outlaw-Campaign-Rolemaster/dp/0915795280/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1221549854&sr=1-1

 

Great Stuff.

 

Lord Ghee

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