RoE General > The Sage (Questions & Answers)

Guide for Nobles : status, rituals, ceremonies etc


X-Roesone/ARR (Robert):
If Bjorn aproves I'd like to write a sort of guideline as to how nobles usually communicate with one another in terms of symbols and rituals, also adding some general advice on how liege-vassal relations should work in practice.

This might serve as a guide for both inexperienced and experienced players. I've been researching and teaching this for a while and I believe it would contribute to the roleplaying experience of everyone here.

NOTE: Bjorn, feel free to add suggestions as to what you like, dislike or would like to change for RoE II.

X-Roesone/ARR (Robert):
Chapter 1: What it means to be noble

Being a noble is not just having a hereditary (or other) claim to a title, being a noble also consists of "living nobly," that is to say, one who claims to be blue-blooded (or blooded in Birthright) should behave according to his estate (use of he,his etc means both male and female), throwing parties, organizing tournaments, having a large entourage (with heralds, musicians - trumpeteers, cooks, tailors, entertainers etc), owning the most lavish and expensive palaces, sponsoring artists (poets, painters...), and, here's a catch, making sure that you spend and display more than your peers, but not more than your betters (liege, pope, etc) as this can be insulting.

Medieval nobles were taught they are better and superior to commoners in all respects. Reading and writing didn't top the list (even though they "knew" they were smarter than a commoner scholar) but physical prowess, outward appearances and etiquette were (etiquette towards other nobles and the clergy of course, no one needed to be polite to a commoner, in fact treating a commoner with respect was a sign of favour). Nunneries and monasteries were not only places of worship, they were also a depository for ugly and handicapped nobles. When you claim to be superior it was not nice for peasants to see a hunchback brother, so he got shipped to a monastery with a large donation that ensured he would be treated with respect and hidden from view.

Honor and the preservation of one's dignity and rank were paramount. Honor can be considered a sort of ideological capital that a noble had with regards to his peers. Even the slightest insult could jeopardize one's standing and that's why public discussions (similar to modern days) were prearranged behind closed doors. A liege would summon his vassals to counsel him on an important issue. Contrary to what most people think, absolutism is an invention of the early modern times (think Louis XIV). Medieval kings usually didn't rule with an iron fist because a great deal of power was local and the only way a ruler could enforce his will was through cooperation of his vassals. Vassals were the administration (remember, this is a hierarchical society) so in order to get things done a ruler needed to have the vassals actively cooperate and this was achieved in the so called "consilium."

A lord would gather the vassals, present a problem and listen to the suggestions. The power of the king was in that he alone decided what issues were brought up (he could be persuaded by his friends or allies) and discussed and he decided in the end. However, a smart king would not make a ruling that most of his major vassals were opposed to. He would either postpone the decision (sometimes indefinitely) if the odds were against him, or he would try to manipulate the rivalries among the nobles until the majority saw it his way. Furthermore, a decision reached through a consilium was binding for all those who were present as it was dishonorable to give your word to the king and then disobay him (and it could also be fatal). A decision had to be reached in private because it would diminish the honor of a great vassal if the king disagreed with him in public, and this usually lead to rebellions. However, it was expected of a vassal to publically support the king afterwards, when a decision was announced or he would in turn be diminishing the honor and authority of the king. It was a delicate game, but a game which was very important to all the participants.

So to summarize - in order to preserve honor, debates and even disagreements were allowed behind closed doors, but unless someone meant to break off good relations (a vassal with the king or viceversa), in public there had to be a show of unity.

-a noble has to show his nobility (and this usually costs money, but money is less important than prestige)

-income from trade is not something to brag about

-a hirerarchichal feudal society is not an absolutist state: vassals (barons, counts, knights, etc.) actively participate in the decision making process

-public disputes are the last resort, disagreement with a vassal, a peer or liege in private is one thing, once its public honor is at stake and one side has to admit to being wrong in public for it to go away

X-Roesone/ARR (Robert):
Chapter 2: How to communicate through symbols.

Many wars among dukes and kings were never fought with weapons. Sometimes it was a war for prestige, a war for recognition of one's status. Public displays of might and superiority went a long way.

I'll start with titles, the essence of what nobility is. Commonly, there was a "salutatio" or greeting that preceeded a title when one wrote to a nobleman. An example would be

"To his highborn highness, Darien Avan, Prince of Anuire, Duke of Avanil, greetings..." 

or "To his highborn prince, Carilon Alam, Duke of Alamie."

(warning, prince in this regard means sovereign, not Prince of...)

For barons (lowest of the higher nobility) it would be "To her wellborn lordship, Marlae Roesone, Baroness of Roesone"

Note: In Anuire the lowest high nobility is a count, followed by baron, and then duke (an Anuire duke is a sovereign, or a king if you will).

A regent would be extremely sensitive to what forms were used when someone was addressing him. On the other hand, a powerful ruler could show his contempt for someone's title and power by deliberatly using a lower title. Some went to war over such insults, some bore a grudge but knew better than to respond violently. Instead, they made up their own responses, also symbolic in nature, which was made easier because many of these were subject to interpretation.

Apart from salutations in messages, a well bread noble would never forget to list his own titles, always! Lets say, for example, that Prince Avan were to issue a charter to one of his vassals granting an estate it would start like this

"I, Darien Avan, by the grace of Haelyn Prince of Anuire, Duke of Avanil, Count of Daulton, Grandmaster of the Order of the Purple Dragon, Marshal of the West, Protector of the Iron Throne etc. hereby proclaim the noble Aegar Durien....."

I made up the marshal, grandmaster bit but its important to note that nobles rarely if ever relinquish a title. Say a count it elevated to the rank of duke, he'd still retain the count title and add it to the new one, in order of rank.

"By the grace of Haelyn" is mandatory! Medieval rulers used "dei gracia" (or by the grace of God) and here there is no other substitute for this except Haelyn. Even non-Haelynite rulers in Anuire, like Elinie, should still use this phrase as Anuire belongs to Haelyn, and to be a part of the Anuirean Empire one has to have Haelyn's grace.

Next its gifts. Gift giving or largesse is another important factor for a good lord. It was expected that a vassal should benefit from his liege and be allowed to grow in power. Thus, largesse is unavoidable. It can range from small presents like a robe or an eagle, to larger ones like a quality horse and expensive saddle. Many rebellions were justified with the argument that the liege was cheap and didn't share his wealth with his bondsmen. Usually, a gift symbolizes superiority of the giver, and its again usually done in public, but sometimes it can be an exchange, depending on the circumstances. In any case a vassal was expected to send a gift to his liege for the knighting of his eldest son or the marriage of the eldest daughter. Again, this provided a host of problems as a great vassal couldn't afford to be outdone by a lesser as it meant the loss of face and prestige. Sometimes spies were employed to find out what gifts were being prepared by other parties.


-Dukes and barons should be addressed as "Your/His highborn Prince,..."
-Counts are "Your wellborn lordship,..."
-Knights and lower are "noble..."

-also, clerics should be called your holiness for heads of a temple, and your emminence for bishops and such, never just by their first name

-Never forget to list all of your titles in a signature, to do so is to renounce your birthright.
-by the grace of Haelyn or by Haelyn's grace is a sign of sovereignty (you're either a ruler by Haelyn's grace or by your liege's

-one of your duties is to send gifts to your vassals for important festivals and occasions, and they are expected to return them, not doing so is failure of yours and their obligations

X-Roesone/ARR (Robert):
Chapter 3: Feuds

Feud is a very interesting aspect of medieval disputes. A close definition would be that a feud is a sort of "extrajudicial method of solving disputes and grievances in a society without a monopoly on violence."

In a society where rank, honor and prestige are of primary importance and where there is no police or the supreme court, each noble was entitled to use arms to solve problems. In the Holy Roman Empire, it made no difference that there was in fact an emperor on the throne. If a duke was insulted at a table, or one of his towns or tolls were captured, or a different house refused to turn over his mother's (or grandmother's or whatever) dowry, he would verz frequently resort to his "right to conduct a feud."

This old germanic custom was strictly regulated. There had to be an announcement at least 3 days prior to the beginning of the feud, the home and family of the feuding parties were sacrosanct (no attacks on home castles or family members) and innocents should preferably be left alone. What was allowed was the pillaging and burning of the other party's possessions, namely tows, villages and castles. It was basically a big plunderfest and a war of attrition until one sad had had enough and was willing to sit at a table and compromise.

Mediators were regularly used, usually clergymen or relatives of both sides, or even a respected neutral party. Being a mediator was both profitable (since mediators did get gifts) and very, very prestigious.

Its important to note that kings were reluctant to meddle in a feud, especially in the initial stages, for two reasons. One, a king had to be, or pretend to be neutral (think Emperor Shaddam in the Atreidies vs Harkonnen feud in Dune) cause there was always a possibility that a feud could escalate. Other, neutral nobles could decide to join in if they felt that one side was too powerful, especially if the king supported it (no one liked kings that meddled too much). Two, it was always better for the king that his high ranking nobles squabble among themselves. Even if that meant a bit of instability now and then, and some peasants losing their homes, it was preferable to an allied front of nobility against the king.

A king would usually involve himself when both sides were nearly exhausted, often quoting the scripture and the need for peace and friendship. Then he'd seek an amicable solution to whatever caused the feud (it could have been as simple as seating arrangement, simple to us today, but paramount to them :) ), and the goal was always, always to save face of both parties as much as possible. In the end there would be a feast, a kiss of peace (where do you think "kiss and make up" comes from? ;) ) and both parties were supposed to be friends again. This didn't mean that they couldn't start a new feud later on, but if the reason for the new feud was the same, they risked the danger of facing a much more severe penalty since they would then dishonor the king and his peace.

IMPORTANT!: Contrary to what most modern persons think, it was quite common for vassals to feud with their liege. History is full of examples (you can goodle "feud" or even better, "Fehde" if you speak German) and this is difficult for modern people to grasp. A justified feud against a king is not a rebellion. A duke, count, baron, knight could start a feud saying, for example, that his services in a campaign were not rewarded, or that the king's father promised him a castle and this was not honored, or he was refused permission to marry a rich heiress etc. It was always about loss of honor and dignity (losing or not gaining promised or expected or what was considered adequate possessions, compensations etc was a detriment to honor) and just as every noble had the right to resort to feud if other methods did not achieve the desired (just in their eyes) goal, against other nobles, so were they perfectly justified to take arms against the king, but, once again, the rules of feud had to be followed.

This was especially delicate for a king, for if he couldn't resolve the feud on his own, he had to negotiate with the other nobles, his vassals, for aid. On the other hand, if he won (this also was fairly common, kings were usually stronger than their vassals) he had to show mercy. Executing a feuding nobleman (important difference, not a rebelling, but feuding nobleman) was very very very bad for PR. BAD! This sort of behavior earned the kings the title of tyrant and generally ended badly for the dynasty or at least the current king.

Conflicts between feuding parties were resolved ritually. Between more or less equals, there was the already mentioned feast and kiss, between unequals, a ritual called deditio was used. The inferior party, usually the vassal, would throw himself at the feet and mercy of the superior, admitting the error of his ways (all very theatrical) and the other would then lift him up, kiss him and in a public show of mercy restore him to his rank and dignity returning all or most of his possessions to him (sometimes a little chunk was taken as a lesson, but never too much, especially if that was the first feud against the lord). And all was good again.

IMPORTANT: The public ritual of selfhumiliation and mercy was prearranged in detail through mediators. Nothing was left to chance, both parties knew exactly what the other is supposed to do and what possessions would be taken, returned etc. Rarely, exceptions happened, that a king would not honor the ritual, but only the most powerful and feared kings could afford to behave this way. (i.e. Gavin Tael)

Why could this be relevant to Birthright?

Feuds make great random events. They present the regent with internal problems, but sometimes solutions as well. If we consider that the king's army is only in small part composed of his own household troops and that most knights are noblemen themselves, as well as that most troops are donated by vassal counts and barons (what I mean is the army paid by the player of Diemed, not the "vassals" like Endier or Medoere) as part of their service, if you anger your nobles you might lose chunks of your army as they withdraw their support.

Also, feuds were not limited to a single realm. Nothing stopped a noble from the holy roman empire to feud with a noble in france. The sovereigns of both realms sometimes had to intervene to avoid an escalation of the conflict.

Another good thing about feuds is that it was very rare for larger numbers of troops to actually die in feuds. Better called marauding parties than army units, they would usually avoid open confrontation and instead just strike to pillage the other side's possessions. (there is a very good book about this as being a social mechanism to keep the peasants poor, but its not relevant for this post). Thus, if a feud were to erupt in a player's kingdom, he'd, for example lose 2 or 3 units that were withdrawn by their lords to participate in a feud, but these units wouldn't be lost, just temporarily absent.

Just imagine what a good espionage could do to start a few feuds in a kingdom you plan to invade ;)


-a feud is a "normal" method of forcing your adversary, the one who has wronged you in some way and diminished your honor, to make reparations
-a feud is not a war of conquest, its a way of preserving one's dignity when peaceful efforts (read: compensation, public apology...) have failed
-it is a very delicate thing for a sovereign to meddle in a feud, both because he has to appear impartial, and because he can seem tyrannical if he "forces" a solution on someone (this damaging that party's honor himself)
-a feud against a liege is NOT rebellion, or a war for independence, and shouldn't be punished as such (unless the king can get away with it by pure force or authority OR, get consent from the majority of nobles)
-feuds cross borders and can get pretty messy for both lieges

Advantages of incorporating feuds in BR

1. great diplomatic random events both internal and external (cross borders feuds)

2. a law holding or two could be neutralized by an ongoing feud (pehaps not destroyed but out of order temporarily until things settle down)

3. army units seen as a combination of household (private) troops of the sovereign and vassal contingents. for book keeping purposes they're all paid for by the regent's treasury, but there is always a danger that a regent can lose some units once a feud breaks out, and that he could be facing some of them if he's not a "good" feudal lord

4. a great way to teach regents that they're NOT Louis XIV ;) ... well, maybe Avan is :D

5. Mediating a feud (what to some may be a waste of actions) could earn the regents involved gold (gifts, bribes), regency (prestige among peers) and respect.

X-Roesone/ARR (Robert):

This is a bit tricky. Based on the technological and cultural level Anuire roughly corresponds to the late middle ages. It was characteristic for this period that knighthood became more associated with prestige and status than actual physical prowess. One of the most famous was the Order of the Golden Fleece in Burgundy, membership of which was awarded to powerful vassals and allies of the duke. Then there was the English Order of the Garter which started out as a purely military order (created by the Black Prince Edward) during the 100 year war but became ceremonial later on. A good example is the Order of the Dragon founded by the Hungarian-Croatian king (later also King of Bohemia and Emperor of the HRE) Sigismund of Luxemburg in 1408 whose primary function was to unite the different vassals of the king, both in Hungary and outside (the founding members included the kings most powerful vassals and the semi independent vassals like the Prince of Transylvania Vlad - whose nickname Drakula comes from being a member of the order - Draco, the Bosnian Duke Hrvoje Vukcic, and the Serbian Despot Stephen Lazarevic) against the Ottoman Turks, thus giving them a sense of purpose and homogenity. In later periods this order became mostly ceremonial, but it was also a sign of prestige, signaling a dedication to defend Christendom against the Ottomans.

The reason I brought this up is that in the later middle ages, becoming a knight was a sign of good upbringing and heroic heritage. However, due to the fact that crusades and the like were ebbing, earning the spurs on the battlefield was taking a second place to earning them through pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela and Rome (in that order according to prestige). Many sons of counts and dukes are first mentioned in the sources when they embark on a pilgrimage "in order to be knighted."

Of course, kings (sovereigns) could found their own orders and many did, but somehow it was more prestigious to get a distant and foreign membership first. Its a small touch, as far as it relates to Birthright, but it would mean, for instance, that the ruler or Roesone, for the sake of his dynasty's prestige, would send his son to one of the holy places of Haelyn's faith, like where Fitzalan appeared and then this son would get his knighthood from the Thane of Talinie or the Archduke of Boeruine. This didn't mean that said son wouldn't also become a grandmaster of a Roesonean order or a member of any number of orders founded by allied regents or temples (most of them would, of course, be honorary), but his first order would have to be... exotic to distance him from his vassals who couldn't afford such a trip and wouldn't even have access to the thane or the archduke anyway.

Important note, such a trip was not cheap. Ulrich II Cilli (Count of Cilli, Ortenburg and Zagorje, a vassal to both the austrian duke and to the king of Hungary) spent 30,000 gold pieces in 1430 for the trip to Santiago and had an escort of 60 mounted nobles (+ cooks, tailors, squires...) or "knights" as they were described, and on that trip he was made a knight of the Order of the Scale by the king of Castille.  This was important for the dynastic policy because 6 years later he was elevated to the rank of prince of the empire. On a side note, the family bought the county of Zagorje for 48,000 so it was a LOT of money :)

In other words, this is an idea on how to improve the prestige of one's dynasty :)

Edit: Oh, and a suggestion for Bjorn on how to bleed you of excess wealth and remove a young regent from his domain long enough to stir trouble  ;)


[0] Message Index

Go to full version