Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: aristocracy

Not All Recruits Were Base-born: the Gentleman-rankers

January 21, 2023

Not all recruits were destitute or base-born, however. The Army of Flanders, especially in the sixteenth century [C.E.], needed quality as well as quantity; men who excelled in single combat, in the “actions” of the war, were required as well as cannon-fodder for the great battles. Every captain therefore tried to enlist a number of gentlemen (particulares) to serve as common soldiers in his company, offering a bonus-pay (ventaja) to every gentleman who agreed to do so. Some of these volunteers would be the relatives of the captain, others would no doubt be poor gentry unable to gain a living in other ways (Spanish gentlemen were not supposed to demean themselves by manual labour or commercial transactions), others still would be aspiring noblemen who began their military service in the ranks and hoped before long to rise to a position of command.

Most army commanders set the highest value upon these gentleman-rankers. The duke of Alva, for example, was overjoyed to find that a large number of particulares had volunteered to serve in the Spanish infantry which he led to the Netherlands in 1567.

Soldiers of this calibre [wrote Alva] are the men who win victory in the “actions” and with whom the General establishes the requisite discipline among the troops. In our nation nothing is more important than to introduce gentlemen and men of substance into the infantry so that all is not left in the hands of labourers and lackeys.

Throughout the Eighty Years’ War the same sentiment was expressed in remarkably similar terms. As late as 1640, for example, a Netherlander—and a civilian at that—could write:

Gentleman-rankers…are the people who bear the brunt of the battles and sieges, as we have seen on many occasions, and who by their example oblige and enliven the rest of the soldiers (who have less sense of duty) to stand fast and fight with courage.

Service as a volunteer among the infantry was particularly popular among the Spanish gentry, but particulares were also to be found in considerable numbers in the ranks of other “nations”. The English units in the Army of Flanders, for example, regularly included Catesbys, Treshams and other members of the leading recusant gentry families—including Guy Fawkes. Not all these gentleman-rankers were poor. On one celebrated occasion the Emperor Charles V lent additional dignity to the military profession by himself taking up a pike and marching with his men; later, in the 1590s, the dukes of Osuna and Pastrana and the prince of Asculi, scions of the most illustrious houses of Spain, were all to be found serving as simple soldiers in the Army of Flanders. Naturally these volunteers, especially the nobles, aspired to an eventual position of command, but they first received an admirable apprenticeship and, in addition, their presence in the ranks helped to maintain morale and reduce insubordination. In this way the Spanish Habsburgs assembled armies which were supremely capable of victory without resort to any compulsion.

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, pp. 40-41

Emphasis mine.

Officials in a Baronial Household

August 28, 2022

By the middle of the thirteenth century [C.E.], however, certain features seem to be characteristic of all [European] baronial households. There was a seignorial council made up of both knights and officials which fulfilled the same function of advice and consent for its lord that the curia regis did for the king. There were auditors who normally travelled around the baron’s lands, overseeing and checking the complicated system of accounts. Two officials dealt with financial matters, receiving income and making expenditures. Their titles varied on different estates, and they might be known a treasurer, receiver-general, or wardrober. The keystone of the baronial household was the steward: he held courts, headed the lord’s council, occasionally acted as an attorney at the king’s court, supervised, and often appointed, such local officials as bailiffs and reeves, and acted as his lord’s deputy. These various officials were the important nucleus who carried on the day-to-day affairs of the barony. Their number and their exact function depended on the importance and wealth of the lord whom they served.

A list of officials for the barony of Eresby in the last quarter of the thirteenth century gives a good idea of the actual household of even a minor baron, and also suggests the large number of officials and servants concerned with purely domestic affairs. The lord of Eresby had a steward who was a knight, and a wardrober who was the chief clerical officer and examined the daily expenditures with the steward every night. The wardrober’s deputy was clerk of the offices, and the chaplain and almoner could be required to help write letters and documents or act as controller of expenses. There were also two friars with their boy clerk who could substitute for the chaplain. The purely domestic officials and servants were numerous. They included a chief buyer, a marshal, two pantrymen and butlers, two cooks and larderers, a saucer—the medieval term for the sauce cook—and a poulterer, two ushers and chandlers, a porter, a baker, a brewer, and two farriers. These men were assisted by their own boy helpers. This actual list has the great advantage of illustrating the dual character of the officials who made up the baron’s household, and the number of individuals who travelled with it on its many moves. The most important officials were only incidentally concerned with daily affairs. They dealt primarily with the long-range problems of the administration of the scattered lands and the collection of the various revenues of the barony, serving as the overseers and directors of such rooted local officials as reeves, bailiffs, or constables. But the nucleus of officials also included those whose total concern was with the daily domestic routine, and one man above all—the steward of the household—was primarily responsible for the smooth running of daily life.

A Baronial Household of the Thirteenth Century, pp. 54-55

An Army Open to Talents

March 12, 2022

[King Philip] had carried through a social revolution among the Macedonian military class…. The old nobility were laid under an obligation of regular military service; to it a new nobility of military adventurers was added, recruited and promoted on the basis of professional excellence. The result was an army ‘open to talents’, in which the king’s new and old followers competed for position in demonstrations of loyalty and self-disregard.

The Mask of Command, pp. 19-20

Nobles Had Little To Do With Their Children

April 9, 2012

Indeed the medieval magnates had surprisingly little to do with their children. Almost immediately after birth, they were handed over to the care of a nurse whose duties, as described by Bartholomew the Englishman, included not only the physical care of the child, but also the display of affection which is now considered essentially maternal. According to Bartholomew the nurse’s duties were very extensive. She was ordained to nourish and feed the child, to give it suck, to kiss it if it fell, and comfort it if it wept, and to wash it when it was dirty. The nurse was also to teach the child to speak by sounding out the words for him, to dose him with medicines when necessary, and even to chew the toothless child’s meat so that he could swallow it. The mother must have been a rather remote figure. Discipline was always considered the father’s primary duty. Bartholomew specifically insisted that the father must treat his child with harshness and severity. He should teach him with scoldings and beatings, put him under wardens and tutors, and, above all, show “no glad cheer lest the child wax proud”. The old adage of “spare the rod and spoil the child” was firmly entrenched in all medieval treatises on the proper upbringing of children.

A Baronial Household of the Thirteenth Century, pp. 45-46

Three Checks to Autocracy

May 6, 2008

The supreme, god-like position of the Assyrian monarch was promoted and enhanced in a variety of practical ways. Access to the king by individuals was, at best, extremely difficult, and the long walk through the gates and corridors flanked by bull and lion colossi and stone reliefs depicting the king slaying and mutilating his enemies would overwhelm the visitor, as it was intended to do, with ‘awesome splendour’…. The only mortal who could be regarded as an equal of the Assyrian king was a foreign king, whom the Assyrian monarch addressed as ‘my brother’, but even he was a potential subject of the ‘king of kings’….

The Assyrian king enjoyed absolute power over the state, there being only three checks to his autocratic rule, religion, legal precedent, and the temper of his nobles and officials. The monarch was subject to religious belief and practice, and examples of royal attempts to depart therefrom are extremely rare. As to legal precedent, the king had to respect the traditional rights of individuals, such as property ownership, and of groups or institutions, such as tax exemptions granted to privileged cities. Finally he had to respect the mood of the upper classes or run the risk, as a few kings did, of revolution and regicide. Apart from these considerations, however; the king’s will was supreme in all affairs of state. Indeed, in the legislative sphere he was not only the supreme but the sole legislator, his ‘law-making’ consisting of royal decrees. There was not even an assembly, as in Sumer, with which he might discuss a proposal, although he did seek advice from his various officials and sanction from the gods by means of omens. The king was presumably supreme judge, and he was definitely commander-in-chief of the army. In religion, although he was subject to commonly accepted beliefs and practices, as already mentioned, he was the high priest…of the god Ashur. This is in contrast to Babylonia where the high priest was not the same person as the king. Finally, even the economy was subject to his will, for in theory he owned all the land, and trade, both domestic and foreign, depended upon his sanction.

The Cambridge Ancient History, volume III, part 2, p. 196

No Match for a Well-Trained Aristocrat

May 2, 2008

All [medieval Japanese] warriors, regardless of rank, were trained in swordsmanship. Those of the upper ranks, of course, had more time to devote to the pursuit of excellence in this art, and to the pursuit of superior instructors—which explains why a retainer of lower rank, notwithstanding his longer exposure to the hardships of military life, was usually no match for a higher-ranking bushi in a duel. This type of situation…resembles that of Europe during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries [C.E.], when hardened veterans of countless battles were still no match for a well-trained aristocrat with a sword—the noble’s weapon which, with the rise of the bourgeoisie to power at the end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, became known as the gentleman’s weapon.

Secrets of the Samurai, pp. 254-55

Perpetuated Monopolies of the Aristocracy

June 20, 1998

The people who initially got control of economic resources immediately monopolized them. They could do anything they wanted thereafter provided that they remained a relatively homogenous and peaceful group. By and large they did remain homogenous and peaceful among themselves. They decided how to divide up the power, how to divide up the wealth, who should be king, and which family should become the royal dynasty. The instability in these societies usually came from external invasions by new peoples, who at various times pushed into these wealthy lands and gained control. Their control usually collapsed or was overthrown a few generations later by the old native aristocracy or by later invaders. But all invaders perpetuated the existing social structure, taking over the prerogatives of the old aristocracy.

Norman F. Cantor, The Civilization of the Middle Ages, p. 3

Monastic Hospitality for Aristocratic Patrons

November 7, 1997

The monasteries of 10th and 11th century Europe [C.E.] were not simply communities of devout men and women living a life given over to corporate prayer and worship. Envisaged by monastic teachers as arks of salvation in a flood of worldly perils, they remained an integral part of the society which brought them into being. The Castilian monasteries were repositories of dynastic tradition, mausoleums, powerhouses of loyalty to the comital family. Links between the landed aristocracy and the monasteries were thus extremely close. Noblemen looked to the monastic houses of which they were the often very generous patrons for diverse reciprocal services and expressions of gratitude. The provision of hospitality was one of these. A patron would expect to be put up (with all his human and animal retinue), and probably in some style, in “his” monastery as in some sort of private hotel. The hospitality sought might be permanent. The active career of an aristocratic warrior might be as short as that of a 20th century footballer, and he had to have somewhere to spend what might be a long retirement. It is probably correct to envisage the monasteries of this period as containing more than a few incapacitated or elderly knights among the community. Assured of comfort and security, surrounded by fellows of their social rank to some of whom they might be related, ideally placed to receive news and gossip, they must have spent their declining years in an agreeable way.

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, pp. 66-67

Emphasis mine.