Thursday, May 7, 2020

Campaign Design - Nobility in the Freeholds

Nobility in the Freeholds

The Freeholds are governed by means of oaths of service given in return for grants of land and authority. Like the Rhadynnic Isles, the Freeholders organize their affairs by Houses - with allegiance being counted from family to family rather than individual to individual. A ruling House will accept an oath of fealty, called a hyldájj, from the head of a House who symbolically pledges the loyalty of his entire family to his suzerain, and who receives lands to hold and authority to mete justice, collect taxes, and otherwise act in his lord's name. This form of allegiance is called helde, and the head of the subordinate House is called a heldeman. Most heldemen pledge not only their loyalty, but also specific promises to their feudal superior, usually taking the form of a promise to provide a set amount of funds, goods, and soldiers on an annual basis. The hyldájj. is not a one-way oath - in addition to providing property and power, the suzerain also promises to defend his subordinate so long as they hold to their oath of service.

In common parlance, the land held by a heldeman is referred to as their læn of fiefdom. The land held by a ruling House that they directly control is called their innland. Land that a House has control over but has parceled out to subordinate houses by means of a hyldájj oath is referred to as utland. Technically, all of the land in a Freehold is under the control of its ruling House, but they only directly control their innland.

The fundamental title in the Freeholds from which all other ranks of nobility flow is the ðengel or King. There are currently nine recognized kings in the Freeholds. In the days of the Rhadynnic Sky Empire, the rulers of the Freeholds owed allegiance directly to the Bronze Throne, and not to any one of the Great Houses. Since the whelming of Llydaw and the fall of House Llud, there is no longer any power that bestows the title of ðengel upon the rulers of the Freeholds, and since the Bronze Throne of Beli Mawr is currently vacant and there appears to be no realistic chance it will be occupied any time soon, no higher authority. In recent years the generally accepted marker that one is entitled to call oneself a King in the Freeholds is recognition by and admission to the High Council.

Most of the royal houses in the Freeholds have long pedigrees, dating back to the days of the Sky Empire and beyond, but a few are of much more recent vintage as the chaos following the whelming of Llydaw has provided opportunities for the bold and determined. Ðengel Girion of Cadfor is the first of his house, having conquered the lands he rules over the last few decades. Ðengel Seluc of Nuþralia owes his position to the wars waged by his father Kiarr Hewædsonne to seize control of the territory Seluc now rules from the nation of Polþia. A sufficiently strong and willful individual could conceivably drive off the evil denizens of places like Loring or the Hills of Brann-Galedd and claim a kingship for themselves.

In the distant past, the title æðeling explicitly meant "prince" in the Freeholds and was applied to the eldest son of a ruling ðengel, but that usage is now regarded as archaic. In current parlance, the æðeling of a Freehold is the designated heir to the mantle of rulership, whoever that might be. The title evolved in this direction as the rules of succession became more flexible, mostly as the result of the influence of the Rhadynnic Great Houses.

The most powerful noble outside of the royal house is the æorl, sometimes referred to an an ældorman. This is generally a hereditary title, held by a particular house designated by the ðengel of the Freehold, although a house can technically be removed from the position. As ældorman are often quite powerful, both politically and militarily, this step is usually only taken in extraordinary circumstances. In general, an æorl is a critically important figure in a given kingdom, and owes his fealty directly to the king, with no intervening authority between them. A king relies upon his ældormen to manage territory, ensure justice, and provide troops in time of war. This dependency means that a kingdom with too many ældormen almost inevitably has a weak king, and consequently most of the kingdoms in the Freeholds have three or fewer ældormen.

The next rank below the æorl's are the þegns, the most minor of landholding hereditary nobles. Like an ældorman, a þegn holds lands granted to his House in return for service. Unlike æorls, who can only derive their authority directly from a ðengel, a þegnhood can be created by an æorl. Although many þegns owe their fealty directly to the king of their Freehold, many are subordinated to one or another æorl. In most respects, a þegn's House is much he same as an æorl's House, just on a slightly smaller scale. One must note that although most þegns hold smaller læns and exert lesser influence than æorls, this is not a hard and fast rule. There are a number of notable þegns who have acquired an outsized level of power and influence for their Houses.

Finally, the lowest rank of "nobility" is the cneht, also referred to as knights. This is a non-hereditary title, bestowed upon an individual, usually as a reward for faithful service or recognition of superior achievement. This is also a title that many æorls and þegns hold in addition to their hereditary title. Unlike other ranks of nobility, a cneht does not swear their oath on behalf of their House, but only on behalf of their person. In broad strokes, there are two types of cneht: The ordinary landholding cneht, who is granted a læn in exchange for an oath of loyalty and service, and the húscneht or "household knight", who who holds no land but serves as a key element of a feudal lord's retinue. Nobles of all higher ranks may create cnehts, although there is a general order of precedence among cnehts based upon who bestowed the rank upon them, with a cneht created by an æorl having more prestige than a cneht created by a þegn, and a cneht created by a ðengel commanding greater respect than either. In practice, this distinction is mostly ceremonial, and usually only truly matters when determining who has priority of command on the battlefield.

Although not a rank of nobility, a common appellation used for well-placed individuals who serve as advisors to a ruler is þéodwita, which roughly means "wise counselor" or "man of counsel". Many such individuals are also æorls, þegns, or cnehts, but they do not have to be, and otherwise untitled people are sometimes given this honorific due to their service.

In formal usage, nobles will list out the succession of authorities from whence they derive their titles using the term helde, and sometimes the name of the læmn using the term fram. For example, Æorl Sihtrc of Eor would formally give his name as Æorl Sihtrc fram Eor helde Seluc fram Nuþralia, indicating that his demesne is Eor and he holds it by grant from Ðengel Seluc of Nuþralia. Similarly Cneht Elidyr, a húscneht of House Kindelan would formally write his name as Cneht Elidyr helde Þegn Eanion fram Gwenith helde Ðengel Girion fram Cadfor, showing that he holds his rank as a result from a grant from Þegn Eanion of Gwenith who holds his title as a result of a grant from Ðengel Girion of Cadfor. This sort of formal usage is not commonly employed, its use being reserved primarily for ceremonial functions, official documents, and legal proceedings. For everyday use, most nobles will simply use their title and given name or sometimes even simply the name of their læn. For example, Þegn Eadred of Varin would generally be referred to as Þegn Eadred, or simply called Varin.

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