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Old October 30, 2018, 07:48 PM   #1
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Nobility in Aelyria

The nobility system of the Aelyrian Empire.
Feudalism in Pre-Aelyrian Times

For centuries before the Aelyrians came to begin their colonization efforts on the continent, Feudalism was a practical way of life for the settled peoples of the East. Perhaps the fundamental organizing principle for the civilizations in the city-states of the Ioannolian Lowlands might have been a proclivity towards belief in the hereditary; greatness, after all, was to many of the humans before the arrival of the Aelyrians that was imbued by the gods to individuals. This deterministic reality crystallized in the formation of a way of life commonly known as Feudalism. Feudalism was a contract between those possessing this hereditary greatness, or nobility, and a superior noble creating an intricate network of allegiances and commitments, usually capitalizing at a single monarch. In exchange for the fealty of the vassal, the liege-lord would grant ownership of land. The vassal would then be legally entitled to work the land, profit from it, and use these profits to increase his own greatness.

The ideal was an admirable one, especially during the dark and troubled times in which these peoples lived. The Rise and Fall of the Khardran Empire, a brutal horde dictatorship bent upon enslaving races that did not immediately submit to their barbaric rule, proved very destabilizing for the region of the Sherian, the Midlands, and the Lowlands. Therefore, there was always the desperate hope that in numbers one might find strength, and that drove frightened villagers to willingly surrender their natural liberties to the arbitrary whims of a lord. And so, families who quite readily possessed the expression of this hereditary greatness prospered significantly under Feudalism. Ultimately, in order to protect the collective nobles from division and conquest, a single family would be the traditional recipient of all oaths of fealty; this royal family and its king would possess the authority to bring the nobles together for collective action when needed.

Feudalism, on its own, was little more than a socioeconomic system created for the purpose of enriching land-owning nobles and providing a sense of safety to the easily frightened commoners. When the Aelyrian King Constantine arrived and befriended Baron Rynus von Oreskovich, he discerned that there was no political future in the Feudal Contract. Feudalism lacked the ability for centralized authority; in fact, Feudalism was predicated entirely upon decentralization, for a noble, even were he to be a king, with too much power would constitute a threat of tyranny. The uneasy system of checks and balances amongst the nobles may have provided the illusion of detente, but in reality it festered seething rivalries between ambitious families and weakened any hope of the king taking a feudal kingdom to the next stage as a nation-state.

Origins of the Feudocratic Compact

Not all brands of feudalism were equally impaired. The Kingdom of Medonia perhaps typifies the traditional weaknesses of nobility because she possessed so many houses of nobility that engaged in bloody warfare and competition. Yet, her neighbor to the east, the Kingdom of Daltina, had weakened the feudal system significantly by suggesting that the king and the royal family was descended directly from the gods. This elaborate deception proved rather effective, and Daltina did not suffer from most of the civil wars and noble conflict that plagued other feudal kingdoms. Yet, the readiness for noble families to submit to their own ambitions and betray their commitments was easily exploited by Constantine when he engaged in his early conquests, first in Daltina and later in Medonia.

For all of its flaws, Constantine still required the system of feudalism to control a relatively unskilled and uneducated population. The Aelyrians, who were scholars and philosophers, initially had prejudged the races of Telath to be "free of the burdens of intellect", as one such ancient one wrote. They quickly realized that under Feudalism, commoners were trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of disadvantage from which there was no social escape, thanks largely to the belief in this hereditary nobility, and that nobles and commoners shared the same promise for greatness. Meritocracy drove King Constantine's distaste of feudalism, and ultimately shaped his reformation of it into a bold and previously untried system that would later be known as the Feudocratic Compact.

The Aelyrian King had already begun in the construction of a golden city that would come to be known as Aelyria Prime, and assisting him were numerous trade guilds and adventuring societies, but he lacked the ability to control the populace of the countryside and wanted to avoid an immediate confrontation with the squabbling nobles. In order to reward merit and provide encouragement for social mobility, King Constantine did not immediately accept the early offers of fealty by nobles, opting instead to work closely with Rynus von Oreskovich, his human friend and now appointed prince of the infant kingdom, in developing a new type of feudalism that would be subject to centralized control and would reward excellence.

The Feudocratic Compact

The premise of the Feudocratic Compact was an enlightened one. The king would grant Writs of Carta Regna, or Royal Charters, which under the empire would be known as Writs of Carta Imperia, or Imperial Charters, to noble houses, or families, that would swear fealty directly to his person. These noble families, who were separated from the king by only a single degree of order, were entitled to establish fiefdoms of their own. A fiefdom was the basic territorial administrate of the Aelyrian Kingdom, and the Early Aelyrian Empire. Other nobles and their houses, who lacked charters of their own, were forced to swear fealty to other lords who were somehow connected to the king. Houses that lacked connection to the Crown in this way were quickly considered "in rebellion to the kingdom", or, in a broader sense, "foreigners".

The Houses of Nobility were quick to embrace this system, for the tremendous wealth and power monopolized by the Aelyrians was only accessible through the Feudocratic Compact. To be connected to the Crown was to be recognized as having privilege, and thus the right to work the land, commission adventuring parties, and engage in expeditions in the name of the kingdom. Much like feudalism, family heirs could succeed through hereditary claims to the treasured post of nobility and retain the connection to the crown in the capacity with which it was obligated. However, unlike the feudal contract, the king was the sole arbiter of nobility and could confer any status of his choosing upon a house and even revoke charters.
Further Reading: [wiki]History of Nobility[/wiki]
[h=2]The Feudocratic Order[/h]
The degrees of fealty and allegiance to the Crown were measured in a simple system called the Feudocratic Order. Herein, noble houses whose families were more closely linked to the crown benefitted from added prestige and considerable honor, and none more so than the houses of nobility at the first degree, who, having Charters of their own, possessed ducal authority to establish fiefdoms, unifying the lands and possessions of all of the vassals that had sworn fealty to them. Only fiefdoms could participate in the discourse of national governance, and later, would have seats in the Royal Assembly in the Kingdom and the Imperial Senate under the Empire.


0. The Emperor

Sovereign Monarch of the Aelyrian Empire, and head of the Feudocratic Order, the Emperor or King was the highest ranking noble in the entire realm. His family was considered Royal (and later, Imperial), and could establish a ruling house, or Dynasty, to govern the realm. Before the Imperial Reforms of Empress Michelle the Great, which effectively removed the nobility from succession to the throne, if the Imperial Family were ever to cease to exist, the dukes of the realm could claim a right of succession.

I. The Duchy

Dukes and Duchesses presided over the Feudocratic Order and had sworn fealty and pledged their allegiance directly to the sovereign monarch. In exchange, they were the Stewards of Aelyria and possessed the highly coveted Imperial Charter, authorizing them to establish a fiefdom named after their family's noble house and possess power on a national level.

II. The Marquisate

Marquis, or Marquesses, and Marchionesses were privileged within the fiefdom to have second degree status, and thereby be linked by one degree to the leadership of the fief. If the Duchy ever ceased to exist, or lost its Charter, Marquisates held the strongest claim to lobby the king for the right of succession and their own charter.

III. The Barony

Barons and Baronesses were powerful nobles and the main aristocratic stock of the realm, for though they usually did not engage in the politics of succession within their fiefdoms, they commanded large networks of vassals and were considered principal liege lords from which future noble leaders might emerge.

IV. The County

Counts and Countesses, who swore their allegiance directly to barons in order to be connected to the Feudocratic Order, regularly brought with them considerable wealth. For newer families who had only endured several generations of nobility might not have had ample opportunity to impress their worth and acquire prominence through merit.

V. The Earldom

Earls were little more than glorified lords who had usually risen through military merit, given that the nobles for whom they were most responsible usually possessed more soldiers than actual land. Even so, earls were in unique positions to enhance their reputations through excellence on the battlefield and could one day succeed their own liege-lords, the counts.

VI. The Lordship

Largely considered the first proper stage of nobility, Lords were entitled to accept fealty from lesser knights and establish territories under their control and command these knights to obey their rule. Swearing fealty to earls, lords had the ability to prove themselves in a variety of ways, and given the distribution of power, could impress through merit.

VII. The Knighthood

Knights were only technically nobility, though in actuality, because they did not have the right to accept the fealty from other nobles, they could only possess land and accept commoners as their tenants and laborers on that land. Attached to a knight and his family would be three lesser orders of non-nobles, who might be rewarded through merit with knighthood by a higher ranking noble or even the Emperor, who routinely conferred knighthoods on brave adventurers.

Though any noble could technically confer the status of knight upon a commoner, this practice was largely frowned upon because it was believed that only the sovereign monarch could be a judge of one's merit and character. Furthermore, only the Emperor could induct knights into prestigious orders, such as the Aelyrian Chivalry and the Order of the Black Rose. A knighthood without membership in one of these orders was considerably less significant, though there are records of some nobles rewarding loyal and faithful commoners with a knighthood and these knights later becoming more relevant.

Like other nobles, knights had their titles and privileges bound up in hereditary succession, and so, their families would share in the glory of the knighting and a knight's household would prosper for generations. Commoners living under a knight's protection might also be further rewarded by the knight with a series of decorations and honors. The three lesser orders of non-nobility that a knight could confer were the ranks of squires, pages and hands . These honors were non-hereditary and usually signs of merit that might identify future candidates for the knighthood. The famous Path to Knighthood was an eager ambition of many lads in the land, and so they sought to live and learn with a famous adventurer as such.

Lesser nobles were plentiful, and it was common for greater nobles to have a variety of vassals who swore fealty directly to them. In a single fiefdom, operated by one ducal family, there might be dozens of lordships and hundreds of knights, for example. The higher in degree that one would examine within the fiefdom, the fewer noble houses and families that one might find pertaining to that degree. A single duchy might only have one or two marquisates swearing direct fealty to it, though larger fiefdoms obviously had this distribution widened. In the end, power was distributed along a triangular model, with the Emperor at the top of the realm.
Further Reading: [wiki]Formal Greetings[/wiki]
[h=2]Serfdom and Slavery[/h]

Under the Feudal System preceeding Aelyria, the commoners that lived and worked on land were attached to it; they possessed few rights, and limited liberties, though they, too, were a part of the feudal contract in that the lords who watched over them were obligated to protect them and ensure their safety. King Constantine almost immediately liberated the serfs of the feudal era, and instead imbued citizenship upon all free peoples of the realm. With citizenship came basic rights and guarantees, such as the freedom of movement and commerce, and so commoners who lived under the protection of nobles in the Feudocratic Order of Emperor Constantine were tenants who had to be fairly paid and compensated for their work.

Though a lesser practice fell into disrepute and was ultimately banned by Empress Michelle the Great, persons who did not possess citizenship - such as foreigners who had illegally entered the realm, or individuals refusing to submit to the rule of a noble or the direct protection of the Emperor - were considered barbarians, and thus, subject to a number of abuses, for the law did not protect them at all. Most barbarians who fell victim to the power structure of the Feudocratic Order were enslaved and became the personal property of wealthy individuals, who were most often nobles or other aristocrats. Even after slavery was abolished, barbarians continued to suffer numerous bouts of discrimination and prejudice and to this day, persons without the greatly treasured Imperial Citizenship enjoy none of the protections of the Aelyrian Empire and its legal system.

[h=2]Right of Succession [/h]

Though the law of primogeniture governed succession under most feudalism systems, the Feudocratic Compact gave men and women equal hereditary rights to succeed their fallen relatives and claim the title of nobility for themselves. Houses, which were to say, noble families themselves, remained in existence so long as a relative with blood lineage to the title, could claim a right to succeed. However, if a house ceased to exist, the noble houses in the degree of the Feudocratic Order directly below, those having sworn fealty to the defunct house, could petition the noble family to whom the previous house had sworn fealty for a right of succession.

Usually, the most powerful, wealthy or prominent of the noble houses would be recognized by the greater noble and allowed to swear fealty under the new title. An example would be as follows: if a Marquisate were to become vacant because its noble family had died out, then, the Baronies that had sworn fealty to the Marquisate could compete with one another to gain the attention of the Duke to whom the Marquisate had sworn fealty. Unfortunately, this competition often manifested itself in the form of open warfare to ensure that one of the lesser nobles would emerge disproportionately powerful to the others, giving the greater noble only one realistic option. This infighting, which was later amplified in the age of Feudocracy, became all the more dangerous when vassals would break their oaths of fealty and instead switch allegiances in the midst of this competition.

[h=2]Barbarian Houses [/h]
The cardinal law of the Feudocratic Compact was that all houses of nobility, that is, all families who claimed the right to own land and profit from it, must be connected to the Crown through a bloodpledge of allegiance. Failure of houses to do such would result in them being branded "foreign houses", or more appropriately, "barbarians", thus known as barbari nobility. There was nothing overly dangerous about this derrogatory distinction, aside from the social stigma suffered through it, yet it was usually a matter of time before imperial officials would force fraudulent houses to either swear fealty at the point of an army, or expel the houses and all relatives within seven degrees, one for each potential degree of succession, from the Empire's borders.

When a noble family had ceased to exist, the bloodpledge was technically broken, though this matter was usually regarded not with offense or distaste, but rather with the understanding that the bloodpledge would be restored and the oath of fealty would seal an allegiance from a successor house to the Crown once more. If a heated disagreement dragged on for years, or even decades, the Crown had at its disposal a number of tools to force houses to swear fealty to one another and quell the fighting. Yet this practice would later be put to the test when the houses of nobility began to exert considerable power over local and national affairs.

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