Social Orders


[Under Construction]

News and Events
The Setting
Social Orders
The Intent Clause
The Authenticity Clause
The Reality Clause






        It would be impossible to re-enact any medieval society without the concept of nobility. The idea is simple: "Nobles" are inherently "better" than non-nobles. As such, they are "owed" a certain amount of respect, deference, and even fear; after all, they are armed, are the Law, and are successfully oppressing everyone else! In the American Medievalist's Association there are 3 classes of people, exactly as in the 13th Century. At the bottom are serfs, peasants, and bondsmen. Since they do all the dirty work, it was never anticipated that very many members would opt to belong to this class. If a member wished to experience what it was really like to belong to this class, then we will do our best to make it authentic. The only upward mobility for members of this class was via the clergy (and practically speaking, they would be lucky to make Abbot/Abbess or Prior/Prioress) where they would/could learn a few rudiments of education, and thus be very slightly more useful to their "betters", or via armed service. The latter opportunity occurred only during shortages of fighters, serious military threats, etc., when peasants could be "levied" (i.e., drafted) as fighters. Armed with a pike, lumber axe, scythe, etc, (or less!), almost no armor, on foot (no horse), and poorly trained, their chances in combat were not good. Still, some survived, and if they impressed their Lord, they might be retained as men-at-arms. With more training and better equipment, they could even become "serjantz". More probably, these survivors were eventually hung as outlaws and criminals.


        Next above the serfs, etc. were the freemen who were lucky enough to be born in either non-feudal areas or in "Freetown’s"(a free town/city had no overlord). In the 13th Century this class was starting to become more numerous as the economy picked up and towns & cities prospered. Since towns (without overlords) were in competition with the feudal nobility for control of the wealth, those nobles thought of freemen as uppity non-nobles and therefore little better than peasants. There is this huge gulf in everyone's mind between nobility and commonality that is hard to comprehend in today's more egalitarian mindset. Anyway, towns and cities were only free because they had their own armies, usually called "companies", "guardsmen", or some such name. Some cities drafted all males 18-40, others were strictly volunteer, some had units supplied by wealthy individuals, some hired serjantz or even mercenaries. However these fighters were raised, cities and towns usually had enough surplus money to train and equip them. There was also enough surplus population to rapidly replace any losses. When employed by feudal lords, these troops were usually all lumped together as serjantz and seen as a valuable fighting resource as opposed to the view of levees as war-fodder. The surplus money also attracted un-enfiefed knights (knights bachelors) who frequently worked in or for town garrisons. Except for very wealthy individuals, the townspeople were basically antithetical to the nobility surrounding them.


The very wealthy could aspire to Court and Royal Patronage, even estates, knighthoods, titles of nobility, but this was unlikely. The nobles disdained them and hence would intrigue against them at Court, which restricted their further upward mobility.

At the top of the social pyramid is, of course, the nobility. Most nobles were born into the petite nobility (lesser lords) and elevated from there based on ability, luck, and who they knew. The rest were more nobly born and advanced from there. For our purposes in the American Medievalist’s Association, you would start your character as a lesser (born) noble, and advance from there. The first elevation is into Knighthood, which is by no means guaranteed by birth, although the opportunity is. Many of the nobility never became knights; instead, they went into the clergy (and then guess who got all the promotions in there) or into university (to become administrators, etc.) or into professions (such as Law or Medicine) or even into management of family businesses. As to the order of knighthood itself, it is the intention of the American Medievalist's Association to approximate 13th Century ideals of knighthood as closely as possible. Therefore the first thing to remember is that, at that time, knighthood was less honorific and more fictional than now. The knights were the actual "fulfillers" of feudal obligations. Their function was similar to that of the police today, as armed enforcers of society's decisions. Please note that the overlap of rules is not very complete, because knights were functionally called upon to fight each other. Only knights and above had "honor", which meant that they would/could "honor their word"(etc.). Hence they were the only ones that a lord could trust to fulfill the other end of a feudal obligation. Let's say that a Baron makes 2 Knights his vassals: what does this really mean? First, the Baron "loans" or "permits" them the use of enough of his property for them to derive a living from it. This was usually land and serfs, but could also include timber, fishing, mining, or milling "rights" or specific rents, fees, tolls, etc. that are now paid to the vassals. In return, the vassals pledge to answer their lord's summons, ready, willing, and able to fight under him for a certain number of days (usually 10 - 40). Because his knights have "honor", the Baron knows that they will appear when he summons them. Someone who is not a knight, say, a wealthy peasant or an armed serjant, or a hired man-at-arms does not have "honor", and therefore cannot be counted on to appear. If you substitute "training and inclination" for "honor", then the whole argument makes more sense, at least to the modern mind. Just to refresh your memory as to why all this is important to our hypothetical Baron, the usual penalty for "breach of contract" was loss of the enfiefment. Our Baron probably holds the land he "lent" to his vassals from his own overlord, and thus the lower knight's not answering the summons could, in turn, cost the Baron his position because now he is under the agreed upon strength that he pledged to his overlord. Reliability becomes all-important when the effects extend up the social ladder. A peasants (as vassal) could not be reasonably expected to risk his life voluntarily while bound in servitude, and if he was armed, he would probably be uppity and hard to control. Since a serjant served for pay (gasp! -horrors!), what would become of his service if the other side offered more money?

Above knights were barons, who, for purposes of definition, could be called a holder of a self-sufficient, land unit or Barony. Another way to view a baron is that he is a sort of wholesaler of fiefs. That way, the higher-ups didn't have to deal with all those individual vassals. The word ~baron' is probably related to 'bannerette' or 'baronet' which referred to a knight who answered his summons leading a small squad of knights who rallied to his banner. In turn, barons (end some knights) owed service to higher lords variously called earls, counts, dukes, etc. Basically these are lords of large territories or regions owned by a family that then supplied the counts, dukes, etc. Sometimes these regional overlords held the land from the king, but not always. Note that feudal societies are most stable when the king is weaker or equal to the larger lords in power. If the king (or any other lord) gets too powerful, then he proceeds to absorb or eliminate the other great lords. This leads to less balances of power, which is the same as less stability.

A duchy is distinguished from a county in that the duchy is/was a proto-kingdom that was held back by unfavorable historical and geo-political factors that favored a nearby kingdom. Under different circumstances, the duchy would be the kingdom, and vice-versa. For example, if historical factors were different, there might be a 'Kingdom of Burgundy' and a duchy of Paris' instead of a Kingdom of France and Duchy of Burgundy. Or, they could both have become kingdoms. Duchies are thus quasi-independent. Counties are more closely related to the kingdom of which they are a part, end are totally dependant.

Although most of the above is probably already familiar, we reviewed it for the specific reason that the American Medievalist's Association intends to re-enact 13th Century Societies as closely as possible. Therefore the association will eventually have characters that will claim to be barons, dukes, kings, etc. Our Reality Clause says that the character must really have what he/she claims to have. Thus, a Baron must have a Barony, or more succinctly, what a Baron who did have a Barony would (typically) have. It was the Associations' intention to avoid the situation which occurs elsewhere, where a "Duke" might be less powerful, or more meagerly equipped than a "Baron", or even worse, where such titles are merely "honorific" and have no relation to any wealth or power, (but, unfortunately, do relate to an amount of B.S.!). Also, the Founders wanted the American Medievalist's Association to actually have a large amount of goods & scenery, to be "actual". The only way to accomplish this was to make actual "Wealth" necessary to social rank.                                                                                                  

Social ranks within the American Medievalist’s Association are thus arranged as follows:

Men-at-Arms: Non-nobles and characters/~from non-feudal societies like, for example, Ireland. They must be equivalent to actual men-at-arms, i.e., they must be equipped with a spear or other weapons (not a sword), a shield, a helmet or other head protection, and some simple body armor such as a quilted shirt, leather scales, ring armor. They don't need to actually own their armor so long as they do service for it and there as actual armor for each man-no 'sharing'. They are equivalent to 1/2 a serjant or 1/4 knight.

Serjantz: Non-nobles, probably townspeople, who own a pole-weapon, a sword, a shield, helm, and metal body armor such as chainmail or metal scale. The association would allow a wealthy sponsor to equip men as serjantz, instead of as men-at-arms, in which case he could own their armor and they do service for it, but there would be little point in the extra expense. Serjantz are equivalent to 2 men-at-arms or 1/2 a knight in value.


 Knights: the lowest order of actual working nobility. They must possess (own) a chainmail or metal scale hauberk, curved or flat shield, sword, dagger, full metal helm, and one additional hand weapon. In addition, knights must have a valuation of at least $3,000 (club value) in misc. goods, including arms and armor. They must be ready, willing, and physically able to fight at the command of their overlord. Practically speaking, this means that they must drag all this extra paraphernalia along with them to events. Worthy gentles become knights by receiving the 'accolade' or’ drubbing~ from an existing knight. Only a knight can make another knight. If you claim to be a knight and are not, it is called "miposturage" and was viewed as a very serious affront to the dignity of all knights. This was viewed as more serious than falsely claiming to be a police officer today, or posing as a medical doctor and performing brain surgery. Impostures were dealt with severely, usually by hanging on the spot! As a courtesy, you should address a knight as "Sir "; if this seems awkward, remember that they have worked hard to become knights and deserve at least some small token of respect. Since knighthood is strictly a re-enactment activity, it is not answerable to, but the member is accountable to his fellow knights. As all knightly or chivalric matters are under the control of the College of Knights, they can convene a "Court of Chivalry", which can "try" a miscreant knight, decide a mistake was made in knighting him (or that he 'went bad') and un-knight him. Hopefully this will never arise since in the 13th Cent. The only practical ways to be un-knighted were breaking your feudal oath, as in not showing up for battle, or showing up on the wrong side, and then refusing to right this situation (by fine, scutage, etc.); or by vicious, unreasonable & repeated attacks on other nobles or the clergy (who were, of coarse, scions of the nobility- it was more or less fair game to prey on the peasants and townspeople); or serious crimes against the crown (such as killing the king's relatives, especially if he was fond of them); or outfight social unacceptability, such as devil-worshipping, insanity, etc. The point is that it was really difficult to lose your knighthood. One thing to remember is that the "chivalric code" became loftier and more and more unattainable as the centuries (and chivalry) passed by.

      Back in the old 13th, the standards were more practical and more variable. Knights would always address each other politely, spare each other whenever possible, and act at all times as if they are members of a privileged class-, which they are. Knights must develop a blazon (coat of arms) and should know how to ride a horse. At this time, owning a horse is not required since, authentically, they were always getting killed anyway. In addition, Knights cannot be counted more than once as vassals toward fulfilling the requirements of higher levels of nobility.

Barons rate above knights: Originally, some wanted a 10:1 social scale, while other wanted l: l, or 2:1. Finally they compromised on 3:1. Thus, a baron must be equivalent to a knight, and must have 3 knights as vassals. As a courtesy, or dispensation, it was agreed to at least one knight + 2 "knight equivalents" as vassals. To be clear, a Baron must have under him as vassals:

3 knights

or 1 Knight and any other combination at a ratio of:

1 knight = 2 serjantz = 3 men-at-arms.

        It goes without saying, that the fewer knights & the more armed riff-raft or hired mercenaries, the less reputable the baron. At 3:1, a baron should be worth about $9,000 (club value), but we are at a loss to describe what this would look like, especially as we keep finding cheaper and less expensive prices for many goods. I suppose if you required a horse... In practice, the most difficult part of becoming a baron seems to be in getting 3 knights to swear fealty to you. Since you must obviously, in reality, outclass them to get them to agree, we recommend that, at least initially, the personal valuation of a baron should be at least that of a knight, and that the rest of the valuation should consist of the valuation of his vassals. A Baron must own a Pavilion, a Signet Ring of his or her own Blazon, a Great Chair and a Banner or Standard representing the Barony, which should be different from their personal blazon

            Above a baron is a count. Let us, for now, say that a count has the personal worth and vassals of a Baron and then some, and has at least one actual baron sworn to him and the equivalent of another Baron as vassals. A” baron equivalent" would be obviously 4 knights (or their sub-equivalents in serjantz and men-at-arms) His total valuation should be 9 times that of a knight, and 3 -times that of a Baron. As with a baron, he can count the value of his vassals toward his Countship.

            Slightly higher than a count is a duke. We are defining a duke as having the personal worth and vassals of a baron and at least 2 actual barons and one "baron equivalent" as other vassals. His personal valuation is the same as that of a count, i.e., 9 times that of a knight, 3 times that of a baron and he can count the value of his vassals toward his own.

            The King: Has all the requirements of a Duke/Count and an actual Duke or an actual Count as vassals plus 2 more count/duke "equivalents". At this level, it won't really matter; we'll all recognize the king when we behold his majesty!


At this time we would like to repeat that the sole intention in defining the above social ranks and positions was not to limit members, or prevent characters from achieving these ranks, but to really have Barons, Counts, Dukes, and a King who were worthy of the respect of the rest of us. No positions of nobility in the American Medievalist Association are purely honorary. Each rank is required to really maintain a complete compliment of actual characters (based on current members) that is required for that rank. Please note, that by decision of the college of Knights, a members' character cannot "double-swear" to two different overlords at the same time. Historically, such ranks were virtually impossible to attain if you were a lesser noble, sort of like getting elected president of the United States. Very difficult, but someone has to achieve the office.




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Last modified: April 01, 2002