marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

courts of the Middle Ages

Was reading a collection of Poul Anderson's works, and philosophically contemplating the feudal futuristic world of one, and then thinking, no, that's not right. . .

Dark Ages, that was perhaps better.  True the title was "Freeholder of Tervola" (and the planet is governed by a President), but the responsibility mentioned upfront was for him or his representative to ride circuit, hearing about problems, acting as magistrate, bringing a medikit and healing.  The Freeholder himself is busy seeing to a dam, which is why his wife does it at the opening -- her own high birth helps her authority.  And at the end, her son, who was only a year old when she was captured, is himself the Freeholder, so it's hereditary.  But there's no oaths given or received, and no discussion of land tenure, so not enough info for feudal.  But it definitely feels Dark Ages.

But it sent me off philosophizing about the courts of the Middle Ages, late and early, and the differences.  Especially as imaginatively conceived. 0:)

That the Dark Age king or lord had, likely, much less land was part of the factors.  The king would be much closer to his subjects and particularly his rather smaller court.  Like in Norway, where the king's son, whether from wives or concubines, would be brought before the farmers, and the one they hailed as their king was the new king.  There would be no idle courtiers about, and what the men would do, including the king, was fight as needed, which produced sufficient courage for virtues, at least.  Honesty and passionate loyalty would also be expected, with other martial virtues.  Depending on how much the author knew about the trade of the time, they might be richly attired -- that is, better than commoners -- and adorned with gold, but they would certainly not be a patch on those of later courts.  The royal hall would not be anywhere near as elaborate.  The king and queen, and perhaps the maidens, had sleeping bowers off the hall, where everyone else slept, and everyone spent their days when indoors -- they all ate there.  At that, was there a queen?  The king's wife, for certain, but did she have a title?  She didn't in Anglo-Saxon England.  Neither did his children, who were not princes and princesses, but the king's sons and the king's daughters.  A rough edge to court, no doubt, even if it were filled with a great-hearted king and queen, who give generous gold gifts and provide plentiful food and drink.

A High Middle Ages one would have more land, more distance between the king and the commoners, more rigid inheritance laws.  The court would have more luxury and finer clothes, the castles would have far more rooms, the king did not eat in the hall.  Courtesy would be more gracious, but the courtiers perhaps more useless.  Some definitely would have jobs that did not involve fighting.  Though the fictional depictions that had the men be useless in a fight are not accurate, nobles were fighting for long after -- nobles were grossly overrepresented among the British causalities in World War I, and George Orwell observed that the nobles were not a self-consciously oppressive class, witness that several had died in the Battle of France.  But uselessness was a real possibility, and though powerful nobles were well-known in that era, they are losing power to the central king.

One notes that a fairy tale court has elements of both.  One can easily walk from one realm to the next, and the formality is not great, but the king has got more clout even than many late medieval kings over his nobles.
Tags: fairy tales (retelling), loyalty, world-building: buildings, world-building: clothing, world-building: courtesy, world-building: economics, world-building: inheritance, world-building: royalty, world-building: social bonds

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