From the Ground Up – Nobles and Peasants

We’ve come a long way. The World is built, its natural laws surrounding magic have been established, its been populated with animals and plants, and  we have a general knowledge of the cultures that we have options for along with the general history. Now, its time to dive deep into the lives of the individuals. 

The basics of the world building are all but through. We’ve spent a lot of time building the foundation for what we want, but now its time to take a look at the society that will be build on the bones that we have been assembling, forming it into a coherent structure. 

Often, this will involve taking a deep dive into the way these aspects function in the real world, and looking for the aspects we can tweak within our own world. I’ll make use here and there of the fantastic elements to give examples of what I am trying to get across, but they are so varied from world to world its hard to talk about them in specifics. 

Anyway, this is the first in the series about the lives of people in a fantasy world, and how they are shaped and formed in the society that they live. 

Living Situations

I’ve talked more than a few times about the roles of nobles in society, but this time I want to take a look at how the two classes, Peasants and Nobles, Interact on a day to day basis. Those other articles will give a structure and reason to how these two basic strata come into contact. 

First, I’m going to limit this article, as much as possible, to the people and lands of the rural countryside. while this may seem a little strange to our modern mind, something around 95% of the population was rural during these times. I don’t mean “small town” rural either. These people were simply out on their own, doing their own thing, with few neighbors and less communication between them. 

This is the first, and a very strong, anachronism that we have to move beyond. Farmsteads were often fairly far apart, with walking being the most common mode of transportation. This meant that many people had to depend on their own household for almost all their needs, and only those wealthy enough to have a cart horse. Most often these would be oxen, because ox’s only need pasturage while you’d need to feed a horse grain on top of the grass it could graze. Oxen make poor steeds. 

These are hardy people, living by their own means, in ways that they see fit. They sleep in the same building or room as their animals, they rarely wash, they have few sets of clothes. They don’t even own their house and many of their belongings, with no hope ever to accomplish that if they so desired. Finally, they can’t even switch jobs. The law is clear in this point. Starting with the emperor Diocletian in the late 200’s, the law of the land tied the peasants to the land, requiring them to grow specific crops and delivery them in kind as taxes. Though the purpose and the form changed over the nearly thousand years following, it was still the foundation for both church doctrine and the feudal system of governments. You’ll need to find a reason, if it bothers you not having one, but often even the peasants and lords don’t know the origin, only that it is the way it is. 

Contrast that with the opulent lives of the nobles, and you can start to see where things can easily go wrong when a peasant interacts. While the court of nobles spends its time hunting and Waring, they let the peasants do the dirty work of farming and building. In truth, it was considered beneath the gentle blood of a noble to perform many tasks that you or I would consider routine, and that includes the purchasing of goods and services, construction of any kind, and all sorts of manual labor. They were the life of privilege and grace. 

It is hard to imagine, at least for me, how the life of a noble is conducted without the need to work. They had no need for money, as they were independently wealthy, and would often generate a surplus of goods and cash by having other people work for it. 

Most of what they filled their time with was feasting, traveling, and training. Traveling allowed them to meet other nobles and seek to improve their station in life. With little else to occupy them, this was a game they became very good at, and it was notoriously complicated. It developed into the social norms and polite society of today, things that commoners and peasants didn’t have exposure to or time to practice at. 

Hunting, in many forms, was practiced by the nobility. Foxhunting, bow hunting and falconry were the primary practice, though spear hunting boars and other more exotic forms were also used. This both allowed the noble to eat the animal and allowed fatal combat practice, though in a limited form. Killing is killing though, and the more you do it, the more you can bear it. 

Finally, they spent their days training for war. This was extremely important as it was their main function and reason to exist to the society, in a broad sense. They were going to be called upon to defend their lands, to defend their lord, and if the noble was low enough, even the lords above them. Training would often be the difference between living, and dying an ignoble death at the end of some other lords blade.

This training is what made the combat games so popular. Competing in feats of combat skills of all types, against other hopefully equally skilled combatants would enable you to test your readiness, and a noble was expected to be ready for any form of combat that could be needed. Hand to hand with sword, spear, axe and mace,Mounted combat with a lance, and archery. 

While nobles were not inherently superior to the peasants. What made them feel superior was their reliance on the peasants to free up the lords time in order to focus on polite manners and combat training. It made them confident that they were better than the common folk, and even in many of the peasants eyes, it was true. 

In a fantasy world, there are a lot of different ways to take this set up. Elven nobles can lord over human and dwarven peasants, for instance. Orcs can hold vassalage over Elves and Humans. Take care to have the nobles focused on a number of time intensive and difficult tasks, while the peasantry focus’ on living through the day. Dwarves might not have a clergy, but spend tons of time studying theology. Elves might be expert archers and spearmen. Its the simple things that keep the world grounded that allow the fantasy to flourish. 

Till next time,