Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Correcting Little Errors

Just a word or two about stereotypes.

In the last post, the well-meaning Friend of Gort made the assertion (with all good intentions) that most nobles left their lands in the hands of stewards and such, and spent their lives involved in court intrigue and other things (not his exact words).

This is, in fact, a load of shit. No disrespect intended ... it is the same load of shit that Hollywood and many modern-written tales would have you believe, based upon the one court in all the universe, that of Louis XVI in the 18th century. It isn't even true of the Sun King Louis XIV, though many poorly educated scholars would have the gentle reader believe it is.

I don't venture to say that there were LOTS of nobles wandering about court, attending to the King and his household, filling up the Royal Apartments and so on, or that the Versailles wasn't a literal playground of intrigue and other man-on-woman sports. I am only saying that this would not include the 'majority' of nobles.

How do I know this? I read books.

If you read books of the actual period, you'll find that very often the noble is very much in his castle, mostly because the noble is flat broke, trying to make a go of a business that isn't very forthcoming, in some obscure part of Gascony, Leon, Naples, Mother Russia and so on. From art history we know that the Medici spent most of their time at home, that the Borgia's certainly did, and so did the Estes and the Sforzas ... largely because to step away from their homes in Northern Italy would mean immediate seizure of said homes by brother or son, not to mention that most of these fellows were not all that popular outside their immediate environs. During the Mongol hegemony in Russia (13th to 15th century) the nobles certainly weren't sucking up to the Tatar court on the Volga, and collections of nobles anywhere else in the great expanse would have been poor planning. Novgorodian nobles certainly stayed in their backyards, as did those of the Galician kingdom under David, who had to be on hand to protect his people from the Magyars ... who were a very rural, dispersed tribal people through most of their history and really not free to wander about Budapest (or Buda & Pest, as purists insist). Most of the German Princes had no court to attend, since the Emperor's Court wandered considerably. The Teutons, the Swedes, the Finns and the Norwegians were made of tremendously isolated provinces and did stay at home.

In literature, Shakespeare repeatedly describes the local nobles preferring to be at home, not to the court, such as in Much Ado About Nothing or Twelfth Night; the feuding families of Romeo & Juliet are living at home; the King and his companions are where they can fall in love with country wenches in Love's Labours Lost; and of course the Duke isn't actually stupid enough to leave the city in charge of Claudio in Measure for Measure. Comedies? Of course. But set in the life and times of people who could see such things without pointing and shouting, "They'd all be a court!"

Pick any writer of the period, take the life story of any significant person ... Francis of Assisi's father lived at home and tried to encourage his son to take over the state; Voltaire preferred his estate to anywhere and so did Kant. Hundreds of nobles preferred the pursuit of personal interests to court life, and in fact many courts had to make it a law that nobles must attend court a certain part of their lifetime - because nobles would rather not do so. If this is not enough convincing, try Simon Schama's Citizens, which is in large part about the oppression of the world's most popular court making it impossible for nobles to live their own lives AT HOME, bringing about the French Revolution ... and ultimately how very, very long it takes to find all the various nobles and have them executed.

In short, there are many, many more nobles in the world than those who happened to prefer court, and to argue that MOST of them did not attend their own estates shows a gross ignorance of the subject material. Time to go read more.

6 comments:

Gort's Friend said...

When I said nobles, I didn't mean what Lenin would describe as Kulaks or what Sir Walter Scott described as Saxon squires. The guy who's hall was basically still half cow barn. I also don't mean the degenerate tax-dodging idle landed gentry of post-renaissance Germany or Spain.

I mean the feudal noble, who's fiefdom was based firmly in his ability to supply troops to his overlord, prior to the rise of the mercenary companies which changed the noble from a warrior to a landlord paying taxes.

Those post-Norman conquest gents, who had the assets and need to build a network of large stone castles, precisely because they weren't integrated into the upper peasantry. The guys who went Viking, because the only way to hold on to that precious farmland in the fjords was to have the money to buy troops. The guys who left for years on the crusades, to kill Albignesians, or for that matter the guys who learned to read law, because the ones who didn't got screwed when it came time to enclose the commons. That means those guys who learned that being a courtier was more important than being a good husband.

Ever read Castiglione? The man wrote a detailed book on how to make friends at court, because that was how you kept your ancestral lands. Or Machiavelli for that matter who only spent time on his farm when he'd screwed the pooch.

Seriously? You're going to reference the Borgias, when they were the ones keeping the court? They didn't go to court, precisely because wherever they were was the court. People were jockeying to get invites to that farm house.

I'm well aware of why the Sun King's court existed and it wasn't just because it was fun. It was a necessity, there was a reason that all those noblemen sent their virginal daughters off to get raped. I'm also well aware of why "the vast majority" of the Russian nobility had never even met the peasants who they used as poker chips at the gaming tables. Your referencing of the Tatar court ignores the fact that every prince of Rus or Kiev who put one over on his neighbors, did so by sucking up. The guys sitting at home fell by the wayside, steamrollered by the new court favorite.

Those nobles you describe are the descendants of those who settled. Maybe you recognize the old adage that the first generation builds, the second retains the capital while living off the interest, and the third lives off the capital? Well we were discussing those who were building, not those content to live off of what was built.

You know how the real world is different from Civ IV? Settlers don't settle in empty territory unless a plague preceded them.

They settle with fire and sword. They settle because that particular stretch of "wilderness" a.k.a. area filled with backwards people easy to kill and enslave are usually stripped of fighting men by a recent plague was portioned out at court to the guys who hung out at court.

If you want a realistic version of settling, I suggest you ignore Civ IV's colonial myth system of "settling" in favor of a campaign that focuses on killing and enslaving the residents of an area. Those Russian noblemen's Viking forefathers who spent their time capturing their "slavs," because Russia has plenty of land and they needed serfs. Those Normans who basically spent several hundred years robbing Saxons, till they losta war and were Englishmen. Those Merovingians who's armies and who's division of spoils created the feudal world.

Big difference between settler and settled.

Gort's Friend said...

Other general mistakes

Romeo & Juliet takes place in a city. They attend parties with the rest of the "court." They aren't at home, they're in their townhouse, busy currying favor with the local ruler, a.k.a. the guy who provides the plot point of them not being able to battle openly. If they were at home, they'd just kill the others. It's only the fact that they are in the capital, a.k.a. at court that they must limit themselves to duels and bickering. This entire play is about court life.

Voltaire's love for his home, was a result of his need to be at court. Court wasn't just a fun place to gamble and get laid, it was the place to politic. It was networking. It was making sure your family prospered. It was your job. All you've done by stating that this was their preference is leave a glaring gap as to why they forewent their home for court.

JDJarvis said...

Most folks will stay where they are safe and well fed. For nobles that is home on the estate. Nobles are most powerful where their name is known and their minions can be deployed, at home. D&D worlds are in some ways insanely more dangerous then the real world, another great incentive to stay home.
The wandering warrior kings who leave stewards in charge back at home had best expect coffers lower in coin, cousins to evict, and neighbors to correct when they get back home.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I'm sorry, Gort's Friend, that was a wasted effort then.

I hadn't realized you intended to impose a great many qualifiers after the fact to make your position more tenable. In future I will simply assume that any statement you make that seems ad hoc or unclarified is in fact meant in some manner that I simply can't know from reading your words.

Common mistake. I see someone appear in the comments section who writes long answers - which I appreciate - presuming they do so because they've actually heard or read what I've said. Or that they want to. In fact, it was just an excuse for you to talk about your world and your belief system, wasn't it? What's the matter? Can't find your own blog?

Romeo and Juliet DOES take place in a city. Duh. Did you realize that every city in Italy in the 15th century was a "court?" Guess that makes your point pretty easy to make. Like shooting fish in a barrel. The fact that they were ALSO at home, in addition to being in court, probably didn't really make an impression. Nor the fact that Measure for Measure is a play explaining WHY you don't leave your property in someone else's hands. But then, they don't teach Measure for Measure in High School.

Listen. Do you want to just fuck around, or are you actually here to read and obtain new information? I mean, I love the quibbling and all, why Voltaire chose to stay at home, or why a party wouldn't want to, etc. I get it. I challenged your academic prowess. You must defend your academic prowess. You must prove how far you can piss. That's great. It's impressive. I'm all wet over here.

But it really doesn't get the job done, does it? I'm establishing a thesis - that a party can and would want to, for good reasons, stay at home. That the game can be modified so as to encourage them to do so, without significantly modifying the game or stealing away all that good combat shit. You're on record, last post, saying you don't think a party would want to do that, and you give as your reason that its just like nobles to ditch home and live at court. I'm on record as saying that no, it's not actually like nobles to ditch home and live at court, that's just your Hollywoodized perception. So there we are. We believe what we believe. The pissing is all over the floor.

Now if you don't mind, I'm going to continue to expand my thesis - part of which demanded exploring the idea that MANY nobles (regardless of their overall percentage of the total) LIKED to stay at home, and found it rewarding. Perhaps a party could to.

Are you on board, or do you want to quibble over more of this shit?

Gort's Friend said...

"Romeo and Juliet DOES take place in a city. Duh. Did you realize that every city in Italy in the 15th century was a "court?" Guess that makes your point pretty easy to make. Like shooting fish in a barrel. "

No the point is they aren't at home. That townhouse is where they're living, when in Verona.

The point is their home is being ruled by a steward or a cousin, while they are in the disease ridden city, sucking up to the ruler at court, just as I originally laid out.

Which is just you giving an example which contradicts your claim, rather than supporting it.

It's no more a story about nobles staying at the home, than Much Ado About Nothing, which consists of the nobles in a prince's train, his court, despite the fact that the host is currently staying with a retired courtier at his country home.

Both plays, if they were about the medieval era just prove my point.

So keep your snide little remarks about what is "taught in high school" and what you know through your vast reading to yourself and stop assuming you're the only one who has read something.



Alexis Smolensk said...

Scrub my last comment; I'm in a bad mood today.

The only thing I think it proves, Gort's Friend, is that if you're pig-headed enough, you can make any set of circumstances fit your perception. So I guess it does "prove" your point. I'm not sure how there's any proof there. I certainly didn't offer any proof whatsoever. Nor did I use the word. I advanced an argument that there were a lot of nobles who did not attend court, including the host in Much Ado About Nothing (uh, the point?) who stayed at home. I didn't offer proof.

There's really no such thing as proof in an argument like this. There is a lot of posturing however. Why don't you drop it? Has any part of my original thesis been challenged? I can't see how.

If you have another answer in this vein, I wouldn't bother posting it. In case you hadn't realized, you're in my House; I'm not in yours.

If, on the other hand, you'd like to address the thesis, I'm ready for us to move on.