Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Manor House Part I

In 2010, I wrote a post called Estate du General, which was, I said, trying to get a handle on what the structure and format of a manor house and demesne.

Yesterday, I found pages that includes the statistics behind that post.  It is one of the things I feel was meaningful among all the 'practice' writing that I've chosen to throw out, described in my last post.

What I'd like to do is rewrite that post and add more to it, based both on my old notes and on things that I have learned since, along with my imagination.  While this will mean some repetition, I think that the content will be so much more in depth that none of my gentle readers will care.

Geography & Authority

We'll start with a manor lord that fits D&D.  Our manor lord will be a mage, Ikhnaton, who once did a favour for a royal household and was granted a manse in compensation.  Our mage is a baron.  This manse is 1419 acres in size, or 2.3 square miles, about the size of a neighborhood subdivision or a small town of about 2,500 people.  As before, I'm going to use the same image that I used with the previous post:


Let's get a clear idea of the map above.  We have two cultivated fields and a fallow field.  Let's call the cultivated field on the left the "West Field;" we'll call the one in the middle the "South Field."  The Fallow Field is the "East Field."

We'll call the meadow that is surrounded by the South Field the "High Meadow," because the stream enters the manse at that point, flows into the South Field and then into the Village proper, past the Church Lands (including the cemetery) and then The Park, which is Baron Ikhnaton's personal yard, paddocks and gardens.  The stream then meets the river at the top right at the northeast boundary of the manse.  We'll call the meadow that's along the river at the right the "River Meadow."  The third meadow, the one in the top left, we'll call the "North Meadow."  The forest is the last section of our manse - we'll call it "Stream Wood," to separate it from the forests surrounding the manse.

We have two roads through the manse (no one in a medieval mind-set would have thought of these as four roads going outwards from the village).  These aren't really 'roads;' they're more like cart tracks.  Probably, some gravel has been added to the length of roads through the village (and some to the boundaries of the manse in the worst places), but the routes will by and large be only hardened courses with cropped grass down the middle (called the 'long acre') and ruts.  One of the two roads has a toll bridge on it, about 18 feet of boards over the slow, deep stream, so we can call this the "Toll Road."  The other road passes the Church and the Manor, so we can call it the "Main Road."

Let's break down the size of each piece of land:

Forgive the medieval measurements.  They're appropriate for the
time being described.  2.47 acres = 1 hectare

Ikhnaton, being a D&D character, is never home, so the manse is actually under the control of a steward that Ikhnaton employs.  This person administers all three types of land - though he spends most of his time overseeing the immediate concerns of The Park.  To help him look after the other three parts of the manse, he employs a reeve, a hayward and a warden.  These, in order, look after the dwellings (and the people), the fieldwork and the secondary land.  The reeve ("shire reeve" or sheriff) is there to keep peace, keep track of outsiders, ensure that the tolls on the bridge are collected (for which he employs a keeper) and to hang out a lot at the blacksmith's and the miller's.  The hayward ensures that everyone works when it is their duty to do so, that the boundaries on the fields are kept right, to manage the labor on Ikhnaton's fields and to keep order through the day between farmers; he manages the animals on the meadows but not the meadows themselves.  The warden watches over the back country, helping to select trees to be cut, catching poachers and patrolling the outer boundaries of the manse.  This last is why the master of a prison is called the "warden" - because the job means keeping the borders secure.  All three of these report daily to the steward.  This accounts for most of the law in the manse.

The only appeal is to the church.  Here we may be dealing with a pastor, a teacher, a recluse or simply an individual who was given a benefice by the church and doesn't really care about things like religion.  However, whoever resides here is an important person, with capital, outside influence and potentially the power to produce an insurrection at will, if goodwill has been sown with the peasants.  We'll say that on Ikhnaton's land, the Church Lands are occupied by a gentle friar that doesn't give services but does offer regular spiritual support, advice, alms and occasional support for the steward, Reeve, Hayward or Warden.  The Friar might step forward to restrain a punishment if the case is unusual.  The Friar could also, of course, use his influence to have someone exiled or expressly punished "for the good of the community."

These names are European, obviously: but most cultures have had these roles filled in some manner.  They are logical subdivisions of labor and social justice - so whatever the titles may be or the sort of religion in question, these figures are recognizable from society to society.

The Manor

The Park, or the Manor, consists of several buildings.  It is typical to think that every manor must be a castle or a fortified building, but since most were not we'll treat Ikhnaton's manor as a villa rather than a keep.  The assemblage of structures includes the main house, a kitchen, a winery, a longhouse, stables and a paddock.

The Main House is 30 ft. by 60 ft., about two hundred years old, with a stone and mortar foundation. The main floor is broken limestone and mortar, while the two stories above the main floor are constructed of timber, wattle and daub.  There are three fireplaces inside the house.  The main door would be located along the longest side of the house, not on its end, as the house runs along a circular drive.  Three authorities of the manse, the steward, reeve and hayward, live in the main house with their families, on the second floor.  The third floor is shut off and reserved for when Ikhnaton is here (at which point it is opened, cleaned and made ready for the mage).  This third floor consists of a main bedroom and an extensive laboratory/library.

The second floor also includes two women, married to the reeve and the hayward.  The steward's wife died last year while giving birth.  The steward has two children left to him, the reeve and hayward have four between them.  These children also live in the house, where they are not expected to labour.  They are tutored by the friar and have a governess (the vintner's wife).

In an office on the first floor is a young scribe and his wife; they have no children.  This fellow keeps track of the manse's accounts while his wife takes care of him and acts as a midwife for the manse.  Technically, they are "servants," though of course they are treated well.  There are fourteen other servants in the manor - cleaners, launderers and servers - made up of spouses and elder children from those who live in the surrounding buildings.  These are watched over by the reeve's wife, who has taken over the duty from the steward's former wife.  All these servants arrive at the house each morning - none of them live in the house walls.

The Kitchen is attached to the main house but is not actually part of it.  It has been added alongside the house (with an inside door to the house), overlooking the back yard away from the road, where it can take advantage of the garden, the pond and the path that leads to the river (which helps provide food to the manor).  Both the cook and the baker live in the kitchen building, with their wives who are both servants in the main house.  The cook has two boys who help out in the kitchen while the baker has a 14-year-old daughter who has also been co-opted as a servant in the house.  There are two younger children who do general kitchen chores as well.  All nine of these people retire to a loft built on top of the kitchen at night.

The Winery is built against the back side of the main house, but there is no inside door.  The Vintner lives here with his governess wife and their seven children.  Three of these are servants in the main house; the eldest boy, 16, works alongside his father.  One of the remaining children, a boy of 9, has been selected to be a playmate to the steward's son, who is about the same age.  They are seen everywhere together, though of course the steward's son makes all the decisions about what the two boys do when there are no adults around.

The winery's remaining two children are younger than eight and are more or less free to do as they like, as the father does not want them underfoot (the mother is forced to be more concerned with the house children than her own youngest ones, so they are able to raise themselves - though they tend to attach themselves to various adults throughout the manse, including the warden, the friar, the various stablehands, etc., who help look after them, and all the other children in the same age group).

The Longhouse provides lodging for the swineherd, the shepherd, the reeve's deputy, the hayward's two deputies, the vintner's assistant, nine fieldhands and the four stablehands, along with 15 wives and an assorted 41 children, aged from baby to 16.  Five of the wives and three of the children are all servants in the main house.  A boy of 15 sometimes helps the scribe by running messages throughout the manse.  Along with the stablehands are 8 boys who help in the stable and paddock.  All of the remaining children who are older than ten work in Ikhnaton's fields each day - with the exception of the shepherd's son, who helps out his father.  We may assume that the shepherd and swineherd's wives also help in moving the sheep and the pigs each day.

If the reader is losing track, I don't blame you.  Here's a breakdown:


So, why go through all this detail?  Well, to emphasize that even the most common manor house would have considerably more people as part of its structure than the few that Hollywood usually depicts (as they have to worry about how many extras to pay).  This may sound like a lot; 14 servants in a house this size was certainly nothing unusual - and 20 farmhands (11 who are children) for an area of 270+ acres (a third of the manse, which was typical for the lord to own) is hardly an excessive number, considering all that needed to be done.  10 acres or 4 hectares, for those without a sense for these things, is an enormous area to manage.

The stables may be a bit more than Ikhnaton needs: but perhaps, like me, he really likes horses.  Perhaps, like the wine the vintner makes, it raises capital for the manse.  Something has to pay and feed all these people.

Take note, none of this begins to describe the village itself.  That is a whole other pile of people.  Some might also notice that I haven't mentioned any fathers, mothers, grandparents or other relatives to the above.  These, not being part of the business of the manse, have residences in the village, where they are visited regularly.

Still, what does this have to do with D&D?  Nothing.  Everything.  The thing about NPCs is that most DMs tend to view them as a faceless mass.  On the other hand, an imaginative person can look at that last list above and begin to see there are interesting patterns in the families and individuals.  Just try to envision the individuals here.  What is the stablehand without a family like?  Or the fieldhand in the same boat?  What is the relationship like between the mother and the son who both work as servants in the house?  What kind of gang do all the youngest children form before they're forced to work in some way?

Now try to imagine that you are Ikhnaton.  Who of these do you want to know by name?  When your manor is being looked after, who do you turn to if you want to check up on the steward?  The scribe?

Take a step back, then, and try to see the whole.  You're looking at a street in a town, at a tower overlooking the valley: the guard you're trying to talk into letting you through the gate.  Can you see it yet?  Can you see how the big picture forms from the little picture?

No?  Well, we'll keep at this.  We'll see what comes out of it.

6 comments:

Maxwell Joslyn said...

I dig it, Alexis. My own historical knowledge is lacking on many fronts and you take phenomena apart so well. Silly question maybe, but have you ever thought about writing a history book in this kind of style? Whether or not it's geared toward improving one's D&D game might be a separate question.

Vlad Malkav said...

So many people ...

Well, I dig this a lot. make things so much clearer, and inspirational to boot. It'll help me revise my PCs' mansion servants and business people.

Thank you !

Maxwell Joslyn said...

I smell much potential for a manse generator (if that last table of yours was not itself the output of such a tool).

Alexis Smolensk said...

I did roll some random numbers to put the manse together.

But do we really need more than one or two manse's? The only reasons I can see to get down to it at this level is to A, understand how the culture works, pays for itself and feeds itself, and B, how to make something for the players if they want to settle down and have that end game.

Generate every manse in a kingdom? Unnecessary.

LTW said...

I dig this as well. Great post! These are the details that get me excited about being a DM.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Alexis: you say one doesn't need to pre-generate all the manses in the kingdom, and maybe that's true.

But suppose I'm using your hex-group chooser, or something analogous, to get the lay of the land for the area the party has just moved in to. If a manse is created by that system, then surely it makes sense to have the system also go ahead and suggest a type of manse as well. It would color the perception of the surrounding area, to know whether or not (for example) this manse was held by the owner or was being run by the steward.

Now, what "type of manse" means might be too complicated for generation in full detail as you do it here while walking us through it. Granted. But given the above scenario do you still think it'd be unnecessary to automate the process of (partially) detailing a manse? Am I overlooking something?

A related but distinct point: looking again at the resident list, it makes me think that you could well apply the characteristics work you were talking about with regard to ship crew. At least if a player were trying to hire people for their manse -- cooks, vintners, etc. This brings a question for you though, since I don't know myself: would all of the people at the manse have been hired as skilled workers (or be the family of skilled workers brought along with them), or would some of them simply "move in" or be "assimilated" when the manse was ... built? Were there ever previously independent local farmers who would choose to ally with a lord establishing a home?

Looking forward to more.