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Fantasy Guide to Noble Titles & What they Mean

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So I get a lot of questions about what nobles actually do or how much they own or why a certain title is higher than another. Understanding the complexities of nobility and their hierarchy can be a bit of a head twister but hopefully this will help you out. Just for the moment we will be focusing on European Titles because I can’t fit all the titles into one post. Forgive my shitty doodles. The diagrams mark out where the particular noble would rule.

Archduke/Archduchess

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These titles have two meanings. In the latter half of the Austrian Empire, it was used to denote senior members of the Royal family such as children and siblings. It is also a non Royal title given to someone who rules an archduchy, a large portion of land with in the kingdom. They are in charge of the archduchy, ensuring it runs smoothly. They are referred to as Your Grace.

Grand Duke/Grand Duchess

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The Grand Duke is probably the trickiest of all these titles as there is a dual meaning. A Grand Duke can rule a state as a sovereign like in Luxembourg or they can rule a Grand Duchy (a large portion of land within a kingdom) like the Grand Dukes of Russia. The Grand Duke was below the Archduke and their lands may be smaller. They are in charge of ruling their Grand Duchy, upholding the monarch’s laws in their name. They are referred to as Your Grace.

Duke/Duchess

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The Duke is the highest rank in most European nations. The Duke rules a large portion of the kingdom- called a Duchy- which you can think of as a county/state. The Duchies are often awarded by the monarch to their children who are not the heir. The Duke is charge with running that portion of land by order of the monarch, handling the over all business of that piece of the Kingdom. Dukes are referred to as Your Grace. There was only one Duke per Duchy.

Marquess/Marchioness

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A Marquess is the next rung down from Dukes. The Marquess is in charge of a portion of land within a Duchy which is called a Marsh which lays near a border. The Marquess is solely responsible for the running of that portion of land. The Marquess is called The Most Honourable (Insert name), the Marquess of XYZ. There could be multiple marquesses in a Duchy if it was near a large border.

Earl/Count/Countess/Compte/Comptesse

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An Earl/Count Rules over an Earldom, which is a section of a Duchy but it has less importance than a Marsh ruled by the Marquess. The Earl/Count is the third highest ranking within the Duchy. Often it was the subsidiary title of the heir of the Dukedom, so the eldest son/daughter of the Duke would be the Earl. The Earl/Count of X is addressed as Lord X for example, the Earl of Grantham, is called Lord Grantham. There could be multiple Earls/counts per Duchy.

Viscount/Viscountess/Viscompte/Viscomptess

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Viscounts are the Earl/Count’s second in command, ruling a portion of land with the Earldom. They handled the judiciary matters of their lands and their barons. Viscounts were addressed as the Right Honourable (insert name) Marquess of XY. Viscounts can also be used as a subsidiary title for the son of a Earl. When Thomas Boleyn was made Earl of Wiltshire, his son George was made Viscount Rochford. There might be multiple Viscounts in a Duchy.

Baron/Baroness

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The Baron is the lowest of ranks in the nobility pyramid. Before the mid-medieval period, almost all nobles were labelled as Barons. They ruled over a portion of the land under the Duke, the Earl and Viscount. There were always a huge force of barons with in the Duchy. They handled the minor local disputes of their lands, collecting taxes and monies owed. If they faced a larger issue or crime, they would pass it up to the next ranking noble the Viscount and then it could travel all the way up to the Duke. The Baron of Townville were referred to as as Lord Townville.

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What is in my heart, if not the desire for home? Undoubtedly, I pray for a fixed place in the world like the stars in the sky and the stones within the earth. His question rings in my ears, tolling like the groan of the bronze bells of the island fastness where once I been loved. What do you do now?
The challenge in his eyes is clear cut as diamonds on jeweller’s cloth, the edge to his words almost rattling like a coin upon a table. What are you willing to do? How far are you willing to go to?

-Extract from Val 7, BOOK 9 of The Thirteen Kingdoms series

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I would definitely recommend it but only to some extent because you don’t want to overcrowd your plot with soo many subplots which will make things much more difficult, complicated and sometimes confusing. Like, you should give your side characters a bit of a story of course on how and why they became friends with your main, or why does your character have that personality now. Maybe even how did they help the main grow but also, how did the main character help the side character grow in a sense? Make them bounce off of each other and don’t make your side character be there just for the sake of being there. Give them a bit more depth. Never make them static, because then the reader would just look at that character and go “why are they even here.” So yeah, you can give them an arc and a story but make sure you tie it well to the main plot and that it doesn’t necessarily derail things. Like make sure it goes with the flow of the story. Ahah I hope this made sense

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Fantasy Guide to the Medieval Household (The noble family)

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*I may have sang that in the Addams family theme*

I often get asked what goes down in the noble household of a lord, an Earl or a Duke & how the family unit usually worked. So I have decided to compile everything one needs to know in this guide. If you are looking for the description of the actual house of the family or the jobs of their servants, check these links.

The Lord/Title Holder

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So the Lord (or insert any noble title & insert other genders, its really that simple) is the head of the estate as well as the household & family unit. They were in charge of hearing the troubles of the tenants either local or from afar depending on the severity of the case being heard and the size of the lands ruled by the lord. They would adjudicate criminal and civil matters. They would also meet with the alderman and other servants of both the household and estate such as their Marshall and steward to oversee the accounts and protection matters of the land. Their main role within the family unit is a decision maker and  a driving force. Nothing gets said nor done without their permission or at least their knowledge of it.

The Lady/Consort

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Again, insert other titles & genders. The lady or Consort was usually involved in the running of the household. They would have their finger on the pulse of the house, and expected to be on top of all the goings on within the household, such as knowing the expenses, the stock of supplies and the welfare of the servants. The Consort basically works as the manager of the actual home, with the servants communicating with them or the steward. They will also be heavily involved with the poor of the region, heading charities. The Consort would also act as an ambassador of mercy, preaching mercy and forgiveness on behalf of criminals to their spouse who would be judging their case.

Children

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The children of the household lead relatively similar lives in their early years. Before puberty, children would grow up in the nursery. Babies would be given around the clock care, cared by wet nurses, rockers and a governess. Older children when about five, will begin their lessons with their tutors. When about ten or so, they to emerge in the household, trained by the Consort in how to run a household, the Lord on how lands should be ruled, how to fight from the master at arms and how to comport themselves in a mannerly way by their dancing master. They would also share their lessons with foster children known as wards (noble children taken in to be schooled by the Lord) & sometimes are sent to other nobility to be fostered. Thus tightened relations between nobles as well as provided the child with education. Teenagers would usually begin to be used as pawns in the marriage game about now but were rarely married young as some fantasy works suggest, most nobles would be married by the time they were 20. During their teen years their parents would begin to look for a spouse for them, they will usually begin to enter the society at this point, going to court and entering royal service.

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