Feudal Nobility, part 2

The Battle of Bannockburn
The Battle of Bannockburn 1314
The military followers of the original conquerors in Europe were themselves divided into classes such as yeomen and petty land-holding farmers. From the aristocracy of the conquest of Europe came the knights, the leaders in the wars, and the common gentry, and those who became known as esquires in Britain. From the petty land-owners came the men-at-arms, foot soldiers and archers. It is mistaken to believe that most soldiers came from the lowest levels of society, this was most certainly not the case in the Middle Ages. In the armies on the march there were serfs who undertook menial tasks but they were not charged with fighting the war. Being unfree they would have dishonored the sword. Serfs could claim exemption anyway due to their status as serving by servile tenure, not military tenure. A great example of this distinction occurred at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The army led by the Scottish king Robert Bruce,consisting of horsemen and foot soldiers, ranging from the aristocracy down to the freemen, faced the English army, while the servants remained at a camp a considerable distance to the rear. The servants assembled on a nearby hill to see how the battle was faring. To imitate their soldiers they filed up the hill in mock military formation. This caused the dispirited English force to lose all morale as they thought another army was advancing upon them.

The distinction between the noble free service of the army and servile status persisted long after the end of feudalism. For example Richard Jones in his book The Booke of Honor and Armes, printed in London in 1590 says “ A soldier that hath long served without reproach ought to be accompted a Gentleman “, a gentleman being a noble. This high estimation of military service survived so that every private trooper could consider himself a gentleman right down to the mid-seventeenth century and later. The concept of the high and genteel calling of the army persisted even longer with the Highland regiments of Scotland. In these regiments every soldier as well as his issued claymore sword had in the baggage trains servants for the soldiers as well as for the officers.
The Feudal system
  • In such a feudal organization of society the people who held their lands and rights by servile obligations had to give service on the demesne lands. They also had to be subject to the jurisdiction of the manorial courts to which they belonged. While those holding lands by free service had the right in most principalities of direct appeal to the overlord’s jurisdiction. This became complicated later, when freemen acquired lands and held them by non-military service, apart from those lands, which they held by freehold obligations. It should also be noted that for a very long time it was not possible for a man, no matter how rich he was, to acquire land held by military tenure, if he himself were not noble, or at least a freeman, already holding lands by that service.

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