Feudal Nobility, part 3

Men at Arms
The King or Queen normally held manors and feudal baronies, but they could also be held in certain other realms, lay or ecclesiastical. In cases where the vassal held the whole of the manor or barony, he was a baron. Sometimes a barony would be split such as when daughters inherited portions and it would pass to the daughters husband and their children. In addition, a barony or manor might be deliberately split into one or more portions, and rented out by the superior to tenants. While all land held by military service was free or noble land, in some realms an inhibition was placed in general practice on how far it was considered a noble fiefdom, when so split up, and as to how far it could convey to its holder nobility of rank. Consequently when the subdivision went to far it no longer conferred noble status. In England steps were taken to prevent subdivision altogether, although this was not the case in Scotland. It should be noted that while it was only the man in armor, an esquire, was counted by name in the enrollment, being a gentleman, he would often have along with him his own small following of free or military companions- probably a couple of men at arms and several servants.

Men at Arms Burgundy 14th Century.
As can be summarized from above the lands that conferred noble status did not need to be as vast as the original feudal barony- at the beginning usually a very considerable estate- but would, in many cases, be similar to many country properties and estates of today. The result of this is that the class that that was noble was a numerous class, and by no means restricted in numbers to the few who are today peers of the realm. They were just as numerous as the present day gentry. This all resulted in the concept of a caste system which had inhabited every western and southern European country. This resulted in the foundation of the feudal system. Under this system of feudalism it was a free class who held free lands and provided the military defense for the realm in all ranks from the lords down to simple gentlemen and esquires. Below the strictly noble class of chief tenants were the military followers of the nobility. These were sometimes mounted as men-at-arms, but more often were billmen and archers. These freemen came to be known as the yeomanry. It is quite clear that the distinction that existed in some countries such as England and Scotland  between the tenants in chief and their tenants and the rest of the freemen, holding by military tenure, was much less apparent at certain periods in other countries. In countries with a strong yeomen tradition, where the free farmers generally entrenched themselves early and had judicial and representative rights there was a strong tendency  not to draw so marked a line between the noble and the non-noble freeman. In such lands the non-noble freeman were in some sense nobles. Elsewhere they would certainly not have been so received. This was the situation in parts of Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, and in north-eastern France

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