Most of this is typical of a feudal society. There are odd bits and pieces of it still surviving in English law and probably elsewhere in Europe. I'd expect this and variations on it across the west of Genertela.
>a. Nobles: A hereditary nobility exists. There are lots of fancy
>titles, many of which correspond to nothing and nowhere. Nobles are
>limited in what occupations they can follow, but many royal and
>military offices are reserved to them. They are not subject to the
>same courts as commoners are; only other nobles ever judge them,
>with the predictable results.
The proliferation of meaningless titles is a sign of decadence.
>b. Seigneurs: Some people own permanent "seigneurial" interests
>in the land, which do not include the right to possess and
>use it. These seigneurs overlap substantially with the nobility,
>but many of them are commoners. The rights are a complex assortment,
>but include things like: a small annual payment; a large payment on
>death or sale; the obligation to provide labor and cartage; annual
>gifts, etc. The rights are usually not written down (like everything
>else, local custom varies), so are open to manipulation by the local
>courts, which might be run by the very same manipulators.
Feudal land law is probably the most complex legal structure ever to have developed. The base is a local warlord agreeing to protect the farmers from enemies and bandits in return for various goods and services since coins were rare and valuable. In due course those warlords became the nobility and when short of money sold some of those rights to others. I am a bit surprised at there being nothing in writing with land and related obligations being so important. Certainly in England if it wasn't written down it wasn't enforceable. However as literacy was the preserve of the clergy a document said what the priest said it did. And the priest's appointment would be in the hands of a local landowner - the priest could easily be his younger brother.
>c. The Church: There is an established church that gets something
>like 3 to 12% of the annual farm produce, with a the rate varying
>geographically and a complex assortment of assessments, exemptions,
>and blind eyes. The king appoints nobles to the big positions in
>the church, and they appropriate a lot of the tithes for their
>personal purposes. Some hold bishoprics almost as if they owned them.
>The church is organized in parishes (each of which has a parish
>council) that are supposed to help the poor and such, but are often
>underfunded. There are usually no parishes where an abbey or other
>religious institution is the seigneur.
The main purpose of the parishes is to collect the tithes to support the local priest and church with the surplus being passed on to the bishoprics. Originally those surpluses were retained locally to be distributed to the farmers if there was a bad harvest. England still has many tithe barns where the surplus was stored although they have all been converted to other uses.
>d. Taxes: The king imposes a bewildering array of taxes; as a whole,
>the system defies fairness. Some regions have a direct tax on land,
>but not all land is subject to it. Of course, the land survey is
>wildly out of date, too. Other regions have a notional personal income
>tax, but it is unscientifically assessed at the local level, so is
>based on appearances of wealth more than anything else. (I.e. it's
>horribly unfair, especially if you have a good year.) Additionally,
>there are indirect taxes on things like oil, salt, beer, wine, and
>leather. For all of these taxes, there are a zillion exemptions, some
>full, some partial. Nobles and churchmen usually don't pay. Some towns
>have bought exemptions. Lands are treated differently depending on
>whether they were added to the kingdom by marriage or treaty or
>conquest and on whether they were ever in revolt. So they only make
Taxes aren't really an issue for the majority of the population. It just isn't economic to collect small amounts from everyone so in practice most peasant farmers are exempt. The taxes mainly target merchants and craftsmen. Mind you after paying their rent to the landowner and tithe to the church the typical peasant is on a subsistance level income in a typical year.
>e. Farmers: Farmers resent all of the above, but do nothing about
>it. (Yet.) The farmers have a local council that decides many
>things. It may have the right of low justice. It usually handles
>land management issues, such as when land that is not fenced in
>will be harvested, how many livestock each farmer can put on common
>pastures, etc. The boundaries for the local council do not necessarily
>match those of the seigneur or the local noble or the parish. Sometimes,
>the local seigneur runs these things. In most places, it would be fair
>to call the farmers peasants; in a very few places, they are really
>serfs (i.e. not free to leave the land without forfeiting all their
>f. A Rising Gentry: There are agricultural entrepreneurs who are
>mostly of common origin and who do a combination of two things.
>First, they lease land from whoever possesses it and farm it more
>efficiently. (For example, they might own a better plow and a full
>team of horses for plowing.)
This is a sign of the break up of feudalism. It often involved the eviction of the serfs who had previously farmed the land.
>Second, they lease the seigneurial
>interests, and operate those more "efficiently" (e.g. by "restoring"
>supposed rights that had not been honored for a hundred years). The
>other farmers both resent and aspire to the second, and conflate the
>first with the second as often as not. Many of them also lend money.
>(Since interest is banned, they theoretically "buy" the debtor's
>land for a fixed sum, collect annual "rent" that is actually a percent
>of what they lent, and contractually commit to selling the land back
>to the debtor for the same amount as the original "purchase" price.)
>These guys often run the local council and the parish council.
Dodges to get round the laws against usary are traditional for European feudalism. Whether this is an issue in Western Glorantha depends on the attitude of the Malkioni church to usary.
>g. The Constrained King: The king, while notionally absolute, in fact
>is constrained by custom and the threat of revolt. A hundred years or
>so ago, there was a big revolt of the nobles when the king tried to
>change some of their rights. He suppressed the revolt, but took the
Feudal kings relied on the support of the nobility because their obligations to the monarch was mostly to supply troops. No support meant only the soldiers the king could raise from his own lands and the mercenaries he could afford to hire. The idea of an absolute monarch comes from the Middle East and was never really achieved in Western Europe despite the claims.
>h. The Royal Court: The quality of the individual in the office of
>the kingship is wildly variable. So, the officials around the king
>often run things. They are all nobles. There are power struggles
>between different factions. Foreign wars and an extravagant palace
>mean that the court is always looking for more money.
True of all monarchies, feudal or not. Heck we'd still have that problem in Britain if we hadn't taken most of the power off the monarch. Then again elected governments aren't much different.
>i. The Cities: There are few big cities. The population of the
>cities is a small minority -- 10% or so. Half of that is in the
>capital city, which is always a net importer of food and other
>things from the countryside.
True of every pre-industrial revolution society. So pretty much everywhere in Glorantha. About the only exception I can think of might be the Mostali.
>j. More Complexity: Every generalization has at least one
>exception. Even this one.
-- Donald Oddy http://www.grove.demon.co.uk/
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