High Middle Ages: Nobility Instructions

Good day, my lords and ladies!

During the course of your individual work on this project, you will need to complete a series of challenges relating to your social status and your relationship with the rest of the feudal world of 1207 CE.  At this point, you should have completed the background work to better understand the geographic world of the High Middle Ages in western Europe in the 13th century.  You should have also decided where your fiefdom is located, your fief’s motto and heraldic colors, and its name.  You’ll need to keep that information handy, as you will be using it again during the course of these challenges.

The social world of the feudal High Middle Ages was one which was intensely hierarchical; every person in society had a role, and there really wasn’t a lot of movement within the various divisions of society.  If you would like a detailed explanation of the medieval social hierarchy or simply want more information about your social position in general, I recommend watching the following video on the origins of the European social order which persisted up until the French Revolution of 1789 CE.  You’re not required to watch this, but it is good information, and might prove helpful in your future work:

As a member of the nobility, your primary duty is to support your feudal lord in whatever way he requires, and to care for those who live on your fief.  This is a social and political order based around reciprocity and loyalty, and while your life is more privileged than most, that in no way means your life is without its cares and obligations.

Nobility’s First Challenge

First, please download Nobility First Challenge if you don’t have your hardcopy of the handout in front of you. As your first challenge, you will need to:

  1. Define a series of terms are that specific to your experience as a member of the nobility, or which might be significant in the medieval world of 1207 CE.  Please use your textbook and online resources in order to generate an original definition to each term.
  2. Create your character.  You will need to use the resources below in order to come up with an appropriate name and rank for your character during the course of this project.
  3. Create a detailed map of your fiefdom.  Use the resources below in order help you visualize and plan out your fiefdom.  Remember: I don’t expect an artistic work of staggering genius.  I do, however, expect color, creativity, and neatness in the final product.

Medieval Naming Conventions

First, a bit of excellent background information from “Common Naming Practices: Being a Brief Guide to Bynames in the Major European Languages and Cultures” by Walraven van Nijmegen (2003).

Parts of names: In the majority of European cultures, personal names contain two basic kinds of name element, given names and surnames.

The given name is so called because the family bestowed it upon the child at birth or christening. Given names may be traditional names in the culture, saints, heroes, honored relatives, and so forth. The pool of given names differs from culture to culture. For example, Giovanni is the characteristically Italian form of John, the name Kasimir is almost uniquely Polish, and use of the name Teresa did not spread outside of Spain until very late [in the medieval period]. Because given names vary so much by place and period, describing them adequately is beyond the scope of this article. However, many collections of given names are available on-line at the Medieval Names Archive.

Surnames are the second major category of name element. Today’s surnames are inherited family names, but for most of [the medieval] period, surnames were not inherited but chosen to describe an individual and distinguish him or her from other individuals with the same given name. Such surnames are called bynames.

Byname origins and meanings: To understand how bynames originated, image that you lived in Amsterdam around 1300. You are listening to a friend sharing local gossip about a man named Jan. Now, one out of every ten people in Amsterdam is named Jan, so how will you know which one your friend means? Is it big Jan who lives at the edge of town? Jan, the butcher? Jan, the son of Willem the candlemaker? You need additional information about who Jan is to identify him, and that is what a byname does.

Bynames show up all over Europe in four basic flavors:

* patronymic – byname that identifies a person’s father. There are other bynames of relationship, but the patronymic is by far the most common of these in Europe.

* locative – byname that identifies where a person was born, lives, or has an estate. These can be formed using a proper place name or a generic feature of local geography.

* occupational – byname that identifies a person’s trade or occupation.

* nickname – byname that describes an individual’s personality, character, dress, physical appearance, or other outstanding trait. These are not chosen by the bearer of the nickname, but by friends, family, neighbors, or enemies, and becomes known through frequent use.

I strongly recommend that you read over the rest of the article, because it does an excellent job of explaining how naming conventions traditionally worked in the medieval period for most people.  However, as a member of the nobility, your naming conventions are going to be a little more complex; you’re from an important family, and your lineage and title are something with which most people will be extremely concerned.  To that end, I suggest that you examine the following articles to help you decide what title and family name is appropriate, given the region your fiefdom is in and the time period.  (It’s 1207 CE, if you’ve forgotten.)

Common Medieval Given Names

You’ll want to make sure that the given name you select is appropriate for the region in which your fief is located, so pay attention to the potential for Germanic, Latin, Celtic, or Norse roots.  There’s an excellent site at “Medieval English Names” which might be useful to you, even if your fief isn’t located in England.  At any rate, here is a collection of fairly common given names from the 12th and 13th centuries, separated by gender:

Male Names

Adam Gervase Gilbert James Louis Ralf
Ademar Geoffrey Gerard John Walter Warin
Amaury George Bernard Matthew Jan Wulfirc
Alfred Guy Nicholas Lucas Thomas Richard
Bernard Hubert Aldous Roger Simon Reginald
Charles Ernis Henry William Percival Roland

Female Names

Agnes Agatha Alice Avice Aldith Astrid
Eva Beatrice Elizabeth Mary Martha Philippa
Gilia Helen Sybil Sadie Lavinia Isabella
Scholastica Julia Margery Margaret Molly Muriel
Joyce Cecily Urith Isolde Winifred Grace
Ann Jane Katherine Linette Wulfhild Rohesia

Mapping Your Fiefdom

Your map should include all of the following required elements:

  • A key, explaining any symbols you choose to use and a compass rose to indication directionality.
  • The name of your fief along with its motto. This may be located within your key, or on the map proper.
  • A manor house or castle, depending on your rank.
  • Defensive structures as you see fit.
  • Barracks and stables for your knights and horses.
  • Training yard for knights.
  • A church, a rectory, and cemetery. If you like, you may include a monastery or convent on your land as well.
  • Modest houses for artisans and peasants.
  • A mill (this will either require a windmill or a water wheel, as that grain doesn’t grind itself), a bakery, a public house (this was both an inn, a restaurant, and a brewery), a smithy, and any further businesses and shops you think your fief might need.
  • Fields for peasant farmers. Mark which are for autumn planting, spring planting, and fallow fields.
  • Common grazing and planting areas.
  • Hunting forest and water sources such as rivers, streams, and wells.
  • Any necessary roads and bridges.

In order to get a better idea as to how fiefs were generally laid out, you may want to consult the following resources:

The Medieval Manor: A Virtual Tour (A little juvenile, but still useful.)

Life in a Medieval Castle (Focuses on castle life, but it certainly mentions many of the other portions of a fief, and there are some photographs to help you visualize the environment.)

Wharram Percy: Lost Medieval Village (This is a rather badly organized website, but it has a lot of information drawn from the archaeological exploration of a medieval village in England.  In order to advance to the next page, look for the arrows in the bottom corners of the current page.)

Middle Ages in Western Europe: 500 CE to 1500 CE (An educational website with a wealth of excellent resources on the general medieval world in western Europe.)