Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Social Order in Medieval Europe

Let’s recap the synopsis of my novel. The world has been taken over by an evil malevolence that released terrible creatures into the world. As a result of this evil, the world’s technology has been stuck in the middle ages for the past 1,000 years.

Since technically my novel is set during the medieval period, I included numerous characters, which reflect the makeup of society during that time.

Now, I want to make a comment about stereotyping a period of history into a generalization. Imagine the Middle Ages (or any time) as a forest. Each tree in this forest represents a separate country or area. Now, by defining and describing the entire forest, you will need to ignore the characteristics and uniqueness of individual trees. This is the way we sometimes have to describe history; we must look at the big picture and make a generalization, and ignore small nuances or differences of this generalization from local communities or areas.

So my characters in my book are a snapshot of the typical lives in medieval Europe. Some of these people you are familiar with, others might not be. Each person in medieval times was born into that class structure, and was limited to that social class level for the rest of their lives.

Feudalism was the basis of law and sovereignty in the middle ages. It was believed that the land itself was owned by God, and he appointed Kings to rule over it. These Kings ruled by divine right and managed the land and the people who lived on it as they thought fit.

Even though they ruled by divine right, these kings needed help running their country. They developed a class of nobles and knights to assist them in this endeavor. Nobles were responsible for many everyday decisions in ruling a kingdom and also created an army that was available for use by the King. The knights were members of that army, who sometimes were granted a section of the noble’s land for their loyalty and service. Each of these members pledged loyalty to the king, and the nobles assigned above them.

In the past I have written much about the knights, so we will continue with other people and their jobs in the medieval world.

Castle Personnel:

In the kingdom an established order was created to administer the king’s orders and also to maintain the daily duties and ensure they were completed. This command structure was not only for the whole kingdom, but used for the castle itself. I mentioned many of these titles of this order in my novel:

Seneschal- Someone in charge of the domestic arrangements and administration of the servants who served in the castle.

Herald- Originally in medieval Europe they were messengers. They could convey important documents or orders from the royalty to others. Later, they would document the lineage of a king or important historical events.

At the Battle of Agincourt, it was the heralds from both England and France who had witnessed the battle who declared England the victor, allowing Henry V the right to name the battle.

Marshal- This is a term which meant someone who was in charge of the castle stables. Since the horse was the main form of transportation in medieval times, this was a major position during that time.

The marshal in my novel, is not only responsible for the horses and maintenance of the stables, he is a wise sage who helps teach the young protagonist about life.


The Clergy were an important part of the social life in medieval Europe. If the king had a divine right, then he must be approved by the Catholic Church to have that right, and in doing so, be obligated to the church. This was a thin line that many rulers had to walk to keep their power. The Catholic Church needed the rulers to promote and maintain the church’s power over the people; this became a symbiotic relationship which although was maintained, was severed over different periods of time.

I describe many members of the church in my novel; the following is a brief description of them:

Bishop-He was a leader of the church, who ruled under the Pope. He administered and supervised church properties and land.

Priest- Were responsible for the spiritual training and the affairs of a local church or diocese.

Friar-Although, I did not mention any friars in my novel, I did want to describe who they were. Basically, a friar was a preacher who did not associate or was assigned to any specific location or church. They would travel, giving lectures, or preaching across the country. Since, they had no true home, they would rely on the good will of the people of the communities to feed and house them.

Monk-Were men who gave up their possessions to love a life in a monastery or church. They could serve as doctors or other highly trained and specific trades.

I mentioned in my novel many books or diagrams used to teach the pages. In medieval Europe, before the invention of the printing press, these books were created by scribes. Many scribes were monks who were trained in copying literature, religious works or manuscripts. It was a long and painstaking task; some works could take years or decades to complete. I am sure when they completed something ahead of time; someone said “It’s a miracle.” Those of you, who are old enough, will remember this reference to a Xerox commercial.

Scribes could be educated, studying Latin and penmanship as their precursor to them starting their careers. Sometimes, this was not the case; many scribes at one point could not read. They knew how to copy the characters from the original, but did not know what it said. This limitation was by design, as it ensured a correct copy of the original without any interpretation made by the scribe.

Next time we will continue with the social classes described in my novel.

My novel is available for the kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MNKNI9U/
I may have some excited news soon concerning my book and its availability.


  1. This is a great intro into the different layers of medieval society. And while they are all terms I'd heard of - except for Seneschal- I'm not sure I could have completely described what each persons function was. Sounds like a great premise for a novel.

  2. So interesting and though we hear these terms loosely spoken, I don't think I have ever heard them explained to artfully! This is a great build up for the book...can't wait to dig in:)

  3. I think all of us reading your posts are getting schooled on medi-evil times...and I mean that in the best possible way. As always, good luck.

  4. Where was this blog post when I was still teaching Arthurian Lore to high school students? I only usually had time to give the briefest of overviews, which as too bad because students really got into all of the medieval stuff.

  5. And that is why our founding father established the principle of separation of church and state. Good post William. Enjoyed it.

  6. With so many programs coming out "The White Queen", "The Tudors", and "The Borgias", I think more and more people are interested in past. The writing of your novel may go further than you think.

  7. Very interesting and a good summary. I didn't realize that some of the scribes in medieval times couldn't read.

  8. I should've paid more attention to history in school! I appreciate the descriptions of the various types of characters you feature in your novel. It's a nice mini-lesson that I am embarrassed to admit I don't know much about!

  9. Your information really is interesting. I think we've heard these terms as stereotypical facts. I find that your description dispels that in a very beautiful way, well done! It really does wet the appetite for wanting to read more. :-)

  10. I truly enjoyed reading about the different roles. I think we have all heard the terms, but never really thought about what they really meant. I thought the part about the scribes was interesting - imagine spending your days copying a document and not being able to read it.

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  12. Thanks everyone for leaving such nice comments. I hope I can continue to write these blogs and make them interesting for you to read.

  13. What's interesting is that how you describe social order in Medival Europe is making a come-back. It's already starting, mainly in the United States, but will be coming to Europe as well, if we let it. If we do future generations will be born into a class and remain there.

  14. Hi William. What a fascinating subject for a novel. I also enjoyed learning about the different roles in medieval society. Digging into the meanings of these characters makes the historical context more rich and complete.

  15. Interesting, as always! I'd heard of a lot of these terms, but never knew what they meant. Thanks for the history lesson.

  16. Imagine your post being about this. Earlier, I researched a few of the Knights of the Round Table. Many don't realize that they had distinct traits. Your explanations of the book's background and setting will be interesting for me. It's those things that make historical novels so realistic.

  17. I think I know these terms but never thought about these.
    Novel seems interesting and bit scary to for a person like me. I am very afraid of monsters releasing terrible creatures on earth and they destroy all resources of World. I think this is not just a story but something can be true as I have heard so many stories related to end of world and time.

  18. I've always found medieval societies very intriguing. I love how you described it all. Makes me like it even more.