A History of Privileges of the Noble Class
Holding a title of a nobleman or woman has certainly come with a certain amount of fanfare and many benefits throughout the history of society. Today, citizens may view nobles as the pieces of times gone by, like Lord and Lady Grantham of the famed television show, “Downton Abbey.” However, the privileges of the noble class stretch back centuries and are a great reflection of how society has developed.
Earning the Benefits
The benefits of members of the noble class were not typically just passed from one family member to another. Instead, they were granted from a ruling monarch that recognized the ownership of an estate, office position or a special title. The wealth that surrounded the noble families was earned from their estates that typically included:
These estates were also composed of specific infrastructures such as castles, abbeys, wells and mills. Sometimes the local peasants were allowed to use these lands, but it was never offered up for free. Surprisingly though, members of nobility were not allowed to use these peasants for manual labor as it was not seen as acceptable. However, some nobles required the common people living on their estates or farming their lands to pay taxes or give some of their annual crop yields to the noble family.
Climbing the Societal Ladder
Holding noble titles did propel those in this rank of society towards positions in the military, courts and other government entities. Nobles in France were also allowed to live without paying the taille, or the direct tax. Those holding titles of nobility also carried much power when it came to the courts and police officers that managed the commoner and peasants. Usually the noble families were exempt from the law that controlled the peasants, leaving those holding nobility titles with great command and power. Other countries in Europe even allowed so called private wars between noble families. These included the acts of dueling, especially during the Renaissance Era. These extravagant sword fights were seen as acceptable ways to solve arguments as well as to prove who was a true gentleman. In fact, over 4,000 noblemen in France were killed in just 18 years during the powerful reign of King Henry IV. In addition to these duels, King Louis XIII pardoned nearly 8,000 men for “murders associated with duels.”
Being Noble Today
Modern noblemen and women do not have the extensive privileges that their ancestors received. However, nobility titles and generations continue to exist, just as their castles, abbeys, and mansions do. The legal rights of being noble have diminished, but the societal glamour attached to being noble still remains a fascination for many.