EUROPEAN NOBILITY TITLES
The Role of European Nobility Throughout History
The concept of European nobility is deeply rooted in the feudal system which originated during the middle ages. Under this system, the noble class swore an oath to protect the sovereign from harm in exchange for a plot of land, which was usually shared land with medieval farmers indebted to the ruling lord. At the onset of what’s known as the Military Revolution, many nobles were deposed in favor of national armies, which overtook the protection duties from private armies usually commanded by knights.
Changes in Military Decreased the Role of Knights
Along with this loss of military influence came a decrease in the social standing of many possessing nobility titles. This decrease occurred on multiple levels, most notability due to a lack of economic authority. The reasons for this dwindling authority were compounded by the gains made by merchant classes during the Renaissance, who assumed much of the economic power through to the Industrial Revolution. (Become a knight)
Political Influence Continued Into the 19th Century
While the middle-class enjoyed an increase in influence due to its economic power, nobles retained some importance when it came to socio-political matters. Using the United Kingdom as an example, high-born nobles played an active role in governmental affairs up to the middle of the 19th century. This influence has been on the decline ever since, with nobles enjoying less and less status due to legislation aimed at curbing their influence.
Nobles vs. General Population
Some countries contained a higher percentage of nobility than others. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth featured a whopping 15% of nobles during the 18th century, while the Castile region of Spain boasted 10% noble births when compared to the general population. Other countries contained a less robust collection, such as Russia, which counted approximately 3% of the total population as nobles. Pre-revolutionary France also contained a relatively low percentage, with just 1% of the population, while Sweden counted only .5% of its population as nobles in 1718.
Defending Territories Led to New Opportunities
Warfare was common in the heyday of the noble class, and this warfare usually centered on impeding ethnic outsiders from invading one’s land. This was especially true on the western and eastern frontiers of Europe, where marauding warriors would sometimes make their stands against the noble classes. This introduced a new class of noblemen as more and more men were called up to defend these terroritories. These same men also gained wealth in the form of the many spoils of war collected during their battles. During the 18th century, of the 190 million Europeans, approximately 4 million were nobles.