Knights of the Realm
Customs and Laws
Certain customary laws — hospitality, family, loyalty, and honor — are universal among all the peoples of Britain. Your character knows these unwritten laws well. From childhood on, they have been a part of life for every
knight. These laws are respected even between enemies. For instance, when an enemy Pictish king accepts the hospitality of King Arthur, he is confident that he can eat and relax in the Pendragon’s halls without fear of murder, even if he is dead drunk. Only the Saxons and other dastards perfidiously break this rule, and then only occasionally. Similarly, if the enemy Pict king was conquered by Arthur and swore loyalty, then Arthur can be confident that his new vassal will obey him. Finally, if someone marries into a family, even that of his enemy, he becomes a kinsman and can therefore be trusted.
These laws precede and underlie the bold new concepts of chivalry that King Arthur will promote. Even the most barbaric or vicious groups in Britain accept these ancient traditions as necessary and essential for survival in an unforgiving world. In game terms, these laws are the four basic passions held by all characters. See Chapter 4 for further information.
This unspoken law, of the four mentioned above, deserves a little more attention here. Among the divergent
cultures of Britain, there is one matter upon which all agree — the rules of hospitality. The host may never act against
his visitor, but must treat him as an honored guest. The visitor, in turn, must be civil and not insult his host. A person’s house is considered to be sacrosanct, protected by whatever powers watch over mankind. This is true whether one lives in a hovel or a mighty castle. This sanctity does not mean the powers intervene to protect a house if it is attacked. It does mean, though, that the offender is never trusted in anyone’s house again if he breaks the rules, and that an ill fate will dog the offender’s footsteps from then on.
A person need not invite anyone into the safety of his hearth, but if he does, then both people must obey certain rules of respect and safety. Once inside, peace must reign between them, even if they later discover that they are deadly enemies. They can go outside and fight, or one of them can leave and then return with hostile intentions, if he is permitted back in. But while inside, both parties must be peaceful, and the visitor must even aid the owner of the hearth to defend it if they are attacked.
Any breach in this unwritten contract is viewed and corrected by the powers that oversee the laws of hospitality. Such powers ensure that justice is eventually delivered. Hence, common superstition assures your character that, if a person abuses this rule, something terrible will occur to him at the most inconvenient time, whether delivered by God, Llew, or Wotan, all of whom protect the hearth.
The world is a dangerous place, and it is easy to mistrust in others, even if they are not strangers who speak a
different tongue and worship alien gods. Foreigners are, a priori, hostile and threatening. The loyalty and affection
of a person for his family is considered to be inherent to nature. It is unthinkable that someone would turn against
his family. A kinslayer is inhuman, almost demonic. One’s own kin should always be trusted. Even if a kinsman acts despicably to others, he is still to be trusted. Only one’s family can be counted upon in an emergency — any emergency.
Given this understanding, an individual is not helpless against the world, but can always count on his kin for aid. Sometimes a knight has to choose between loyalty to his kin and loyalty to his lord. There may be no way to resolve
such problems without offending someone important.
Some of the commonly used family terms are as follows:
- Clan: All people who claim descent from a common ancestor.
- Family: The nuclear family, consisting of a husband and wife, and their dependants.
- Lineage: All people who can actually trace their ancestry to a common ancestor. This is the “extended family.”
- Kindred: All people who are relatives of an individual, including those who are outside his lineage (e.g., his wife’s
Loyalty is acknowledged as the basis for all of society beyond the family. All members of society, excepting the mad, hold loyalty to someone. For warriors and soldiers (like your character), loyalty is particularly important because it is the foundation of military organization and the basis of survival in battle. Logic and self-interest both provide a basis for loyalty. No one would consider it fair or just to perform hostile acts against the person who supports them with food, protection, and comfort. Moreover, loyalty to a leader extends person’s influence outside of his own family, giving him a place in the larger world.
Loyalty is assured by ritualized pledges and oaths that establish the relationship between two people. As noted earlier in this chapter, feudal loyalty is an agreement between two parties: a leader and a follower. Those who break an oath of loyalty are outcasts from society and will never again be trusted by right-thinking people. As with the laws of hospitality and kinship, the supernatural powers that watch over man may intervene to bring oathbreakers to a terrible end.
Honor is the last and least of the four universal laws of society. It is required of knights, but not of everyone else. Having honor is one of the things that sets a knight apart from all others. Churchmen do not need honor, for they are supposed to put the interests of God and the Church before their own. Commoners do not need honor, for they have enough difficulty simply staying alive. Women do not need honor because they are “merely women,” although women who do have honor are esteemed above others.
Knights, however, must have honor because they have agreed to take the oath of knighthood. Without honor, no oath is worth taking, for without it the sworn word will soon be broken. It is conceivable that a knight could cheat and connive yet maintain his own sense of honor, as long as the oath of knighthood was never violated.
Honor includes your character’s personal code of integrity, pride, and dignity, which is important enough to be backed up by force of arms. Beyond these words, however, definition gets more diff cult. Diff culty stems from using the critical adjective “personal.” Every knight has agreed that it includes some things, such as killing a woman, for example.
However, the concept of a personal definition of honor is important. It means two things: First, some aspects of honor are determined by the individual, not by common social consent. Secondly, “personal” is used to separate honor from the other sworn or innate social obligations, including the other unwritten laws of society or any others, which are determined socially.
Customs of the Family
Feudalism and vassalage, already discussed, are the most important customs in the world of Pendragon. The laws of property and marriage, though, are still vital.
The laws of patriarchy are based on Roman models and are reinforced by the beliefs of both the Judeo-Christian and the Germanic warrior traditions. These three systems uniformly hold men and male things as inherently more important than women and female things. Property belongs to the father, or patriarch. Thus the system is called patriarchal, in which everything of importance revolves around the family’s leader.
Women in this system are degraded by the Church and diminished by the legal system. They are promised as pledges of friendship between men who would be allies. Their only power comes from overseeing the household and the family lands.
Marriage and Inheritance
Marriage is a sacred and legal institution that is supposed to secure certain inheritance rights for all members involved. It is sanctioned and blessed by the Church, and is recognized by all government authorities. Divorce is not allowed.
Note that there are absolutely no emotional requirements for marriage. It is an entirely political act, with little care evident for individual feelings. Thus it is not surprising that both men and women seek love, emotional expression, and satisfaction in extramarital affairs. These affairs eventually acquire unofficial sanction in the Courts of Love, wherein the art of fine amor is developed and exercised.
Rules of Marriage
In marriage, a woman leaves her blood relations and takes up residence with her husband, thereby joining herself and her children to his family. A critical function of marriage is to produce an heir (a son being vastly preferable) who will obtain control of the properties of both father and mother, as ordained by law.
Marriage is a legal institution, and children born to a legally married couple are legitimate, or “within the law,” and can inherit things without problem or question. Children born outside of wedlock are illegitimate, commonly called bastards (see Illegitimacy, below). Marriage also serves to increase property holdings, and is thus usually arranged for political ends; on rare occasions, however, it serves emotional needs as well.
In general, marriage and love are entirely separate matters for most medieval couples. Many marriages are arranged, and some couples see each other for the first time on their wedding day. The occasional happy marriage inspires bards to write poetry, spiteful overlords to become jealous and cruel, and other lovers to take heart. Most, however, are not so loving.
Marital fidelity was a constant issue in the Middle Ages. The desire for the lord to maintain his bloodline demanded complete fidelity from his wife, and fearful punishments could be invoked upon her for having a lover. Churchmen, themselves servants of a jealous Father God, thundered constantly about chastity from their pulpits. Undoubtedly, most women followed the social norm and remained faithful to their loveless marriage, just to keep things simple and safe.
Such fidelity was not expected, however, or at least not as expected, from married men. The now-infamous “double standard” was in its heyday. Women could be murdered for having a lover, but men were, in some circles at least, admired for their capacity to engender children upon numerous women.
Many children are born out of wedlock. Noblemen seem especially subject to propagating this vice. Their partners are sometimes called lovers, concubines, courtesans, or paramours, and are frequently of a social class significantly lower than that of the nobleman. Children of such issue are illegitimate, or, basely said, “bastards.” The issue is not one of knowing one’s father or not. Often the children know quite well who their father is, but because they were born outside of marriage they have fewer rights than legitimate children. Most importantly, illegitimate children have no rights to inherit any property from their father. Illegitimate children can be legally adopted and therefore
allowed to inherit, but only if no legitimate children are living. Even then, other kinsmen close to the deceased father can challenge their rights.
Noblemen, at least the truly honorable ones, often provide for their concubines after they are dismissed. Sometimes such women are married off to one of the noble’s retainers as a reward for his loyalty. The women might even receive valuable properties to be passed on to the bastard afterwards. Noble fathers often keep half an eye on their illegitimate sons, too, and might even use their own influence to help their unacknowledged children advance in station beyond their mother’s class. This influence may be quite overt. In many cases, illegitimate sons help their legitimate brothers as loyal, reliable retainers.
Divorce is the dissolution of the sacred bond of matrimony. It is a legal matter, but more importantly a religious one. However, the parts are so bound together that no one in the Middle Ages ever gets a legal divorce without Church approval. (That doesn’t occur until Henry VIII.)
Divorce is allowed only in cases of adultery and consanguinity. Adultery means the woman had or has a lover; the term is never applicable to men. Occasional annulments are granted on grounds of consanguinity — i.e., the person whom you married is more closely related to you than you originally believed. In general, marriages between any persons more closely related than third cousins are prohibited. Proving consanguinity is an expensive and laborious option, usually available only to kings or others who can afford the immense cost of pontifical procedure.
Strict laws govern inheritance. These laws may be bent, but they cannot be broken without considerable intervention. Parties who defend the laws are usually the next of kin, who stand to inherit the property, and the lord, who has much to say in its governing.
The British cultures of Pendragon follow the custom of primogeniture: The eldest son of the father is held to be the heir. As a rule, the eldest son gets everything. If the father is rich, then the younger sons might get something, although if they are knighted and merely receive sets of armor, they should be grateful. If a lord is very rich, he is more likely to give small parts of his wife’s property to his younger sons, but keep his patrimony intact. The Merovingian French divide their estates among all their sons, but the result of that practice is seen in the impoverished and anarchic state of that kingdom. The lesson is not lost on the British.
The eldest son also inherits his father’s coat of arms. Thus his arms are exactly the same as his father’s, but with a small mark called a difference to set them apart for as long as both father and son live. The difference is established by tradition as a horizontal stripe with downward tabs. Although a tradition of other differences for younger sons is present, younger siblings can also choose their own coats of arms. Again by tradition, though, these are similar to the father’s.
If there are no sons, the eldest daughter often inherits the land, or the widow might keep it. There is a good chance, however, that some other male of close kinship receives it instead. Likely candidates are the brother to the dead lord, or his bastard son, or even the father if he still lives. In all cases, the lord of the lands has some say about who gets disputed property. If a woman, whether daughter, widow, or mother, retains property rights, a lord always has final say as to whom she marries.
Wills may specify the inheritance preference of a deceased property holder. Your character sheet has a place for Heir to be written in. Use it.
Second only to war, litigation is a lord’s favorite activity, although few of us desire to play out constant legal wrangling in our games. If legal disputes do arise, they should be settled through trial by combat, or be referred to the judgment of the next highest common lord — or perhaps even the Pendragon himself.