Thieves & Kings
Manor Life, or “Life in an Argothic Manorial Village”.
While most player characters probably left the drudgery of everyday life on the rural manor, they should be familiar with the social, economic and political issues that are involved with agriculture. Those characters not familiar with manorial life in the civilized regions of Argoth, may also find the workings of a small manor or village interesting. Most importantly from a standpoint of a campaign, one should be able to infer the possibilities for numerous scenarios from manorial life.
Most people in Argoth live in the rural countryside where they work to feed themselves and their livestock, and to prosper by selling surplus food to townsfolk. Survival for every realm depends on growing food, and lords control most productive lands under the manorial system. A typical manor has a Manorhouse, an adjacent village of two to three dozen (20-30) peasant households, and its supporting craftsmen.
Manors are the basic economic unit of rural Argoth. A typical castle or keep has a dozen or two manors to support it within a day’s journey. Manors themselves run 600-3600 acres in size. Manors are held by a knight who owes fealty and military service to a baron, or are held directly by a prince or king and managed by loyal retainers known as bailiffs. Some manors are held by religious orders, and some are chartered as freetowns, and held by wealthy merchants or guildsmen.
A Knight’s Fee is the amount of land considered sufficient to support a fully equipped knight and his family. Traditionally, this is ten (10) hides, or twelve hundred (1200) acres, but the cost of modern armour, weapons and trained warhorses require these same lands to be watched with care to support a modern knight. Some knights hold larger manors for teh same military obligation, while others hold smaller. Large manors are sometimes known as double or triple Knight’s Fees.
The lord, his family and retainers typically dwell in the manorhouse, a stone or timber stronghold, surrounded by a defensive wall. The manorhouse complex is usually situated on a natural or artificial hill at one end of the village, but can be anywhere within the manor.
The heart of the manorhouse is the great hall where the lord’s household eat meals, and socialize. Here too, the lord holds his manorial court, settling disputes among tenants, ruling on matters of law and custom, and receiving due homage. A fireplace near the center of the hall, beneath a smoke hole in the high roof. Wood or peat fires provide warmth and light, and are used when there is no separate kitchens. Additional light may be provided high, narrow (defensible) windows and, in the evening, by rushlights, torches, or lanterns. Large trestle tables are erected for meals and removed as needed. Most residents sit on stools or long benches, but the lord will have a chair for himself, immediate family, and noble retainers. The floors may be hardwood or stone, covered with straw, rush mats or carpets.
Bedrooms and dormitories are separated from the great hall by partitions, curtains or walls. Quality of accomodation depends on the manor’s wealth. The lord and lady might share an elegant four-poster bed. Very young children sleep in cradles near the bed of their nursemaid, perhaps their mother. Older children, retainers, and most guests are given space in dormitories, or a bedroll in the great hall. Important guests may take the lord’s bed chamber. Servants must be satisfied with pallets filled with straw.
The manor courtyard has an outer wall, sometimes made of stone, but usually a wooden palisade surrounded by a moat, ditch or other earthworks. Most manors are sufficiently self-sufficient and have a miller, woodcrafter, metalsmith and other craftsmen. Some craftsmen are bonded to the local noble’s household, and operate shops within the manorhouse wall. Others are freemasters and operate in the village outside the manorhouse complex.
Rushlights are made of common reeds soaked in tallow. Cheap, reliable, reasonably bright, they are easily the most common form of indoor light available. Oil lamps and candles, tend to be reserved for the wealthy.
Manor lands are composed of three primary types; woodland, cropland, and pasture. The latter two, the cleared land, is arranged as two equal, open fields, one of which is left fallow each year. The open fields are subdivided into furlongs (furrow-longs), these being rectangles of about ten acres each, roughly the amount of land a single team of oxen can furrow in a single day. The furlongs are separated by a balk of turf, or a hedge, and have names like “Hopalong”, or “Rockylong” for identification. Furlongs follow the lay of the land where they meet, called gores, are cultivated with the hoe. Headlands for turning the plow exist at the ends of furlongs.
The demesne is land which the lord does not farm out to any tenant. Most lords retain a demesne. The amount depends on the availability of labor, the inclination of the lord, tenant contracts, and other local factors. There are manors where the lord collects rent from everyone, and there are some which are entirely demesne, where the tenants are all serfs or slaves, who hold no land beyond their garden and house.
Demesne land can be divided into selions and scattered throughout the open fields, like that of tenants, but is usually retained as single parcel of land near the manorhouse. However it is organized, it depends on the unfree peasants to work the land as part of their labor obligations.
The village is often nothing more than a haphazard collection of homes and outbuildings along a badly rutted clay road. Even wealthier peasants tend not to show their wealth too readily. Even a chapel, if present, will look much like any other house.
Croplands & Crops
Furlongs are further divided into selions; long, narrow strips, traditionally two hundred and twenty paces by eleven paces, or about half an acre. The selions are assigned to specific tenants so that a serf holding one selion out of twenty in “Riverlong” receives one twentieth of the harvest from that furlong. A villein with sixty selions would have thirty (30) under cultivation in a dozen or more furlongs, and thirty in fallow land.
It is customary to plant each furlong with the same crop. Scattering a tenant’s selions among furlongs ensures a variety of crops and gives insurance against the failure of a specific crop. Freeholders, on the other hand, generally hold their land in contiguous parcels of land on the edges of the manor.
The principal crops include wheat, barley, rye, oats, hay, vegetables (beans, peas and vetches), flax, and fruit. How much of each is planted is determined by generations of local experience. Some areas favor low-risk, lower value crops. It is common to plant some fields as winter crops, to provide something after the long, cold winters.
Winter crops, most often rye, are planted in the autumn. The crop sprouts, grows an inch or two, and then goes dormant when the frosts and snow come. Next spring, the rye grows faster than a spring crop and is harvested sooner. This practice spreads out the risk of crop failure, the workload of the harvest, and the burden of plowing, since winter crop furlongs are plowed in autumn instead of the next spring.
Meadows are arable land, often the best in the manor, devoted to hay reserved for fodder. Without meadows, the lord and his tenants would have great difficulty feeding livestock over the winter. Like the arable fields, meadows may be divided into furlongs and selions, and held by lord and tenants, or they may be held as a communal resource, with the lord taking his share of the fodder, and the tenants dividing the rest. Depending on the amount of livestock, hay can account for one third of the manor’s crops.
Pasture & Livestock
The land used to graze livestock is typically permanent pasture, especially in the hilly portions of the fief, but most pasture is the fallow land. The grazing mounts keeps the weeds down, and they fertilize the lands with their manure. Most animals are raised for their contribution to self-sufficiency, providing work, milk, and wool. Only pigs are kept for their meat, justified because they are prolific breeders, and thrive on human scraps, dairy waste, and woodland forage – their natural habitat.
Woodlands make up ten to twenty percent of a typical manor, but in lightly populated districts, a much higher proportion can be wooded. These lands include streams, ponds, swamp, and heath, all of which produce useful products such as fish, herbs, wild fowl, and bid eggs. Woodlands are carefully managed by a woodward to provide timber, firewood, nuts, berries, and game for the lord’s table.
Manorial tenants fall into two broad classes; free and unfree. The exact compositions vary from region to region and manor to manor.
Freeholders include craftsmen, yeomen, and simple farmers. They hold the land in exchange for military service (*Yeomen*_) or rent (_*Farmers*). It is important to understand that freeholders are “renters”, not “owners”. They do not possess any rights to land tenure beyond their agreement with the lord, usually verbal, to farm, or “lease”, an area of land for an agreed period of time, typically seven (7) years. Although not bound to the land in the sense of a serf, freeholders must honor their farm contacts or face prosecution. When a farm expires, the lease can be easily renewed if both parties agree. Freeholders can be evicted and chattels seized for non-payment of rents.
Freehold land is rarely mixed with unfree land. To mix them complicates plowing and reaping, because a Reeve has no authority over freeholders. Nor do most freeholders desire to have their legal status confused by working on unfree land. Freeholders typically have separate acreage near the manor boundary, and may live in cottages outside the village.
Some industry is necessary to village life and many craftsmen practice their occupation in manorial villages. Manorial lords profit from selling licenses that allow guild craftsmen to operate on their manor, and they collect rents, since most rural craftsmen hold some freehold acres. Millers, metalsmiths and woodcrafters are the most common guild occupations, with hideworkers, salters, charcoalers, and timberwrights filling in most other positions.
Rural priests tend to have a chapel dedicated to Korg – Father of the Fields or Amalthea – Bringer of Life Renewed, the most common deities among the rural peasantry. Unless the village is very large or wealthy, there will be acreage attached to the chapel to help support the local parish.
Day-to-day operation of the croplands, pastures and woodlands, are handled by tenant officers appointed by the lord or his bailiff. They are also sometimes chosen by their peers. The chief tenant officer is the village _*Reeve*_and, depending on the size of the manor, he will have a Herder, Woodward, and Beadle as assistants.
There are three broad classes of unfree tenant; villeins, cottars, and slaves. Villeins hold 20-30 acres and are the aristocracy of the unfree peasantry; they are often better off than most freeholders. Cottars usually have around five (5) acres, but sometimes just their cottages and kitchen gardens. Cottars with an average household of five cannot grow enough food to survive (typically 20 acres is considered a bare minimum), but their labor obligations are light. They help support themselves by working as fishermen or trappers when possible, or as laborers for the lord’s demesne or wealthier freeholders.
An unfree tenant has few possessions of his own. His cottage and land belong to the lord, and he uses them in exchange for a combination of labor and rent. Unfree tenants typically owe the lord four days of labor for every acre of land they hold, plus payments in kind for their cottage and other fees. The head of the household owes the labor personally. Many lords let their tenants send someone else to do the work, such as a son, but the tenant remains responsible for the quality of work being done. Fines are often levied for careless or inferior work.
Slavery exists in some nations on Argoth, such as Vulcanir or the Free-City of Crebain. Although agricultural bondage is uncommon, slaves may work the lord’s demesne, or work within the manorhouse as servants, cooks, and scribes. In some cases the slaves are trained warriors, trusted by their owners as bodyguards. Slave have no legal rights, but are valuable assets and rarely ill-treated. They never hold land in a legal sense, but a married slave couple with children (all slave offspring are automatically slaves) are usually rewarded with a modest cottage and a small kitchen garden.
A typical peasant cottage is wood-framed, wattle and daub construction, with a thatched roof. In timber-poor districts, the cottage is built of stone or turf. A typical unfree peasant has a “three-bay cottage”, meaning three interconnected chambers, each ten to twenty foot square. The building is renewed from time to time by adding a new bay and removing an old one. Typically, one cottage bay will be a barn for livestock and tool storage, one a kitchen (and living room) and one a bedroom. Sleeping chambers might be partitioned for privacy, depending on the size and wealth of the family. The cottage is the property of the lord, but the tenant is responsible for upkeep. A tenant can be fined for failing to maintain the dwelling in good condition.
Earth pit cellars, three to ten feet deep covered by wooden floors, are common. The pits are often filled with waste vegetation which decomposes over the winter, providing heat for the household and compost for the garden. Alternately, the cellars may be used for cold storage. A cottage might have separate cellars under each bay. The floors are either wooden, or packed earth if there is no cellar. Packed earth is actually remarkably smooth, even shiny. Earth is also warmer than stone and cheaper than wood.
Furnishings depend on wealth. Most cottages contain storage chests for important possessions, shelves, stools and benches or chairs, tables, and the like. Some would have spinning wheels and looms, and a few have real beds> poor peasants sleep on simple pallets with straw-filled mattresses (called “ticks”). Most of the furniture is placed against the walls, away from the central hearth.
Peasant garb is mostly home-made. It consists of the tunic, leg-wrappings (hose or trousers for the wealthy), and canvas or leather shoes or boots. Items are made of durable, local cloth or hides, and brightly colored by a local dyer, usually a peasant who specialized in the task. Peasants prefer bright colors; reds, greens and blues are typically cheap dyes. A great deal of time is spent spinning and weaving in the household, both for the family, and to sell to guild clothiers.
An enclosed garden plot, no more than an acre, and usually less, adjoins the cottage. This is land for the exclusive use of the tenant, and is usually devoted to vegetables, perhaps a fruit tree or two. Here the family grows produce and raises livestock for both its own consumption and for market.
Most peasant households have some livestock; a few sheep or goats, some poultry, a pig or two, perhaps a cow and ox.. While livestock is individual property, they are often herded communally. Ordinarily, livestock live in the home, providing warmth and an assortment of familiar noises and odors.
Food and Cooking
In the middle of the kitchen bay, or next to a stone wall, a stone hearth provides heat and cooking facilities. Over or near the fire, there is a hanging or a footed pot where the pottage simmers. Smoke escapes by way of a roof or wall vent or chimney. Food is cooked by toasting on skewers, boiling, grilling, frying, baking or roasted on a spit.
Pottage is the base of mot meals, eaten with bread and ale. A cauldron of pottage may be kept going for many days. Almost anything goes in, including barley, peas, beans, a little meat, cabbage, lettuce, parsley, spinach, leeks, onions, garlic, and even fruit like apples, pears, and cherries. The whole magnificent mix might be seasoned wiht whatever herbs can be found in the garden, near hedges, or in the woods.
Bread is a staple in all households. Peasants bake bread at home in a skillet or in clay or brick ovens. Some peasants have handmills to grind flour, but as this is a violation of the Miller’s Guild monopoly, and the lord will have no choice but to eventually fine tenants who abuse this practice. Wheat is valuable so peasant bread is usually made of maslin, a mixture of wheat and rye, or barley and rye.
Grinding grain is the monopoly of the Miller’s Guild and its millwrights. Most grain is ground at the local mill. Most responsible for enforcing the guild monopoly, however, overlook handmill violations by poor farmers, but ban the practice among others. Most millers also have large stone ovens for baking bread, and a press to squeeze oils from seeds or nuts, but these are offered as services, not as monopolies.
In season, fruits, nuts, and vegetables make up an important part of the diet. Wild and domestic seasonal fruit are collected, including; apples, peaches, pears, plums, blackberries, cherries, currents, elderberries, gooseberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Almonds, hazelnuts, beechnuts, chestnuts, and walnuts are collected from woodlands, and grown in gardens. Beehives are common, and honey is the principal sweetener.
Small quantities of meat are typically added to the pottage, most often pork, mutton and (often poached) small game. Chickens, ducks, and geese are kept more for their eggs than their meat, though it is traditional to roast a bird for annual festivals.
Dairy products are very important to the diet. Sheep and goats are the most common sources of milk. Raw milk is preserved by making a great variety of cheeses, butters and yogurts.
Water is a beverage only for livestock and the poor. Ale is produced at home from water, barley and honey, and might be flavored with wild hops. Cider and mead are also produced at home. Ale is brewed three times. The first batch is “heady ale”, the second is :pauper’s brew", and the last is almost free of alcohol and known as “small beer”. Small beer is not as tasty, but is healthier than water, but is consumed by children and the infirm.
Most home brewing is done by locals called “alewives”. The local village has a party (called a “tavern”) when one alewife completes a batch of beverage. The lack of preservatives encourages villagers
Games & Leisure
Peasants work hard, but still have some free time, especially during long winter evenings. Children’s games include a variety of hopscotch, tag, hiding games, skipping, ball-games, and a large assortment of word and guessing games . Singing and dancing is popular among all ages. Adults amuse themselves with dice and boards games. Most folk enjoy story-telling, riddling and general discourse over a pint of ale.
Hallmoot is the name for the lord’s manorial court. All tenants are subject to justice dispensed by the lord. The lord holds court, usually once each month. There are a number of fines that are assessed for violations of local custom, and those fines, or amercements, form a significant part of the lord’s income. The lord has the ultimate power to pass and execute on everything short of a death sentence.
When the lord holds court he may bid any of his tenants to attend and they are required to comply. Tenant officers must be present (unless excused) and there may be an assortment of petitioners, plaintiffs, and defendants. The lord sits on his high chair in his hall, flanked by his wife, other family members, and perhaps some household retainers – a collective that seems to temper overly harsh and hasty punishments. Village elders often stand or sit to one side for consultation.
Most cases are brought to the attention of the court through the Reeve, who explains what he knows, calls witnesses, and may offer recommendations. The lord listens to the evidence (testimony) from witnesses, the plaintiff, and defendant. He may ask the reeve for advice on custom (the law), and then makes a ruling.
Except when freeholders are involved, the lord’s verdict is final. Freeholders have the right of appeal to a hundred or shire court, where they have claim on the royal justice system. That right is not, however, commonly exercised. Appealing a decision to a royal court is unlikely to please the lord, and is time-consuming for everyone. Only harsh or very unfair judgements are likely to be appealed.
The relationship between lord and unfree tenant is a customary contract that may or mat not have been established over generations. It is usually the case that a tenant who holds land in the same furlong as another serf is by association unfree, but unfree status is more properly defined by the rights and obligations established between tenant and lord. Many legal disputes arise over the unfree status of tenants.
An unfree tenant represents a source of labor which is usually in short supply. An unfree person wishing to leave home legally must obtain permission from his lord and pay compensation. If the tenant cannot afford this, the only options are to run away, or in some way win the favor of the lord and be granted freedom.
Lords chase runaways, because they are a valuable resource, and because it sets a bad example. Captive runaways are fined (usually 6-12 sp for a first offense) and make up any work missed. Repeat offenders expect larger and larger fines and harsher punishments, such as flogging.