Nobility in the world of Merceria
The noble ranks of Mercia evolved to best deal with the dangers of the land they settled. Originally, the Mercenaries that founded Mercenaria, as it was then called, used military ranks. Over time, these ranks adopted civilian titles that they had encountered in their travels. Military ranks were retained for military forces, but that information can be found elsewhere.
The Royal Family
Dukes and Earls
Barons, Baronets, and Viscounts
The Royal Family
- At the top of the chain is the Royal Family. Though technically above the nobility, the royals are included here for completeness. The king is the highest-ranking member of the family, though at least twice in Mercerian history there has been a sole queen. Being a male-dominated culture, only male heirs can inherit titles, including the crown, but if a male heir were unavailable, a daughter could take the crown, though as soon as she married, her husband would become king.
- After the king, next in line is his eldest son, the Crown Prince, who traditionally holds the title of Duke of Wincaster. A second son, should he exist, was often given a lesser title. At the time of King Andred IV, his second son, Prince Alfred, is Viscount Halsham.
- The queen, when not a sole ruler, has no official power but can have immense influence. In some reigns, the queen was seen as a conduit to the king, a significant contact. In the rule of King Andred IV, the queen had been all but banished from court when the king took up with a royal mistress. Though the king's mistress has no official position, she is seen as a substantial influence on the ruler.
- Princesses, although they hold a title, are seen as opportunities to marry into the Royal Family. As such, they are primarily treated as bargaining chips. Some kings were more concerned for their daughters’ futures, but many used them to cement political alliances.
Dukes and Earls
- The kingdom is divided into six regions; each ruled over by a duke or earl. There are three dukes in Merceria, along with three earls. When Merceria was founded, it was decided that the most powerful among them would be ranked as dukes, (a rank not present in Westland or Norland). This was decided based on the size of the cities they commanded. Traditionally only the rulers of Wincaster, Colbridge and Kingsford are considered dukes, while the smaller cities of Shrewesdale, Tewsbury and Eastwood are considered earls.
- Though dukes were considered superior to earls, the reality is that they were essentially the same. In the reign of King Andred IV, the influence of the dukes has been reduced, and the Earl of Shrewesdale has become one of the kings closest advisors, despite the presence of the dukes.
Barons, Baronets, and Viscounts
- Just below earls are viscounts, of which there are only two in Merceria. Viscount Haverston was a title created for the king’s second son back in 780. The title is typically only bestowed on one of the royal line, usually the second in line to the crown. Viscounts are ranked above a baron. The other viscount, Stilldale, is a hereditary title. In 650, at the Battle of the Ford, Commander Thorgald Chesterton saved the day by arriving at a key moment in the battle. Chesterton was the brother of a baron, and a pleased king awarded him and his heirs the title in perpetuity. Viscounts are directly under the vassalage of the king.
- Baron’s are below dukes and earls and technically fall under their command. By the time of Servant of the Crown, the barons are taking their commands directly from the king, though their taxes, etc., are collected by the senior noble they serve. Baronies were originally set up in remote locations to act on behalf of their dukes, but the realities of the day were that they were essentially independent vassals.
- The influence of barons can vary considerably. Baron Fitzwilliam of Bodden is reckoned by most to be the best military commander due to his position near the border and the constant raiding by Norlanders. He is also considered an eccentric by most knights who served him, for his strange ideas.
- By the time of King Andred IV, there are only three barons left, the rest having been absorbed by the dukes, earls and the crown, primarily through marriage. Bodden, Hawksburg and Redridge are all strong, independent baronies.
- Beneath the barons, though still reporting to a duke or earl, are the baronets. These have land equivalent to a baron, but the title is not hereditary. The title was often awarded to knights who had distinguished themselves. There are, at the time of the first book, four baronetcies. Most of these pay a stipend to the baronet and do not require their presence at all. Uxley is considered a baronetcy. Though it is owned by the crown, a portion of the taxes are given to the baronet, who lives in Wincaster. The baronet of Uxley has never visited the village, having spent his entire life in the capital. He was awarded the title in return for his long service managing the affairs of the crown, a rare example of a commoner being rewarded for a lifetime of service.
- Knights are, technically, a fighting rank. Due to the huge expense of maintaining the large horses and armour of a knight, only the richest families can afford to sponsor one. Any member of the royal family can elevate someone to the rank of knight, though it was seldom anyone other than the king who did so. Sons of rich families are often ‘sponsored’, and it has become common to knight them after a gratuity has been paid to the crown. There are, of course, exceptions. Someone who distinguished themselves on the battlefield can be granted the rank. Knights are expected to equip themselves, usually with help from a sponsor. The crown usually assumes the maintenance cost of knights, this involved food and board etc. Knights can be sent to a lower noble, such as a baron, then the noble would have to bear the cost. Bodden, being on the frontier, is rare in that it is a barony that has many knights, due to its strategic location. This expense is a constant drain on the Barons of Bodden.
- Female knights are rare, but not unheard of. When Beverly Fitzwilliam was knighted by the king, she joined a very select group. Most female knights do not prosper, and many gave up their devotion to resume to a civilian life, a right that was allowed under the law of the land.
- By the 950’s the power of the nobles has been reduced as the king consolidated his power. As the series begins, the king is at the height of his power, having removed or defeated any who stood against him.