Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Revisiting "A Feudal Foundation" (Part Two)

Photo Credit: The Mad Monarchist
Feudalism was not always a system, and it wasn’t even called feudal until well after its extinction in Western Europe. At one point it was just a series of laws and customs governing the use and ownership of land. It is said that after Charlemagne's death in 814, his descendants fought over the land, and Europe disintegrated into thousands of seignories (independent kingdoms run by sovereign lords). In my discussion of the Black Prince’s Ruby, you can read how Spain was fraught with feuding for land amongst several of these seigneurs.

Throughout Western Europe, these lords independently governed tracts of land. After awhile, the knights in military service to these lords began to make demands for rights to land, especially in France. Realizing the importance of garnering fealty from their military force, the lords set up a system of legal agreements to grant these requests for land.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Under these new laws, a knight (and later peasants) could make a pledge to provide military, political, or financial services to a lord by means of an oath of allegiance. In return, the lord acknowledged the agreement with an act of homage. After this feudal bond was created, the knight then became a legal vassal of the lord. The lord granted him tenure (ownership) of a specified portion of the lord’s land. In return, the vassal agreed to provide protection, political or military aid, profit-sharing, and/or rental payments to the lord.

These legal agreements were called fiefs, and a seigneur’s group of said agreements was termed a fiefdom. I suppose you could compare a seigneur to a modern-day mortgage lender, in that he maintained a form of ownership over the land even though the vassal was able to pass the agreement down to his heirs.

Duke of Normandy
Photo Credit: People Quiz
Though it is not agreed upon by historians, there is a theory that feudalism did not reach the island of England until the Norman Conquest. In 1066, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, invaded the island from the continent and established a powerful monarchy which resulted in the intricate system of sovereignty that remains a fundamental part of the fabric of England’s government even today.

It is supposed that the feudalism that was inherent in the French customs of that day spread rampantly across the conquered island. Regardless of whether feudalism was brought to England by the invasion or whether it was already there, it is clear that the relationships between lords and vassals were foundational in constructing England’s strict social class system in the late 1700s and early 1800s.


Revisiting "A Feudal Foundation" (Part One)

Photo Credit: Sensibility
Today I want to continue our investigation of England’s class system during the Regency Era. Think of these discussions as the setting in which we will place our most prized gems, the men and women who shaped the early life of the beloved Queen Victoria. I wish to remind you that we’re learning all of this so that we can understand the powerful forces governing the actions of those who were most influential in Victoria’s life.

If we are to learn to master the lessons we face as we attempt to dig out the roots of our past and become the vivid queens we were meant to become rather than queens dressed in mourning garb, we will also need to probe the foundations of our own lives. It is my hope that digging into the history of this one Queen will aid you in digging into your own history.

High Society Banquet Table
Photo Credit: English Heritage

It was this rigid class system which was in large part responsible for the environment in which the Royal Duke of Kent found himself in debt and out of the graces of his brother, King George IV. Had he been in good graces with the King, or had the King’s opinion of his brother impacted the man’s circumstances less, it is highly likely that he would never have contracted the pneumonia that led to his demise eight short months after the birth of his daughter. If he had not died, he likely would have continued working toward producing a more secure offspring in the form of a male child. If this male child had been born, we would not have the illustrious Victorian Era to study at all.

Furthermore, I believe it was this rigid social class system that bears a great portion of the responsibility for shaping the life of our Queen’s mother and closest advisers, and I intend to make sure we learn everything we can about it without growing weary or bored.

Medieval Life
Photo Credit: UNCP
Through the Regency Era and into the early part of the Victorian Era, England’s class system consisted of the Royals, the Nobles, and the peasants, with the Royals and Nobles, as well as the peasants and Nobles, in various forms and types of feudal relationships. The rules governing the formal code of the Nobles and Royals were stringent and taught from birth to only those fortunate enough to have been born into high-society families. These upper class citizens learned an entirely different vocabulary for everyday items, and they followed a strict formal code which allowed for a distinct separation between upper and lower classes.

If you were born in the lower class, not only would it have been daunting to learn all the rules, you would have been excluded from all the social opportunities in which you could have learned them. This exclusion was the intended result of this strict code, and any attempt to deviate from traditional class roles was discouraged. The question I pose in part two is: How did the feudal system of the Middle Ages set the stage for this strict class system to form in England?


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bad Poker Hand

Sometimes you have to know when to hold 'em, and sometimes you have to know when to fold 'em. I'm folding this round. Stay tuned next week for my entry on the Imperial State Crown. Apparently, I needed a week off from writing!

See you next Wednesday!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Revisiting "A Royal Undertaking"

English Royal Party
Photo Credit: Old-Print
As you’ve probably surmised by now, I’m loathe to misrepresent this beautiful country or any of its illustrious and noble people. The more I delve into this topic, the more I realize I have so much to learn, so I beg your patience. I would hate for my naivete to cloud your judgments about the value of this system, which is very different from my native American capitalist system, or about the value of these richly complex people that can only be known history's representation and our own lenses. That being said, I will share what I’ve learned so far.

The Regency Period (1811-1820) was a tumultuous time in England’s grand history. Just as the Duke and Duchess of Kent are transitional figures in Queen Victoria’s life, so the Prince Regent (George IV) was a transitional figure for the greater society of England. The traditions of a nation, seemingly as old as time (unified as a state in AD 927), changed radically due to the newly manifesting effects of the industrial revolution, which began to make an impact on English society in the early 1800s. Of course, the Prince Regent did not have much personal effect on the economic structure of England; however, he did play a role in preparing the country for said changes.

George IV Coronation Procession
Photo used  courtesy of UK Parliament

Leading into the Regency Period, England’s high society was governed by what was called, after 1801, the Peerage of the United Kingdom. (Again, I give a caveat that I am very new to the ins and outs of this type of system. Therefore, I reserve the right to correct and amend my virginal thoughts about this subject in later posts.) In the 1800s, this order of Peerage staunchly set the tone for honor, dignity, and deference between the peasant class and the aristocracy.

To my decisively American sensibilities, this type of system seems distasteful. However, a dear friend reminded me today that I am wont to judge too quickly. She pointed out that there resides a dignity and sense of protection and honor within a feudal system, which I simply need more time to understand before I can discuss it fairly. I beseech all of you who are unfamiliar to this system of governance to also keep an open mind as we further explore this system.

George IV Coronation Banquet
Photo used courtesy of UK Parliament

As I was reviewing my notes today about the Peerage, I had a vivid recollection of the day I graduated from high school. The tradition in my school was to proceed to the stage to collect our diplomas at the alphabetical calling of our names. I then remembered that at my college graduation the decorum was a little more sophisticated, resembling more closely the Peerage, in that Masters graduates were announced first before the general graduating class. The Peerage laws similarly govern the order in which royalty and nobility are announced at society events, allowed to present at public events, called to proceed at court, and seated at table for banquets, balls, and other social events. Because I do not want to take us on a rabbit trail down the complex path of this topic of Peerage and Precedence, I have included a link to my resources for this topic alone.

In our particular chapter of history, our dear Duke, Prince Edward, was born the fourth son of King George III and Sophia Charlotte. Upon his father’s death, his class rank rose to second in the nation (since his eldest brother, George IV, did not have any sons), and his individual rank rose to fourth (behind King George IV; Prince Frederick; and Prince William, who would later become king). For a detailed list of rank (precedence), take a look at the Table of Precedence for Men on Laura Chinet’s website. It was the Duke's position of precedence, coupled with the failure of those higher in rank to produce a qualifying heir that afforded him the opportunity to sire the future Queen of England.Image Credits

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Revisiting "Transition"

Romance Reading
Photo Credit: Carla's Media Meanderings
Being lost in research is almost as good as reading a great novel, only I’m reading about real people and real customs. I’ve long been a fan of historical fiction, though I rarely read them these days. My research extravaganza is still under construction. It took some serious searching, which I learned to do when I was a medical transcriptionist, but I finally struck gold with this site, Jane Austen’s World.

Here I hope to find everything I've ever needed to know about the Regency Period. I love to read, and I will be doing a lot of it in the weeks to come as I attempt to wrap my head around all the different aspects of British royal customs and expectations. I hope you will enjoy this new turn I’m taking in including you in my writing process in tandem with the journeys of our queen. As I promised before, I will include an expose of a piece of jewelry each week, as well. I look forward to this new format and the freedom it will allow me to give as much time as I need to research my subjects thoroughly.

Walking & Full Dress
Photo Credit: Flaming Angel Story
For this week, I’d like to lay some groundwork for us. As we all know by now, no one becomes anything great (or otherwise) without the influence of influential people along their path. Psychologists say that our world views and coping mechanisms are firmly set in place by the age of five or six. This doesn’t mean that we are stuck; not in the least. It just means that these first years of our lives are very important, and depending on whether our life experiences were healthy or unhealthy, we may have a little bit or a lot to overcome in our adult years to enable us to function well in life and love.

And isn’t this the very essence of a transformed life? I was blind in the way I saw my actions as separate from the rest of the world, but now I see that everything I do causes a ripple effect for at least three other people, if not hundreds. I was lost in self-pity, but now I have found that taking responsibility for my actions is a far more joyful way to live. I was lame, stuck in the muck of my insecurities and weaknesses, but now I walk in freedom from the childish ways of my past.

Regency Period
Photo Credit: Regency WebQuest
Please don’t misinterpret the direction I’m taking here. I don’t believe there is any benefit in blaming our parents for all our problems, but it is important to understand the mindsets, motivations, world views, and coping mechanisms of those who are most prominent in our formative years. Of course, this includes our mothers and fathers, but also other adults or even children who impacted us during the first years of our lives.

Queen Victoria’s mother and father were definitely the most important people in Victoria’s young life. In addition to these two, there was also her uncle, William IV; her uncle, King Leopold of Belgium; her uncle, George IV; and her mother’s comptroller, Sir John Conroy. Every single one of these people served as a transitional figure between the Georgian Era and the Victorian Era. Combined with the social climate, the laws of court, and the political climate of her day, these figures formed the psychological fabric of our queen.

See you next Wednesday!