Fantasy Demographics: How Many Nobles?

TheShadow

found the shaved monkeys
Validated User
Does anyone have a breakdown for the percentages of different social classes in medieval (or ancient, for that matter) societies? So far I am guessing about 3-5% for the gentry (minor landholders and clients of the nobles) and 1% for the true aristocracy.
 

Alratan

Retired User
So on your numbers, a society like feudal England, with ~6 million inhabitants, would have 60,000 aristocrats and 180-300,000 members of the gentry. I think your numbers are about 2 orders of magnitude too high - you should be thinking more like 600 true aristocrats, and maybe 50,000 gentry.
 

Packrat

Registered User
Validated User
It really depends to be honest, medieval England had very few actual nobles (I think 40 something peers during some periods?), but Poland later on had 10% of the entire population as 'nobility'.

Medieval France it was 2-3%, remember this proportion of the population includes wives, children, younger sons who linger as squires or men at arms until later in life due to lack of the wealth to become a knight, etc.
 

AgamemnonV1

Retired User
Well if you're talking about fantasy demographics, what's wrong with making up your own? If you are making your own setting with your own political hierarchy, you will be the only one who knows what feels right for the setting and for what constitutes as a "true aristocrat" or a "noble." As others have previously stated, vassalage was different for every kingdom of its time. The Zhou Dynasty saw a reign of fifty-five vassal states in 1045BCE. Despite that, as the later Dynasties came into play, you saw fewer and fewer vassal states, despite that China's population only grew in that time period, as did political unrest. It's different even for each one in real-life vassalage world history--it obviously will be for the one in your setting.
 

Blackwingedheaven

Crystal Human
Validated User
It varies from era to era and region to region. As someone pointed out, there was a period in medieval England where there were fewer than 100 true nobles, and a time in France when something like 2-3% of the population were aristocratic. By the middle of the Tokugawa Period in Japan, something like 5-10% of the population were of the samurai caste, all of whom were theoretically "nobility."

You also need to decide what you mean by "nobility." Do you mean "monarchs," who are landed rulers of various lands of various sizes (technically, titles like duke and baron are "monarchs" if they rule a sovereign duchy or sovereign barony); "royalty," who are the (even if distant) family of a monarch; or "aristocrats," which includes the appointed and/or hereditary title-holders below monarchs and their families? Or some entirely non-western form of nobility, of which there were quite a few?

Really, for purposes of a fantasy world, it entirely depends on what your preferences are.


Jeremy Puckett
 

zanshin

Registered User
Validated User
In a feudal system you owe your position, and service to those above you, and
those below you owe you service.

If you are a knight who holds no land , you are not part of the nobility as such, you are part of the military caste, with privileges but no true power.

Landholders who do not work their own land? Probably no more than 1% of any feudal society.
 

Deacon Blues

Let's Play
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You also need to decide what you mean by "nobility." Do you mean "monarchs," who are landed rulers of various lands of various sizes (technically, titles like duke and baron are "monarchs" if they rule a sovereign duchy or sovereign barony); "royalty," who are the (even if distant) family of a monarch; or "aristocrats," which includes the appointed and/or hereditary title-holders below monarchs and their families? Or some entirely non-western form of nobility, of which there were quite a few?
Good point here.

In this vein: do you mean what percentage of the population is "noble nobility" or what percentage of the population can claim a title? Not all noble families are equal, even in the richest of times, and the grain merchant may have more horses and better clothes than the knight who's fallen on hard times.

So is your question "What percentage of the population should be bowed to?" or "What percentage of the population owned land?"
 

arthurfallz

Registered User
Validated User
Does anyone have a breakdown for the percentages of different social classes in medieval (or ancient, for that matter) societies? So far I am guessing about 3-5% for the gentry (minor landholders and clients of the nobles) and 1% for the true aristocracy.
A lot of it depends on the definition of nobility, and then how petty or powerful a noble you want to detail. Also, the "level" of your society. Are they akin to a Dark Ages world, where there may be almost a noble for every town, or a late medieval world where there's about a noble per county (using broad generalizations). Is the society top-heavy with more nobles than is needed, or are there a few powerful lords and ladies alone to fend off invasions and intrigue.
 

Q99

Genderpunk
Staff member
Moderator
RPGnet Member
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In Ironclaw, it comes up that there's at least one region who's nobility has gotten plentiful enough and poor enough (not actual poor-poor, but 'live in cottages' types) that other houses hardly consider them nobles, or at least lower than their actual rank. So varying from place to place is something to play around with.
 
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