|Nobility in The Empire
N. Arne Dam and Alfred Nuñez Jr.
In Apocrypha Now, the Noble careers were (re-)introduced into WFRP along with the skills particular to the specialist careers. Moreover, the article provided some background information; the reasons why a noble would become an adventurer, and the manner in which a successful may enter into and advance within the nobility.
The purpose of this article is to provide more information on the noble class. The article will look at, amongst other things: How a person is elevated to nobility, what happens when a noble line dies out, how nobles marry for advantage, and how the success of a House is dependent upon the capabilities of the patriarch. These areas should provide a framework for GMs to create more detailed family background for noble PCs as well as run a campaign setting where all the PCs are from the noble class.
This same information could be used to develop a more recent history of events involving the most powerful noble families in The Empire. Such information is important, especially if any character has the noble skill of Dynastic Knowledge. Furthermore, this article details certain individuals in the von Bildhofen family, which also serves as a perfect example of how the fortunes of a noble family can ebb and flow with the tidal forces of circumstance and history.
One point of caution. There are regional differences within The Empire which means that the ranks and titles in different areas are of different importance, and that the article cannot speak for every region on each point. Instead, this article speaks in general terms, leaving the exact details for the GM to develop.
The Tiers of Nobility
“Look at the filthy beggars. If not for our magnanimous rule, they’d be little better than the animals they raise.” – Reiklander Baron von Auerswald on his way to the Great War against Chaos 2302 IC
Apocrypha Now details the careers of five levels of nobility. While this fits for game mechanics, the careers can be broken down to the four tiers described below.
The most powerful of the nobility are the Provincial Electors (the others, known as the Clerical Electors, are elevated by their religious office), including the Emperor, all of whom rule either powerful city-states or large swarths of land, the latter of which are known as the Electoral or Grand Provinces. In some cases, they are also the liege-lords of the non-Electoral or Lesser Provinces. All of the current Provincial Electors come from noble families that trace their lineage to The Empire’s first millennium. As a matter of fact, many of these noble families are interrelated to some extent. It should also be noted that the Provincial Electors have the financial means to support relatives who have the wherewithal to reach the other tiers of nobility. The Noble-Rank 5 career is appropriate for these important personages.
The second tier of Imperial nobility are the Lesser Provincial rulers. Powerful and just as protective of their status as the Electors. This high office of nobility is represented by the career Noble-Rank 4 (Duke), even though the actual office title of the ruler usually differs (as exemplified by the Baron of Nordland or the Count of Wissenland. Close or otherwise important blood relatives of the Electors also comprise this tier of Imperial nobility, such as Baron Heinrich Todbringer (Middenheim: City of Chaos) and Karl-Franz I’s cousin Count Siegfried von Walfen (the head of the Graukappen as described in Warpstone #11, Behind the Scenes.)
The third tier of nobility are the landed nobles who nominally owe allegiance to the provincial rulers. These nobles tend to be ambitious and seek alliances through marriage to improve their relative position. They will also resort to whatever means necessary to gain the favour and patronage of their liege, especially if it is at the expense of their peers. Such activity is highly risky and costly to those whose ambitions are unquenchable. This tier of nobility is represented by two ranks of Nobles: Rank 2 (Baron, Margrave) and Rank 3 (Count). The latter tends to be the more experienced and influential of this level of landed nobles while the former are often individuals who have just acquired their inheritance or are less than competent in their abilities. Note that Barons can be the vassals of a Count or Duke, who in turn is the vassal of the provincial ruler.
A number of landed nobles have property in addition to their primary holdings, some in other Imperial provinces. An example of this is the village of Kammendun, which is located in Middenland where the River Schaumfluss enters the Schadensumpf. The mining and fishing village is one of the Imperial possessions of Graf Boris Todbringer, even though it’s one hundred and ten miles west of Middenheim. In fact, many of the more powerful Imperial noble families own land in other Old World lands (Bretonnia, Wasteland, Kislev, Border Princes are the most likely) as a result of marriages, inheritances and various other means.
The lowest rank of nobility (the one detailed in the WFRP Rulebook as the Noble career and Apocrypha Now as Noble-Rank 1), encompass those without land or newly elevated to the status of nobility. These include those awaiting their inheritance and those who are excluded from such for whatever reason.
Since the time of Emperor Magnus the Pious, the number of young nobles left out of their family inheritance (all children save the eldest son, in most cases) has increased. Many of these landless nobles flock to military careers in their pursuit of fame and fortune. Some also hope to carve out a land of their own, mostly in the northern wilderness (north of the Middle Mountains), eastern marches (Ostland along the Kislevite frontier, Ostermark, Sylvania, and the outlying portions of Averland), and near the Imperial enclaves of Akendorf and Mortensholm in the Border Princes.
Other unlanded nobles are entering the mercantile trade in increasing numbers in hopes of continuing the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed. It is also a means for these nobles to regain some influence. Judicious use of money can provide an unlanded noble with allies from higher levels of nobility but unwise disbursement can leave them bankrupt a noble and at the mercy of their enemies.
If You Cannot Beat Them, Join Them
“Jus’ look at them, all proud and full o’ themselves. I bet not a one o’ them has ever done a thing in their lives. Gods, how I wish I was born one.” – anonymous Middenlander peasant.
What now passes as titled nobility had its antecedents well before the time of Sigmar. In fact, some of the ancient tribes, including Sigmar’s, seemed to have had hereditary chiefs. Others elected their leaders based upon skill and circumstance. In times of peace and prosperity, a leader with mediating skills would be more beneficial to the tribe. When war came, those skilled at arms with the abilities to lead men and defeat tribal enemies were preferre.
As the tribes grew in size, strong local leaders established themselves as enforcers of the tribal chief's law and peace. In exchange of the martial protection they would demand tithe from their fellow peasants. With Sigmar’s ascendancy as Emperor, the tribal leaders became provincial rulers. Furthermore, the local leaders serving these rulers likewise ensured their positions (as well as that for their descendants) and thus joined the hereditary chiefs in founding the ancient families of nobility, the so-called Uradel.
By the time of Emperor Sigismund II the Conqueror, many of the noble families of The Empire had been firmly established. It is believed to be around this time that the first nobles were granted present day titles by their liege-lords (e.g., Imperial records show that Sigismund II elevated several of the noble warriors that campaigned with him to Barons). Since each Elector maintained the right to appoint nobles and award them titles, their use had become the utter mess we know today by the end of the first millennium.
A few years after Sigismund II’s death, a feud between Baron von Manstein of Marburg and Baron von Spee of Kemperbad led to the latter’s death. Emperor Siegfried the Lawgiver faced competing claims of Baron von Manstein and Baroness von Schliester of Auerswald for his land and wealth. He decided on a third candidate: Marshal Heinz Guderian, a loyal general who served his father and himself. In elevating his choice, Emperor Siegfried issued the Imperial Edict of 525 IC:
“Should a Fief become vacant; whether by misdeed, misfortune, or death; as decreed by Sigmar, Ulric, and Mórr, the Elector of the Province shall have the right to elevate any man whose loyalty and strength can ensure that his Lord’s laws are upheld and fealty obligations met. Should the House of an Elector or Imperial Holding become vacant, then the Emperor may elevate any noble who holds land in that Province and has proven himself able to maintain Order and enforce its Laws.”
Although this avenue is rarely used nowadays, there have been incidences in the recent Imperial past when a person of common birth has been elevated to nobility. However, this is likely to the lowest, unlanded tier of nobility. Newcomers to the ranks of nobility are invariably scorned by members of the Uradel.
In contrast, there is only one example where an Emperor declined to elevate a noble to a vacant Provincial seat. In 2305 IC, Emperor Magnus the Pious decided to accept the offer of the burghers of Marienburg and declared that the Barony of Westerland (an Imperial Holding) no longer existed. In its place, the Emperor proclaimed the Province of Westerland to be governed by an appointed Council drawn from the burghers of (see Marienburg: Sold Down the River.)
Noble Privileges and Responsibilities
‘Sigmar’s beard, man, they were just peasants. So, my son got a little drunk with his friends and killed a few. What’s the big deal? It’s not like anybody important got hurt. I even sent a few Crowns to the grieving families. Why is that Priest of Verena making a big to-do about it by demanding justice? One of those killed was his daughter? Bloody hell!” – Averlander Count von Oxhoft before his mansion was set aflame in 2496.
Control of the land and its resources gives the nobility great power and wealth. Peasants working the land are required by law to pay their lords a sizeable share of the fruits of their labour in exchange for their homes and protection from bandits and goblins.
The lot of a landed noble is not as easy as the muck-raking agitators would mislead the ignorant masses to believe. In addition to administering their liege-lord’s laws and maintaining the peace, landed nobles are responsible for collecting taxes and protecting the peasants that work the land and, as well as commoners plying their trade in towns and villages. Additionally, are required to raise troops whenever their liege-lord requires such service (though the more creative vassals seem to find a way around even this requirement). Landed nobles who wish to remain on good terns with their Leige Lord are also expected to throw lavish parties and arrange spectacular hunts whenever he visits. Failure to perform such duties may well lead to a noble being stripped of title and holdings.
As compensation for their onerous tasks, nobles gain privileges beyond that of the common rabble. They are relatively immune to the laws that govern the behaviour of the lower classes, considered above such crimes as robbery, murder, and rape. However, should such crime occur against one of their own, only the guards of the liege-lord (i.e. the Imperial Guard in the case of the Emperor) may arrest the accused noble. Although extremely rare, the liege-lord may issue an Imperial warrant to certain individuals other than their retinue (e.g., Bounty Hunters) to seize the indicted noble and return them for judgement.
Statutes in many lands expressly forbid the Watch from arresting any noble, no matter the crime. Should the Watch witness a crime committed by a noble, they must report the activity to the proper authority (their Watch Captain) without taking any direct action to stop the foul deed; small comfort to any victim of the noble’s actions. Most nobles know not to push their immunity from the Watch too far. Most have heard of young nobles who have turned up dead in some back alley or hung from a tree outside a village with nary a witness to be found.
Nobles are likewise immune to the judicial system that commoners must face. Any noble charged with a crime must be tried in a special court where their noble peers judge them. By no means a lark for the accused many verdicts rendered in this court are based upon political considerations as much as legal. It is therefore not surprising that most criminally inclined nobles prefer to find commoners upon whom they can shift any blame.
Given the privileges of the nobility, real or perceived, it is small wonder that there are people of common blood who fraudulently pose as nobles. The noble class protects its birthright by passing laws that severely punish “commoners who falsely purport themselves in a manner that strongly suggests they are of noble blood.” In Talabheim, such impersonation is considered a capital crime and the perpetrator is usually executed if convicted (in rare situations imprisonment in Tarnhelm Keep a possibility, though it is considered a close second in severity to death). In Nuln punishment tends towards a week in the stocks and restitution to the noble family whose good name the perpetrator sullied (if unable to pay, then a sentence to debtor prison would be added to the punishment).