Thursday, December 18, 2008

Question from Elizabeth - Nobles at court and income sources

I was wondering, if you were part of the nobility class (like a duke or an earl) did you have to go to court? Or could you shun politics and just hang out out your estate? As a noble, what would your "job" be anyways? How would you make money? Lol, I guess that these are alot of questions, but I'm curious and I can't seem to find an answer anywhere!


Anonymous said...

Nobles did not *have* to go to court, but most usually did because that was the easiest way to advance themselves and their families. By being at court, you had access to the monarch and other high-ranking officials that could appoint/recommend you or a family member to an affluent position within the court/administration. You also had the ins-and-outs of what was going on, all the latest gossip, who to make deals with and who was currently taboo.

Besides being royal sycophants, however, nobles collected income from the lands where they were titled. Thomas Boleyn, for example, worked his way up as being an ambassador/envoy for France and the Netherlands to being a Viscount, then an Earl twice over. He was also appointed Lord Privy Seal in 1530, one of the highest ranking positions in Henry VIII's court. In addition to all those duties/titles, Thomas Boleyn was also a Shire Reeve in the Kentish countryside in and around Edenbridge/Hever Castle. He received a salary from the king for all these positions and then he also received whatever rents he charged from the people living on his lands.

So, in summary: no, nobles did not have to go to court, but it was a very good idea to be there 75% of the time or more to make sure you were "in the know." And there were several ways for a noble to make money, but mostly it was through rent from their tenants and paid positions at court or through the government.

kb said...

Nobles DID have to go to court if summoned by the monarch. Failure to do so could lead to a wide variety of royal reprisals. If you claimed illness, the monarch might have sent messengers or doctors to verify that this was a legitimate excuse. Otherwise refusal to attend court was viewed as suspicious behavior. The theory was that the only reason a noble wouldn't obey a royal request to attend was because he/she was plotting treason.

Nobles also made money from additional grants by the monarch. For example the custom duty on wool was granted to Margaret Douglas countess of Lennox by Mary I. The farm (essentially a cut of all profits) of sweet wine was granted to Robert Devereux earl of Essex by Elizabeth and when she didn't renew the grant he faced financial ruin despite his land holdings. George Carey, later baron Hunsdon, was granted the rights to some tin mines as was Charles Howard, baron Effingham later earl of Nottingham. Fishing rights were also handed out to the nobility as income producers.

Rents and managing production from land such as crops, livestock etc, was a key source of revenue. But even these could be subject to royal interference.

Anonymous said...

KB is absolutely correct, of course, that any noble summoned to court was obliged to appear and serve in whatever capacity the Crown assigned to them. But Ashley is also correct to the extent that not all nobles were summoned, except for a Parliament. When Parliament was not sitting, those nobles not summoned for specific tasks were pretty much free to "hang out," as Ashley puts it, on their estates. Henry Grey, for example, was seldom summoned by Henry VIII to serve in official offices, leaving him free to travel among his widespread estates. But as Ashley points out, anyone with ambition, including Henry Grey, did tend to "hang out" as close to court as they could in hopes of being noticed and being offered official duties and potential advancement. Others chose not to become involved and to distance themselves from court, including Henry Seymour, brother of Queen Jane Seymour (see recent thread:

Nobles did not have "jobs," at least not in the modern sense of the term. Even those who were granted fee farms and customs duty shares did not actually do the work of collecting on those grants. Instead, they hired lower ranking people to manage those matters for them. Many Tudor nobles saw it as their "job" to be military commanders instead ... or to simply "hang out" at court in hopes of being noticed. Like Prince Charles today, they could spend a lifetime waiting to have a "real job."

As for income, KB notes the ways nobles received money from beyond their lands. However, for most nobles and aristocracy (non-titled wealthy), land remained the main source of income. Every title of nobility carried with it the outright ownership of large tracts of land, and anyone living or working on that land paid rent and other fees to the noble or aristocratic owner. In his biography of John Dudley, David Loades includes an appendix that details the extensive lands owned by Dudley and how much income Dudley received annually from each property. The amounts are staggering, and it gives you a really good sense of where nobles got much of their money.

For those who may not know, that practice continues. Many of the titled nobles of modern England continue to own massive chunks of land from which they receive income through rents and other fees. The Queen, as Duke of Lancaster, owns massive portions of the City of London and receives rent and other fees from many well-known corporations with buildings sitting on her land. Hazel Czernin, 10th Baroness Howard de Walden, owns much of the Marylebone district of Greater London, including the famous Harley Street medical district, and receives rents and fees from that area. The Howard de Walden estate ( a current value in excess of 1 Billion pounds. Not bad for a lowly baroness! The Duke of Westminster owns much of fashionable Belgravia and Mayfair in London as well as large estates in the counties of Lancashire and Cheshire and in Scotland. His estimated wealth is over 7 billion pounds!