A Brief Note
society was deferential and strongly underpinned by the concept of
hierarchy - where everyone had their given place and fitted in
accordingly. Supporting each level of this system was the idea of
giving and receiving ‘service’.
itself, could be ‘honourable’ – where the servant was of good
standing, probably owning land or from a wealthy family; or ‘menial’
where the servant was wholly dependent on their one role. (For
example, this differentiated the tasks of the (honourable) servant waiting on the
dignitaries at the top table from the (menial) servant dealing with
the lower orders).
relied on a mutually beneficial relationship between two men; as
master and servant. It was dependent on trust, where both parties had a
moral obligation to one another. Both were honour-bound; the lord to
uphold the interests of the servant; and the servant to demonstrate
a far greater obedience to the lord than the mere deference that
society expected. As such a lord could, in principal, ask a servant to
do whatever needed to be done, provided that it didn’t conflict with
the servant’s own status.
with it a symbiotic prestige and the opportunity for social
advancement, influence and subtle increases in power. A lord could
benefit from having a servant whose skills and status carried
greater influence than his own in certain quarters when carrying out
his undertakings. A servant’s own standing would be enhanced by
having the lord’s patronage – conveying strong backing – and by
relaying orders in his lord’s name – inferring increased power.
benefit of service was that it got things done quickly without
having to resort to an expensive salaried bureaucracy.
The system was
open-ended and did not cease once a particular task or function had
been performed. It was not exclusive and it was commonplace to be in
service to more than master, where the servant had to be acutely
aware where his first duty actually lay and prioritise accordingly.
Multiple bonds were encouraged as it was desirable for a servant to
be well connected. Service relationships were not easily broken,
though should a bond become less valuable over time, it could be
left in the background.
connections came the inherent risk of being in service to opposing
factions during uprisings. The servant had to be very careful in
distinguishing between his duty and own personal interest. Such
situations could also arise within families and communities where
different members were in service to different sides but, on the
whole service worked on a local level with landowners looking to
lords with influence in their local areas.
relationship between master and servant could go on to develop into
a close and lasting friendship throughout life (e.g Edward IV