Aristocratic Loyalty: Power, Position & Money

Stories that Take You for the Ride of Your Life

May, 2015

Aristocratic Loyalty: Power, Position & Money

I probably should add false pride to the heading. In addition, back in 1750’s when The Rule of Ranging takes place, many times the aristocrats in charge of life and death decisions were, in fact, troubled teens and truly ridiculous spoiled brats who acted worse than people today could even imagine. Military rank at the time was bought and sold like merchandise and families probably took the opportunity just to get rid of them.

One of the most memorable bad guys I think is fictional Colonel Tavington of the movie The Patriot. Tavington’s character is based on Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton. He believed that civilians had chosen sides in the war and as a result, deserved to be treated as combatants or punished as spies. His drive for total victory is also attributed to the fact that his father had squandered their money and had ruined the family name. Keeping up the aristocratic traditions, Tarleton made sure it was poor civilians in America who had to pay the price.

The European aristocracy lost its sheen when a class of “New Monarchs” arrived on the horizon. Feudal oligarchs lost their unhindered political and economic rights while the process of centralization ended their military significance to a great extent. Nationalist thinking overtook the feudal obligation and ended the influence of aristocrats on and off the court. However, their class dominance was soon transformed into individual astuteness evident in the continued influence during the selection of rulers, military campaigns, and political changes. Their ambition caused them to give up their loyalty to one and take maximum benefit from opportune offers emanating from political quagmires.

The European nobility took its shape during the Middle Ages. The seigniorial system, popularly known as feudalism, gave birth to the dominant class of aristocrats. Loyalty of people and economic power backed by military possessions allowed them to have special rights and privileges. The clergy became part of it, with religious guiding sentiments of rulers forcing them to concede aristocratic privileges to the Church. The traditional power of aristocrats declined with the Renaissance and military and industrial revolutions and creation of national armies.

However, the accumulated socio-economic power and wealth helped these aristocrats to stay as major players despite shrinking privileges. Their actions, battle skills, and qualification endowed them with an advantage – win favored positions in the political board game. And they used this to the hilt by shifting loyalties and deriving benefits. They allied with kings against commoners, support one king to overthrow another, ditched rulers on the battlefield, and changed camps overnight. The rulers of Europe found it easy to hire their loyalty for money, power, position, and fiefdom.

The Polish aristocracy was one such classic example. Notwithstanding their national interest, they were easily won over by ruling factions or foreign rulers and acted on their behalf even in the national parliament. This ultimately led to the downfall of the Polish state. In Germany, aristocrats symbolize a “discordant group of independent fief owners” and changed their loyalty between Prussia, Austria, and France according to their convenience and needs.

Major wars were fought basically in 20 year intervals simply because it took that long for new young men to grow up to replace the dead rank and file from the previous war. For example, a number of German aristocrats even supplied their armies in lieu of money to fight during the Austrian War of Succession, Seven Year’s War, the American War of Independence, and Napoleonic Wars on behalf of opposing kings. German aristocrats were also well known for their blatant contempt of their sworn allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire.

In Italy, aristocrats transcended all niceties of loyalty and sided with Austria, the Papal authority, Prussia, and the French. The greater was a feudal lord, the more his moral pretensions. Commitment to a form of Christianity failed to subdue their power-hungry and untrustworthy attitude.

The British aristocrats were also a divisive lot, and this was manifested each time a new ruler ascended to the throne. No ruler was sure of their loyalty, and even inter marriages within families failed to rein in their disloyal temperament.

(Image credits: Colonel William Tavington portrayed by Jason Isaacs of The Patriot directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger.)

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