Welcome to the latest Under The Yoke devlog. For the past couple of Devlogs we have discussed Feudal Contracts as well as Taxes but today we look at what it means to be free or a serf, a less contentious issue than you may be expecting.
Firstly, let’s look at what serfdom was. Serfs were peasants that were tied to their land, they weren’t allowed to leave without their Lord’s permission and they owed them various dues and paid their taxes (generally) in labour. Serfs did have some protections however and were not slaves, they could not be bought and sold but would remain tied to the owner of the land to which they were allotted.
While being a serf was far from ideal, a Lord was expected to protect their serfs and provide them with traditional privileges. There were also frequent examples of a Lord helping their serfs, for instance by waving fines if a family was too poor.
What was a freeman then? A freeman was simply someone who was not shackled by serfdom, they owed their taxes in coin rather than in labour (generally again). They had greater privileges but were also locked out of certain protections, including local courts.
All in all, wealthier villagers tended to be free but it was not a strict case of a serf being worse off, especially for the unlanded cotters who relied solely on being hired to do labour.
How did you become a freeman then? There were multiple options available to a serf who wanted to become free. Shall we get the most famous (and fun) out of the way first?
A serf that escaped from the village for a year and a day would be classed as a freeman. Typically they would run away to the city to start a new life there and they would lose all rights to any lands or privileges that they held in the village.
The less exciting method was by buying your way out of serfdom. There is an interesting tidbit in that the money would have to be presented by someone other than the individual buying their way out, since technically their property and money belonged to their Lord.
There was also manumission, wherein a Lord would grant freedom either in gratitude or in their will.
It should come as no surprise to you that the shockingly litigious people of the Middle Ages had a complicated method for proving one’s free status, the court would look for precedent from ancestors, such as an ancestor having paid merchet (marriage tax) which could prove serf status.
In Under The Yoke
How will we model this in Under The Yoke then? Well most of the detail you already know as we are modelling this on a 1-1 scale, as discussed in the tax post, taxes move from week-work (labour owed) to money upon freedom from serfdom.
Free status also improves your standing in the community, makes you a more impressive marriage prospect, removes the burden of one off taxes such as merchet and also unlocks the various privileges as discussed in the Feudal Contract devlog.
Players will start out as lowly serfs but may gain their freedom by any of the methods discussed above, they can buy it out in return for 10 years taxes (an expensive prospect), they can run away but will then lose all held land and must survive for an entire year and avoid capture or, if their lord likes them particularly well and you get very lucky, you may be granted freedom.
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