Noble court

From Academic Kids

A royal or noble court, as an instrument of government broader than a court of justice, comprises an extended household centered on a patron whose rule may govern law or be governed by it. A regent or viceroy may hold court during the minority or absence of a hereditary ruler, and even an elected head of state may develop a court-like entourage of unofficial, personally-chosen advisors and "companions", a position first raised to semi-official status in the entourage of Alexander the Great, based on Persian conventions (Fox 1973). The English and French "companion" connotes a "sharer of the bread" at table, and indeed the court is an extension of the great individual's household; wherever members of the household and bureaucrats of the administration overlap in personnel, it is sensible to speak of a "court", whether in Achaemenid Persia, Ming China, Norman Sicily, the Papacy before 1870 (see Curia) or the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A group of individuals dependent on the patronage of a great man, classically in ancient Rome, forms part of the system of "clientage" that is discussed under vassal.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West, a true court culture can be recognized in the entourage of the Ostrogoth Theodoric the Great and in the court of Charlemagne. In the Roman East, a brilliant court continued to surround the Byzantine emperors.

In Western Europe, consolidation of power of local magnates and of kings in fixed administrative centres from the mid-13th century led to the creation of a distinct court culture that was the centre of intellectual and artistic patronage rivalling the abbots and bishops, in addition to its role as the apex of a rudimentary political bureaucracy that rivalled the courts of counts and dukes. The dynamics of hierarchy welded the court cultures together.

Local courts proliferated in the splintered polities of mediaeval Europe and remained in early modern times in Germany and in Italy. Such courts became known for intrigue and power politics, some also gained prominence as centres and collective patrons of art and culture.

As political executive functions generally moved to more democratic bases, noble courts have seen their function reduced once more to that of a noble household, concentrating on personal service to the household head, ceremonial and perhaps some residual politico-advisory functions. If republican zeal has banished an area's erstwhile ruling nobility, courts may survive in exile.

Individual rulers differed greatly in tastes and interests, as well as in political skills and in constitutional situations. Accordingly, some founded elaborate courts based on new palaces, only to have their successors retreat to remote castles or to practical administrative centres. Personal retreats might arise far away from official court centres.

Etiquette and hierarchy flourish in highly-structured court settings and may leave conservative traces over generations.


Court officials

Court officials or office-bearers derived their positions and retained their titles from their original duties within the courtly household. With time such duties often became archaic, but titles survived involving the ghosts of arcane duties, generally dating back to the days when a noble household had practical and mundane concerns as well as high politics and culture. Such court appointments each have their own histories. They include:

Former seats of courts

Because the German word hof, meaning an enclosed "court"yard, a word that can also apply to a rural farmstead with outbuildings and walling forming an enclosed perimeter, can be commonly applied in Germany to to the palatial seat where the court centered round a person of power was sited, hof or "court" can become transferred to the empty building itself. For example, though the grand residence Hampton Court on the Thames above London has been a palace, where Thomas Wolsey held court as bishop and as cardinal and where William and Mary held court, 1689 – 94&mdsah;and though it is built round two main courts—the structure itself, however, is no longer the seat of a court in the sense of this article.

As an example, ambassadors to the United Kingdom are still accredited to the Court of St. James's, and courtiers of the monarchy still have offices in the Palace of St. James's, London. The present monarch, however, holds court at Buckingham Palace, where dignitaries are received.

Some former seats of power:

See also:

External link

Further reading

  • Adamson, J. The Princely Courts of Europe, 1500–1750. 1999.
  • Birke, A., and R. Asch (eds.), Courts, Patronage and the Nobility at the Beginning of the Modern Period, 1450–1650. 1991
  • Dickens, A.G. (ed.), The Courts of Europe: Politics, Patronage and Royalty, 1400–1800. 1977. Emphasis on patronage.
  • Elias, Norbert, The Court Society (Die höfische Gesellschaft) 1983 (in German 1969). Sociology of the court.
    • Duindam, J. Myths of Power: Norbert Elias and the Early-Modern European Court 1994. Critique of Elias.
  • Fox, Robin Lane, Alexander the Great. 1973. The "companions".
  • bibliographies/fhs-fs-court_culture.pdf Oxford University bibliography of Early Modern courts, structure and patronage, 2002 (



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