A few (or a lot) questions about building a realistic Kingdom

Not sure if this is the right place, but I couldn’t figure out where to post, sorry in advance if I got it wrong.

I’m trying to flesh out specifics of my BW setting. The current campaign is in a Kingdom approximately the size of France. I’m trying to figure out a few specifics, to make the world feel more real and alive. So I got a few questions, don’t feel required to answer them all, I appreciate any advice.

  1. How many of each villages, towns and bustling cities would the Kingdom have? How big would the population generally be in these settlements? Who would be in-charge of them directly?

  2. How many castles would there be? What kind of people would live in the castles? How many villages would be nearby? How many soldiers would be garrisoned in a minor Baron’s castle? How many Castles would a powerful Duke have compared to a Minor Baron? What exactly differentiates a Duke from a Baron? How close in proximity would the Dukes multiple castles be to each other?

  3. What were the living conditions for the average Knight? How many Knights were in service to a specific Lord? I understand they wouldn’t always be equal, but a range could help determine the power difference between a powerful Baron and a weak Baron.

  4. How large of an army would the average Baron, Duke, Lords, Counts, etc. have? Who would they serve directly? Would landed nobles like that only serve the King directly and not each other? Would there be civil wars, without the Kings’ involvement? Say two Barons fighting each other for land or even because one insulted the other or whatever grievances they might have? I’m sure if the King was on one side of the Kingdom and two Barons on the other side could fight it out before the King even heard about it happening.

  5. Who exactly would say, a Duke grant a fief to? The Duke would be in servitude to the King, but who would be in direct servitude to the Duke, just Knights? How many Knights would a Duke have under his servitude?

  6. How much land would the King keep directly for himself vs giving out lands to the various lords in his service? How many castles would the King himself directly hold? Would his primary source of income just be from the various taxes paid to the Lords from the peasantry and townsfolk who in turn pay taxes to him? How large would the Kings army be?

  7. How long would it take to travel from the south coast to the Northern border in a Kingdom this size? How many hours of the day would people traveling generally use for traveling and how much downtime would they have? (approximately size of France) I’d gather it would take at least a month, if not more? It would also depend on the terrain obviously, but I’d like a rough guideline, for things like if they travel across the Kingdom, how long it took, etc. So I could figure out how much time they’d get for practice and things like that.

I’m asking these specifically because I’ve never actually thought about all these much before, and since I’m GMing my first game that has gotten past one session I would like general guidelines in mind so I can make as realistic a world as possible when they come up. I prefer to “build the world” itself as we play, but if these kind of minutiae details become important as the campaign evolves and possibly becomes larger in scale, I’d like to have a rough guideline on the size and density of the population and a good way to distribute it.

Another reason I’m asking for all the complexity of nobility and land titles, etc. is because the PCs are nobility and their father is a Minor Lord and these kind of dynamics could come up, especially if they get ambitious. Plus it would be very helpful for future campaigns and world settings.

A lot of your questions can be answered here: http://www222.pair.com/sjohn/blueroom/demog.htm

There are even calculators to help you get the numbers questions right.

As for how feudalism worked as a system, that’s complicated. First, feudal structures varied from place to place. It was not a uniform system.

Second, we have this notion that feudal societies were perfectly pyramidal in structure. You had the king on top, with dukes or earls reporting to him. They in turn have counts and lords and knights, right? Not so fast. For one thing, you could be a sovereign duke without an oath to a king. Think the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg or the Duchy of Burgundy. The Burgundian dukes did hold some fiefs from the French king and other fiefs in the Low Countries from the Holy Roman Emperor (Germany) but the Duchy of Burgundy itself was sovereign and the Duke of Burgundy was its monarch. Not so simple.

Point 1: The nobility was not all one class. You had the gentry: bastard sons of a gentleman or nobleman (batard), gentlemen (gentilhomme, mostly younger sons…standing above yeomen but below esquires), squires (seigneurs, the untitled owners of feudal property), esquires (ecuyer, the eldest sons of knights, the younger sons of peers, or those holding offices from the crown), knight (chevalier, an untitled nobleman of an old noble family). You also had the aristocracy: baron, vicomte, comte, marquise, prince, duc, etc.

Note that knights are considered gentry, not aristocracy.

Point 2: One person could be more than one of these things. You could be a comte and a baron and a knight. And while they could be separately held by the same person, the rights, privileges and responsibilities of each would be different, and you might hold those titles from different people! For instance, King Henry II of England was King of England, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Count of Nantes and Lord of Ireland. He owed homage to the King of France for Aquitaine, but the County of Nantes is historically part of the Duchy of Brittany. The Duke of Brittany awarded the Countship of Nantes to Henry II as part of a treaty to end conflicts between them.

Point 3: There is a concept called Immediacy that was very important in the Holy Roman Empire, but played a role in many other feudal states as well. You can hold a fief immediately from the sovereign (i.e., directly from the king or emperor). That’s basically what a baron is; nobleman who pays homage directly to the sovereign. The fief could be as small as a knight’s manor or as large as a grand duchy. You can also have a fief that is mediated; that is, you hold the land from someone who holds the land from someone else. This occurs through a process called subinfeudation, where a person who has a fief breaks it into smaller parcels, some of which are then awarded to followers.

Point 4: Vassalage was essentially a contract made between lord and vassal. The lord grants the vassal lands and/or privileges, and in exchange the vassal promises the lord military service (either in war or castle garrison duty), counsel/advice and hospitality (you put up the lord and his court when it comes calling…this can be very expensive!). Note that this relationship didn’t involve taxes, at least early on! See, the fief generally came with certain privileges, which could range from working the land to collecting tolls to holding fairs or markets, even minting coins in some cases. You generally had the right to Justice (meaning you could hold court and collect court fees from petitioners who bring suit). Certain things were usually reserved for the sovereign, like mining rights or high justice (anything that potentially led to execution, like murder or rape). In general, the only time the lord was paid for a fief (at least early on) is when it changed hands. Your heir would pay a certain amount of the fief’s productivity for the right to take over.

The taxes would come later, primarily in the form of scutage where the holder of a fief would pay his lord rather than serve his required military service.

Rather than taxes, the sovereign would depend upon his own lands to support his needs – there was always a balance to be struck between lands used to generate revenue and lands gifted to vassals in exchange for service. However, the lord did shift a lot of the expense of his support to his followers through procession. The lord and his court would continually travel around the lands of his followers who would be obligated to provide hospitality. One way a sovereign could punish wayward vassals was by extending his stay in one place.

Thanks for the information and the link. The feudal system sounds very complicated indeed, much more complicated than I first thought. I guess the benefit of making an entirely new world and setting is, is doesn’t have to follow reality. But it’s nice to have at least a decent idea on a somewhat structured society.

Just so I understand it, a Baron is someone who serves their sovereign directly (Duke, King, Emperor) but Dukes can be independent unless they’ve sworn fealty to a King? So if a Duke in service to a King, gave land to someone via subinfeudation, the person receiving the land wouldn’t be considered a Baron themselves, but more likely a “Lord” or even just a Knight? Sorry for the questions. xD

What is the functional difference between a Baron and a Count/Earl? If they all serve the King directly? Would a Count just generally be considered in higher esteem than a Baron?

It is a lot more complicated than you would first think. I never really grasped how a medieval Kingdom should look in reality. Good thing fantasy settings don’t have to match reality perfectly, but it’s good to a general idea to have a more fleshed out setting.

Now, I just need to figure out good and realistic army and garrison sizes and such. But I appreciate the help getting a general idea.

EDIT: I’ve been messing around with the calculator a bit. I’m definitely going to finalize the numbers before venturing further into the campaign.

So the title duke originally comes from the Roman dux, which was a general that led two or more legions – often the governor of a province.

As we move into the post-Roman world, they become the war chieftains, the rulers of the old Roman provinces. Some of the early literature around King Arthur describes him as the dux bellorum (duke of battles or war chief) of the Romano-Britons. The point is that – at least in the early middle ages – the title of duke had a strong military connotation. In the Frankish regions, the dukes were the highest ranking officials in the realm and were the men the Merovingian kings would choose their generals from. They met once a year in May to set policy for the coming year.

Dukes could be king’s men or they could be sovereign, as with the Dukes of Luxembourg and Burgundy – those duchies weren’t part of a kingdom per se. Dukes came from these old families that had served as war chiefs, but increasingly it became a title granted to sons of the monarch and their families (royal dukes). Some of these titles had an associated duchy, others were simply titles without estates.

Note also that there were ecclesiastical ducal titles and secular ducal titles. The most important ecclesiastical dukes were the Archbishop of Reims (archevêque-duc pair de France) and the two Suffragan Bishops (evêque-duc pair de France, specifically: bishop-duc de Laon and bishop-duc de Langres).

Anyway, dukes held vast estates and controlled significant military powers that in some cases rivaled the forces the king could muster from his own estates. In many cases, the king is just the first among equals in the council of dukes.

A count/earl could be a baron, but wasn’t necessarily. If the count holds a county directly from the king, he’s a baron too. But he could hold a county subinfeudated from a duke’s lands, for instance.

Remember that a nobleman might hold a county or two from the king, another county or two from a duke within the kingdom, and possibly more estates from another sovereign altogether. In such cases, the nobleman must decide which will be his liege-lord such that if conflicts arise between his various lords (which was not an infrequent occurrence), he knows which side to back.

Thor, do you have suggestions for further reading on feudal structures, or should one just look in the back of Burning Wheel Gold?

There are lots and they don’t all agree! The late middle ages are far more documented than the early middle ages (in Europe anyway). You could do far worse than start with some of the sources in BWG’s bibliography. Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century is a very readable and accessible look at society during the Hundred Years’ War.

I also recommend Norman Cantor’s Civilization of the Middle Ages.

Probably the best source (IMO), though not the most accessible, is Susan Reynolds’ Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted​.

Thanks for the further information. I took a look at the books recommended and A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century is available at my local bookstore. I might pick it up later today, if only because it looks really interesting to read.

Cool. It’s a good read! I think you’ll enjoy it. At the end of the day, though, the details only matter in as much as they’re important to you and your players. Definitely go down the rabbit hole (like me) if it makes your experience better, but don’t sweat it if it doesn’t.

The internet is full of good stuff and Google is its shepherd.

Travel: http://www.rutasramonllull.com/en/traveling-middle-ages
Assuming the traveler used serviceable roads:
-On foot, the average distance travelled in one day was about 25 kilometres and could even reach 50 or 60 in the case of professional couriers (real athletes).
-On horse, the daily journey could be around 60 and 100 kilometres; this means that to cross France could take 12 to 20 days (in good weather and without any difficulties).

Thank you, Thor. Been meaning to read Tuchman’s work for a while. Will look into the others as well.

On distances you might think about using antiquated units of length more applicable to how the ancients traveled. Words like League, as the crow flies etc. I’m re-reading Tolkien and he does a very good job of this. Describing a journey not in terms of “miles” but rather how many hours of distance “three leagues” = 3 hours by foot.

This seems a reasonable calculator for medieval armies: http://www.writing-world.com/sf/hordes.shtml

This is a cool resource for travel. It’s Roman era, but medieval travel would have been largely the same, if not a little longer or more difficult due to the deteriorated imperial infrastructure.


The books that Thor recommends are great (I own them), but maybe not for the novice. If you want a good solid intro for the questions you have, I would recommend going to Amazon books and picking up Sydney Painter’s Mediaeval Society and The Rise of the Feudal Monarchies. They are about 100 pages each, with sections broken into readable chunks and the font size is easy on the eyes. You can pick up used copies for a buck or two each.

In fact I’d recommend these two books for anyone who wants a good mental picture of medieval times for RPG gaming. They are a little dated (1960’s?) and there’s a lot of good books out there, but they are a good place to start. I always find myself rereading them every few years.