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Nobles are those of an upper social class whom hold titles.
Nobility is a social class that possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than most other classes in a society, membership thereof typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be largely honorary and vary from country to country and era to era. Historically, membership of the nobility and the prerogatives thereof have been regulated or acknowledged by the monarch or government, thereby distinguishing it from other sectors of a nation's upper class. Nonetheless, nobility per se has rarely constituted a closed caste; acquisition of sufficient power, wealth, military prowess or royal favor has, occasionally or often, enabled commoners to ascend into the nobility.
The term derives from Latin nobilitas, the abstract noun of the adjective nobilis ("well-known, famous, notable"). In modern usage, "nobility" is applied to the highest social class in pre-modern societies. In the feudal system (in Europe and elsewhere), the nobility were generally those who held a fief, often land or office, under vassalage, i.e., in exchange for allegiance and various, mainly military, services to a suzerain, who might be a monarch or a higher-ranking nobleman. It rapidly came to be seen as a hereditary caste, sometimes associated with a right to bear a hereditary title and, for example in pre-revolutionary France, enjoying fiscal and other privileges.
Wealth & Privileges Edit
Not all of the benefits of nobility derived from noble status per se. Usually privileges were granted or recognized by the monarch in association with possession of a specific title, office or estate.
Most nobles' wealth derived from one or more estates, large or small, that might include fields, pasture, orchards, timberland, hunting grounds, streams, etc. It also included infrastructure such as castle, well and mill to which local peasants were allowed some access, although often at a price.
Nobles were expected to live "nobly", that is, from the proceeds of these possessions. Work involving manual labor or subordination to those of lower rank (with specific exceptions, such as in military service) was either forbidden (as derogation from noble status) or frowned upon socially. On the other hand, membership in the nobility was usually a prerequisite for holding offices of trust in the realm and for career promotion, especially in the military, at court and often the higher functions in the government and judiciary.
In France, a seigneury (lordship) might include one or more manors surrounded by land and villages subject to the noble's prerogatives and disposition. Seigneuries could be bought, sold or mortgaged. But if erected by the crown into, e.g. a barony or countship, it became legally entailed for a specific family, who could use it as their title (although most nobles were untitled: "seigneur of Montagne" meant ownership of that lordship but not, if one was not otherwise noble, the right to use its associated title). However, any French noble who bought a countship was allowed, ipso facto, to style himself as its comte.
By contrast, in the United Kingdom royal letters patent were necessary to take a noble title, which also carried a seat in the House of Lords, but came with no automatic entail nor rights to the local peasants' output.