Ordained by ancient tradition derived from over a thousand years of continuous political existence, the ranks of nobility in the Kingdom of Daggerfall include several titles unique - or almost unique - to this realm.
There is no tradition in Daggerfall more treasured or sacred than the Thagor monarchy. Throughout all its many long years, the western kingdom has ever been ruled by the alleged scions of Thagore - claiming right to rule by leave of the Direnni, by treaty with the Princes of Oblivion, and by Divine grace; grand and storied qualifications all, and only once called into question. Outlanders might think it peculiar that the Kings and Queens of Daggerfall place the title of Steward before their very royalty - but to their subjects, that is the truest show of their legitimacy.
It is telling that the law of the land makes no room on the Twin Thrones for any but the House of Thagor. Royal authority here is nothing like kingship elsewhere in High Rock; not the province of "find a hill, become a king", but an ancient and unbroken continuity with the first Witch-Stewards of Daggerfall, instructed by Raven Direnni herself. All authority in the West descends ultimately from this original grant of power, and it vests the ruling blood of Daggerfall with a worth that can no longer be matched. There is no peerage or equivalent practice here - because the monarchs are, quite simply, peerless.
Though alleged to be one another's equals in power and authority, in truth the King and the Queen are rarely so. The true-born sons and daughters of House Thagor dominate - almost without exception; and it would take their spouse considerable acumen to even come close to matching the near-implicit trust and influence they wield by birthright. Often, as now, the outlander king or queen is little more than royal ornament; a regal fixture of court, and occasionally - a figurehead for the legitimized resistance of a dissatisfied nobility.
If the Kings and Queens of Daggerfall stand above their peers in other Bretic realms, then their greatest vassals - the old Archducal Houses - take for granted the right to rule with all the trappings of lesser royalty. Powerful and affluent enough to match some of the once-independent petty lords and princelings of High Rock, the four Archducal families of Daggerfall are all that remain of a whole host of client kings and vassal chieftains that once bent the knee to the Tower of Raven; some fading with time, others extinguished in war or dynastic union, they were never replaced, and the Archdukes and Archduchesses of the West guard their ranks with the utmost jealousy to this day.
The title itself originates elsewhere, as a mark of primacy over the tax-collecting royal freedmen - dukes - who did the Tower's bidding in all corners of Thagore's Daggerfall. What was once but one title among many has since come to stand for rule over land and law, and only the dustiest ledgers and annals now remember the truth of days past. Certainly, the Archdukes themselves have little interest in reminiscing about lost meanings - more concerned with the legitimation and display of their considerably ancient authority.
The Archducal Houses of today's Daggerfall are as follows:
- Archducal House Acquet, lords of the Southweald from their residence in the port-town of Debury.
- Archducal House Beowen, the masters of their ancestral holdings in the Border Wolds, and of late - Tulune.
- Archducal House Paey, ruling over the desolate Bluffs from their seaside fortress, the Crag.
- Archducal House Pierrel, reigning over Pysant largely from their river-citadel at Cagnay.
- Archducal House Valtieri, the Archdukes of only recently vassalized Camlorn.
Once little more than royal agents and tax collectors, the ducal houses of Daggerfall have since come to represent the upper echelons of the kingdom's sprawling aristocracy. They are the great landholders, the mainstay of western nobility, some of them influential enough to challenge even the Archdukes and Archduchesses above them. Their holdings and dependencies often stretch throughout the West, and past the old borders of Daggerfall - to Glenumbra, Tulune, and of late, distant Northmoor; connecting the western lordships through countless dynastic threads and oaths of fealty.
A relative handful compared to the multitudes of petty lords and barons beneath them, the dukes and duchesses of Daggerfall hold influence disproportionate to their number. Through their many vassals, clients and allies, they maintain a stranglehold over aristocratic power that is nearly unbroken - except where the authority of the Archdukes, or the Crown itself, cuts across it. Even so, "closer to the ground" as they are, the ducal aristocracy tend to serve their hierarchical betters as valued allies and intermediaries, and most are not beyond leveraging this to maintain a wider independence than their less affluent peers.
For all their prestige and resources, it is worth noting that the dukes of Daggerfall are still considerably pettier than their counterparts elsewhere in High Rock. Most consider it a due to the (in)famous general vastness of the Daggerfallian aristocracy; however, it might well have to do with the fact that Daggerfall itself is one of the original Bretic craddles of dukedom, and so some artifacts of its infancy persist to this day.
The lord-marchers and lady-marchesses of Daggerfall are honours seldom encountered - and with good reason. It is a mark of the Crown's greatest trust, reserved for the able and unflinchingly loyal; those few deemed equal to the task of keeping the peace in some of the kingdom's most troubled and valued regions. There have never been many marches in the West, and only one that would pass from parent to child, year in and year out; but the title itself has survived, and preserved its unyielding character.
Even now, with the Kingdom of Daggerfall at its greatest in centuries, there are just five lord-marchers and two lady-marchesses throughout the realm. Of the seven marcher houses, six hold the honour only until the marcher's own death, and their marches are scattered throughout the whole of Greater Betony. Three are in Glenpoint, including the old barons' capital; one buttresses the Shalgoran border; one keeps watch over the cities of Glenumbra and Northmoor; and lastly, one guards the ancestral border between Tulune and Glenpoint, centred upon the citadel at Castle Lambrugh.
As for the last, that is Tamwych - the only hereditary march of the realm, the house-seat of the Bridwells. Held currently by Lord-Marcher Samuel Bridwell, it has long kept its own part of the old border with Glenpoint safe and secure, seeing off many an aristocratic skirmish and raid by the restless and unruly roving chevaliers of the border glens. House Bridwell has presided over this fief for long generations now; more than once, they have been the only family to hold the honour of marcher lordship within Daggerfall. It is testament to the peculiar character of their bloodline that they have never been accused, or even suspected, of treason; and it comes from this that Tamwych has remained in their hands for centuries.
Less popular here than elsewhere in High Rock, the comtes and comtesses are the true middling nobility of Daggerfall. There is no tidy division to be had here, of course; and while some comtes might match the ducal houses in all but prestige of title, others just barely cling to their castles and a few outlying towers, no better than petty barons. On the whole, though, it is the comital families who hold most of Daggerfall's smaller, but territorialy integral lordships - one of the base building blocks for the fiefs of the high aristocracy.
Though the comital houses do not number many more than the dukes or duchesses of Daggerfall, they are less - less honoured, less influential, and generally, less independent. While a comte or comtess might preside over several towns and castles, and all the outlying hamlets as well, they will rarely hold fiefs and lands further removed from their main seats of power; unlike their ducal lords, whose far-flung webs of patronage and fealty are much of what binds the western lands together. Many comtes are wealthy and influential (at least, relatively; laughable, alongside the great Counts of Cyrodiil) - but they are not of the true ruling hierarchs, the great powerbrokers of Daggerfall.
These are all generalizations, of course; the patchwork of mindnumbingly petty nobles that characterizes the West, and High Rock in general, can scarcely be discussed with any accuracy without going into painstaking detail. But what has been written holds true for many, the barest majority at least - and so it has been deemed worth writing.
The Baronial Host Edit
"The Baronial Host" is heraldric shorthand, a composite beast that unites the pettiest of Daggerfall's already inanely petty nobility. Though the Crown itself may be above it, the principle of "find a hill and become noble" still rings true for most its nobility, and countless barons, landbarons, baronets, chatelains and lord-protectors have been entrenched upon their own little hills for centuries now. More than one Cyrodiilic bureaucrat lost their minds in a valiant effort to make sense of the aristocratic chaos that reigns supreme underneath the uppermost echelons of the western kingdom's labyrinthine hierarchy.
Even so, long negotiations with west Breton heralds and years of fruitless tabulation and codification has yielded some manner of halfway-discernible order of primacy. Landbarons seem to hold the highest honours, ruling parcels of land in the Crown's own name; many can be found reigning over the capital's streets and back-alleys. Then come the regular barons, owing fealty to the higher nobility and often with little more than one single castle or a handful of chevaliers to their name. And after them comes a myriad lesser titles - the chatelains and lord-protectors of towns and their hinterlands, and baronets, little more than chevaliers somehow accorded the Cloth.
Last among the western nobility, and almost a caste unto themselves, are the militant service-aristocrats, the chevaliers. Numerous and bound to military service, the sirs and dames of Daggerfall have long prided themselves on providing the great bulk of the kingdom's banners in war. There is no stripping a chevalier of his or her battle-duties without also removing their title, and they have taken to this truth with gusto, appropriating their dues to Crown and sovereign into a badge of honour.
Known for their discipline and infamous for their cruelties towards the conquered, chevaliers are more soldiers than knights - seasonal-regulars whose lives revolve not so much around their responsibilities as landholders, but around their banner-duties. The sure marks of a true chevalier are their participation in shared war-drills, their kinship with comrades, and their right to elect their own banner-holders; a whole identity that revolves around their unit and service. Even their marital lives are ordained first by rigid hierarchy, and surnames in marriage taken solely based on the ranks and titles of their masters.
First among them are the pledged chevaliers, owing fealty directly to the Thagor Crown; and typically, they are the ones most like the 'ordinary' Bretic knight, in appearance if not, per se, ethos. But even they find nothing shameful in fighting on foot - and indeed, many less affluent chevaliers fight exclusively as infantry, priding themselves on their grit and cohesion in holding the ranks. There may well be something to this disparity with the chivalric codes of wider High Rock; especially in explaining why many Breton outlanders tend to snub the stereotypical image of a brutally efficient Daggerfallian soldier-knight.