Nobles
There is some debate regarding the different noble classes. Some law codes exclude certain classes that are included in others. For instance, under Féni law, there are only four notable noble classes – aire désa, aire ardd, aire túise, aire forgill. The Críth Gablach, however, recognizes seven - aire désa/aire désso, aire échta, aire ardd,aire túise, aire forgill, tánaise ríg. [1]
A man’s déis and rights make him a noble.[2] In a footnote on page 296 of MacNeill’s “Ancient Irish Law,” he states a common definition for the four déis of a noble – “military authority in the túath, doérchéli, sóerchéli, [and] unfree tenants.”[3]


Contents
Ranks of Nobles According to the Críth Gablach
Clientship
Sick Maintenance and Visitation
Children of Nobles
Nobles in Literature
Discrepancies




Ranks of Nobles According to the Críth Gablach


  • An aire désso was thusly named because his honourprice was paid according to his déis.[4] An aire désso had “five clients of vassalage and five free clients.” He could bring “ten married couples…on visitation.” He owned “a house of twenty-seven feet, with a proper outhouse” and “[was] entitled to six persons on sick-maintenance.” His honourprice was “ten chattels.[5]
  • An aire échta was essentially a law enforcer. Him and five men were in charge of “[avenging] an offence against the honour of the tuath” under strict guidelines/regulations. His honourprice was ten chattels – the same as an aire désso.[6]
  • An aire ardd was named “high noble” because “he [was] higher than the aire désso.” An aire ardd had “ten clients of vassalage and ten free clients.” He could bring “twenty married couples…on visitation.” His honourprice was fifteen chattels.[7]
  • An aire túise was named “leading noble” because “he [was] a leader of his kindred and [preceded] an aire ardd.” An aire túise had “fifteen clients of vassalage and twelve free clients.” He could bring “thirty married couples on visitation,” and his house was twenty-nine feet with a nineteen foot outhouse. His honourprice was twenty chattels.[8]
  • An aire forgill was named “noble of superior affirmation” because he was the go-to guy when questions arose among the lower ranking nobles. He had “twenty clients of vassalage and twenty free clients.” His house was thirty feet with a twenty foot outhouse. His honourprice was fifteen chattels.[9]
  • A tánaise ríg was named “second of a king” because he was second in line for the kingship. He had twenty clients of vassalage, twenty free clients, and an additional “five retainers.” His honourprice was thirty chattels.[10]



Clientship


Clientship goes hand-in-hand with noble life. A noble could have two types of clients – base and free. Certain nobles were required to have a certain amount of clients of both types. (See above description of ranks for further details.)

A base client (doérchéli) enters into a clientship with his lord for 7 years. He owes manual labor, military duty, chattels of subjection and rent and a certain percentage of his earnings each year to his lord in return for a tuarchrecc. Additionally, nobles were entitled to visitation.

A base clientship could be broken before the full seven years. Unsurprisingly, however, penalties sometimes ensued. The clientship could end peacefully with the agreement of both parties. If, however, the lord wanted to break the clientship, he owed a fine to his client. Similarly, if a client wanted to break the relationship (and was on good terms with the lord) he would have owed his lord two times his tuarchrecc, twice his rent, and half the honourprice of his lord. If he was on bad terms with his lord, he would have had to pay twice his tuarchrecc, twice his rent, and twice the honourprice of his lord.[11]

A free client (soérchéli) enters into a clientship with his lord for 6 years that ends in the 7th year. He owes his lord a much higher amount each year for six years and then pays back the tuarchrecc in the seventh year. Free clients owed manual labor every three years but could hire it out to someone else. Additionally, free clients had to pay homage to their lords but were excluded from chattels of subjection. Because of the nature of free clientship, many times the client and lord were of the same or very close social class. A free clientship agreement was also easier to dissolve because it generally incurred no penalties or fines.[12]




Sick Maintenance and Visitation


If noble is unlawfully injured by another party, he is entitled to sick maintenance. During his sick maintenance, the party that had done injury to him must provide him housing, food, and medical attention. Certain amenities are due to the injured party depending on his or her rank.[13] This was also the case for the visitation of clients -when lords could visit their clients from New Year's Day to Shrovetide[14] for a length of time dependent upon the rank of both the client and the lord.[15] For example, under the Críth Gablach it appears that an aire désso was “entitled to butter and salt meat on the second, third, fifth, ninth, and tenth day, and on Sunday.”[16] It is unclear as to whether this was for sick maintenance or visitation. It is very possible that it was meant for both. In contrast, an aire forgill was allotted much more, having “butter with condiment, and salt meat, and ale or milk [as] his substitute for sick-maintenance on the second, third, fifth, ninth, and tenth day, and on Sunday.”[17]

Click here for more information about Sick Maintenance.









Children of Nobles

When children enter fosterage, they are due certain amenities and are taught certain skills based upon their class.[18] For example, the children of higher nobles may have more clothes, especially of different colors
[19] and learned to fight.[20]

For more information on children and fosterage, click here.




Nobles in Literature

Most nobles that show up in early Irish literature are also warriors and/or kings. As a result, many tales focus more on these aspects of the characters than those relating to their noble birth. (Men killing each other was certainly more exciting than detailing what someone ate daily.)


Click here to hear more about these famous warriors and kings of noble birth.




Discrepancies

As stated earlier, the designation of “noble” varies. The term aire seems to be loosely used in conjunction with nobles. In early Féni law codes, there are two designations of nobles below the rank of king: aire febe and bóaire. (Note the presence of “aire” in bóaire.) Aire febe were “nobles of worth,” and bóaire were “nobles of kind.”[21] You can see, how, in this case, bóaire could easily be considered part of the noble class, and they were, but not in the "ruling" sense.[22]


This is just one example of the differences commonly found when studying early Irish nobles. Different sources say or support different ideas of the class structure. For instance, Eoin MacNeill observes in his discussion of early law codes that the Uraicccht Becc places the rank of aire ardd above aire túise.[23]

The Uraicccht Becc also recognizes/stresses slightly different criteria for nobles:
~An aire désso was entitled to “seven chattels of díre… protection for three days, four men’s food-provision for him, and four cakes to each man with their condiment and their seasoning.[24]
~An aire échta had a honourprice of ten chattels and was entitled to “protection for five days and thirty cakes.”[25]
~An aire túise had an honourprice of fifteen chattels and was entitled to “protection for ten days, and forty cakes.”[26]
~An aire ardd had an honourprice of twenty chattels and was entitled to “protection for fifteen days and sixty cakes.”[27]
~An aire forgill had an honourprice of thirty chattels and was entitled to “a hundred laymen with him, and a month’s protection for him, and eighty cakes.”[28]



Part of the reason there are so many discrepancies is simply the fact that so much time has passed since these classes were applicable in medieval Ireland. The different classes certainly changed over time. MacNeill also notes “that, in the time of the ancient tracts, the classification of the ruling grades was in course of development and had not settled down into commonly accepted doctrine.”[29]

Another reason for some of the changes is the early Irish preoccupation with certain numbers – particularly the number “seven.” To achieve this number, the classes would get manipulated. For example, the Críth Gablach creates the tánaise ríg to achieve the coveted seven-fold set.[30]






















If you are looking for more information about nobles in the early Irish law codes, or are just interested in early Irish law, a good resource is Fergus Kelly’s "A Guide to Early Irish Law."

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  1. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.282, 296.
  2. ^
    Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.296.
  3. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.296.
  4. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.296.
  5. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.296-97.
  6. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.297-98.
  7. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.298.
  8. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.298-99.
  9. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.299-300.
  10. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.300.
  11. ^
    Lecture/Class Notes
  12. ^
    Lecture/Class Notes
  13. ^
    Lecture/Class Notes
  14. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.297.
  15. ^ Lecture/Class Notes
  16. ^

    Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.297.
  17. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.299-300.
  18. ^ Lecture/Class Notes
  19. ^ "The 'Cain' Law of Fosterage," Ancient Laws of Ireland: Senchus Mor Part II, 1869, 148-151.
  20. ^ Lecture/Class Notes
  21. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.267.
  22. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.268-70.
  23. ^ Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.269.
  24. ^
    Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.274.
  25. ^
    Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.274.
  26. ^
    Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.274.
  27. ^
    Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.274.
  28. ^
    Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.274.
  29. ^
    Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.270.
  30. ^
    Eoin MacNeill, “Ancient Irish Law: The Law of Status or Franchise.” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 36C, pp.269.