Who Were Nobles in the Middle Ages?

Nobles in the Middle Ages ranked second on the hierarchical social ladder: kings and queens filled the top spots, while knights, clergy, tradesmen and peasants formed the ladder below nobles. Social mobility in the Middle Ages rarely occurred; nobles, peasants and others generally spent their lives confined to the respective classes of their births. Nobles lived distinct lifestyles, complete with specific tasks, expected behaviors and even styles of dress.

Nobles served as functional and representative citizens. They interacted with lower-level citizens in surrounding populations by providing important services of safety and protection. Knights, under the direction of nobles, protected citizens, as mandated by governmental protocols. In exchange for protection from knights, nobles employed commoners in various roles, such as farming, cooking and performing other types of manual labor. Nobles also dressed in distinct styles to distinguish themselves. Men, women and children wore bright colored clothes made of fine materials like silk and velvet. Fine furs and soft hairs formed linings on nobles' coats and hats. Women wore underwear made of soft silks and linen. They dressed in long gowns and headdresses, while men wore trousers and tunics. Nobles consumed decadent foods too, prepared by servants, such as meat, bread and spices. Nobles arranged marriages for female children and lived in estates and castles.