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Nobles, or aristocrats, hold large amounts of power in both the Tortallan and Circle Universes. Most of the countries and societies encountered in the books are feudal, a structure that benefits the nobility of that society.

Nobles in the Tortallan Universe

Nobles are the upper social class of Tortall as well as other feudal countries. They are landowners and in charge of taking care of the commoners who live on their lands. They are the only ones allowed to become knights or—specifically in Tortall—enter the Queen's Ladies. Nobles are usually known by their fief.



There are several things that make up a noble family's overall rank. The foremost one are titles.

  • Emperor/Empress
  • King/Queen
  • Prince/Princess
  • Duke/Duchess—the highest title of nobility
  • Count/Countess, 2nd highest title
    • Alternate:Earl/Countess. Note: This was perhaps a mistake, as usually societies have either earls or counts, with the female title being countess or the lingual equivalent. In English society, the equivalent of a count is an earl, while on the Continent, they usually are called "Counts". In Tortallan society, both counts and earls show up. E.g. Earl Hamrath of King's Reach vs. Count Dewin of Queensgrace, both of whom are Tortallan nobles.
  • Lord/Lady
  • Baron/Baroness


The aristocracy own land and oversee tenants who work the lands in any way the lord sees fit. In the feudal system, the landed gentry are nobles while lower classes (even wealthy lower classes) rent property—but do not usually own it. A noble has quite a lot of jurisdiction over the tenants on their lands, although the government in the mid 400s worked hard to ameliorate life for commoners.

Books of Nobility

The Tortallan Books of Nobility designate the age of a particular family. Families in the Book of Gold are the most noteworthy, as they have been around the longest. Then comes the Book of Silver, then the Book of Copper. Families from the Book of Gold are rare, and not even House Conté is in the Book of Gold—it actually is in the Book of Silver.

Families in the Book of Gold tend to be snobby about their heritage, and look down upon those in the Book of Copper, and especially families that are so new they haven't been added to Copper yet, such as the Mindelan family.

Noble Privileges

Nobles in Tortall are protected from the common judicial system through the noble privileges. A noble cannot be arrested when he or she is safely on their familial lands. This is how Joren of Stone Mountain escaped justice for so long after paying men to kidnap Lalasa Isran, a commoner. It also keeps them from justice if they hurt a commoner. Usually the only punishment is a fine for keeping a servant away from work. It is not even paid to the servant in question, but to the master or mistress. In the 450s HE, King Jonathan IV and Queen Thayet start to make efforts to overturn the law that states a servant's worth is only measured in coin, as requested by Keladry of Mindelan.

Code of conduct

Nobles are expected to behave honorably and be "better" than commoners. Customarily a son of each family becomes a knight. There are certain duties that one noble owes another and they were not supposed to fight with their hands.[1]


Inheritance laws vary by country, but usually showcases male-preference primogeniture, if not semi or fully agnatic primogeniture.


Before Jonathan's reign, Tortall likely operated based on male-preference primogeniture, but as no known queen had succeeded the throne, it is difficult to know exactly how their inheritance laws operated.


Carthak operates on semi-agnatic primogeniture, and it is unknown if there are motions to change that upon Kaddar's accession to the throne. Agnatic primogeniture means that no woman can inherit the throne, and inheritance cannot pass through a woman to any sons, if she has any. As the throne was able to pass through Fazia Iliniat to her son, while still passing over her, this is considered semi-agnatic.[2]


Tortall & Carthak

Nobles in Tortall use their fief as their surname e.g. Piers of Mindelan. The same seems to be true with Carthak and Maren in some respects. Fronia of Whitehall is an example of a Marenite noblewoman, however Nahom Jendrai is also a Marenite noble who has dropped the standard "of". Gissa of Rachne is likely a Carthaki noblewoman and uses the "of", but Kaddar Iliniat does not use that, instead using a surname.

In some cases, if commoners were ennobled or if they have other names, they will use those as a secondary name after receiving their titles e.g. George Cooper of Pirate's Swoop and Michabur Durse of Queenscove.

List of Nobles

See List of Tortallan Fiefs and Nobles in the Tortallan Universe for information about specific persons.

Nobles in the Circle Universe

Circle Universe countries almost all feature feudalism. A major exception is the city-state of Tharios. The city-state is still heavily influence by a self-created class system, however. The First Class of Tharios are the equivalent of the high born nobility with their rights and privileges[3].



  • Emperor/Empress[4]
  • King/Queen
  • Prince/Princess
  • Duke/Duchess—the highest title of nobility
    Note: In the Circle Universe there is a country that is a duchy: Emelan. It is styled after the grand duchies of Europe. The ruler of Emelan holds the title "Duke" and they are the monarch of the country.
  • Count/Countess
  • Lord/Lady
  • Baron/Baroness


Nobles are connected to their lands, and they have privileges from them and over them. Tenants live on their lands and work them, paying homages to their liege lord or lady.


Women's rights and inheritance seems to be different depending on the country in the Circle Universe.


In Emelan, it seems that they go by absolute cognatic primogeniture—the eldest child inherits regardless of gender. This, however, is unknown, as no woman has ever shown to inherit over her younger brothers which would prove the existence of cognatic primogeniture. Because women are seen as equal in standing as men in Emelan, it can be assumed that at least male-preference primogeniture—the firstborn male child inherits regardless of age—is non-existent. House Toren, the rulers of Emelan, seem to reserve the right to name the heir to the throne regardless of birth, as is seen in a few cultures in the real world.


The empire of Namorn lacks the rights for women that Emelanese women have. They are still subject to the bride kidnapping custom—even noblewomen. It can be assumed, based on what is known about rights for Namornese women, that male preference primogeniture is used. Ealaga fa Landreg mentions that having a woman in power in Namorn is incredibly rare, and that Berenene dor Ocmore has done much for the country—besides failing to rid the country of the misogyny in the culture and laws[5].


Instead of using "of", nobles from Emelan to Namorn use either "fer" or the female equivalent "fa", or "en" and the feminine equivalent "ei"[6]. For example: Lady Sandrilene fa Toren—using the feminine "fa" or Esmelle ei Pragin—using the feminine "ei". These forms of derivation likely come from the Kurchal Empire, where the Imperial months came from, as it is the same in Emelan and Namorn, even though the countries sport different languages. An exception to this has been Berenene dor Ocmore, using "dor" instead of "fa" or "ei". This could be an indication of her imperial status although it is unknown. It also could be a possibility that "fer" or "fa" indicates a higher echelon of nobility, while "en" and "ei", might indicate a lower class of nobility. This could be shown when Sandrilene fa Toren insults Esmelle ei Pragin for her lower blood, even though the other girl is noble.

Other exceptions are in other places such as Chammur: Lady Zenadia doa Atteneh. The male form of "doa" is "doen". But these also are not countries where the Kurchal Empire stood, therefore Imperial is not spoken.

List of Nobles

For more information about specific persons, please visit Nobility in the Circle Universe, a non-exhaustive list of noble characters who appear in the Circle Universe books.

Notes and references

  1. Alanna: The First Adventure, Chapter 4
  2. In the real world, historically, it is known as Salic law. Male-preference primogeniture, although favoring gender regardless of birth order, does not bar women from succession.
  3. Shatterglass. The caste system of Tharios is a large theme in the book.
  4. Two known characters carry the title emperor/empress: Berenene of Namorn and Weishu of Yanjing.
  5. The Will of the Empress. The difference in women's rights between Namorn and Emelan is featured throughout the novel and is an important theme in the book.
  6. Sandry's Book, noble titles
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