Trible (tamtrible) wrote in little_details,

Is my quasimedieval setting realistic?

I have a setting I've been concocting, and I just wanted person or persons who know something about, ya know, *actual* preindustrial societies to give it an eyeball, and see if anything's... straining their suspension of disbelief unduly, or seems Very Improbable or otherwise problematic.

So. World is basically Earthlike, populated by humans. Magic exists, but is Not Really A Factor (mages have about as much impact on daily life as, say, nuclear physicists today). Overall tech level is roughly late medieval to early Renaissance.
Specific area of the story is an inhospitable but not impassable mountain range dotted with moderately fertile valleys. Each valley is home to, depending on size, fertility, and specific history, 1-5 "clans" (the term is--not strictly accurate, but I can't think of a better one)

By custom and tradition, the clan itself owns all of the land in its territory, but the land is divided into (generally 5-30) small-holdings, which are roughly the quantity of land that can be worked by one family. One owns, inherits, and can otherwise legally transfer (with clan permission) the holding, but the clan still owns the land itself--the holding is basically farming rights. The smallholding also comes with a small residence, but (especially during winter or whenever there is any particular peril afoot) most people chose to live in the clan keep, unless their smallholding is particularly far out. The clan keep is large enough to hold the entire clan, though it gets a bit crowded.

A small-holder's harvest is divided into 3 portions (size of each determined by various factors)--the first share, the head's share, and the clan share. The small-holder gets sole and total claim to the first share, and may dispose of it as he (or she, but usually he) wishes. The head's share goes to the clan head, to feed his (again, usually) immediate family, pay certain Persons of Interest (like the seneshal and the clan scholar), and maintain the clan keep. The clan share is divided essentially evenly amongst the other smallholders, as well as laborers and such who don't have a smallholding. The first share and the head's share are larger and/or better, at least proportionally, than the clan share--something like, say, wheat, it's pretty much a straight you-get-more, whereas for, say, grazing land, it's more like you get to pick the *best* available critter(s).

Also, while smallholders are the primary decision-makers with regards to their holdings (ie what to plant, when, and where), the clan has some say in the matter--by custom and tradition, one discusses one's planting plans with the clan head and/or seneshal, and gets approval. And a smallholding can be taken away from someone who's being an idiot.

At least in this general area, people aren't *vastly* status conscious. The clan head eats with, and at most slightly better than, anyone else living in the clan keep. It would not be thought at all unusual for a clan head's children to marry smallholders, or to buy a smallholding if they don't inherit.

Which brings me to why "clan" isn't strictly accurate. Though most "clans" consist of people who are at least distant kin, it is entirely possible and acceptable to sell a smallholding to someone entirely unrelated (though all such transactions require clan approval). Also, it is possible (and somewhat more frequent) for unrelated persons to join a clan as a laborer, especially if they have some particular skill.

The position of clan head is usually inherited, most often by the eldest son of the previous clan head (less often by the eldest daughter, or by a younger child if the eldest is... less capable), but is held by consensus. If you're ruling poorly enough, you will get deposed and replaced; and rules of inheritance are not strict, it's entirely possible to pass the position on to a cousin or even someone who's not related to you. Somewhat similarly, small-holdings usually go to the eldest son or eldest child, but can simply go to the best suited. In both cases, inheritance often precedes death--a smallholding usually passes on once the appropriate child is fully grown (and, generally, married); the position of clan head sort of gradually shifts to the heir once he's in his 20s or so.

By the way--traditional gender divisions mostly apply, but there is 1. functional birth control (other than keeping one's legs crossed), 2. a low enough infant mortality rate that women don't need to be baby factories, and 3. a reasonably low maternal death rate; so, it's possible for a woman to take a man's role, and not considered too freakish. For example, one of the clan heads in my story is a woman.

It is considered important for religious reasons for everyone to be at least marginally literate (the religion... could be glossed as an amalgam of Judaism and Wicca, with a touch of ancestor reverence thrown in), so having a clan scholar (combination librarian/schoolteacher, basically) is at *least* as important as having an actual priest, if not more so. It is a position of respect, and one of the few generally seen as genderless (Our Heroine inherited the position from her grandfather)

One is considered a full adult at 16, and a provisional adult at 12--that is, one cannot marry/directly inherit property/leave home without permission/etc if one is below 12, but one normally waits until one is at or above 16 to do these things.

So, anyone see any Glaring Flaws? And Possible Pitfalls? Anything that seems a bit off?
Your help is appreciated.
Tags: europe: history, ~middle ages

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