The story, wisely read, is one of the most fruitful sources of knowledge and pleasure. As it is normally read, it simply enjoys itself as a story and leaves no clear images in memory, nor great truths in understanding. There are two prevalent methods pursued in reading history, which are almost equally superficial and useless. The first is "wandering in history", reading to tear, here and there, while favors and books are presented without any system or purpose. The second is the obstinate reading of long history courses, made of heavy volumes, through which the reader bends, under the sense of duty, and from which he is more tired than wise, happy that the book is finished, but with a painful sense of having wasted time for nothing.

Anyone who intends to provide a definition of the nobility that at the same time considers its structural characteristics and historical evolution, must first take note of the plurality of meanings of this concept. For example, "nobility" has meant and continues to signify a positive quality of a spiritual, intellectual, moral, but also physical character, proper to man and yet extendable to any other reality. In the context of political anthropology, the concept of nobility in this sense has often been used as a synonym of aristocracy, to indicate a dominant class restricted to the 'best' by physical strength, intellectual abilities, wealth, aptitude for command. In a more specific sense and in connection with European history from antiquity to the modern age, the term "nobility" means a particular legal and social condition, linked to the often hereditary possession of exclusive honors and privileges, and by extension the whole individuals, families and 'bodies' endowed with this privileged status.

If the families displayed the noble coat of arms on the pediment of the house, many would still be seen today and many more would have once been seen. These families have different socio-economic positions, often very far from those of their ancestors. The noble family of today is more than ever far from the banal current stereotypes, and all of them are fully integrated into the local city fabric or in that of origin.

Social class characterized by particular privileges and attributes inherited, which played a decisive role in the European history of the V-XIX century. The collapse of the Roman Empire in the face of the barbarian invasions determined the concentration of military and jurisdictional powers in individuals and families, mostly belonging to the Roman senatorial aristocracy and to the Germanic peoples who had settled in the borders of the empire. The hereditary nobility of the early Middle Ages was a de facto nobility, devoid of legal recognition by the royal authority. Nobles were also called those who received the government of a public constituency from the Carolingian rulers. With the dissolution of the Carolingian empire (IX-X century) these titles survived even without links with the public order. With feudalism the sovereigns, who had the power to create new nobles, provided the nobility with a first juridical recognition and a hierarchical structure. At the same time, the Church offered the nobility its own ideology, that of chivalry.

During the Middle Ages the nobility constituted the dominant class, which concentrated military and political functions in its hands, while from an economic point of view it enjoyed great wealth placing itself at the top of the rural lordships. In the second half of the 16th century, the need was felt to define the concept of nobility with precision: a very complex debate arose in which the requirement of abstention of the noble from "vile" activities was added to the medieval values ​​of the lineage and virtue and the obligation to safeguard one's honor. Members of the nobility, who enjoyed special procedures and jurisdictions and exemption from defamatory punishment and from paying taxes, were allowed to carry the sword and hold the most important military, civil and ecclesiastical positions. The rise of a powerful municipal bourgeoisie and the creation of modern absolute monarchies, if they resulted in the loss of the political monopoly of the nobility and the creation of a toga nobility (linked to the offices of the public administration) alongside the ancient sword nobility, undermined tax and jurisdictional privileges. Only after the French revolution of 1789 was the nobility subjected to civil law like other citizens, even though throughout the 19th century it maintained an important social and political role. In Britain, she still sits in the House of Lords by inheritance law. In Italy, the Heraldic Council (1869) was established to regulate titles and noble coats of arms, abolished by the Republican Constitution, which denies legal recognition to noble titles.


The men of the Renaissance first called the period preceding their "Middle Ages". For them this was a term of opprobrium, a label for the centuries of ignorance, barbarism and obscurantism, which saw intervening between the end of the classical age and the revival of classical learning. How many times to disqualify a situation or to stigmatize something negative we have heard it said: "We are back to the Middle Ages" or "This is a medieval mentality!"

The Middle Ages is a period of about 10 centuries that begins with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire (476) and ends with the discovery of America (1492), just over a millennium later. By convention, the year 1000 divides the Middle Ages into two parts, the High and the Low Middle Ages. The word Middle Ages means Middle (middle) Age (ages) between Greco-Roman Antiquity and the Modern Age: with this meaning, the term refers only to Western Europe.

Medieval society is divided into three orders: clergy, nobles and peasants, who believe they are wanted by God. Each order has different laws, duties and behaviors: the clergy pray for the whole of society, the nobles (the warriors) fight to defend it, farmers work to feed it. After the year one thousand, in the reborn and enlarged cities, a new citizen social group was formed, which devoted itself to producing and trading and became rich and powerful. The bourgeois are part of it: merchants, bankers, judges, notaries, lawyers, doctors, artisans

Medieval Europe is Christian. The Germanic tribes that invade the territories of the empire, for the most part, already know Christianity, albeit in the form of the Aryan heresy. In the following centuries, the Germans converted to Catholicism, first the Franks. The Pope, who is the bishop of Rome and the successor of Saint Peter, exercises his spiritual authority over Christians. But the conflicts between the pope and the patriarchs (bishops) of the east in 1054 lead to the separation between the Byzantine (or Orthodox) Church and the Catholic (or Roman) Church. Since the eighth century, Muslim Arabs have conquered much of the Iberian Peninsula, spreading the Islamic religion there.

The Middle Ages are dominated by two great "universal" powers that is, extended to all Christianity: the papacy and the empire. The pope is the head of the Church and since the eighth century, he also has a territorial possession (the "Patrimony of St. Peter"). The empire, which takes the name of the Holy Roman Empire, was built between the 8th and 9th centuries under the leadership of Charlemagne and, after a first crushing; it was reborn in the 10th century with the name of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire. Papacy and empire come into conflict because both of them aspire to exercise universal power over Western Christianity. The clash weakens both and meanwhile, taking advantage of the favorable situation, new political realities are emerging. They are the great monarchies, the municipalities, the principalities in struggle for autonomy.

In the early centuries of the Middle Ages, numerous kingdoms called Roman-Barbarian (or Roman-Germanic) were formed on the territories that had been in the Western Empire because there are two populations and two cultures, Roman and Germanic. All these kingdoms are short-lived, with the exception of that of the Franks.

In the age of invasions, while the empire shatters, the Church maintains its authority intact and since the state is absent or incapable, it assumes political tasks, such as the procurement and defense of cities. Benedictine monks spread Christianity in the countryside, still partially pagan, and in their monasteries, they transcribe ancient texts saving them from ruin.

In the 8th century, a Frankish king, Charlemagne, extended his dominion over much of Europe and restored unity to the West: for this reason, on Christmas day in the year 800, the pope crowned him emperor. On the territories of his empire, the Holy Roman Empire, only Christian peoples live and, after centuries of abandonment, schools open in Europe and culture flourishes again. The vast empire is administered by men devoted to Charles and linked to him by a pact of loyalty: the vassals. In exchange for their services, the sovereign grants temporary protection and benefit, later known as the fiefdom.

In the 9th-10th century, Europe was threatened by the incursions of Normans, Hungarians and Saracens. Since the king is weak and distant, the powerful locals build castles and appropriate the ban, that is to say the sovereign power, and exercise it over the population. First the great fiefdoms, then also the small ones, become hereditary, and numerous centers of power replace the only central authority, that of the king.

Around the year 1000, the Carolingian empire no longer exists. In its place, the Holy Roman Empire (10th century), which includes Germany and part of Italy, and many kingdoms, which herald the future European nations, arose. In the new Europe, the elements of unity are Christianity and the common Latin culture. On the other side of the Mediterranean lies the Islamic empire, which the Muslim Arabs built in the seventh century, with impressive rapidity.

The recovery of the Late Middle Ages (11th-15th centuries) began with a period of prosperity, during which the population increased, the cultivated lands expanded and agricultural production grew, the cities revived after centuries of decline and trade flourished and markets.

After the year 1000, Europe in great recovery expands on the territories of Islam. The Christian states of northern Spain begin the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula and drive the Arabs back within the narrow confines of the kingdom of Granada. At the end of the eleventh century, the adventure of the crusades for the liberation of the Holy Land from the Turks began. The expeditions were unsuccessful and Jerusalem, torn from the Turks in 1099, soon fell into Muslim hands.

The revival of cities and the weakness of imperial power favored the birth of free communes between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries: throughout Europe and particularly in Italy, some cities began to govern themselves independently, with their own laws and magistrates. Italian municipalities are true city-states that extend their power to the surrounding countryside. In the municipal cities, craft activities multiply, businesses and markets develop, schools and universities open, and the population is constantly increasing.

Between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries, some kings enlarged their domains with advantageous marriages or with the war, they created armies under their command and appointed officials who collect taxes and administer justice to replace vassals and feudal lords. The unification of the national territory lasts centuries and is accompanied by bloody wars such as the Hundred Years War, but leads to the birth of the first national monarchies (France, England, Spain and Portugal); they have a single central power, a unified territory and, in general, a single language and a single religion.

At the end of the thirteenth century, many Italian municipalities, to put an end to the continuous internal and external struggles that disturb city life, entrust all the powers to a single Lord, turning into lordships and principalities. Even Italian princes, like the kings from across the Alps, try to enlarge their domains. But in Italy the formation of a national monarchy encounters two main obstacles: the existence of many powerful cities, rather than just one as abroad, and the presence of the State of the Church in the center of the peninsula. Thus in Italy principalities of little extension are formed: the regional states.

In the fifteenth century the five most important are: the republic of Venice, the duchy of Milan, Florence, the state of the church and the kingdom of Naples.


The term nobilitas deriving from the Latin verb cognosco and therefore linked to the idea of ​​notoriety appeared in Rome during the 4th century BC. to indicate the dominant political group, made up of families whose members had reached the highest positions of the Republic. It was theoretically an open elite, to access which was enough to pursue the political career to the top. In reality it was not easy for the so-called homines novi to make their way: it has been calculated that more than eighty percent of the consuls came from already consular families, and therefore belonging to the nobilitas. There is also to be considered that, in addition to this hegemony in the exercise of supreme political power, nobility was associated with the idea of ​​wealth. However, it has been pointed out by scholars that the title of nobilis was purely honorary in Rome and was not regulated by law; in other words, there was no legal recognition of the condition of nobility, which was determined and defined only by tradition.

Among the Germanic peoples, who gave birth on the ruins of the Western Roman Empire to those political formations commonly known as Roman-Barbarian kingdoms, there was no concept analogous to the Roman nobilitas: the German language still preserves today, to define the noble and the nobility, the ancient terms Edel and Adel, which do not lend themselves to etymological combinations with the Latin forms and seem to be completely isolated in the Indo-European context. These linguistic differences were presumably a spy for very different political and social situations: if in Rome the nobility included a group of families who traditionally exercised the supreme judiciary of the state, among the Germanic peoples it was decisive, for the determination of the status of noble which coincided with that of a free man, the charisma deriving from the warlike value and from the ability to mobilize a large and supportive group of armed comrades to follow. The meeting and comparison with the Roman mentality and situations and the allocation in regions already belonging to the Western Empire determined a partial modification of the original physiognomy of the Germanic peoples: following this transformation, the military aristocracies took on the character of land aristocracies, while the ancient political-military structure of warrior assemblies gradually disintegrated in the anarchy of individual local potentates.

What remained constant throughout much of the Middle Ages, however, was the principle of Germanic ancestry, according to which the military profession was the hallmark of social supremacy. In the tripartite image of society, spread by clerics starting from the 11th century and destined for long fortune, the oratores (clerics and monks) and the laboratores (peasants and ministerial) were opposed not by the nobiles, but the bellatores, that is, the warriors, also called milites. Therefore, carrying weapons automatically meant belonging to the circle of domains and their followers, as opposed to the mass of rustics, to the unarmed vulgus unarmed and subjected to the noble banquet. From this point of view, a man of arms, however modest in origin, ended up acquiring a way of thinking and a lifestyle very similar to those of the noblemen he was serving. This does not mean that the notion of militia, which indicated a profession, was immediately confused and identified with that of nobilitas, linked to a condition: for this to happen, specific circumstances were needed, which occurred between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and had the main area is the French and Flemish area.

In this regard, it is significant that in the golden language the term noble had at least until the thirteenth century no juridical connotation nor any explicit reference to birth and not even a direct reference to the exercise of arms. Like the Latin counterpart nobilis, it limited itself to indicating in the common language an elevated social condition, the noble term simply meant "in the absence of any precise juridical meaning, a pre-eminence of fact or opinion, according to almost always variable criteria". The only constant datum, derived from the Roman tradition, was the parallelism between nobility and wealth. More confused and not univocal was the relationship with an uninterrupted and prolonged blood ancestry, both for the limits of genealogical memory, and because the absence of laws on the matter made the claim of a documented hereditary power superfluous.

The turning point, came precisely from the end of the 12th century, thanks to a series of concomitant factors: the compilation of the customs, that is, the collections of customary rights of the individual regions, in which the idea of ​​a nobility legally defined on the basis of birth found a first organic manifestation; the introduction by the monarchy of the so-called nobility licenses (lettres annoblissement), which conferred a privileged status on men who distinguished themselves in the royal service; the fortune of the Aristotelian works, and in particular of the Politics, from which it was possible to draw the identification of the nobility with the descent from illustrious and rich ancestors (virtus generis et antiquae divitiae, according to a formula that we find in the Convivio di Dante); the spread of genealogical literature, in parallel with the fashion of chivalric poems. The latter were in turn the manifestation of what many scholars consider the decisive factor of the thirteenth-century transformation, that is, the diffusion and formalization of the cavalry rites through which, and in particular the adoubement (delivery of weapons), the nobility found the way of defining itself on the legal level as a military class, animated by common values ​​and ideals, and endowed with privileges that can be transmitted to its descendants.

More controversial is the function that Christian doctrine, and more generally ecclesiastical culture, would have played in the formation of the noble-chivalric ideology. But the documented and persistent mutual diffidence and misunderstandings between the world of clerics and the world of milites cannot obscure a fundamental fact. The fact that with the crusades, as the Austrian historian Otto Brunner rote "the vital impulse of the noble classes to expansion and conquest, which until then had been consummated in internal struggles, is now placed at the service of Christianity ".

The affirmation of a chivalric culture that had the distinctive features of virtue and honor and was expressed in the defense of its sovereign, women and the poor, as well as in the holy war against the infidels, therefore proceeded hand in hand with the emergence and the consolidation of a hereditary class of milites, which in the chivalric rites, in the possession of the fiefdom and in the vassalatic bond found its legal legitimacy, and which precisely thanks to its military functions claimed a series of privileges towards the 'common man' . It can be said in conclusion, on the basis of numerous and converging studies relating above all to the French area, that the nobility emerged as a legally defined class in the late feudal age and characterized with its presence the political and social structure of the centuries of the ancient regime.


Compared to the medieval nobility, those of the centuries of the modern age have a peculiar feature: the documented continuity of families over the span of several centuries. In part, this is precisely a documentation problem: while for the medieval age the noble archives were almost completely destroyed, for the modern age a significant number is preserved. This state of the sources, on the other hand, is not the result of chance: it was precisely in the modern age, following the formalization of the criteria of access to the nobility both in the oligarchic republics and in the monarchies, which was felt with ever greater force by the families need to keep records of their illustrious past.

But the best conservation of family archives is not enough to explain the durability of noble families: this was mainly due to the introduction of particular forms of inheritance transmission, aimed at avoiding the division and dispersion of the assets in order to be able to send them in their entirety to a previously designated family member. Fundamental was, in this regard, the general diffusion, especially from the second half of the sixteenth century onwards, of the institute of the faithful commission, through which a private individual could bind his real estate by testament to his descendants for one or more generations or often to infinite (in perpetuum). The faithful commissioner was often connected to another institute, presumably of Spanish origin, the majorascato (mayorazco) or primogeniture, through which the only eldest son was the only beneficiary of the undivided family heritage.

The introduction of these inheritance customs in most of the European nobility, according to times and modalities that varied from area to area, resulted in the social, juridical and economic inferiority of the minor male sons (cadets) and of all the female daughters. But at the same time, the inalienability of the heritage and its concentration in a single heir, often entailed for the latter the obligation to guarantee the maintenance of a whole series of entitled persons, expressly indicated in the will of the head of the family: younger brothers, sisters, widowed mother, uncles and aunts on the paternal side, and so on. This duty could be understood in two different ways: or as an obligation to arrange finally the accommodation of the rightful claimant. In the first case, there are the marriage skills for the daughters and sisters, who constituted one of the most expensive exit voices of the noble family. In Catholic countries the dowry could also be monastic: in this second case it was a sum given to a monastery as the entry fee of the novice; and given that the disbursement was usually much less than that needed to marry a noble woman, it is understandable why locking up the daughters and sisters in a monastery was considered a very advantageous solution for the domestic budget. For cadet males, leaving the family offered more alternatives: the military career, which for most of the European nobility remained the most natural and appropriate outlet for the traditions of the class; the religious habit, especially within those orders closest to an aristocratic way of thinking, such as the Benedictines, the Theatines and above all the Jesuits; the secular ecclesiastical career, to reach the highest dignities at home or at the Roman curia.

The identification between land and nobility, which has been supported by many historians, economists and sociologists, is fully acceptable, if we want to understand that the dominant European classes of the Middle Ages and the early modern age had dominion over the earth as a common and peculiar character and about the men who worked it. In the same way it can rightly be argued that up to the eighteenth century, and in many regions especially, but not only, of Eastern Europe even in the nineteenth century, the large landowners were mostly noble.

In 1750 the law on nobility and citizenship for the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, which a fifteen years earlier had passed from the Medici house government to that of Francesco Stefano di Lorena, husband of Maria Teresa of Austria and from 1745 Germanic emperor. The first article of the law listed those who in order to be recognized as true nobles, had to present authentic documents to a deputation of grand ducal ministers who would inscribe them in a golden book: "all those who possess or have owned noble fiefdoms, and all those who are admitted to noble orders, or have obtained nobility through our diplomas or from our ancestors, and finally most of those who have enjoyed and are able to enjoy presently the first and most distinguished honor of their noble cities ".

In the order, therefore, the law listed the feudal lords, who in Tuscany were overwhelmingly of grand-ducal creation the members of the chivalric orders, and in particular the order of St. Stephen created by Grand Duke Cosimo I de 'Medici in 1562. Those who had obtained diplomas of nobility from Cosimo himself and his successors, and finally the patricians of the major cities (Florence, Siena and five others) who could boast origins dating back to the Republican era, when the nobility in Tuscany manifested itself in participation in the supreme judiciary of a city. In this way, this article of the law of 1750 overturned the tacit order of precedence, preserved even after the passage from the municipal and republican forms of government to the princely ones, by virtue of which the true Tuscan nobility continued to be the one that descended from the citizens of government at the time of municipal freedoms.

But in a subsequent article of the law the social peculiarity of the Tuscan dominant classes was expressly safeguarded, as it was said that in no way would the management of shop houses or exchange counters, enrollment in the arts of wool or silk, the medical profession, advocacy, painting, sculpture, civil and military architecture. Such an explicit equation between nobility and bourgeois professions was certainly not new for Tuscan customs: the novelty consisted in the fact that the document that reported it was not a legal consultation or a literary treaty, but a legislative text promulgated by a Lorraine sovereign- Austrian. In conclusion, the importance of a law such as this lay on the one hand in the successful compromise between a hierarchical-feudal vision of the new foreign ministers and the traditions of the Tuscan patrician families, and on the other hand in the rigorous affirmation that the source of recognition of the nobility resided in the authority of the sovereign.

In the kingdom of Naples, which was governed by a branch of the Bourbons of Spain since 1734, a royal dispatch of 1756 distinguished the nobility into three classes. At the top was the generous nobility, including both families who had owned fiefdoms for at least two centuries (i.e. from the era of Charles V, prior to the wave of feud that had characterized Spanish politics in the Neapolitan area especially since the second half of the sixteenth century in then). Both those admitted to the noble councils of the royal cities, that is, the so-called nobility of seat or square. Both those who could demonstrate the descent from an ancestor and "for the glorious career of arms, toga, church or court had obtained some distinct and superior employment or dignity ". Above all, the continuity in the family of a noble way of life without any fall in the exercise of mechanical and ignoble arts.

Then there was the nobility by privilege, which the sovereign granted for services rendered to the state in judicial, military or court jobs. Finally, the legal nobility or civil, recognized to those who could prove for themselves, the father and ancestor to have lived "always civilly with decorum and comfort" and to enjoy the reputation of honored and good men among the public.

Such a division was not an end in itself, but was linked to the reform of the army: the cadets of the provincial regiments, destined to become captains or standard bearers, could only be recruited among the generous nobles; to be admitted to the other infantry and cavalry corps the nobility was enough for privilege; civil nobility was sufficient to become cadets in the troops. It is important to note that, to be accepted in one of the three grades, legal evidence was required, largely coinciding with that foreseen for the admission of the Knights of Malta to the order; thus, what had been supranational and supra-state criteria for the recognition of nobility became an integral part of the legislation with which a state defined the boundaries and degrees of its national nobility.


The passage of power from the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie occurs through a series of great upheavals: it is the age of revolutions. The first of these revolutions took place in England, precisely because England was the most socially and economically advanced country. The 'glorious revolution' (1688) establishes for the first time some principles which will become essential: the role of parliament with respect to the sovereign; the division of powers; protecting citizens from the law.

The English revolution was followed by the American revolution (1776-1783), which led to the birth of the United States of America, and the French revolution (1789-1799). Although the immediate effect was often a situation of chaos and violence, the end result of this series of traumatic events is the end of the ancien régime and the birth of the bourgeois liberal state. It is certainly not a linear process: some countries soon find a new structure (England, France); others are perched in the defense to the bitter end of absolutism and aristocratic privileges (Russia, Austria, Prussia).

After the French revolution, the whole of Europe was overwhelmed by the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, who eventually established a real personal dictatorship; in 1815, when Napoleon was definitively defeated, the winning powers (Austria, Prussia and Russia above all) deluded themselves into thinking that they could go back to the time before the revolution, and to the ancient regime: it was the beginning of the Age of Restoration. But the historical process is now irreversible.

From the excited age of the revolutions, a new political system emerges, albeit with different times and modalities according to the conditions of the individual countries. We can thus schematize its characteristics:

  • The idea that the sovereign is such by divine right fades
  • The state is considered to be the result of a 'social pact', of a contract between citizens
  • Powers are divided between sovereign and parliament
  • The alliance between throne and altar, between civil power and religion is dissolved
  • All citizens are considered equal before the law
  • The protection of individual freedom and private property are fundamental
  • Elementary rights are recognized (opinion, press, speech) Voting and other political rights are subordinated to income


In this period of great transformations, Italy remains in a marginal position. Firstly, because of the political situation: while national monarchies are affirming in the rest of Europe, Italy has remained divided into numerous, small statues, mostly in the hands of foreign (French, Austrian, Spanish) dynasties . Even from an economic point of view, things are no better: all the Italian states have suffered the decline of the Mediterranean and have been excluded from the new Atlantic routes; the main basis of the economy is still feudal agriculture based on large estates; manufacturing and industrial experiments are rare and isolated. Contrary to what is happening in other countries (especially France and England), the bourgeois class finds it hard to assert itself and become aware of it; the influence of the Catholic Church and the alliance between clergy and nobility is particularly strong.

In the second half of the 1700s, almost all Italian states attempt the path of reform and enlightened despotism: the principles do not renounce their absolute power, but accept the advice of the Enlightenment philosophers. The reforms launched in this period have as their main purpose the modernization and rationalization of the state: the tax and bureaucratic system is made more efficient; some traditional clergy privileges are abolished; the monopoly of education is removed from religious orders; in some cases torture and the death penalty are abolished. However, enlightened despotism was overwhelmed by the French revolution and the Napoleonic adventure.

Napoleon's first campaigns in Italy led to the crisis of small absolute states and the birth of the Jacobin republics (the Jacobins represented the radical wing of the French revolutionaries), which established themselves in northern Italy and in some large cities (Rome, Naples). However, soon the war of liberation by France turns into a war of conquest: the republics collapse and in their place, Napoleon establishes a new kingdom. Until the fall of Napoleon and the beginning of the Restoration, seem to bring Italy back to its original condition.


The historical period that occurs in the Middle Ages is known as the modern age and according to some authors it begins in 1453 after the fall of Constantinople into the hands of the Turks or in the year 1492 with the discovery of America. As for the end date of this period, if you have something more clearly and it is in 1789, the year in which the outbreak of the French revolution occurred.

The modern age is characterized by a period of great changes in the political, social, scientific, literary, artistic… fields. As for human thought and philosophy, humanism will take place; a rationalist thought that had already happened in the following centuries in which man will be the center of all things, thus enhancing the concept of individualism.

Man and nature were the central objectives in the modern age of literary and scientific studies, as well as artistic ones. In turn, we see that he will see an anthropocentric concept of life in which man, unlike the Middle Ages, who saw life as a passage to eternal glory, (heaven), now man without leaving a religious side, seeks more earthly happiness, to live fully.

The social problems and political instability that were occurring during the feudal regime were the incipient ones so that all social classes were united in support of the monarchy, to remedy the disaster. Absolutism was based on the concentration of all powers on the figure of the king in charge of governing the nation as opposed to the Middle Ages where power resided in the nobility.

At this time the rise of nation states takes place, i.e. all those collective entities that possessed a similar language, traditions, customs and life in a certain territory, now create a national unity, leading to the creation of nation states such as France, Holland , England, Portugal.

It was the time of the great discoveries that allowed to know a greater part of the earth's surface, including highlighting the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and the Asian countries of India, Japan and China on the border with the African coast of Fernando Magallanes in 1521.

Following the two great discoveries, European colonies began to be established in the territories of Asia, and particularly in America.

It was mentioned above about the new nobles, which the kings created with different motivations, economic needs or the need for adequate political support, and in this case the ennobling took place by means of licenses. Often, however, the ennobling was the automatic consequence of the provision of state services of mostly administrative and financial type. In the face of this nobility of late arrivals and "toga", the hetero genetic aristocracy of medieval origin reacted by reiterating that true and nobility was a fact of blood, not of ennoblement: "the king could create a nobleman, not a gentleman ", according to a widespread affirmation in the aristocratic mentality of the 16th century and in noble publicity, then very widespread.

The problems of the "lineage" nobility, however, were not only in "genetic" matters, but were also of a purely economic nature. Being noble involved a series of consumption of "status", so "noble appearance" was just as important as being in fact: having a consistent servitude and following "patronage", giving parties and receptions at the height, setting up luxurious carriages and building worthy residences involved huge expenses, which absorbed important parts of the patrimony.

The latter, found its origin in landed property, and it is obvious that the life and ostentation of status of the aristocrats depended on its returns and rents. Between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the increase in the costs of primary goods and of what we can define "ostentatious", that is, capable of highlighting the noble status, an increase due to inflation, put the aristocracy in serious difficulty, especially when direct ownership, the so-called stately reserve, and the leased lands were unable to adequately compensate for ever more significant exits: both the great nobility and the lesser nobility were involved in phenomena such as debt and, symbolically and economically important, the sale of land.

In France, with the emergence of monarchical absolutism, nobility deriving from the exercise of offices, noblesse de robe, n. toga, as opposed to the noblesse épée nobility, by sword, that of the nobles who exercise the traditional military functions due to their social class. The excellence and virtues conferred by blood were, especially in the Middle Ages, considered real but, at the same time, the concept for which of nobility it was legitimate to boast of blood only when the moral qualities connected to it were continually kept alive. The contrast between the two criteria was accentuated with Humanism, which opened the debate on true nobility, understood as civic virtue, active life spent in the service of the State. The Baroque age, on the other hand, re-evaluated the concept of nobility inherited by blood and the rules of the chivalric code relating to the duel was adding, required by an increasingly demanding social ethics, the rules of behavior that clearly distinguished, even on the formal level, the noble elite from the bourgeois and popular classes.

During the 18th century, the contrast reopened and worsened: above all the privileges (against which the reforming sovereigns had already begun to fight) that hindered the free development of the production and trade of goods and the progress of civil legislation appeared absurd. The individualistic and privatistic conception of property could not admit limits and obstacles to the free expansion of the productive forces. Thus, in France, on the night of August 4, 1789, the National Assembly abolished feudal privileges which, in the conscience of contemporaries, appeared inextricably linked to the nobility; in the name of freedom, brotherhood and equality of citizens, titles were also abolished.

At the same time, corporate organizations and fellowships were dissolved, the only form of resistance of the craft classes in the face of pressure from owners and entrepreneurs. With Napoleon the titles were restored for the generals and for the highest dignitaries of the Empire, and the n. created by him was later recognized also by Louis XVIII, when he restored the ancient, but without prejudice to equality before the law. And so, while in the republican states the titles of nobility were generally abolished, or at least they were not granted new ones, in the monarchies the right of the sovereign to confer them was maintained.

In Italy the Albertine Statute retained the king's prerogative to grant new titles, renew those that had expired, authorize them to receive them from a foreign power; the Heraldic Consulta was therefore established (1869), the list of titles admitted to the kingdom and the various registers established. The Italian Constitution of 1947 states (XIV of the transitional and final provisions) that the noble titles are not recognized, but that the predicates of those existing before October 28, 1922 can count as an integral part of the name.

In a very general sense, it can be said that the concept of nobility does not exist among living hunting-gathering groups and horticulturists, but is found in sedentary societies that practice intensive agriculture and with some groups of breeders or fishermen. You can belong to the class of nobles by birth, adoption, marriage or for particular personal merits. This status is inheritable and extendable to entire sectors of society that collectively maintain their position. The border between nobility and other classes has a certain degree of mobility, which varies according to the social structure of the company and the element chosen as the discriminant. Then there are strictly closed noble classes, such as caste. In some countries such as Italy, the inclusion of the so-called noble particle de or (French de) in the surname is not a sign of nobility, unlike the German von. As regards the use of the surname and the noble predicate, there is great freedom in many countries; it is instead fixed, as well as precedence, by strict customary rules in England: a lord signs with only the predicate; the children of the highest holders are recognized, for courtesy, the use of one of the 'secondary' titles of the family or that of lord, lady, Honorable (according to rank) in front of the proper name followed by the surname of the family, and so on ; the title, and the parity, belong only to the head of the house. The others, and those belonging to the various collateral branches, cease to be part of the real nobility, to blend in with the wider circle of the gentry.


There seems to be no doubt that the nineteenth century was a period of relative political and economic decline for the regional nobility of the Italian peninsula. During the first half of the century, they lost their monopoly of political power, their exclusive privileges and the legal protection of their family assets. In strictly economic terms, the landed nobility as a whole was overcome by new economic and banking fortunes over the century, especially in the decades following the 1880s. However, these trends should not obscure the extent to which aristocratic families continued to play a prominent role in public life at least until the First World War. Indeed, not only did they still possess a disproportionately large share of the earth, but they also maintained a strong presence in the government, parliament, officers and diplomatic corps and in the halls of the financial and industrial council.

Across Europe, nobility had traditionally been part of a strategy to absorb new men into a dominant nobility in order to consolidate and preserve its position. Consequently, one of the key indicators of the enduring social power of the nobility in the nineteenth century was the continued willingness, if not enthusiasm, of new men to seek noble status and imitate aristocratic ways of behavior. A legitimate nobility patent often required significant effort and expense with few immediate benefits. By striving to enter the ranks of the aristocracy, people have actually recognized its social superiority.

The enduring appeal of aristocratic social status in liberal Italy found dramatic expression in the desperate search for the noble titles of new men from the business and financial affairs world. While the house of Savoy has provided generous access to chivalric orders, it has shown exceptional moderation in the creation of new hereditary titles. In an era in which the German emperors raised around 1100 men to the ranks of the nobility, the Italian monarchy ennobled just over 240.

The House of Savoy has responded to this enthusiasm for honorific stars and crosses expanding considerably the membership of two chivalric orders: the Order of San Maurizio and the most recent Order of the Crown of Italy. Between 1860 and 1872, only the Order of San Maurizio had a list of over 20,000 postulants; by mid-1870, the two orders together had an annual average of around 2500 recruits. Victor Emmanuelle II had said that there were never two things he refused, "a cigar and a cross of San Maurizio" (A. Gallenga, Italy Revisited, London, 1876, Vol. I, pp. 398-401).

Judging by the proliferation of hereditary titles of dubious authenticity, the deluge of personal honors has not crushed the thirst for new men for high-level symbols. The massive and illegitimate abuse of the ownership of the securities has led to growing public outcry. The enduring thirst for noble status found expression not only in titular abuse, but also in the large number of families who did not even seek formal recognition of their aristocratic claims or anything else followed the path of legal ennobling. On the question of nobility, contemporary observers had the impression that "any wealthy producer or landowner who desires a handle for his name can get it by giving large sums to charity." The exact procedures and ennobling criteria remain a little shrouded in mystery, it seems that the process usually started with a friendly minister, a deputy or a senator who advanced the idea of ​​a title as the right reward for a prominent man who he had made unusually generous donations to charitable institutions or who have had significant public services in the military or in politics.

In itself, a newly created hereditary title had never been a sufficient qualification for acceptance by established aristocratic elite. Just as in the past, the acquisition of a nobility patent in the nineteenth century rarely produced immediate social rewards for its recipient; the new nobleman could often be a comic figure. A security was an investment that could only be made by the children and grandchildren of the original entrepreneur, banker or successful statesman. Consequently, any understanding of the broader meaning of ennobling requires multi-generational analysis (See G. McDonogh, Good Families, p. 334-346)..


What remains of those men, those Orders, those sagas and legends? A foray into modern times to tell a piece of surviving memory. Raimondo Lullo in his Book of the Order of Cavalry writes: "There was a time when loyalty, solidarity, truth and justice disappeared from the world. All the people were divided by thousands, and among every thousand, one was chosen that stood out from the others for loyalty, wisdom and strength. These men were given the name of Knights! ".

Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant write about the war context in which the knight moves: "Cavalry gives style to war as to love and death: love is lived as a fight, war as a love and to both the knight sacrifices himself to death fighting against all the forces of evil... The chivalric ideal seems inseparable from a certain religious fervor ". The values ​​that the knight embraces in his investiture to fill this role are not the result of a life path and are not discovered, as happens for the hero, but are made their own as a conditio sine qua non.

However, in the era in which we live, what sense is it to be Knights? For some it is still the realization of an ideal that has deep roots in our Western and Christian civilization where the Knight represents an aristocracy of people who has been able to do something for the moral and even material progress of society; but at the same time, for others, it evokes, at best, a speck or even a character who ended up in the newspapers for illegal events. All things, detached from their true historical significance.

After the revolutionary and Napoleonic storms, the most prudent note that an entire system has been shattered and it will no longer be possible to repair it: with the abolition of feudalism, the noble titles are emptied of their privileges and remain simple honors; the nobles have become normal landowners, state bureaucrats or agree to exercise what were once called the Major Arts.

Centuries after the American and French revolutions, a global market flourished in false titles of nobility and self-designed chivalric orders. This event is because it provides a general common desire to feel virtuous towards oneself, a sense of well-being that depends on the impulse to affirm one's own distinctive character and the desire for recognition.

In the United States, as in other republics, the government assigns decorations for meritorious value and service, but has no legal provisions for orders of knights as such. Knightly groups are treated as private associations, registered as such with the state in which they are based. The most requested status for American groups is that of a non-profit, tax-exempt charity. This status ignores whether or not a body is an authentic chivalric order. In these circumstances, it is easy to understand why there has been indiscriminate use and abuse of the term, order of the knights.

The knights of traditional Orders such as the Holy Sepulcher, Malta, Constantinian of San Giorgio, Mauritian, do not need to go and do good in places where the news would be broadcast by the mass media. They know well that since they have accepted to become knights, they have assumed a commitment without time and place limits, an obligation that is not only the moral one of love turned externally towards those who suffer, but it is something internal that operates within our own soul and it is our history that rests on the teachings of Christian faith, which is the basis of our most sacred traditions and with its principles regulates the lives of those who have decided to be Knights.

Being a knight can be the reward of merit obtained by working for the community during one's life, a merit that entails receiving from the state a public recognition that allows one to truly call oneself a "knight" and use this term in everyday social life. So, the knight is not a nobleman but represents that working elite who has been rewarded with the honor of carrying a title that contains all that is best in our history and in our society.

Being knights today, and perhaps more than yesterday, does not mean wearing a jacket a medal in the buttonhole or a cloak in church to give prestige to himself in front of others, but following the behavior of medieval knights, who will have been mythical but who: "They swore to never resorting to violence without a just purpose, never stooping to murder and betrayal. They swore on their honor never to deny mercy to those who request it, and to protect girls, ladies and widows, by asserting their rights without ever subjecting them to their lust. And they promised never to fight for an unjust cause or personal advantage. All the Knights of the Round Table pronounced this oath, and at every Pentecost, they renewed it. "

Of course, the mighty figure of the medieval Knight on his steed is capable, then, of arousing other thoughts in the collective imagination: strength, nobility, elevation, prowess and military skills that transmit safety in the friend and terror in the opponent. The possibility then of accessing the status of Knight by anyone who proved worthy, surely made the poorest and weakest classes of society dream who saw in this figure the possibility of a sort of redemption for all of them, beyond the birth and the blood that flowed through their veins.

Talking about chivalry and chivalric orders today could seem obsolete and in contrast with the current political, philosophical and social orientation - fed and developed in the logic of demagogic egalitarianism - which wants to deny history and traditions. However, the word cavalry, with all its aftermath of armor, horses, courage, loyalty, braids thrown down from very high towers, endless journeys and fighting, still has its charm.