During the Dark Ages one of the primary responsibilities of noblemen was to engage in warfare. It was a large part of their education, and a nobleman was expected to be able to win easily against a commoner in a sword fight.

Nowadays noblemen are not fighters. You do not expect Sir Paul McCartney to do well in a fight.

So in what period of history did noblemen actually stop being expected to be directly involved in military conflict?

  • 1
    Your example isn't a good one, Sir Paul McCartney is not a nobleman.
    – Steve Bird
    May 23 '16 at 5:08
  • 1
    There's a number of assumptions in this question that I would want references for: "first and foremost fighters" - I assume you're alluding to the feudal system which required a noble to provide military support. Did that always imply personal involvement or could it be a matter of levies? As for nobles not being fighters anymore: prince Harry and his granddad (one served in Afghanistan, one in WW2, though probably not in hand-to-hand swordfighting) would disagree.
    – Marakai
    May 23 '16 at 5:12
  • Noblemen of what region?
    – Schwern
    May 23 '16 at 5:21
  • 2
    Around the time when untrained troops could dominate professional warriors, and command skills outweighed combat skills. Those developments are tied to the emergence of crossbows and gunpowder weapons. It is instructive to examine the similar change in Chinese history - when mass peasant levies could overwhelm aristocratic swordsmen.
    – MCW
    May 23 '16 at 13:19
  • 1
    @MarkC.Wallace: "The invention of crossbow and blackpowder put an end to the knight" is common, but falls short of the truth -- it dit put an end to the plate-armored guy on horseback, yes, but the crossbow was "invented" about 400 B.C.; moreover, the bow remained a competitive ranged weapon for quite some while after the invention of gunpowder. It's more about how those weapons and the corresponding troops were employed; the end of the "honorable combat" era. Insofar I absolutely agree with your first sentence, if not the rest. ;-)
    – DevSolar
    May 23 '16 at 14:58

Nobles were required to provide troops and arms, and be skilled in their command and supply - this was far more important than their combat abilities, and why noblemen had so much power, wealth and prestige.

What happened was the emergence of the modern standing army in the fifteenth century, notably the Ottoman Janissaries and the unorthodox army led by commoners in the service of Charles VII (including one Jean d'Arc and La Hire.) Before then, in between conflicts, the nobles would return to the running of their estates, their troops dispersed back to their ordinary life. A standing army never disperses, but trains full time and is ready whenever the monarch desires to go to war.

This lead to the creation of the Spanish Tericos in the sixteenth century - a professional standing army in the service of the Spanish Habsburg empire, commanded by veteran soldiers loyal to the King rather than to the Nobility. They were so successful, the model was eagerly adopted throughout Europe, ending the time where monarchs depended upon their nobility to provide martial muscle. The trend would continue and intensify as the old feudal system began to give way to the modern nation-state - the monarchies in Europe gaining more absolute power and greater wealth to afford mercenaries and royal armies. By the time of the 30 Years War in the mid-17th century, it was almost entirely fought by standing armies rather than feudal levies.


In England the the Parliamentarians' New Model Army of 1645 was arguably the first state army, not controlled by the monarch or nobility. It comprised mainly professional full-time soldiers rather than a casual militia.

  • 1
    Men of the upper classes still often follow a standard career path which involves military service. The British Royal Family still feel themselves obliged to join up. So the 'Nobility' might not form the backbone of the British Army; but the officer class still has a dispropotionate number of upper class recruits.
    – marchanti
    May 24 '16 at 18:10

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.