I'm writing a story at the moment where a griffin has imprisoned a lord while taking his castle as a new roost. Almost all the lord's men and servants have been disposed, therefore any kind of government in the region collapses. The griffin doesn't establishment any rule or government of its own, it just claims the castle as its territory.

How would this affect the people, the villages and farms in the region?

I know it sounds very story based but I'm trying to flesh out the area as much as I can and need help. It's set in the medieval era.

I have a few ideas so far but I need more.

  • Bandits harassing and terrorising the people.
  • The griffin threatening the farms for their livestock.
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    $\begingroup$ Even in a local lord's domain, the number of people that are part of the government is fairly large. The local authorities of all kinds would be a sizeable and dispersed portion of the population. The priest. The local official reps of the lord. The lord's extended family. Even local guildsmen (blacksmith, carpenter, rope maker, etc.) would effectively be authority figures. You'd need to kill all of them to completely remove government. $\endgroup$
    – puppetsock
    Apr 28, 2020 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ The entire feudalism thing was the response of people finding themselves in regions with no government. What happens is that people organize themselves. The old baron died and left no heir? Fine, every strongman in every village will promote himself baron. A brief power struggle may follow, but in a surprisingly short time everybody will know who the new baron is. This is how the medieval feudal hierarchy was born. (Baron = chieftain = warlord = knyaz = boyar etc.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 28, 2020 at 22:53
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    $\begingroup$ You also have clergy, sheriffs, aldermen, town councils, ect. ect. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 28, 2020 at 23:46
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    $\begingroup$ @puppetsock I understand that. The castle and the lord are the centre of rule in the region however. $\endgroup$
    – Syphoenix
    Apr 29, 2020 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ Combined with @AlexP's comment, the castle is the strategic position for military defense of the region, but the practical government does not go away because someone murdered the figurehead. People like stability too much for that to happen, and you can be assured that things like this happened quite often even without griffins. $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2020 at 19:39

6 Answers 6


I would imagine that the neighbouring lords, weary themselves of being deposed by griffins, would want to nip this situation in the bud as soon as possible, and send a band of knights to the castle to slay the griffin and install a legitimate successor to the fiefdom.

As for the effects for the population on the ground, I would be cautious about immediately assuming a collapse into lawlessness and banditry. Certainly this is sometimes the result when government authority disappears, but it's actually far more common for communities to band together and provide mutual assistance to one another in times of uncertainty and hardship (this isn't me being idealistic, this is well borne out by proper historic analysis). In feudal societies, peasants owed tribute of agricultural produce and other services to their lords, and, frankly, got very little back in return. With the lord gone, it's very possible the population would find themselves in a much better position, and might even be motivated to band together to defend the griffin from any outside threats.

  • $\begingroup$ That's a fascinating possibility, thanks :) $\endgroup$
    – Syphoenix
    Apr 29, 2020 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding banditry: IF that was already somewhat common in the area however it would definitely worsen without the lord. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 30, 2020 at 13:01

During this time - villages were mostly self-sufficient, communication was poor, and farms were family business. The effect would oddly be minimal.

The medieval period, although we read of kings and queens, armies and conquest, was in essence a quiet, stable and traditional period for 'the ordinary folk'.

The authorities in England did not even know the assets, property or even a census of people until a momentous undertaking was ordered such as in 1086 when William The Conqueror ordered the first census (so much work that it was never to be done again until 800 years later).

Health was a major concern, eating, daily chores and farm-work was likely what you were concerned with. As such, your immediate local cultural environment was largely self sufficient.

Keep in mind too that you do not have the modern communicative ability as today - Literacy was terrible, most did not read nor write. Messages and news were verbally transmitted, sometimes by horse rider other times just by word of mouth. Considering this though, people were resourceful: If something broke down, they would fix it themselves - if they needed something built, they would build it.

One would imagine, although the news of your absent government would be interesting to hear, your day-to-day working might not be significantly affected.

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    $\begingroup$ How can the 1086 census be the first? Didn't the Romans use censuses, more than a thousand years before William The Conqueror? $\endgroup$ Apr 29, 2020 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ Quite true. Without someone ruling over them, villagers would get to keep their taxes, but otherwise they'd carry on as normal. In the long term, some group of armed men or neighboring lords would move in and start collecting taxes again. $\endgroup$ Apr 29, 2020 at 22:11
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    $\begingroup$ @ElizaWilson, by the time of the Roman conquest of Britain, the census wasn't performed very often, and even less often in the provinces. A quick search doesn't reveal evidence of a Roman census in Britain. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Apr 29, 2020 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark Ah—I think it makes sense if you assume that it was the “first census” of the area, and not of human history. $\endgroup$ Apr 29, 2020 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark: We know for certain of two census procurators in Roman Britain, one tasked with taking a census of the Anavioneses tribe in the 2nd century and one (Aurelius Bassus) tasked with taking a census in Camulodunum (Colchester) in the 3rd century. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 30, 2020 at 8:49

Bandits normally arose from two groups- displaced soldiers and nobles. Since both have been eliminated, banditry won't be common.

People didn't normally just randomly mug people here and there. The primary danger to travelers and such were nobles and their armies mugging people. There's a fine line between paying a toll and robbery, and many local lords extracted a lot of cash this way. Bandits could arise other ways, like when an army was displaced and needed to supply itself, or when there was major social disruption, but none of that is happening here. You wouldn't expect bandits.

This is because people can band together and kill bandits. Without major firepower backing a group, they'll get wiped out. This is worse than usual, because there is a griffin going around eating people.

There are several power blocks outside lordship that may take power.

The church. Monasteries were tough, often fortified buildings. People loved holidays and often trusted the church. The church could organize the villagers, using their buildings as forts, and seek to make the area a stronghold.

Guilds. Local guilds were often economic power houses. If the area was wealthy enough they could hire mercenaries to protect themselves.

Veterans. Peasant levies were common. The local veteran soldiers could take over, promising protection

Nobles. As others have noted, a nearby lord could annex the land.

The villagers will probably fort up and try to survive.

There's a rampaging foe around. They'll probably try to harvest the fields, and slaughter their herds, and prepare to hide away from the griffin. They'll seek to get protection from anyone, and fortify core locations.

They probably begin slaughtering or burning any food sources for the griffin.

If they can starve it out, they can survive.

They will consider fleeing with all the wealth of the local lord.

Nobody wants to die.


Power vacuum

Instead of there being no government, you'd have a power vacuum that the villagers would work to fill. You'd expect to see self-organized groups of different kinds, either based on location (i.e. neighborhoods) or some other form of group identity (race, religion, occupation, etc.). Modern motorcycle gangs could give you an example of how well these non-governmental groups could be organized:

Outlaw motorcycle clubs might be more able to act collectively than more informal groups because they are organized bureaucratically. Within chapters there are specialized roles for members and a hierarchy ranging from hang-arounds and prospects at the two lowest levels to a president at the top. Positions immediately subordinate to the president generally include a vice-president, a sergeant-at-arms, a secretary/treasurer and a road captain. The clubs usually have written rules including a club constitution.

Some of the groups that arise in the absence of a central government would be benevolent and work toward the common good (a la the French resistance). Others would be bandits. And plenty of groups would fall somewhere in the middle.

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    $\begingroup$ Medieval states were extremely poor and the "central government" did very very little; a modern Libertarian would be surprised at how small was the interference of the central authorities in local affairs. Basically the "central government" collected a very small tax (head tax + some tax on some transactions), provided justice in extremely serious cases, and occasionally called the men to the army for a short time. That's all it did. There were no central registries, there was no social security, the was no country-wide police force, there was no public education, no infrastructure etc. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 28, 2020 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ @DenisdeBernardy, huh? The downvote means "this answer is not useful". You just said the answer is, in fact, useful. So now which is it? $\endgroup$
    – Martha
    Apr 29, 2020 at 20:42

For the purpose of this answer I am going to assume that you are not interested in the quite likely scenario that the king of the respective realm would simply grant the lands to other lords adjacent to the lands in question, but in the scenario of sudden and long lasting anarchy in a medieval setting.

The answer is, that you would basically rewind the social clock for some time, until it sooner or later reverts to its former state.

Humans are pack animals, our natural state of society is tribalism. Medieval peasants essentially lived in communities consisting of extended families. The loss of the central authority means that they all are now essentially tribal once more. There wouldn't be a sudden breakdown of public order because their communal structures are already in a self sufficient and natural social state.

So for a time things would improve for them: No longer do they have to provide labor for their lord; they can completely focus on themselves. No longer are there laws which forbid them to hunt wildlife or regulate their interaction with natural resources provided by forests and rivers. Life is good.

After some time however, certain problems will arise: The peasant communities have enjoyed their newwon freedoms, cultivated their lands and did, what humans like to do most, namely procreate. Young men are growing up and reach the age, at which they can start families of their own.

Before the griffin, most of them would have had to assist their father or their oldest brother as farmhands, ask the local lord for permission to marry a woman and hope that they are allocated a piece of land for them to cultivate on their own; otherwise they would have had to stay farmhands or ask for permission to go elsewhere.

Now, however, things are different. There is no longer a lord which is responsible for allocating the available land and enforcing the current allocation. So the men happily stride out into every direction looking for new land to settle on... of which there is only a limited amount, if any. You can guess now in which direction we are going...

While the tribal structures, the peasants are living in, are most likely peaceful and stable INTERNALLY, their interaction with other tribes is not. At some point they will revert to what tribes have always done: warring with each other over resources.

The catalyst for the inevitable violence to come can be several things...
As mentioned before, maybe there are simply too many men who want their own land to cultivate...
Maybe there is local drought, flood or other natural disaster, which ruins the harvest for some communities. Without a lord to enforce the redistribution of food to the communities in distress and with other communities unwilling to share, things are bound to spiral downwards...
Maybe some communities resent being stuck with the more barren land and decide that things can only get better by taking someone else's land.
The possibilities are endless.

Basically, over time you will see history repeat itself: Tribes fight each other. Multiple tribes form clans to increase their power. Out of necessity they start allocating resources to a permanent warrior class, which is responsible for protecting their lands and conquering new ones.
The now extant warlords plot against and battle each other until one of them manages to subjugate all the others, at which point he decides to put on a fancy hat and grants himself a nice title. If only he hadn't forgotten about the griffin that doesn't like fancy hats and nice titles...

  • $\begingroup$ On the first paragraph: it is utterly likely that the land/fief/whatever has already been granted to multiple lords, communities, etc. By the current king or a predecessor. $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Apr 30, 2020 at 12:20

No law enforcement means that it's not just a matter of bandits harassing the people: the people become bandits. Every man against his neighbour, every grudge and old score settled (on a personal, family and village basis), and you can take away anything you can carry with no risk of punishment.

Bad news for baliffs, tax collectors and other unpopular officials, probably bad news for the church and those famously overfed monks, and the prompt collapse of Society As We Know It.

Note also that the large proportion of people who are serfs now have nobody to keep them in order, and may either steal and plunder, simply stop working, or take advantage of the situation and flee to another area. They are certainly not goingto carry on working like good little slaves. ((And as a far-from-minor point, lords were frequently in conflict with their neighbours, occasionally involving bloodshed. Expect adjacent territories to shift boundaries and take over any rulerless villages they can snaffle 'to keep the peace' 'preserve good order which our neighbor has failed to do' etc ))

The whole economic basis of the region is undermined. Those trades which supply the local manor house or castle collapse; those trades which rely on the lord for protection (or their monopoly) go out of business, and then the ones that depend ont hem, and so on.

Of course, nobody is collecting tax, so there's no road or bridge maintenance, and whatever infrastructure there is will start to fail.

Everything might fall apart. Or the people might just decide they prefer it this way and reorganise themselves in a traditional medieval anarcho-syndicalist collective.enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ "Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I'm bein' repressed!" $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2020 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ Is this the Lord of the Flies view of medieval society? $\endgroup$
    – David42
    May 4, 2020 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ More a recognition that slavery requires coercion, and if you release the constraints then things will happen. Yes, the peasants are revolting. A few may have been pious, humble and loyal to their masters whatever, just as a few African American slaves were...but it's hard to believe they were more than a small minority. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2020 at 17:25

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