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Count Bobbert of Frugundy has many children, and he has sent his third son, Preter, to be raised at the court of Duke Wudlig of Brutsels, both to honour his ally and to allow the child to benefit from the many scholars and clergymen in the court of Brutsels and receive an excellent education. But, Wudlig is devious and he knows that the count's first two sons are sickly. He is counting on this child to inherit the county, and become his neighbouring ruler. So, Wudlig subtly sabotages Preter's education. He arranges for noisy military parades to take place right outside Preter's study room, subtly encourage immoral behaviour and sins, and makes excuses why no wooden swords are available for practise today. Ten years later, Preter returns to his father's court unable to tell a motte from a bailey. Bobbert is furious but there's no way to tell that it wasn't just Preter's mental inadequacy all along. Relations between the fiefs sour, but eventually Preter does inherit and the poorly-ruled county is duly conquered by Wudlig or his heir.

The above paragraph is an illustration - don't take those characters literally or this question would be story-based!

Foreign education for nobility was definitely a thing - I see it referenced in a few places but cannot find a source specifically about it. My question is: would a lord sending their child away have reason to fear that they would be raised inadequately due to malice on the receiving lord's part? This doesn't even have to be so overt as sabotage, it could be as little as them doing less than their absolute best to raise their future neighbouring ruler. So an alternative phrasing is: could a lord always count on their neighbours to raise their foreign children the best they can?

A third possible phrasing (you can tell I'm having trouble wording this question xD): could a feudal lord under certain circumstances, either overtly or subtly, sabotage the education of a foreign noble heir in their custody, without suffering consequences worse than what they gain by having a weak neighbouring lord? And if so would those circumstances be commonplace enough that the average lord sending their child would have to consider malice? If this is technically possible but only under extreme circumstances (like the recipient living on a remote island) then for general purposes the answer to the question would be no.

Assume generic feudal rulers who are not unusually sadistic or unconcerned with self-preservation - just regular people exercising realpolitik. Do not invoke plot-based or otherwise person-specific relations like the two rulers being former lovers; make your answer apply to any two lords that might engage in the medieval student exchange program.

Finally, don't assume things about the setting besides the place being divided into feudal realms, and anything unmentioned that is crucial for that setting to make sense (e.g. a class structure, pre-industrial technology). I am not asking this on History.SE so "he can't because the Pope would be angry" is not a valid answer here.

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    $\begingroup$ Would they, sure, but isn't there any kind of postal service in these lands, doesn't the son write daily to the father in elegant prose about the adventures and lessons of the day? $\endgroup$ Sep 18 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ Sabotage? probably not // Guide? mild 'indoctrination' of a sort to provide a more friendly neighbour when he comes to power almost definitely, not that that sort of thing worked very well for the Ottoman empire with Vlad the Impaler, though I'm sure they expected him to be more closely aligned to their world view than his predecessor having had a good portion of his raising, or maybe that was the problem, they succeeded too well :) he certainly had good insight into what would make them give up & go home. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Sep 18 at 21:38
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    $\begingroup$ @ARogueAnt sure, regular correspondence would rule out overt sabotage but how about subtly encouraging immorality? Stuff a kid would not exactly write home about. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Sep 18 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ The opposite is more likely to happen: that the son becomes a greater ally because of growing up with the next generation of rulers. See how so many people sent home from America still want to have good relations. On the other hand, there are numerous examples of people partly raised with a group whom they later turned upon. So, neither result is assured. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Sep 19 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ I'm curious. Are you asking if this is a reasonable strategy? Not at all; the reasonable strategy is to befriend the child and get an ally or someone who trusts you. Are you asking if some random person could do this? Sure, people do all kinds of stupid things. $\endgroup$
    – Yakk
    Sep 20 at 15:50
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"Would a lord sending their child away have reason to fear that they would be raised inadequately due to malice on the receiving lord's part?"

Let's state the obvious: the question does not specify either a time or a place, and the Middle Ages was both a very long span of time and it covered many different lands. Sending one's son away at a foreign court was not generally a common custom during all that long span of time and in all those many different lands. At most times during the Middle Ages, and in most places, the education of a nobleman happened at home.

So let's focus on those times and those lands where it was less uncommon. Let's say, the territory which is nowadays called France around the 10th to the 12th centuries, also known as the Golden Age of Chivalry. In those times and in those places it was indeed usual for young noblemen to be sent to the court of the suzerain of their fathers to be trained as future knights.

  • First, that would be a particularly stupid (or disinterested) father. One did not normally send their son away at a foreign court unless they had good reason to believe that their sons would be raised well.

    Was it possible that the suzerain lord was malicious and would deliberately lead the young nobleman astray? Of course it was possible.

  • Second, it was not some sort of publicly available service.

    Generally, it was the duty of the suzerain to accept the sons of his vassals at his court. It never worked the other way around, and it never worked between noblemen who did not already have a bond of fealty.

    Sometimes children went to a foreign court as a matter of necessity, as refugees; but in this case the families must have been related somehow, either by blood or by marriage.

    In other parts of the world it was quite common for the suzerain lord to demand that the vassals send their sons to his court, as a pledge of fealty; but this was not at all usual in western Europe.

    Was it possible that the suzerain lord was malicious and would deliberately lead the young nobleman astray? Of course it was possible, but this could easily backfire; one's vassals would certainly take exception and consequently take active measures to switch their allegiance to somebody less traitorous. (That wasn't easy. It was quite complicated, in fact. Great story.)

  • Third, and most importantly, the education expected to be received by the young heir was definitely not of the kind that noisy military parades would sabotage, and where "scholars and clergymen" played any significant role.

    The young noblemen joined the foreign court as a page, working his way up the social ladder. He would imbibe the rules of behavior. He would be expected to train as a future knight. Eventually he would progress at the level of a squire.

    The point being that there was very little in the manner of actual formal study. Reading books was neither expected nor encouraged.

    The second point being that the young nobleman was working all this time, playing his role in a well-functioning medieval court. He was not a student, he was a fully functional cog in a fully functional machine. The mischievous suzerain lord would need to take great care to insulate the rot instilled into the young nobleman lest it contaminated and corrupted his entire court.

Long story short, yes, a malicious lord corrupting the young son of a vassal is possible. Not likely, but possible. And it is entirely dependent on the plot of the story.


I think that the subtext of this question is a request for resources. I can offer The History of Chivalry, or, Knighthood and Its Times by Charless Mills (1825), available at Archive.org -- volume 1, volume 2, in particular, chapter 2 in volume 1 is about the education of a knight; also Frank Pierrepont Graves, History of education during the Middle Ages and the transition to modern times (1915), with chivalric education covered in chapter 7.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer, quick upvote from me. First a note: I left the era and continent unspecified because while I very much appreciate historical context to inform what I am working with, I am not letting myself be restricted to very specific practises like those only found in 10th-12th-century France - if only because my actual setting is not on Earth, Not a critique, just to inform. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Sep 19 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ Secondly a question: is the French system you describe the predominant form of foreign noble education, as such tied to knighthood? We know that not all noble children or even firstborn were schooled like that; e.g. Henry II of England had a very academic education - but were all/most of those historically sent to foreign courts to ascend the ladder you describe, pages to squires? If so then the foreign education is less of a generic system than I thought, and more of a specific historical arrangement, and I would have to adapt it in my setting if I want to have a more scholarly version... $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Sep 19 at 1:03
  • $\begingroup$ ...Then those non-Western cultures you reference might actually be good inspiration too. Thirdly, thank you for your conclusion, that one could do it but it would be require special circumstances which would have to feature in a story - without concluding that that conclusion makes my question story-based and worthy of closure. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Sep 19 at 1:03
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    $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm: Henry II of England is a special case. (History is full of special cases.) He was the eldest son of Empress Matilda, who was a very special woman. His father was mostly not at home. His position in the feudal hierarchy was unusual, as he was not officially a prince of England. Henry's education was entirely the work of his mother, who also fought tooth and nail to make him king of England; which she accomplished after 18 years of stubborn civil war (known as the Anarchy). $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 19 at 1:15
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    $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm: Ah, the book is obviously out of date. But the good thing about those old-ish books is that they are written in a flowing, narrative style, without all those maybes and alternative opinions and corner cases of more modern books. This makes them much better sources of inspiration, even if as references for academic work they are unusable. (You may also want to look at chapter 7 in Frank Pierrepont Graves's History of education during the Middle Ages and the transition to modern times. Much more recent, 1915!) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 19 at 1:47
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You influence a child by selecting the right teachers

Children do well with a teacher they like and not so well with ones they don't. They can also take on the beliefs of the teacher as well.

The Duke selects a likable Buddhist priest to teach morality and ethics which instill pacifism in the child.

A fencing master for sword training so the child doesn't learn any real battle combat skills.

A pompous arrogant but highly decorated general to teach strategy so they child doesn't listen or try to learn much.

By selecting the right teachers you can mold the child into whatever you want without giving the appearance of deliberate sabotage.

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    $\begingroup$ Very clever ideas - have you ever manipulated an heir to nobility before? xD If you had more knowledge of the child, you could do the opposite too - find ways to get them to reject good counsel. Perhaps you have an extremely smart general, but he is far too hard on people, and the boy pristles against him. Maybe you have an extremely wise teacher, but who is unbelievably boring, and so the child finds the learning difficult. Many many many ways to neutralize an opponent, and without any blood on your hands or even technically any wrongdoing in the public eye. $\endgroup$
    – Current
    Sep 18 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ You do run the (very plot-friendly) risk that the pompous general really IS brilliant, and looking for someone to teach his wisdom. Or the child will need to be a master duelist more than a strategist. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Sep 19 at 5:01
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    $\begingroup$ If the teacher is doing too good a job, just get new teachers $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Sep 20 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ @DWKraus's point is (I think) more along the lines of people not recognizing the value of what the child is learning. i.e. they see what the general is teaching and think it's wrong. That's part of why everyone thinks it's arrogant. (Or maybe the general see the lord's scheme and keeps the brilliance mostly hidden.) So it's the same idea as for fencing: you're ok with them learning to be an excellent fencer (not battlefield fighter) because you don't think it's useful, but turns out that it is for that character. $\endgroup$ Sep 20 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterCordes Thank you! right on the nose! There are a lot of stories where the unappreciated teacher or skill set saves the hero in the end. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Sep 20 at 23:04
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No, because children always learnt together

Another child would never be put completely on their own, and educated completely on their own. Education of children always happened as a group exercise for all the children of the family together, except for only children. The young prince would then be educated along with the other children of the family. That includes the martial arts, of course - fencing, short-stick (depending on era), archery and riding.

As a child of a foreign dignitary, it would be unthinkable for them not to be sent to a family with other children. If Duke Wudlig has no children, then Count Bobbert's son would simply never be sent to Wudlig, ever. Maybe to someone else at Wudlig's court, but not Wudlig himself.

Although in all honesty it would be unusual for a child to be sent to live with another family at that kind of age, unless there were family connections. In which case most of the plot doesn't happen anyway. Normally this would happen when they were a bit older, to become a page.

And education was not what you think it was

You're making the standard mistake of thinking of modern schools, or modern tutoring. The world wasn't like that. Once you reached your early teens (or before) you were put into service.

So a young man at the court would become a page boy - not a servant in name, and they wouldn't do menial jobs like cleaning, but they'd fetch food and drink for their master, carry messages, ensure the servants had got things ready, and so on. The reason Bobbert would send his child to another court is to learn how that court works, who's important, and how they think; and the same applied domestically for noble families within Wudlig's court. They'd also learn strategy by watching the court whilst they were there. This is the key element of education which you haven't understood about the whole process.

As for other continuing education, having learnt the basics as children, they refined it in competition with others. Fencing, archery and hunting were communal activities for the court. Excluding Bobbert's son from the court would be a direct insult to Bobbert himself; Bobbert would remove his son, and diplomatic relations between the two countries would freeze.

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    $\begingroup$ If Duke Wudlig has no children, then his son ... didn't exist. I think you need to mention Count Bobbert first for the pronoun to work the way that sentence requires, or just avoid using a pronoun. "then Count Bobbert would simply never ..." $\endgroup$ Sep 20 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterCordes Oops, must have lost track of who was who. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Sep 20 at 21:28
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No, this would be unlikely to work.

People are not stupid, you do not send a kid to an ally and expect that no one is watching. That never happened. Kids were trained in groups for a start.

Also you do not want the neighbouring fiefdom ruled by an incompetent. They will soon be deposed and replaced by someone a lot tougher to deal with that you don't know.

So you raise kids to be competent and under your control if possible.

It depends on whether it's a friendly alliance or a one sided one in some scenarios I guess. But if it's a relatively equal alliance then no purpose would be served by this that would guarantee a good outcome for you.

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  • $\begingroup$ The deposition of said incompetent is unlikely to go over easily and bloodlessly - and a succession war is a very juicy time for opportunistic opponents. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Sep 18 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm perhaps, seems a risky assumption though, but would never get to that is what I'm saying in my answer. Experienced and intelligent people would notice pretty quickly. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Sep 19 at 0:11
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    $\begingroup$ Also, have you a source on kids being trained in groups? I'm not sure if the crown prince to a fief would just be thrown in with the others; I would expect them to receive private tutoring. But I'd be happy to learn! $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Sep 19 at 0:19
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm Everything I have ever read has them training in groups, I can't think of why they wouldn't. You don't train a kid (or adults) to fight one opponent. It's a waste of time. I train kids in various techniques. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Sep 19 at 0:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Kilisi, they were taught other thing, not just fighting. Medieval nobles were not barbarians with weapons fighting 24/7. $\endgroup$
    – user28434
    Sep 20 at 16:22
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Suppose.. this Bobbert of Frugundy would engage a child marriage of his son with daughter Jarcobra of the duke of Barvaria. But in the 5 years following that alliance, his wife would not bear him a second son. That is a great risk ! If anything happens to his only son, the daughter of the Count of Barvaria would inherit his realm. In that case, to prevent Jarcobra from seizing power, he could cut her education, so she will be incompetent to take over affairs. Also, it would make it more difficult for her to get remarried.

It didn't happen. Jarcorba became a cunning politician.. causing lots of trouble for Frugundy !

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacqueline,_Countess_of_Hainaut

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This isn't 'worldbuilding', IMO; it falls under character development, and their motivations and personality.

If the character is cunning enough and dishonest enough, then this could be done; it's theoretically possible. The question is: would the person do that? And the answer depends on what sort of person they are.

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  • $\begingroup$ It is worldbuilding because if the answer is yes, if lords could be expected to raise foreign kids less than adequately due to malice, then the personal relation with and moral character of the receiving lord becomes just as important as the presence of scholars and diplomats when someone is deciding where to send their children. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Sep 18 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not asking would they - I'm asking could they, without any grave repercussions. Specifically, "could the average lord do that", not "is it remotely possible under any circumstance" $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Sep 18 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, I now see that the title does say "would" xD Basically, I mean to ask "would they" while considering "they" to refer to a perfectly logical lord. I added a lengthier, unwieldier, wording to the question. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Sep 18 at 22:19
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"would a lord sending their child away have reason to fear that they would be raised inadequately due to malice on the receiving lord's part?"

Generally, I find that human questions such as this can be manipulated, fine tuned to where they fit reasonably well in the story. What you've explained makes logical sense to me.

I have the small amount of historical background on medieval history to know that you are correct about people sending their children to foreign powers for education.

But that is not, of course, just a medieval thing. It has been a practice whenever you have nations that are friendly with each other, and one has some center of learning that is considered prestigious.

I'll use a modern example of this, using reference from this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jsvmQR19TE

Basically the crux of what I'm taking from the video is where they talk about how some young people in Afghanistan were educated in Soviet Russia, and it had a major effect on the future of the country. You might reflect on why the people of Afghanistan would want people trained there.

The devil is in the details as they say - you just need a teeny bit. Something I do know about the medieval period, and really the pre-industrial world, is that people were super, super connected. Everything was about family. It determined who you trusted, who you distrusted, how you rose up in society by whom you married, it would shame your whole family if a family member committed a wrong...

So I can see scenarios like "I trust this man, because he aided a widowed relative," or maybe "He has been my business partner abroad and always has shown honesty and tact in his dealings" or "I've read works written by him and I find his views to be quite enlightening."

Any of these possibilities, and many more could be enough. A simply mention of it in one sentence, maybe repeated sparsely once or twice, would be enough to keep the reader from considering the character's father foolish.

It's also of note that if this is set in a pre-industrial world, it is quite hard to communicate quickly. Letters going "father this dude is pretty sketchy, I caught him trying to set my bed on fire when I woke up" may not get to where they should go - especially with people watching for them.

Good luck on your writing friend!

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah, OK, I get it now, pre-Russian invasion events that helped form the environment in which the Taliban then arose & came to power largely in response to is what your referring to? the Russians & their Afghan proxies seized power & the Taliban were among those who threw them out. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Sep 18 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Pelinore yes, I apologize if I didn't explain that exactly clearly. It'd been a while since I'd watched the video and didn't remember everything from it exactly. $\endgroup$
    – Current
    Sep 18 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Pelinore edited. $\endgroup$
    – Current
    Sep 18 at 22:54

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