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Basic Information

Historically speaking, in Renaissance England, a yeoman was a farmer who cultivated his own land; a kind of freeman involved in agricultural practice. This brought with it social status, and yeomen were "early admitted in England to political rights."[1].

Even earlier in history, a yeoman was a servant, attendant, or subordinate official in a noble household, as "Yeoman of the Chamber" or "Yeoman of the Guard." As far as can be defined in feudalism, a yeoman was generally a form of serjeant.

Arguably the most famous group of yeomen - and the group most often cited in that role - were the Anglo-Welsh bowmen that dominated the English army in the high middle ages. The grade of yeoman also appears in the medieval English Royal Navy, where it appears to be a form of petty officer, often one involved with the ship's logistics.

In modern usage yeomen appear as administrative personnel in the US Navy and as members of Territorial Cavalry Regiments in the British Army. The British Crown also employs the Yeomen of the Guard who act as the monarch's ceremonial bodyguard for various public events and the Yeomen Warders of the Tower who are the caretakers and guards of the Tower of London. Both of these organisations are known as "beefeaters" and are often confused with one another - although one is purely ceremonial and one a great deal more practical.

See also: Freibauer, Ackerman and Serf.


Game and Story Use

  • This word can be used to refer to various kinds of farmers or crofters in your campaign setting, delineating social status and wealth, adding some flavour to the monotony of "farmer"
  • Expect a certain amount of tension in a traditional feudal village between the interest of the lord of the manor and those of any yeomen - the presence of significant free tenants who are not fully dependent on the lord nor beholden to the manor court might well complicate the power dynamic.
  • It's actually an interesting position in a feudal system - the "core idea" of feudalism is that the warrior caste who hold land for service also serve as the aristocracy - or, at a minimum, gentry. Yeomen are commoners and yet hold land - potentially directly from the crown if they live in a royal fief. For those world building, it can go a variety of ways - it might be the start of the decline of the warrior-nobility, it might be a survivor of the old warrior retainer class or part of a full range caste system in which all castes cover all social classes. Real feudalism was, of course, messy and inconsistent and included aspects of all of these and more.
  • This word can also be used in conjunction with other positions, as "Yeoman of the Crown", to add flavour to political organizations.
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