Nationalism, prejudice and the Order of Hermes

To start with, I am not expressing my own views here, simply raising an important feature of the medieval mindset. So there is ansolutely no intention to offend anyone of any of the groups mentioned below, and I repeat, these are not prejudices I personally hold.

So the order of Hermes spans from the western shores of ireland through to the Levant, across the holy land and into what we today call Russia. Now in the mundane world these people are not part of some jolly fraternity. Many of these groups positively hate each other. Others widely distrusted or even despised as an underclass.

Now, the only references I came across to, 'Hermetic pluralism' for want of a better expression, from memory was in relation to Jewish covenfolk where it is states that they could thrive in a covenant where they would have the same rights as others. That I can completely grasp and am very happy to extend that concept to believe the Order accepts everyone under a single set of rules.

Now... taking wizards as an example. An English wizard is still an Englishman. His French brothers in the order are still French. Does he lose his innate dislike of all things French as part of his apprenticeship? He may be bound by the same code and oath, but presumably he still doesn't LIKE them.

Now, that may be a bad example as I don't thin the true rivalry becomes a permanent feature of Anglo-French relationships for another century, but I think you get the idea. It also allows me to cunningly skirt around using more obvious examples of religious groups which might offend some members, and that is not my intention at all.

Do these national animosities feature in your campaigns. I thought perhaps these features might be show their ugly heads at places like the flambeau tournament and rivalries might form along these lines... similarly with Verditius vendetta.

If the order has truly eliminated these things, which it could well do I guess as part of the apprenticeship process, within its ranks... then I think it needs to be written up at some point as one of the great legacies of the founders. Sounds like something that could be attributed to Trianoma.

My personal view is that people are people no matter where or when they're from. We all, no matter how advanced we consider ourselves, categorise people into ever-smaller categories. Sports is a good example, and one where the issues are particularly fluid. Take football. Ronaldo plays for Manchester United (unless he's gone already... I don't pay much attention), which garners him near-infinite admiration from seemingly half of England. Unless he's playing for the Portugese national side, in which case he's gone from "one of ours" to "one of theirs". Now, if Ronaldo started to play for City (as Tevez did recently) then the City fans would suddenly see him as one of theirs and hail him as a hero (again, as with Tevez who recently scored two goals against his old club United). There's nothing inherently prejudicial in this, it just shows the fluid nature of what we consider "we" and "not we".

Applying this to the Order, you have a number of tensions. Covenant vs. House vs. Tribunal vs. Country. It's right to pick up on the conflicting pressures from these different categories. After all, you may have an inherent connection to someone from your House, but unless there's a relationship there you'd side with someone in your covenant if there was a conflict between the two. And given the choice between assisting the French or the English merchant, you'd probably come down on the side of the one closest to your own nationality (or considered more well-disposed).

I don't buy the vision of the Order as removed from society and its foibles. Take a look at the clergy of the period and their own conflicting loyalties. Monks of same order following the same rule could still become embroiled in conflict depending on whether their abbey was daughter to an English or French (sticking with the example) abbey.

While the Order has mixed-House covenants, there is an inherent complexity to Hermetic relationships, but all of that simply layers on top of the natural human tendency to categorise people in order to simplify interactions.

Nationality did not really exist in the middle ages. The English or French national identities appear later, the only joint between all people from France being more or less their king, and even this is far less true than it will be later, after countries were unified under one king and absolute monarchy arose. It began after the Hundred Years War in France, dunno for England, maybe after the War of he Roses?

There are other common identity references though. The religion is THE big one, Catholics distinguishing themselves clearly from Jews and Muslims, and from Orthodox worshipers in a lesser extent. The village or city carries also a strong identity, people are proud to be from that on place and may despise the ones from the neighboring cities. The guild is quite important too, for artisans, but conflicts between guilds rarely degenerate into open violence.

If you would really find nationalism I'd check not the countries but the provinces, like the Flanders, the Brittany and such. Some of them had a strong identity and where considered as a whole by contemporary people, mostly due to a common language and a long common history. However even there was nothing like XIX century nationalism, mostly particularism related to laws and taxes.

Lets not forget wizards are little demigods. I would say many or most stop caring about nationalism at some point. They have more important fish to fry.

I have been reading a book on the life of William Marshall (1147-1219). He makes a speech on his army talking how the other side in the impending battle are French, and so worth to go to hell.

He also had problems with his Irish barons, that called themselves the Yreis (irish), as oposed to the weak "english and frenchies" in a saga about the conquest of Ireland written aroun 1205.

Saying that nationalism did not exist is weird after reading those statements. :slight_smile: It was not as embedded as in later times, but it was there and it was a powerful motivational/classification mechanism.

I strongly recommend the book BTW: William Marshall by David Crouch. An easy to read and highly enlightening life of the nobility in the Angevin empire, from a minor baron (The Marshall's father) to a regent (William Marshall himself), passing through all the stages of power in between squire and magnate.


Most wizards are apprenticed at an early age so that their values are still subject to influence. Since a Master, then a Covenant and then the Order will dominate the life of the apprentice, they will shape his/her values more than some possible national identity.

I won't ague on the strict definition of nationalism, as I think we all can see the modern "nation" concept was meaningless at that time. But on how the people see themselves.

The French medieval military leaders did exactly the same thing against the Burgundians, the Flemishes, the Bretons, the Champenois, the Lombards, etc. These are simple cultural stereotypes and opponent taunting before the battle. Later on he would dine and drink with French men just like he would with English men. Himself was, like most of the English nobles of that time, speaking a kind of French and passing most of his time in France. The French men he despised were not a community recognizing itself as French (which is that "nationalism implies"), they were the men of the King of France. Would one of these men switch sides and fight for the King of England he would become an English, same man, different boss. To say things clearly, as his foes, they were most simply described as "French", the lower common point between them.

This is the same problem with the "Lombards" bankers in the 13c and 14c. They did not recognized themselves as Lombards, they were from Florence, Sienne and other (beautiful) Tuscany cities, mostly united by their trade. In fact people from Tuscany not being bankers (priests for instance) were not called "Lombards". And some "Lombards" weren't Italian at all. The Lombards were just the bankers (and some rich merchants), identified as such by the French people, and somehow despised because bankers. :wink:

In fact the most important differences between this kind of medieval classifications and nationalism are

  • outside their context (the battle, the business, etc.) they did not cause hostility
  • they did not so much depend on people origins but on what people do (submit to one duke, king or the other, choose a job or an other...) and thus could change very quickly

PS: if you are interested in William Marshall, you should read Georges Duby's book on him : Guillaume le Maréchal ou le meilleur chevalier du monde (I don't know its English translation) :smiley:

I think you are right, the master must have a big influence on his apprentice. This explains also how the houses traditions were transmitted from the founders, leading to strong houses identities.

I think the degree to which it'd matter would vary from magus to magus as much as tribunal to tribunal. Humans are humans, after all. All I can really offer is that the experience of my saga is that when one of the two French magi do something to benefit the covenant, it's because the covenant is a good working unit, but if they do something that's seen as unhelpful or silly it's because they're French.

Marshall spoke French, though, and was raised in France, or at least lived there for al ong time in his squire and young knight days, on the tourney circuit, and had lands there until his two kings fell out.

He thought of himself, I'd guess, as a Norman, not an Englishman.

I think it would depend on how closely the Order in your campaign or the covenant in question relates to mundane society, as well as on the background of the individual Magus.

In general Magi should be significantly less affected by at least two major drivers of nationalism. State authority is not particularly respected and Magi probably speak Latin far more than they do their local national language.

A third major driver of national distinctions is religious differences. This one is harder for me, since the role of religion in the Order is never discussed much in published sources.

I'll have to take a peek at this. Tell me, is it translated source texts?

Matt Ryan

You could also try Duby's William Marshall The Flower of Chivalry. Not so recent anymore but still a classic.

The speech I mention was made just before the battle of Lincoln.

William Marshall might have looked at himself as norman (he probably did) but his followers at that battle were local barons and knights: English knights. The french were seen as invaders, and his alleged speech talks about invaders (hateful frenchies), rights to the land, and defence of the king (the infant Richard III). All wrapped up in a nice envelope of "let's stomp those bastards over there!". Quite simple and quite going straight to the gut feeling of most dudes present.

The education is important, but we humans are extremely territorial: were we life it is our land, and we are likely to defend this along with our neighbours over the depredations (real or imagined) of external people. Who we see as external might vary, but I doubt that a native Irish magician would see a covenant of magi educate din stonehenge set in Dublin in 1190 as "sodales" instead of "invaders from England". I doubt that the Stonehenge magi would see themselves as natives of Dublin either.

Where you are educated is as important as by whom you are educated. Apprentices interact with covenfolk and get a lot of their values out of them as well as from their parens.

The book is by david crouch. He makes constant references to source materials, but the book is modern. it includes a quote from time to time, but it is mostly paraphrased to put the story in a wider context.

The main reference he uses is the Histoire, a biography of William Marshall written in the 1220's by order of his son, but uses other sources as well.

If you want the 2 titles of the original books (XIIIth century) that he uses (the rest are exchequer rolls, court registers etc etc....) are as follows:

"Histoire de Guillaume Le Maréchal". Author: John (no more info known). A book of 19.214 lines in rhyming couplets. The existant copy is imperfect, but still amazing. Middle French language. Great because it had access to first hand documents and interviews of people who had known the Marshall and taken part in the same events as him.

Paul Meyer, L'Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal (Paris: Société de l'histoire de France, 1891–1901), with partial translation of the original sources into Modern French. Edition and English translation, History of William Marshal, ed. A.J. Holden and D. Crouch, trans. S. Gregory (3 vols, Anglo-Norman Text Society, Occasional Publication Series, 4-6, 2002-2007).

"The Song of Dermot and the Earl". A french work that describes the conquest of Ireland by Strongbow and his men in the 1170s. Aproximate composition date: 1190s or early 1200s. According to Crouch

The Song can be found here:


"...we humans are extremely territorial"

The sports team from my general geographical area totally kicks the ass of the sports team from your general geographical area!


... even though half the players in my local team come from your home country! (Ahh, British sports. How much do we loathe them?)

As has been said, when said sports person wins, it's for the glory of . When they lose, it's because they are a foreigner.