Guardians of the Past
Understanding Waterdeep's Noble Houses
Since the founding of Nimoar’s Hold in the Year of the Curse (882 DR), wealthy merchant families in what is now Waterdeep have claimed the mantle of nobility. In some cases, such claims were based on the awarding of nobility to the familial line by another sovereign realm; in others, such claims reflected the aspirations of a powerful family with the means to demand such honorifics from their neighbors.
In the Year of the Cockatrice (1248 DR), the Lords of Waterdeep recognized the merchant gentry, marking the formal beginnings of the Waterdhavian nobility. In some cases, they retroactively acknowledged a longstanding claim, allowing the family to date its ennoblement to an earlier date. However, the Lords carefully insisted there was no established order of precedence or seniority, preventing the formal establishment of an “old guard.”
Ahghairon proposed the establishment of a nobility as both a matter of practicality and of diplomacy. From a practical stand-point, the chaotic use of widely varying titles among the populace prompted all manner of disputes and feuds and threatened the authority of the Lords. (At one point, there were no less then twelve “Dukes of Waterdeep” among just three families.) As a diplomatic carrot, the city used the granting of titles to lure powerful, land-owning lords from the surrounding countryside and wealthy merchants from lands far away into the city. In so doing, Ahghairon drew new wealth to the city and prevented the emergence of numerous tiny statelets in Waterdeep’s backyard that might incessantly war among themselves and thus threaten the city’s prosperity.
Since the Year of the Cockatrice, noble families have been granted the right to bear arms, including small private armies of up to seventy warriors. (Non-noble families, businesses, and individuals are restricted to sixteen warriors by edict of the Lords.) Nobles have also been granted the right to bear “arms of grace,” a coat-of-arms borne by all warriors and low-ranking servants in their service. The noble families have always been required to contribute one percent of their annual earnings to the city coffers, payable each Midsummer, for the defense and maintenance of the city. Slave trading is forbidden, and all families were required to renounce it upon induction in the Year of the Cockatrice (1248 DR). Several backsliding houses (including Anteos, Kormallis, and Thann) were required to renounce it again upon the restoration of the Lords’ rule in the Year of the Wagon (1273 DR).
Over time, the rate at which new families are ennobled by the Lords of Waterdeep has greatly diminished. Effectively, Waterdeep’s nobility is now a “closed shop,” as no new family has been ennobled since the Year of the Snow Winds (1335 DR). As Waterdeep’s power has grown, the need to lure minor nobles from the surrounding countryside into the city has diminished, and the current families have no interest in reducing the value of their pedigrees by “sharing the wealth,” as it were. In recent years, there has been some talk of ennobling the Duke of Daggerford and thus drawing that town more formally into Waterdeep’s orbit, but for now such discussions have gone nowhere.
All noble families are considered at least “minor organizations,” once you include servants, retainers, and the like. Almost all noble families are “isolated” in racial make-up (at least among the blooded kin), with noble members almost exclusively human. (Rare exceptions include families with half-elves, reputed liches, mummies, werewolves, or yuan-ti among their living relatives.)
In the current era, the number of actual nobles per noble family varies between a dozen and six dozen, but such figures include all acknowledged relatives, sometimes as far as fourth cousins from the current patriarch. Typically, the number of blood relatives of the patriarch of each family resident in the city is about fifteen or so.
Titles, lands, and funds can be inherited by any child or heir of a noble patriarch or matriarch. The standard practice in the Waterdeep assumes the eldest child (regardless of sex) inherits the title and the majority holdings of a family, with younger siblings and other relations getting lesser legacies.
Living rulers of a noble family can proclaim a different heir should they choose, but such a proclamation must take place in the Lord’s Court and be confirmed by the Lords, keeping the city rulers appraised of who stands to inherit the lands and titles (and avoiding any problems with contesting the inheritance after a ruler’s passing). The changing of an heir is rare, although a number of heirs have refused family lands and titles, dedicating their lives to religious orders or adventuring. In cases where leadership of the family is contested, the Lords of Waterdeep make the final determination.
Matriarchal families are not uncommon in Waterdeep. Established matriarchs wishing to marry a nobleman can choose to adopt his name and family holdings (at which time she would abdicate her title and legacy to her chosen heir), or her husband can become a matriarch’s consort (at which time he would abdicate any former family inheritances and holdings in order to share in his wife’s title and station). If either spouse (or both) is a solitary heir with no heirs to receive his or her title, the family portfolios can combine under one name and one titular head of house or create an entirely new dynasty.
Some noble families, such as the Houses Deepwinter and Maernos, do go extinct, but the Lords usually work behind the scenes to arrange a hasty marriage to prevent such occurrences. Aside from the Houses Gildeggh and Zoar, there have been four such extinctions over Waterdeep’s history. Many wealthy, would-be nobles have viewed such extinctions as an opportunity for their own elevation to the nobility, but in practice there is little tie between the two.
AscendIng to the Nobility
Although it is often easier to marry into an existing noble family, individiuals of wealth and influence can petition the Lords of Waterdeep to ennoble them and their descendants. Although the Lords of Waterdeep have never spelled out strict criteria for granting such petitions, some normal strictures have been deduced by would-be nobles over the years:
An individual should have demonstrable personal wealth, in excess of 250,000 gp, that has been largely acquired through mercantile endeavors. (Adventurers who recover large amounts of treasure do not provide the same ongoing economic impact to Waterdeep as a wealthy merchant who employs hundreds of Waterdhavians.)An individual should reside in Waterdeep except when wintering in the South or leading trade expeditions. An individual should own several significant properties in the City of Waterdeep. An individual should play a prominent role in one or more guilds. An individual should be human. (Although some Lords might wish otherwise, the other families are unlikely to accept a nonhuman ennobled family any time soon.) An individual should be “sponsored” by at least five other noble families.
The key criterion is, of course, the last one. It takes a staggering amount of wealth, connections, debts, charitable giving, bribes, and humility to get five noble families to agree that it is in their best interest to add a new family to the nobility.