Montaigne

“Montaigne is like a grand old dame. If she decides,
on a whim, to wear an antique hat to a party,
she sets fashion back one hundred years.”
— Val Mokk

The Land

To outsiders, the nation of Montaigne is beautiful; some might say “perfect.” Montaigne consists of vast cities, large towns and small farms. A man could walk for days and see nothing besides farmers’ hovels. But when he does come upon a city, he finds a sprawling affair full of grand manors and dizzying wealth. These cities are metropolitan oases, almost entirely separate from the lands surrounding them. The land itself is rich, flat farmland. Acres of green as far as the eye can see. Small farms are common; no land in Montaigne goes to waste. If it isn’t a pleasure garden or a building site, it’s being used for agriculture. Her many rivers provide natural irrigation.

The climate is moderate year-round, unbroken by temperature extremes, drought or violent weather. Winter temperatures rarely drop below freezing, and many regions of Montaigne vary little more than twenty degrees over the course of an entire year.

The People

The peasants of Montaigne are simple people. They have a minimal education, produce large families, and live quietly respectable lives. Until very recently, young men of at least fifteen years were conscripted into the Montaigne military and sent to fight on the border against Castille. Many came back broken or not at all. With an entire generation lost to war, most farmlands must rely on daughters and wives, most of them widows.

Where Montaigne peasantry is hospitable and direct, her nobles have made an art out of inference. In the courts of Montaigne, no one ever says exactly what he means. Instead, they fall back on a wealth of metaphors and precedents, often using clever quotes rather than their own words. This kind of conversation can be dizzying to an outsider, and many diplomats from other nations serve their posts under protest, despite the fine food and accommodations of the Montaigne court. The pressure to be circuitously inoffensive is overwhelming.

The nobility have nothing better to do with their time than watch each other make mischief. The entire country has been excommunicated from the Church, and while that may not sound like a big deal to the nobility, it has shattered the starving Montaigne peasants.
They may be willing to kill over it.

Politics

All government and social politics revolve around Léon Alexandre de Montaigne XIV, l’Empereur of Montaigne. The Sun King, as some Montaigne poets have called him, is the center of activity. Ranks of nobles orbit around him, most notably the dukes who control the various provinces of Montaigne. He parceled the country into smaller sections of land, each maintained by a single duke; this duke may have any number of marquis who attend to the actual day-to-day affairs of the lands. Each duke makes regular reports to Léon on the state of his lands. Invariably, these reports assure him that everything is perfectly fine. Should any wrinkles in the great plan occur, they are expected to be worked out long before they ever reach l’Empereur.

Social Strata

Montaigne is the most broadly divided nation in Théah, economically and philosophically. Under a rigid caste system, the people of Montaigne easily separate into a series of identifiable classes. The uppermost crust of Montaigne’s nobility (La Famille Royale) is few in number, but wield absolute power in her lands. Only l’Empereur (a title recently changed from “King”) Léon Alexandre, his wife, the Impératrice, their immediate family and the parents of the former monarchy can accurately claim to be of this class. At present, l’Empereur has nine daughters but no sons (a sore point with the royal line).

Below the royals are the noblesse (or nobility proper), the Dukes and Marquis of Montaigne. Highest among them are the Dukes, the landed nobles, who share the names of those who have ruled since Montaigne’s foundation. But the Marquis, their siblings, command the bulk of the wealth and manage the majority of the resources of the nation.

Next are the petite noblesse, or, as they are more commonly known, the “gentry” of Montaigne. These people are nobles by virtue of affluence alone, being without land or the associate responsibilities it brings. They are a by-product of the staggering amount of wealth within the Nation. Some have inherited it, others have swindled it—in their class, all that matters is that they have it.

Also below the proper nobility—and ranking just beside the gentry—are the noblesse errante. These are nobility that have somehow become disenfranchised and have chosen to become courtiers, emissaries or dignitaries to the throne.

Courtiers —talented commoners—tend to have an easier time of things. They exist mainly to entertain the nobility, to impress them with their skill. However, without a proper understanding of the “rules,” it is very easy for someone to insult the integrity of the court, and thus insult the power of the reigning noble.

The first of the classes outside the nobility are scholars, who have gained newfound popularity with the recent increase in exploration. Although scholars, especially philosophers, have traditionally been highly regarded in Montaigne, acceptance into the developing study of archæology is quickly becoming a badge of distinction.

Merchants and craftsmen have also received special consideration in Montaigne of late. By and large, these workers belong to the Vendel League, ensuring them a level of income above most “freelance” agents in their field.

The last rung on the Montaigne social ladder is that of the peasantry. Though the immense walled cities and elaborate chateaux present the beauty and peace of the Nation, all have been built upon the backs of her peasants.

Etiquette

The Montaigne nobility avoid confrontation. Rather than engage anyone directly, they speak through assistants, envoys, messengers and courtesans, and in court settings they use metaphor and witticisms to circumvent conversation. They often avoid your gaze if cornered. Subtlety has replaced the need to actually say anything, and is considered a far more noble skill than honesty.

The peasants of Montaigne do not wilt so easily. They are kind and inviting, despite their rough lifestyle. Through years of humility they have learned not to complain about their plight, and so even though they live in squalor, they remain clean and confident. People who have visited Montaigne often complain that the people were rude or vulgar, but those who avoid the cities have nothing but good things to say about their visit.

Customs

The Montaigne revel in ridiculing others, as long as the games remain fun. Nearly all Montaigne embrace the importance of humor, even at their own expense, but there is a fine line that must not be crossed. When derision goes too far (and intuitive Montaigne know when this has happened), the blagueur (“offender”) is quickly ousted from polite society. It is not uncommon to find someone gifted in ridicule to be very popular until an indiscretion; many courtiers specializing in social critiques find themselves without a patron mere moments after inflaming a delicate situation. Ironically enough, however, if a situation is so delicate as to be considered explosive, most everyone is expected to engage in “the game” in order to lessen the load on their neighbor, a nuance many outsiders never understand.

Religion

Up to the early 1600s, the Montaigne people were resolute in their spirituality, and many found solace in the words of the Church’s representatives. With the abysmal lack of moral leadership during the reigns of King Léon XII and Léon XIII, the spiritual fiber of the nation began to decay. Since then, it has become evident that any influence the Church had upon the Montaigne nobility is fading fast. The peasants of Montaigne, with the exception of most servants, fear they are damned. They have noticed the shift in their nobility’s religious views, even if those who are closest to the nobility remain ignorant (or complicit) in their excesses.

The Military

Years ago, the military of Montaigne was revered as noble and austere, the fighting arm of a world power. In recent years, however, its size has nearly tripled due to conscription, subsequently weakening the families—mostly peasants and farmers—that support the Nation.

The elite soldiers of Montaigne’s military, the Musketeers, fulfill many important roles in the nation. They swear an oath to l’Empereur of Montaigne upon enlistment and receive a rapier, tabard (front-facing cloak) and musket that establish their authority. The number of Musketeers always remains one thousand. In order to stay fresh, well trained and efficient, old soldiers retire and new soldiers join at the beginning of each spring season. Each Musketeer will fight to the death to defend the honor of another.

L’Empereur’s personal guard is known as the Lightning Guard, formed from the greatest of the Musketeers. The guard has lasted for over 600 years, serving l’Empereur exclusively. They are devoted and righteous, incredible duelists and staunch defenders of the royal sovereignty. When necessary, they can also act as couriers, escorts, bodyguards, investigators or regal ambassadors.

Relations with other Nations

Avalon: Though the constant shuffling of government between Montaigne and Avalon has long since settled and commerce across the Montaigne Strait is at an all-time high, long-standing grudges continue between the two nations.

Castille: The people of Montaigne have never respected the Castillians, resenting their booming agriculture and export business and holding the daily siesta in contempt. The Montaigne nobility considered the war to be a righteous cause—a blow against the domineering morality of the Vaticine Church—but even the lower classes felt that the Castillians were undeserving of their riches. Most commoners found\ the war to be a reasonable response to the insults and indignities the Castillians forced upon Montaigne over years of trade negotiations and border disputes.

Eisen: The Treaty of Weissburg ended open hostilities between Montaigne and Eisen, but the emotions beneath those angry blows remain. The Montaigne have made an enemy of the Eisen, though it may not appear that way to those outside the conflict.

Sarmatian Commonwealth: Peasants voting? Surely, no. Enough with that. Bring the wine.

Ussura: There has been little contact between Montaigne and Ussura. They are distant from one another, for one thing, and it is simply easier to negotiate with other Nations that are closer to Montaigne. Yet…l’Empereur often asks questions of visiting nobles and dignitaries about the Ussuran land and people, hinting that he may pursue another military campaign when he grows tired of his latest artistic endeavors…

Vestenmennavenjar: Montaigne maintains contact with Vesten primarily through the League and its economic charters. Despite their differences, both Montaigne and Vesten agree on one thing: luxury goods are wasted on the rest of Théah when Montaigne is willing to pay so much for the best that the Vendel League has to offer.

Vodacce: Montaigne’s trade relations with Vodacce are certainly more agreeable, and profitable, than those with any other nation in Théah, for many reasons. First and foremost, the Montaigne people love items produced by the Vodacce, whom they consider “larger than fashion.” Rumors abound, however, that l’Empereur— who has made an enemy of, or alienated, everyone else—is laying the foundation for a future political alliance.

Montaigne

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