When considering the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, one must also consider one’s rank… also referred to as station… within the social hierarchy of the land. In this era, a person was normally not elevated by merits but rather born into a station that their parents (generally their father) had either bestowed upon them or achieved for them. They rarely exceeded their initial station without influential assistance. Here is a high-level view of the hierarchy:
- The Monarch – the representation of God on earth for their country, their word is supreme.
- Nobility – very wealthy owners of larger lands and houses
- Gentry – moderately wealthy owners of lands and houses
- Merchants – including tradesmen, craftsmen and business owners
- Yeomen – owned agricultural land and worked it to produce consumables
- Commoners (essentially everyone else) – including servants, laborers, peasants, beggars and criminals
Station is a prevalent theme throughout The Dead of Winter and is the very cause of most of the turmoil within the story. Let us look into the complex stations gathered within the Winter Keep.
Lawrence Montgomery, the Count of Guilford – Nobility by blood and the highest authority present in the keep. His presence is a great honor for the Winter family. Count Montgomery is also highly regarded by the crown due to his long and loyal service to the monarchy, and thus his words and opinions carry considerable weight. His male heirs will inherit his lands and title unless otherwise decreed by the King.
Eleanor Montgomery, the Countess of Guilford – Of low station by birth but recently elevated to Nobility by her marriage to The Count, Countess Eleanor is the highest ranking female in the play. The Count’s decision to marry so far below his station was considered very scandalous. The security of her position is completely dependent upon her husband, The Count. Eleanor could easily be stripped of her title once the ailing Count Guilford is no more, especially by his heirs who are very resentful of their ‘common’ step-mother.
Constance Claybourne – Constance is step-daughter to The Count of Guilford and as such is entitled to privilege but not title or station. Constance comes from nothing, and thus will inherit nothing unless she takes steps to secure her future. Driven by (and emulating) her mother, she strives to find her own way into the nobility through marriage rather than relying on her step-father to find her a suitably low-stationed husband (owing to the common station Constance was born into).
Viscount Avery de Launciet – Avery is part of the Nobility by blood as a descendent (great-nephew) of The Count Montgomery, as well as his own station due to his mother’s marriage to a French noble. He seeks to endear himself to Lawrence in the hopes of putting himself in line as one of The Count’s heirs (provided the Count requests this of the Monarch). Viscout de Launciet would then become one of the King’s nobles, affording him protection from any angry French swordsman seeking a duel due to Avery’s… indiscreet behaviors.
Viscountess Rebecca de Launciet – Minor French Nobility by blood and now (distantly) connected to the English Nobility by marriage to Avery de Launciet. She is an aristocrat through her own family as well as Avery’s and therefore has no regard for people of lesser stations or commoners alike. While not entirely dependent upon her husband for station, she acquired wealth and a higher title through her marriage, a common and expected goal for noblewomen of the time.
Lord Charles Winter – Charles is part of the Gentry by blood and owner of extensive rural lands. He is modestly wealthy and resides in a smallish Keep… at least, small compared to the extent of his family lands. The marriage of his youngest son, Simon, will connect the Winter family to The Count Guildford. This would increase the regard in which the Winters are held by the nobility, but otherwise would have little impact upon their station.
Lady Agnes Winter – Agnes is part of the Gentry by blood and, though not ‘over the hill’ by modern standard, is considered by those of the time to be an old maid. She was unable to successfully wed as a younger woman and now must rely on her brother Charles for all of her needs. This duty will fall to her nephews (if they are willing) once Charles is gone as Agnes has no means to acquire lands of her own. Her father, and brother, both had (and failed in) the obligation to arrange a suitable marriage her Agnes.
Lord Arthur Winter – Arthur is part of the Gentry by blood and is the heir to his father’s modest wealth. He will take over the title and the ownership of all of the Winter lands and property as Charles’ oldest son and successor. This will include the welfare of his aunt Agnes and sister Jayne if they remain unmarried.
Lord Simon Winter – Simon is part of the Gentry by blood and the second son of Lord Charles Winter. Should Arthur not be able to fulfill his responsibilities (or somehow fall out of favor with the nobility), Simon would be next to inherit his father’s lands and title. He and Rose Claybourne, once married, would be expected to move to a smaller Keep and begin their own family on the Winter lands. As the second son, Simon will have only that which his father is willing to provide.
Rose Claybourne – Rose is step-daughter to The Count of Guilford and betrothed to Lord Simon Winter. Like her sister Constance, Rose is of common birth and stands to inherit nothing. Through marriage to Simon, she will obtain the title of a minor Lady in the Winter family, sharing in her husband’s station. Rose is well beneath Simon’s station by birth and the marriage is most likely only allowed by Lord Charles due to the favor his family would gain in the eyes of the nobility, as well as the sizeable dowry provided by Count Montgomery.
Lady Jayne Winter – Jayne is part of the Gentry by blood and the only daughter to Lord Winter. Even though she is Charles’ eldest child, as a woman she could only inherit from her Father if he had no sons, and even then only if the nobility was in agreement. Her father has a duty to locate a suitable husband and negotiate a marriage for her; it is only at her father’s whim whether she would have any say whatsoever in this. If she marries, Lord Winter must provide a dowry (‘bride price’) to her husband’s family. Should she remain unwed, she must depend upon her male relatives to provide for her.
Lord Bartholomew Sumner – Bartholomew is part of the Gentry by blood and also a modest owner of rural lands adjacent to the Winter lands. Lord Sumner has no sons and therefore his only daughter is his sole heir, should the nobility allow it. Even though the Sumners hold equivalent station to the Winters, they are perceived as lower-ranked because they are less wealthy and their lands are smaller.
Lady Grace Sumner – Grace is part of the Gentry by blood and is the only possible heir to the Sumner lands. Her choice of husband is dependent upon her father’s approval. Should she marry, a dowry would be paid by her father to her husband’s family, and her husband would inherit the Sumner lands from her father.
Nathaniel Norwood – Nathaniel is part of the Merchant class and is a surgeon studying under a master. As such, he has no title and holds no lands. His only means of elevation are level of competence and service to those of higher station in hopes they would bestow favor and wealth upon him.
Adam Doyle – Adam is a servant who serves as steward of this Keep, and as such has authority over the other servants in the household. Beyond that, he has only the rights and privileges Lord Winter chooses to bestow upon him. He owns no land and depends on the Winter Family for his food, shelter, and employment. If he were cast out, he would be impoverished unless he were to find another household to serve. He is the 3rd generation of Doyle manservants to serve the Winter Family.
Martha Francis – Martha is a servant and as such has only the privileges Lord Winter chooses to give her. She must depend on the Winter Family for her food, shelter, and employment. If she were cast out, she and her son, Geoffrey, would both be impoverished. If she wished to marry, there is an expectation that her employer would need to approve otherwise Martha may risk losing her position, home and security. Martha’s position as head of the kitchens gives her a level of authority over the other female servants, but little else.
Liza and Maggie – Liza and Maggie are servants and as such have only the privileges Lord Winter chooses to give them, which are few if any. They must depend on the Winter Family for their food, shelter, and employment. As the lowest-ranking servants, they may also be required to leave their home and follow the younger Lord and Lady Winter (Simon and Rose) once wed, to serve in their household.