Power in medieval societies was a mental construction then represented in reality through the religious ideology informing family life and the household, urban government, the institutions of kingdoms, empires, and principalities, the cathedral and monastic churches, and the various forms of manorialism exhibited in the regions. A commonplace which recurs hundreds of times in the ecclesiastical, historical, and literary residue from medieval Germany, and indeed from all of medieval Europe, is the innate superiority of a nobleman or noblewoman in virtue, character, and ability as opposed to the vast mass of the lower population. The sources are surprisingly inexact about the medieval meaning of nobilis, and its actual social foundation and the reasons for its numerous variations are controversial in the modern literature. But at the time, no one was in doubt about the value and desirability of the nobilis label.
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