Last updated
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester was a courtier favoured by Elizabeth I. Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, Collection of Waddesdon Manor.jpg
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester was a courtier favoured by Elizabeth I.

A courtier ( /ˈkɔːrtiər/ ) is a person who attends the royal court of a monarch or other royalty. [1] The earliest historical examples of courtiers were part of the retinues of rulers. Historically the court was the centre of government as well as the official residence of the monarch, and the social and political life were often completely mixed together.



Monarchs very often expected the more important nobles to spend much of the year in attendance on them at court. Not all courtiers were noble, as they included clergy, soldiers, clerks, secretaries, agents and middlemen with business at court. All those who held a court appointment could be called courtiers but not all courtiers held positions at court. Those personal favourites without business around the monarch, sometimes called the camarilla, were also considered courtiers. As social divisions became more rigid, a divide, barely present in Antiquity or the Middle Ages, opened between menial servants and other classes at court, although Alexandre Bontemps, the head valet de chambre of Louis XIV, was a late example of a "menial" who managed to establish his family in the nobility. [2] The key commodities for a courtier were access and information, and a large court operated at many levels: many successful careers at court involved no direct contact with the monarch.

The largest and most famous European court was that of the Palace of Versailles at its peak, although the Forbidden City of Beijing was even larger and more isolated from national life. Very similar features marked the courts of all very large monarchies, including in India, Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, Ancient Rome, Byzantium or the Caliphs of Baghdad or Cairo. Early medieval European courts frequently travelled from place to place following the monarch as they travelled. This was particularly the case in the early French court. But, the European nobility generally had independent power and was less controlled by the monarch until around the 18th century, which gave European court life greater complexity.


The earliest courtiers coincide with the development of definable courts beyond the rudimentary entourages or retinues of rulers. There were probably courtiers in the courts of the Akkadian Empire where there is evidence of court appointments such as that of cup-bearer which was one of the earliest court appointments and remained a position at courts for thousands of years. [3] Two of the earliest titles referring to the general concept of a courtier were likely the ša rēsi and mazzāz pāni of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. [4] In Ancient Egypt a title has been found that translates to high steward or great overseer of the house. [5]

The courts influenced by the court of the Neo-Assyrian Empire such as those of the Median Empire and the Achaemenid Empire had numerous courtiers [6] [7] After invading the Achaemenid Empire, Alexander the Great returned with the concept of the complex court featuring a variety of courtiers to the Kingdom of Macedonia and Hellenistic Greece. [8]

The imperial court of the Byzantine Empire at Constantinople would eventually contain at least a thousand courtiers. [9] The court's systems became prevalent in other courts such as those in the Balkan states, the Ottoman Empire and Russia. [10] Byzantinism is a term that was coined for this spread of the Byzantine system in the 19th century. [11]


In modern English, the term is often used metaphorically for contemporary political favourites or hangers-on.

In literature

In modern literature, courtiers are often depicted as insincere, skilled at flattery and intrigue, ambitious and lacking regard for the national interest. More positive representations include the role played by members of the court in the development of politeness and the arts.[ citation needed ]

Examples of courtiers in fiction:

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anatolia</span> Peninsula in West Asia

Anatolia, also known as Asia Minor, is a large peninsula or a region in Turkey, constituting most of its contemporary territory. Geographically, the Anatolian region is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Aegean Sea to the west, the Turkish Straits to the north-west, and the Black Sea to the north. The eastern and southeastern boundary is either the southeastern and eastern borders of Turkey, or an imprecise line from the Gulf of Iskenderun to the Black Sea. Topographically, the Sea of Marmara connects the Black Sea with the Aegean Sea through the Bosporus strait and the Dardanelles strait, and separates Anatolia from Thrace in the Balkan peninsula of Southeastern Europe.

The Persians are an Iranian ethnic group who comprise over half of the population of Iran. They share a common cultural system and are native speakers of the Persian language as well as of the languages that are closely related to Persian.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Theodore I Laskaris</span> First Emperor of Nicaea (1205–1221)

Theodore I Laskaris or Lascaris was the first emperor of Nicaea—a successor state of the Byzantine Empire—from 1205 to his death. Although he was born to an obscure aristocratic family, his mother was related to the imperial Komnenos clan. He married Anna, a younger daughter of Emperor Alexios III Angelos in 1200. He received the title of despot before 1203, demonstrating his right to succeed his father-in-law on the throne.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Theodore II Laskaris</span> Emperor of Nicaea from 1254 to 1258

Theodore II Doukas Laskaris or Ducas Lascaris was Emperor of Nicaea from 1254 to 1258. He was the only child of Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes and Empress Irene Laskarina. His mother was the eldest daughter of Theodore I Laskaris, who had established the Empire of Nicaea as a successor state to the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor after the crusaders captured the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Theodore received an excellent education from two renowned scholars, Nikephoros Blemmydes and George Akropolites. He made friends with young intellectuals, especially with a page of low birth, George Mouzalon. Theodore began to write treatises on theological, historical and philosophical themes in his youth.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John III Doukas Vatatzes</span> Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans

John III Doukas Vatatzes, Latinized as Ducas Vatatzes, was Emperor of Nicaea from 1221 to 1254. He was succeeded by his son, known as Theodore II Laskaris.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Royal court</span> Court of a monarch, or at some periods an important nobleman

A royal court, often called simply a court when the royal context is clear, is an extended royal household in a monarchy, including all those who regularly attend on a monarch, or another central figure. Hence, the word court may also be applied to the coterie of a senior member of the nobility. Royal courts may have their seat in a designated place, several specific places, or be a mobile, itinerant court.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Empire of Nicaea</span> 1204–61 post-Byzantine Empire rump state

The Empire of Nicaea or the Nicene Empire was the largest of the three Byzantine Greek rump states founded by the aristocracy of the Byzantine Empire that fled when Constantinople was occupied by Western European and Venetian armed forces during the Fourth Crusade, a military event known as the Sack of Constantinople. Like the other Byzantine rump states that formed due to the 1204 fracturing of the empire, such as the Empire of Trebizond and the Despotate of Epirus, it was a continuation of the eastern half of the Roman Empire that survived well into the medieval period. A fourth state, known in historiography as the Latin Empire, was established by an army of Crusaders and the Republic of Venice after the capture of Constantinople and the surrounding environs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">King of Kings</span> Ruling title used by certain historical monarchs

King of Kings was a ruling title employed primarily by monarchs based in the Middle East. Although most commonly associated with Iran, especially the Achaemenid and Sasanian Empires, the title was originally introduced during the Middle Assyrian Empire by king Tukulti-Ninurta I and was subsequently used in a number of different kingdoms and empires, including the aforementioned Persia, various Hellenic kingdoms, India, Armenia, Georgia, and Ethiopia.

Byzantinism, or Byzantism, is the political system and culture of the Byzantine Empire, and its spiritual successors the Orthodox Christian Balkan countries of Greece and Bulgaria especially, and to a lesser extent Serbia and some other Orthodox countries in Eastern Europe like Belarus, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine. The term Byzantinism itself was coined in the 19th century. The term has primarily negative associations, implying complexity and autocracy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">First Bulgarian Empire</span> 681–1018 state in Southeast Europe

The First Bulgarian Empire was a medieval state that existed in Southeastern Europe between the 7th and 11th centuries AD. It was founded in 680–681 after part of the Bulgars, led by Asparuh, moved south to the northeastern Balkans. There they secured Byzantine recognition of their right to settle south of the Danube by defeating – possibly with the help of local South Slavic tribes – the Byzantine army led by Constantine IV. During the 9th and 10th century, Bulgaria at the height of its power spread from the Danube Bend to the Black Sea and from the Dnieper River to the Adriatic Sea and became an important power in the region competing with the Byzantine Empire. It became the foremost cultural and spiritual centre of south Slavic Europe throughout most of the Middle Ages.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Byzantine Greeks</span> Greek-speaking Eastern Romans of Orthodox Christianity

The Byzantine Greeks were the Greek-speaking Eastern Romans throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. They were the main inhabitants of the lands of the Byzantine Empire, of Constantinople and Asia Minor, the Greek islands, Cyprus, and portions of the southern Balkans, and formed large minorities, or pluralities, in the coastal urban centres of the Levant and northern Egypt. Throughout their history, the Byzantine Greeks self-identified as Romans, but are referred to as "Byzantine Greeks" in modern historiography. Latin speakers identified them simply as Greeks or with the term Romaei.

Anna Komnene Angelina or Comnena Angelina was Empress consort of Nicaea. She was the daughter of emperor Alexios III Angelos and of Euphrosyne Doukaina Kamatera.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Byzantine commonwealth</span>

The term Byzantine commonwealth was coined by 20th-century historian Dimitri Obolensky to refer to the area where Byzantine general influence was spread during the Middle Ages by the Byzantine Empire and its missionaries. This area covers approximately the modern-day countries of Greece, Cyprus, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, southwestern Russia, and Georgia. According to Anthony Kaldellis, the Byzantines in general did not have a ecumenical outlook, nor did they think about the notion of a panorthodox commonwealth, which he describes as "Roman chauvinism".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eber-Nari</span> Satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire

Eber-Nari or Ebir-Nari (Akkadian), also Abar-Nahara (Aramaic) or Aber Nahra (Syriac), was a region of the ancient Near East. Translated as "Beyond the River" or "Across the River" in both the Akkadian and Aramaic languages, it referred to the land on the opposite side of the Euphrates from the perspective of Mesopotamia and Persia. In this context, the region is further known to modern scholars as Transeuphratia. Functioning as a satrapy, it was originally administered by the Neo-Assyrian Empire before being absorbed by the Neo-Babylonian Empire and then by the Achaemenid Empire. During the Greek conquest of Persia, Eber-Nari was, like the rest of the Achaemenid Empire, annexed by the Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great. It was later dissolved by the Seleucid Empire, which incorporated it into Syria, along with Assyria.

<i>Autokrator</i> Greek epithet for one exercising absolute power, unrestrained by superiors

Autokrator or Autocrator is a Greek epithet applied to an individual who is unrestrained by superiors. It has been applied to military commanders-in-chief as well as Roman and Byzantine emperors as the translation of the Latin title imperator. Its connection with Byzantine-style absolutism gave rise to the modern terms autocrat and autocracy. In Modern Greek, it means "emperor", and its feminine form is autokráteira (αὐτοκράτειρα).

Nikephoros Choumnos was a Byzantine scholar and official of the early Palaiologan period, one of the most important figures in the flowering of arts and letters of the so-called "Palaiologan Renaissance". He is notable for his eleven-year tenure as chief minister of emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos, his intense intellectual rivalry with fellow scholar and official Theodore Metochites, and for building the monastery of the Theotokos Gorgoepēkoos in Constantinople.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mataranga family</span> Albanian noble family

The Mataranga were an Albanian noble family during the 13th and 15th centuries. Members of this family included local rulers, Byzantine officials and writers. After the occupation of Albania by the Ottoman Empire, part of the family emigrated to Italy and settled in the Arbëresh villages of Piana degli Albanesi and Santa Cristina Gela in Southern Italy, where they have continued to maintain the Arbëresh language.

The Bulgarian–Serbian wars of 917–924 were a series of conflicts fought between the Bulgarian Empire and the Principality of Serbia as a part of the greater Byzantine–Bulgarian war of 913–927. After the Byzantine army was annihilated by the Bulgarians in the battle of Achelous, the Byzantine diplomacy incited the Principality of Serbia to attack Bulgaria from the west. The Bulgarians dealt with that threat and replaced the Serbian prince with a protégé of their own. In the following years the two empires competed for control over Serbia. In 924 the Serbs rose again, ambushed and defeated a small Bulgarian army. That turn of events provoked a major retaliatory campaign that ended with the annexation of Serbia in the end of the same year.

Blasius Mataranga was an Albanian prince of the Matranga noble family.


  1. "Courtier". Archived from the original on 2010-12-06. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  2. "Brokerage at the Court of Louis XIV, by Sharon Kettering; The Historical Journal, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 69-87; JSTOR". Archived from the original on 2016-04-14. Retrieved 2017-12-12.
  3. Radner, Karen (2011). The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp. 358–379. ISBN   978-0-19-955730-1.
  4. Groß, Melanie; Pirngruber, Reinhard (September 2014). "On Courtiers in the Neo-Assyrian Empire: ša rēsi and mazzāz pāni" (PDF). Imperium and Officium Working Papers (IOWP). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  5. Stephen Quirke: Titles and bureaux of Egypt 1850–1700 BC, London 2004, ISBN   0-9547218-0-2, pp. 50–51, 61
  6. Dandamayev, Muhammad. "Courts And Courtiers. In the Median and Achaemenid periods". Encyclopædia Iranica. Encyclopædia Iranica. Archived from the original on 24 February 2015. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  7. Maria Brosius (2007). "New out of old? Court and court ceremonies in Achaemenid Persia". In Spawforth, A.J.S. (ed.). The Court and Court Society in Ancient Monarchies. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–57. ISBN   978-0-521-87448-9.
  8. Tony Spawforth (2007). "The court of Alexander the Great between Europe and Asia". In Spawforth, A.J.S. (ed.). The Court and Court Society in Ancient Monarchies. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 93–97. ISBN   978-0-521-87448-9.
  9. Kazhdan, Alexander P.; McCormick, Michael (1995). "The Social World of the Byzantine Court" (PDF). In Maguire, Henry (ed.). Byzantine Court Culture from 829 to 1204. Harvard University Press. p. 175. ISBN   9780884023081.[ dead link ]
  10. Angelov, Dimiter G. (2003). "Byzantinism: The Imaginary and Real Heritage of Byzantium in Southeastern Europe". New approaches to Balkan studies. Brassey's. pp. 3, 11. ISBN   1574887246.
  11. Angelov, Dimiter G. (2003). "Byzantinism: The Imaginary and Real Heritage of Byzantium in Southeastern Europe". New approaches to Balkan studies. Brassey's. p. 8. ISBN   1574887246.