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In some countries, the local lord could impose restrictions on such a commoner's movements, religion or legal undertakings.
Nobles exclusively enjoyed the privilege of hunting.
The term derives from Latin nobilitas, the abstract noun of the adjective nobilis ("well-known, famous, notable").
In ancient Roman society, nobiles originated as an informal designation for the political governing class who had allied interests, including both patricians and plebeian families (gentes) with an ancestor who had risen to the consulship through his own merit (see novus homo, "new man").
(Compare the entrenched position and leadership expectations of the nobility of the Kingdom of Tonga.) Nobility is a historical, social and often legal notion, differing from high socio-economic status in that the latter is mainly based on income, possessions and/or lifestyle.
Being wealthy or influential cannot, ipso facto, make one noble, nor are all nobles wealthy or influential (aristocratic families have lost their fortunes in various ways, and the concept of the 'poor nobleman' is almost as old as nobility itself).
Legal recognition of nobility has been more common in monarchies, but nobility also existed in such regimes as the Dutch Republic (1581–1795), the Republic of Genoa (1005–1815), the Republic of Venice (697–1797), and the Old Swiss Confederacy (1300 – 1798), and remains part of the legal social structure of some non-hereditary regimes, e.g., San Marino and the Vatican City in Europe.
Most nobles' wealth derived from one or more estates, large or small, that might include fields, pasture, orchards, timberland, hunting grounds, streams, etc.
It also included infrastructure such as castle, well and mill to which local peasants were allowed some access, although often at a price.
Membership in the nobility and the prerogatives thereof have been historically acknowledged or regulated by a monarch or government and thereby distinguished from other sectors of a nation's upper class wherein wealth, lifestyle, or affiliation may be the salient markers of membership.
Nobility per se has nonetheless rarely constituted a closed caste; acquisition of sufficient power, wealth, military prowess, or royal favour has enabled commoners with varying frequency to ascend into the nobility.Still other countries and authorities allow their use, but forbid attachment of any privilege thereto, e.g., Finland, Norway and the European Union, while French law also protects lawful titles against usurpation.