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Nobility is a state-privileged status which is generally hereditary. Titles of nobility are usually associated with present or former monarchies. The term originally referred to those who were "known" or "notable" and was applied to the highest social class in pre-modern societies. In the feudal system (in Europe and elsewhere), the nobility were generally those who held a fief, often land or office, under vassalage, i.e., in exchange for allegiance and various, mainly military, services to the Monarch and at lower levels to another nobleman. It rapidly came to be seen as a hereditary caste, sometimes associated with a right to bear a hereditary title and, for example in pre-revolutionary France, enjoying fiscal and other privileges. While noble status formerly conferred significant privileges, today, in most European countries, noble status is a purely honorary dignity. In the United Kingdom, where some peerage titles, until recently, guaranteed a seat in the Upper House of the Parliament, there are still some residual privileges.

Nobility is a historical, social and often legal notion, distinct from socio-economic status which is mainly based on income and possessions. Being wealthy or influential does not automatically make one a noble, nor are all nobles wealthy and influential (aristocratic families have lost their fortunes in various ways, and the concept of the 'poor nobleman' is almost as old as nobility itself). Countries without a feudal tradition do not have a nobility as such.

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