Largess (also spelled largesse) comes to English
by way of French
, from the Old French word largesse
. This word means generosity and comes from the Latin
which means plentiful or generous. The addition to English dates back to the 12th century
(the word 'large' meaning big did not come into use until the 14th century, and previously meant 'bountiful')
Largess was a significant part of feudal life and one of the key points of the Chivalric ideal. The Ten Commandments of the Code of Chivalry (Decalogue) had largess as one of the key points - "Thou shalt be generous, and give largess to everyone" (from Chivalry by Leon Gautier). Another example explained this to a slightly more verbose form:
Be generous in so far as your resources allow; largesse used in this way counters gluttony. It also makes the path of mercy easier to discern when a difficult decision of justice is required.
Most often, this was seen as patronage of the arts and sciences from minstrel
s and painter
s to alchemist
s and inventor
Largess extended also to the battlefield where the knight should show mercy upon the nobles captured (rather than just killing them outright). When a ransom was established, the amount should be fair and able to be afforded by the family.
Within Islam, largess is the third pillar known as Zakat or "giving Alms". Within Islam, each individual is required to give 2.5% of his net worth to charity each year. Traditionally, this charity is only for the poor and needy (at-Taubah 60) and thus isn't to be used for building infrastructure. Charity given in this manner is to be given to poor Muslims or people on the path to Islam. Charity given to non-believers is not part of Zakah, and Muslims are not required to give alms to them.
Today, largess is most often seen in reference to the upper classes, primarily that of patronage of the arts and large donations to public TV. In some areas, largess is given to win political favor with people prior to elections.