View Full Version : Political structure in a monarchy

01-19-2010, 01:55 AM
My current WIP will have to take a closer look at the political structure of my fantasy world than before, since the story involves an attempted coup d'état.

However, politics and social structure have never been my strong point, so I'm trying to figure out the broad strokes of what a low-tech society needs to hold together; What kind of offices are necessary in order to distribute the responsibilities of ruling, while also leaving the system relatively simple.

The particular country I'm writing about (Amerstan) is actually fairly small, the result of a vast democratic federation shattering into smaller, mostly monarchic states. I intend for there to be some sort of parliament or senate, or some sort of group that can put pressure on the king.

Can someone give me a place to start?

01-19-2010, 02:41 AM
Think of the basic functions of a government.
It needs to raise taxes so there is a head finance guy, it needs to uphold the law so there is a head legal guy, it needs to defend itself so there is a head army guy, it needs to maintain relations with its neighbours so there is a head diplomat guy, it needs the support of the organised religion so there is a head priest.
These all need to be people the king trusts.

01-19-2010, 03:03 AM
In many real earth kingdoms, the important offices evolved out of the king's household.

In many countries, you had the Chamberlain, who originally looked after the king's house (literally, his Chambers) He often developed into a prime minister or close advisor.

In England, you also had the Lord Chancellor (so called because as things got more complicated, there got to be more than one Chancellor) who was originally the king's secretary, and who came to manage the nation's finances, which he still does. However, he used to have other jobs. For example, until 1870, he presided over what passed for England's appeals court, called the Chancery. (this court was not well thought of: In boxing, when you grab someone's head and pummel them, its called a 'chancery,' named after the Chancellor's court) And in France, the army was commanded by the Constable, who originally was in charge of looking after the king's horses (literally Count of the Stable, ah ha ha ha) If you had these three positions, or their equivalent, no one would bat an eye at your kingdom. Another one could be the Lord High Sheriff who might be in charge of law enforcement (from Shire Reeve, a tax collector (a 'shire' was an administrative subdivision of England)) Maybe a High Justice, or whatever. And the Lord Privy Seal is in charge of the king's private seal (the great seal being in the hands of the Chancellor. Like the chancellor, he started out as the king's private secretary, and acquired other jobs) These are mostly english positions, but there are frequently equivalent positions in other cultures.

In Imperial China, the Emperor's Tutor would frequently also hold other important offices, or even function as Prime Minister. The Minister of Rites was also frequently very important. He controlled state religious ceremonies as well as protocol. In Turkey, the Prime Minister was called the Vizier, a word related to 'Wise Man' or 'Wizard.' In both Islamic countries and in China, the Prime minister was often said to be skilled in magic.

also in Imperial China, there were two kinds of officials, the military officials and the civil officials. You will see them seated on either side of the emperor in any chinese period film. At the simplest, therefore, someone using that system could do with two officials. European courts were a bit more complex, being less absolutist, in general.

01-19-2010, 08:09 PM
As far as parliaments go, there are lots of different models. England is the obvious one, the history of the english parliament going from being dominated by the Lords to the Lords being almost entirely ceremonial is a fascinating story. I mentioned the Chancellor's court above; Before 1870, the House of Lords also functioned occasionally as a 'supreme court' if you will. I mention this is because separation of powers was not necessarily always clear. Earlier, before the Norman Conquest, the english had 'parliments' called 'Moots' wherein landowners would vote on important issues. I think that it was a Moot decision (heh heh heh) that led to the elevation of King Harold after the death of Edward the Confessor that precipitated the Norman invasion to begin with.

Other examples of Parliamentary sorts of organizations include the Icelandic Thing (my favorite name for a government body) which was at one time not an elected assembly, but just a big meeting, where anyone who wanted to could show up and vote on issues. (I'm not sure women could vote. They could speak though) Even in Absolutist France, the King occasionally called on the Estates Generale to approve new taxes and such. This body had representatives from the commons, the clergy, and the aristocracy.

In india, there were what we would call 'constitutional monarchies' and even republics before the Mughals and the British invaded. There were several different forms of assemblies, the biggest one being all men fit to bear arms, and would only be called upon for very important (and simple) decisions. More regular councils were formed from 'elders' or heads of extended families, or an even smaller group of conselors. Note that in many cases, the various indian castes were self-governing. Some castes even had their own 'king' who was of course subordinate to the overall king.

In China, the Hanlin Academy was composed of the highest ranking Confucian Scholars, and was probably the closest thing Imperial China ever had to a parliament. If an Emperor started acting out of line, he could be rebuked by the Hanlin Academy, and possibly even forced to abdicate.

01-19-2010, 09:01 PM
However, politics and social structure have never been my strong point, so I'm trying to figure out the broad strokes of what a low-tech society needs to hold together; What kind of offices are necessary in order to distribute the responsibilities of ruling, while also leaving the system relatively simple.Well, you've got a wide range of possibilities but here're my thoughts.

Government in general consists of Soldiers and Judges. Historically there've been more of the former, but there's no real bar to an individual being both, especially at different times in their career. Each need to enjoy considerable prestige of some kind (it can be little more than fear, but without respect the society tends to be unstable). How this works depends almost entirely upon the nature of a society. Ancient Rome, with its powerful class structure/struggle between Plebians and Patricians, created an elaborate double judicial/legislative system to keep each other in check. They also had what was in effect private armies, at least until Augustus. Even afterwards, individual legions were often far more loyal to their commander than to the Emperor, and any sufficiently united alliance of said commanders could (and did) overthrow whoever wore the purple.

Europe in the Middle Ages built up a military aristocracy based upon heavily armed cavalry, the kind that required really serious capital to finance. In theory they owed fealty to a Lord, who in turn owed fealty to a higher Lord and so on to the monarch. But in practice there was very little sense of nation-hood, unlike (for example) Rome or to some extent Medieval Japan. The latter's military prestige was built around skill with the sword as well as mastery of associated skills such as composing poetry and flower arrangement (viewed as exercises in concentration, among other things). At the same time a kind of disdain was associated with thing like money, which was left in the hands of wives.

A lot depends upon the nature of the monarchy itself. Some nations (up to modern times) have a Divine King, which usually limits the monarch's powers in ways both subtle and obvious. To be a religious figure means one must obey rituals, written or unwritten, or lose one's legitimacy and then people stop obeying you. The Mikado for example could not soil himself by having an income. Pharaohs needed to perform all kinds of religious ceremonies pretty much year-round. At one time the Chinese Emperors had to have sex with their wives and concubines according to a schedule drawn up by court astrologers. More subtly, a Divine King must remain to some extent above it all, lest they lose what some countries called the "Mandate of Heaven," i.e. the belief by others they are chosen by the gods. In Byzantium, it was simply assumed that any Emperor who was successfully deposed had clearly lost the Mandate--otherwise, how could they be toppled? Stalin and Mao both functioned as Divine Kings in modern times, surrounding themselves with an aura of being special--and in the process had to make sure there was an available scapegoat every single time something went wrong (given neither had a long-standing tradition upon which to build, they augmented this with a cult of personality as well as a campaign of terror against dissidents--Papa Doc in Haiti as well as Idi Amin in Uganda used similar means).

On a most basic level, governments of any complexity need a structure in place to maintain command of the military (including communications), some system of justice, a source of revenue, record-keeping of some kind, and representatives of executive authority, as well as some kind of legislative body (even if this is simply the monarch and tradition--but woe onto the monarch who dismisses tradition too much or too recklessly as Edward II, Aknaten, Nero, etc. found out the hard way--it can be done, as Peter the Great proves, but it is not an easy task).

In general a legislative body or council consists of those who have some kind of power base upon which to draw, which gives their word collective weight. Representatives of powerful Guilds, religious leaders, military commanders, wealthy and powerful families, etc. all are methods of getting such a seat. Individual seats in such might continue long after the original creator of same is dead, thus tradition favors such a group gaining power over time (as circumstances change, of course, said Council might turn into nothing but a powerless group that meets out of tradition more than anything else--not unlike the Senate under Trajan or the modern House of Lords in the UK).

01-19-2010, 09:17 PM
Government in general consists of Soldiers and Judges.

Don't forget bureaucrats.

01-20-2010, 01:48 AM
Hmm. Alright, based on the suggestions I'm getting, I've drafted the following:

*The King is head of the goverment.
*Below him is the Chamberlain, who aids with ruling, manages less important affairs, calls together the parliament, and is usually the one to go abroad on the King's behalf.
*Next is the "Royal Registar", who manages taxes, the government budget, and is the highest level of the justice system. Below him is one judge in each county, and several sheriffs depending on the population.
*Fourth in line is the General, who manages the army and is the immediate authority for the viceroys who sit at the head of client states.

*The Parliament has fewer members than it did in more democratic times, but now consists of major merchants, major landowners, retired army officers, and members of the royal family. They have to reach a majority vote to allow any law changes, changes in leadership, and whether or not to go to war.

Sounds good?

01-20-2010, 02:05 AM
Generally, Kings are Heads of State, while a Chancellor, Chamberlain or Prime Minister are heads of government.

There's a subtle distinction between the two. Generally, the Head of State outranks the Head of Government and usually has a different mandate. Whether this distinction would matter in a medieval type fantasy is debatable.

Oh, and I didn't know you were from Iceland when I wrote my little piece. Silly me.

01-21-2010, 02:05 AM
Any other thoughts? From anyone?