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How and Why Did Elective Monarchies Develop?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by D. Gray Warrior, Jul 21, 2017.

  1. D. Gray Warrior

    D. Gray Warrior Troubadour

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    I want to tweak the standard monarchy that appears in fantasy all the time but having a system where the monarch is elected. There is precedence for this, both historically and in our modern world. In Malaysia, the head of state is elected and even has term limit, but he is elected by sultans. There have also been many monarchies in the past that elected their kings. Sometimes an someone outside of the royal family could be crowned, other times the electiion was only between members within the royal family.

    What factors, particularly in the ancient world, could lead to the development of a system where the king is elected and, at least in theory, anyone could become king?
     
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Certainly among the Germanic kings. In theory it could be anyone but in practice you were elected a war chief, so the selection usually came from the leading families of the tribe. The matter of the election was flexible. We don't have much in the way of records, but it could have consisted of an assembly and voting by acclamation, or by more back-room (back-tent?) deals with an informal consensus reached, or it could be as formal as the procedure followed in the Holy Roman Empire.
     
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  3. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Sage

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    The world's oldest surviving elective monarchy would have to be the Papacy. The (most) obvious reason for it is that popes aren't supposed to have children (not that that stopped some of them). An elected monarch would be somewhat beholden to his electors, I would assume, which might prevent him (or her) from becoming too despotic. And of course it allows a more competent ruler to take the throne—the king's oldest boy might be a complete idiot!

    In my own Malvern/Mora series, the kings are elected by the nobles and the High King by the kings, from a pool of eligible men in the female line of descent. That is, the next king might be the son of the current king's sister, or maybe a slightly more removed cousin. The argument put forward is that they can be certain of matrilineal descent but not so much when it comes to paternity. But again the idea of being able to choose the best individual, within that pool, is certainly going to play a part. And the candidates are definitely going to need to prove themselves and play the political games necessary to be elected.

    As far as 'anyone' becoming king, they would also need to prove themselves somehow. Successful general? Hero? Shoot, we could have all sorts of criteria and in some ways it might not be very different from electing a head of state in a democracy. Isn't the president of the USA a limited monarch elected for four years, for all practical intents?
     
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  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    The pope is not a monarch, but I still take Insolent Lad's meaning. The procedure currently in place--election by the College of Cardinals--only dates to the 11th century. But bishops in general were elected by the canons of the see for longer than that. Again, though, I would insist on significant differences between a bishop (the pope is the Bishop of Rome) and a secular monarch.

    I'm trying to think of examples of the election of a "nobody." The closest I can come is a couple of HRE elections where the fellow chosen was elected precisely because he was weak. But he was still noble. I'm thinking of Lothair of Supplinburg or Adolf of Nassau. Then again, election can lead to disappointment, such as when the Poles chose Henry of Valois, who served as their king for three whole months, then lit out of town as soon as his daddy died back in France, to become Henri III.
     
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  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I'm guessing we can only guess at some of the factors.

    It would seem that most elected monarchs in the past were elected by elite members in a society, usually some assembly, council, or collection of secular or religious authorities (or even elders, in general.) So it seems to have been a "first among equals" sort of thing. Sometimes, the military could elect a king.

    What factors led to this kind of arrangement? Don't know. I'd guess that some kind of complex and/or factional society would lead to such elections—meaning that the society was largely decentralized already, as in the case of multiple tribes coming together to elect a king, or else had different power centers of relatively equal strength. Conquest to ascend to kingship would be less cost effect than simply gathering to elect a king.
     
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  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    As for designing a fantasy world in which just about anyone could be elected king...I think I'd personally go for one of two options.

    a.) Some singular bit of excellence, such as military feats, religious/spiritual displays, or heck even a stunning ability to design and build amazing works, could elevate a "regular" person in the eyes of those who gather to make the decision of who will be king.

    b) The tensions between factions could make the decision to elect any in-faction elite person too fraught with peril for all the factions, so they settle on some relative nobody, maybe one who has displayed some excellence in some field of endeavor, as a decision all could live with.

    Anyway, designing something for a fantasy world, these two considerations would first pop into my mind. I'm not saying these factors can be found anywhere in history—I simply don't know.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2017
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  7. Viorp

    Viorp Minstrel

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    There are different ways.
    In the church is kinda happened over time when it came to the inheritance of the tule of the church.
    It was a consequence of the priests not having kids.
    Funfact the governament of the Vatican is the only Absolutist Elective monarchy to have ever existed.

    In Poland-Lithuenia it was weirder. After the Piast lineage died out. A Grand Prince of Lithuenia was offered the Polish crown, but under 2 rules.
    1. He is to marry some weird woman who is a little related to Piasts, to give him some legitimacy.
    2. His children are not guaranteed the throne and nobility is responsible for choosing the King. That was a a clause so that the king is a good king and his children also must be liked by the nobles.

    The elective monarchy system was basically only a fomrality in Poland though untill the Jagiellon dynasty died out.
    This old clause in the agreement was then used to end the Interregnum and star a proper elective monarchy.

    *or something like this. I'm no historian. Also the line between a merchnat republic and an elective monarchy are weird. For example in Venice the Doge also got his position for life and basically had the same amount of authority as the King in Poland. You could say that some Republics and Monarchies were basically the same in the olden days.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2017
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  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    The elections in some of the Italian city-states were wonders of complexity. There would be a committee that elected the members of another committee, which elected some other guys, who in turn ... well, you get the idea. I think it went seven layers deep in Venice. They loved them some committees.

    At the other extreme, there were kings in Germanic tribes which were chosen essentially by the men of the tribe--I already mentioned the acclamatio, which literally means to shout out. Whoever won the applause-o-meter was the next king. At least until a rival murdered him.
     
  9. Viorp

    Viorp Minstrel

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    I love the election system of "The City of London"
     
  10. elemtilas

    elemtilas Sage

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    Actually the pope of Rome is a monarch. Until the middle of the 20th century, popes were crowned and enthroned. Although Paul the VI was the last to be crowned and soon after set aside that crown, all future popes retain the right to choose those rites. Among various ecclesiastic titles is a clearly secular one: Sovereign of the State of Vatican City. More than that, he is an absolute monarch. There is no separation of powers. The pope is sovereign, chief legislator and chief justice. He may delegate his authority to others, for example, the President of the Pontifical Commission (VCS's legislature), but it is the pope who appoints and he may revoke that commission at any time and for any reason. There is no secular law the pope must abide by, as he is the Vicar of Christ. The pope rules in the place of Christ, and thus answers solely to divine law and its Author.

    The term used by the CIA in its Factbook says "ecclesiastical elective monarchy; self-described as an "absolute monarchy"".
     
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