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The Divine Right of Kings

Discussion in 'World Building' started by wordwalker, Feb 8, 2014.

  1. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    Call this "The Peasant's Dictionary":

    • Tyrant: the guy who conquered your land and killed your father
    • Warlord: the guy who conquered your land and killed your father, but that was ten years ago and you've had other problems since then
    • King: the guy whose father conquered your land and killed your grandfather, so the family must be destined to rule
    • Usurper: any of the above, when someone else has an army and talks about restoring "the natural way of things"

    I post this because now and then people post about nobles, succession, and similar things. If someone can take power by force, history shows they probably have, and then wrote the history books to justify it.

    What's more, if there are clear "laws" of succession, nobles and power-brokers will still be looking at the king's second sons, his children by earlier or "more local" or more powerful marriages, and various other candidates, and if they see someone they think could raise enough support (and give them enough favors), they'll be pushing the king to name that person as his heir or for society to crown their favorite afterward anyway. The longer society has been orderly --and the stronger the king's control over his nobles-- the more back-room and bloodless this will be, and the less traction it may make against the traditional successor, but someone will always be trying to rewrite the rules in their favor.

    I'm not saying traditions don't matter, or that some kings aren't better for their people than others. Just that no matter what a society claims, "the rules" always have people who are raised to manipulate them.

    So there's always more conflict to write about.
     
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  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    The more rules there are, the more opportunity there is for someone who knows them well to (unfairly) bend them in their favor. At the moment I don't have any royal intriguing in my story, but I have a character of royal blood involved closely with a future main character. Adding some complicated "family business" into his past may be entertaining and may add a bit more depth to the character.
     
  3. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Sorry, it took me awhile to parse what your original post is about. Are you saying that writers over think stuff like succession and the like when just having enough power to take it by force is enough? There is certainly potential in that, but I don't think it's enough. No matter how big an army you have, in most case there's more than enough civilians to make life hell for you if they really think you don't deserve to sit on the throne and you're not the only country in the game. If the leaders of other countries think you threaten the very traditions that landed them on their seat then they're going to be pissed about that as well.

    It's so common to see nobility and royalty depicted as something ugly. I'm not saying that's wrong, but I think that as writers we should always try to reinvent things, come up with fresh takes on it. What about Noblesse Oblige? The french knew that with great power comes great responsibility long before Spiderman came about, and I read once that nobility including royalty started as a deal. The king would provide land to the nobles who would train and raise warriors to fill the King's army who would protect the peasents from the invading barbarian hordes who would in turn focus on growing food and necessary supplies for their protectors who would be too busy to do it themselves. Of course this idea would twist and warp into the modern day idea of nobility BUT! that's one theory about how nobility first came about. Doesn't that sound like an interesting concept to potentially explore in a story?
     
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  4. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    Sure does. I'd like to see a tale like about noblesse oblige and how it went bad, or how it didn't. For that matter, many stories do have kings anointed by actual gods, and sometimes the gods are right too.

    I just offer this as a perspective on how many places the grimmer parts of human (and divine) nature get to meddle with rules we want to think are more meddle-resistant than they are. ;)
     
  5. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    One of the concepts that I touch on in my series is how much harder large empires are to enforce when you don't have a major social institution like the Roman Catholic Church involved. The "Divine Right of Kings" references the idea that the king was chosen by God, and therefore it's a sin to question anything he does. This was a deal struck between the Vatican and the nobility. The Vatican handed this line of BS out through the local priests, friars, monks, etc. and people - the majority of them illiterate - bought it. "Oh, God says I'll go to hell if I question royalty. Got it." In return, the Vatican got a kickback from the nobility for propping up the illusion.

    Once you remove the influence of the church, the rulers had better be competent and nice to everyone if they want to continue their dynasty. Because the idea of sacrificing yourself to make a better life for your progeny is one of the strongest motivators of our species. Uprisings happen.

    I have two major kingdoms on the verge of administrative collapse, with the border areas highly porous and in flux; a Jackson Pollock painting of warlord fiefdoms and allegiances. Imagine Somalia with swords and axes instead of AK-47's. Some of the "border lords" are/were just teenage thugs who get to take over any opposing land they can drive the owners off of. Then they use the land as a base of operations to recruit and train up their own soldiers, call them "knights" (often creating their own orders), and do it all again. Hey, it's a living.

    As an aside, I have a lot of fun with this because every lord has to provide knights once a year to some assignment somewhere, usually as a guard or a soldier at a fort or outpost. Either he has to show up himself, or he has to send somebody. These knights from these small orders (the "border orders," which is fun to say) swagger and puff their chests out around the castles and forts when they get called up. Meanwhile, there's a whole other class of professional knights under royal charter who function as military guilds, royal special missions units, and commissioned officers in the standing military. These are the royal knights, men and women raised in the saddle and trained for a lifetime of combat and military leadership since they could walk. They roll their eyes and chuckle at the border knights, whom they see as cheap hacks and amateurs. The royal knights don't sit with the border knights at chow, don't associate with them, and take great pride in beating the stuffing out of them in daily fight practice. It's very cliquish but militaries are. Every now and then a border knight wins a place in a royal order through skill at arms or courage on the field, making for a very D'Artagnan-esque fish-out-of-water situation. My protagonist, from Earth, gets accepted to a royal order this way. But I digress.

    The point is, the whole system works because it's self-regulating. Even the border orders have an allegiance to the next lord, who has an allegiance to the next lord, and it all spiderwebs right back to the throne. But if the king ever announced a "divine right" to do whatever he wanted and went full-bore Caligula / Joffrey Baratheon while claiming that The Flying Spaghetti Monster said it was fine, someone would cut his throat and throw his corpse down the stairs before there was a revolution and everyone who'd backed him lost everything. Remove the church, and feudalism works both ways.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2014
  6. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Thinking more about this.

    We still see this in developing nations, today. The majority of the people in the world today - seriously - don't think anything about living in constant fear of having their doors kicked down in the middle of the night and being spirited away to a dark hole somewhere because someone in power doesn't like them. There are many regions of the world - and I've worked there - where the rule is "you can have what you can take."

    These people grew up like this; their parents lived this way; their parents lived this way. As far as they know, it's the way things have always been and a lot of the time the local leader / warlord / whatever hands it down that he's the Chosen One a la Joe Kony, Ayman al Zawahiri, Mokhtar Zubeyr, and any number of Middle Eastern princes and even the occasional king or president of a developing nation. In the 20th Century, the House of Saud actually passed it on that they were favored by Allah - obviously; they found the oil, therefore Allah wanted them to rule. It boggles the mind. They've come a long way since then. Some of them. I know people who still believe, wholeheartedly, that the House of Saud was chosen by Allah.

    This whole world we live in: rule of law, inalienable rights, Miranda warnings, probable cause, rules of engagement, the military not also being the police, soldiers not commandeering your house -- this is a very recent development. At the time, these ideas were insane enough to cause a major war against the greatest world power just for mentioning that it would be a good idea to maybe have some of these things. The majority of Americans were against the Revolutionary War. Look it up. They were that afraid of rocking the boat -- and surely afraid of what England would do to them if we lost.

    I worked with a couple of think tanks during the Arab Spring Uprisings and one thing we put forward was the idea that the whole mess arose because young people finally got access to Facebook and CNN and LOLcats and Jon Stewart and realized that some of the world didn't live the way they did. Other people had actual enforceable rights and transparent elections and due process and leaders who wouldn't tear your fingernails out for laughing at their silly hats. And the young people lost their ****ing minds and set Northern Africa on fire until they were promised a better life.

    I'm not saying that fantasy worlds all have to be backwards, nor that all of history was politically jacked-up. But generally speaking, it takes a lot of work and an educated populace to put forth the kinds of ideas that we take for granted.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2014
  7. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    These are all very interesting observations and facts, but to play devil's advocate, "So what?" How does all this connect to us as writers? Should we explore all these themes and ideas and how should we do it? Does taking power by force necessarily make you evil? If our modern day culture is as alien as you describe then what should we do for cultures in our writing? Should we do something more natural or write what we know and include features of our own culture? I have no doubt that people would have no problem with just doing our own culture in fiction even if it'd be unnatural. It's what our readers know after all, but should we have some sort of explanation for the weirdness that we take for granted? Should we explore those ideas and how should we explore them? What sort of events do you guys think could lead to a standard fantasy world, races, magic, the whole thing, to have aspects of society that we take for granted?

    It is quite clear that you guys don't like this stuff, but now the challenge comes from making that work for us and our writing, right?
     
  8. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I don't read this as someone telling anyone else what to write or what themes to explore. I see it more as something along the lines of "these are interesting things to consider if you do tackle the subject in your stories".
     
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  9. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Precisely this.

    It's the norm and not the exception, especially in self-published fantasy, at least the junior-high-level dreck that I've been slogging through lately. GoodReads is apparently a storm drain for NaNoWriMo first novel attempts.

    I like it very much. The challenge of writing fantasy is writing workable, coherent fantasy with a world that - magic included - makes sense.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2014
  10. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    Not sure what you mean. A society/world is going to evolve and change like any other. Wars, political changes, economic changes, cultural changes, etc.
     
  11. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    This is sort of what I'm trying to create in the setting for my WIP, a fantasy world that evolved to a technological, political and social level comparable to the real world of today.

    Edit:
    Admittedly, I haven't put much work into the history of the world yet, at least not on a country/nation scale. It's on the list of things to do though and adding in factors like laws, customs and traditions, religions, and forms of government along with the introduction of new intelligent species and the existence of magic and dragons is likely to make it quite interesting once I get to it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2014
  12. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    That can't be answered, here. It took me ten years to develop the events that led to a standard fantasy world that made sense from their own perspective. To do it from ours? Give me ten more; maybe twenty.
     
  13. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Something like the points brought up in the OP are a background constant in my world.

    The Solarian Empire came out on top after a twenty year war with Traag. The 'fruits of victory' didn't amount to much. One faction of the Solarian aristocracy wanted to just discharge the soldiers pretty much on the spot, and send them back to their masters estates (a lot of them were former serfs). The other faction - which prevailed - offered the veterans small land grants in the conquered areas, which ticked off the conservative faction big time. No matter the parcels offered were small and the land wasn't fit to grow much but rocks and weeds, the notion of that much land being handed over to mere commoners was enough to give the conservative bunch apoplexy. The last time the Solarian Empire did this - most of a millennia ago, the commoners took the land offered (basically wilderness) and made it into an industrial powerhouse while the aristocrats were so lost in their own schemes they didn't see it happening. The net effect of all this is a sort of growing 'middle class', including a great many people who don't owe their social status to service to some aristocrat or other.

    Again, though, I keep this as a background element.
     
  14. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    I see any kind of leadership like nobility or royalty as a means to more efficiently manage a society with a large and concentrated population. The more people you have bunched up together in a given society, the greater the need to coordinate all their activities through a hierarchy of managers. At least I think it may have begun that way.

    As for why we don't like old-fashioned monarchies in this day and age, I would attribute that to the theory that, in a representative democracy, anyone in the general population could become President. I am not sure if that has worked so well in practice though. Not everyone in modern civilization has enjoyed the opportunity to receive the extensive political education a competent President would need, and then you need a lot of money to campaign.

    I wonder if a democracy like our own could work in a pre-industrial civilization like the ones we tend to write about. Most Igbo communities in what is now southeastern Nigeria did have republican governmental systems that have been described as democratic since they featured assemblies of the people, but then these societies would have been small in scale compared to most West African civilizations.
     
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Democracy worked in Greece. They invented the word.

    As for kings, the Romans always said kings were for people unable to rule themselves. This could have intriguing possibilities among non-human races, or with magicians.

    OTOH, as Queshire said, kings always (in theory) had a responsibility, both to their people and to God (or gods). The notion of kings having unlimited power comes very late in European history. Kingship itself was usually divinely ordained, and this too offers some interesting possibilities in a constructed world. I wonder what, say, the Hindu justification is for kings.

    When I read the subject line, my first thought was: why does no one ever talk about the divine left of kings? Just a bit of silliness, but maybe someone could do something creative with the thought.
     
  16. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    While its true that the Athenians did practice democracy it was also very different from the democracy we practice today and was to my understanding still dominate by the rich due to the fact that these could afford to get themselves the need rethoric education to get the decisions that they wanted.´

    But we should of course never forget that even a democracy dominate by the rich is still better to the common people than no democracy at all, and the Athenian poor showed themselves very capable of opposing a return to Oligarchy.
     
  17. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

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    Honestly, I don't quite see this problem. Don't most medieval fantasy stories deal with court intrigue, back-stabbing nobles, civil wars and the like? Of course, there are the more mythological works where there is a rightful king actually put into power by divine beings/magic/destiny but there's plenty of more "realistic" stories and I think both have their justification. I have to admit that I'm more interested in the more fantastical ones because I prefer realistic politics in stories to be closer to my own time.
    I can't think of a single fantasy story with a governing system modelled on western democracy and political rights, actually. Harry Potter might come closest but it does make sense in context in this case. It would actually be quite interesting to have a fantasy story where an organisation like the UN has to deal with the Dark Lord's return. Well, at least to me. I don't see any reason why fantasy in more modern settings shouldn't be possible.
     
  18. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    It's not that the stories are based in democratic governmental systems; I wouldn't have a problem with that. It's the ubiquitous feudal constitutionalism / privatized rule construct, researched half-assedly, in which somehow everyone is aware that they have all the inalienable rights that we enjoy today, which they're willing to stand up and fight for. Because, America. Or something.

    First off, it doesn't occur to most people living in multigenerational repression that anything's wrong or should be done differently. In fact, convincing them of this is really, really hard. (See: Jesus Christ; also, North Korea.)

    Secondly, when your ruling class is omnipotent and beyond the law, you tend to sleep with one eye open. You can drive yourself insane worrying about a joke you told two months ago and that one guy who didn't laugh. Most of the shenanigans that fantasy heroes get involved in are enough to land them in an oubliette with their eyes burned out. I don't think that this kind of paranoia is represented nearly enough in the genre.

    Feudalism is repressive, make no mistake. However, it's one of those Greater Good equations, so it's also a balancing act. The rulers can't be so onerous and outright malevolent that they'd incite a revolution. On the other hand, they need to limit the rights of the populace - especially ensuring themselves a certain amount of legal leeway to put down troublemakers in the most gruesome ways possible - or they wouldn't be able to keep order. The easiest way to limit people's rights is to never let them figure out that they had them in the first place. That only takes a couple of generations.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2014
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  19. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    I don't get into a whole lot of detail, but the homeland of my protagonist in my novel Triad (see signature and excuse shameless self-promotion) is very libertarian. The region she's from is part of the Artisan League, a confederation of provinces united by economics. The trade and craft guilds each have elected councils, and those councils elect governors as chief executives for their respective provinces. Re-elections are every two years.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2014
  20. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    Big +1 on that. A lot of people - well, Americans anyway - seem to have a very hard time wrapping their minds around that. Some commentators have said that freedom and liberty is humanity's natural state, but history is not kind to this theory.
    Now that is quote-worthy.

    Just a little something to throw out there, a bit of history that might be useful to the fantasy writer constructing a political system for a story. It's a concept called the Great Chain of Being, and it played a huge role in feudalism. It's the idea that things are the way they are because that's how God created the world and that's how God wants it, including social and political structures and classes. All are links in a chain. Change one link, and you screw up the whole chain. Therefore, bucking the system is rebellion against God's will, the most heinous act possible. I see all sorts of ways a fantasy writer could use that.
     
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