Fantasy and Monarchy

This article is by Toni Šušnjar.

Monarchy is the most usual governing system found in fantasy. While this is often presented as problematic by democrats, it is actually a) very logical, b) practical and c) much less problematic than presented. In other words, monarchy makes much more sense in a fantasy setting than any other form of government.

Introduction: Why Monarchy Appeared

Practically, monarchy makes sense because the fantasy discussed here is typical medieval fantasy. While medieval forms of goverment were highly diverse, large polities were almost invariably ruled by a some form of individual government, that is, a monarchy. Reason for this were several:

  • social stratification
  • slow communication
  • limited administration

Social stratification and the expense of ensuring education meant that most people were unable to effectively participate in political discourse even when there were no physical barriers to such. In ancient Athens and other democracies of antiquity such participation by citizens was possible because almost all actual work was done by slaves, making free citizens into a sort of aristocracy which could afford to be leisurely enough to actually be politically active. In a medieval society, most people were free, thus requiring actual aristocracy to make decisions. At larger scales, this aristocratic setup naturally translated into monarchy.

Slow communications meant that the state was highly decentralized. Politics were thus highly localized, with most decisions made at the local level. Central government was merely something one paid taxes to in exchange for military protection. Consequently, the form, nature and who holds the central government did not really matter. Local government, as real source of authority, was diverse indeed: medieval governance saw examples of democracies, democratic republics, aristocratic republics, oligarchies, monarchies, dictatorships and other at local level, without it having any influence on national / state level. This decentralization served to promote monarchy at the same time as it promoted liberty: central government, having limited duties, was itself limited in scope. And due to limited nature of such government, going to the expense and difficulties of ensuring a pluralistic government was illogical. While there were examples of democratic (Athens) and republican (Rome) empires, those invariably arose from city-states which previously had such government, and then maintained it through inertia even after the empire was established. And in the case of Rome, at least, establishment of a large empire eventually destroyed the Roman Republic, ushering in a new era of monarchy in form of Principate. Monarchical government was also more efficient and effective in a crisis. Roman Republic had an institution of a dictator for precisely such circumstances, and on Sicily, it was threat of Carthagenian attacks which led to widespread adoption of tyranny (meaning one-man government).

Advantages and Disadvantages

Unlike the intrusive, authoritharian and self-perpetuating administrative monster of a modern state, administration of most monarchies was rather limited (this is especially true for feudal ones, but even absolute monarchies had limited administration compared to modern-day monstrosities). This in turn meant that having a single person oversee said limited apparatus was merely good economy of resources. Dubrovnik was an aristocratic republic even while it was still a part of monarchical Hungarian-Croatian kingdom, as were many other cities and towns. Poljica were ruled by an elected duke, and had only few serfs (there were 40 noble families, 120 serf families and 800 families of free peasants). In other words, while kingdom was, well, kingdom, actual system “on the ground” – that is, what people actually experienced – could be extremely varied. In this sense, the absolutist monarchy that was eventually overthrown by the French revolution was an aberration of Medieval government, and product of same process of political centralization which also produced modern-day democracy as well as various totalitarian regimes.

Result of this was that traditional monarchies were flexible and long-lasting. Central government was not intrusive, and allowed local governments to adjust to local conditions. At the same time, it did provide enough reserve of power to more-or-less guarantee safety of any single local unit of governance. Monarch himself provided easy focal point for feelings of loyalty, as well as anger if things went wrong. If a monarch became a tyrant, he could be overthrown much more easily than a republican government which slid into tyranny. It was only in late Middle Ages that many places adapted primogeniture laws and thus hard dynasties; before then, monarch could be relatively easily replaced – and could be easily replaced even into Early Modern period in many places (Hungary never developed heritable monarchy). Modern republics have usually two dominant parties, which have no fundamental difference between them but provide ready-made entertainment and false hope for the masses, thus preventing any repairs to the system of governance. Democratic government also obstructs political processes, making them opaque and difficult to understand. All of this makes them unsuitable for the needs of the narrative, except for people who like to read about mafia. There are two parties – both the same, a bunch of minor parties – all the same, composed of politicians – all the same, and literally nobody to root for because everyone is rotten to the core. At the same time, process cannot really be simplified (streamlined) in the way processes of monarchic governance can, making it unwieldy for narrative purposes. In a monarchy however, it is easy to have a good guy, a bad guy, and then pretend that all problems are solved simply by removing the bad guy. Thus, it is no surprise that villains in stories are generally either monarchs or represent some perversion of monarchy (as Sauron, Palpatine etc. do): it makes story easier to make, easier to follow, and villain easier to hate. Story is easier to focus, and avoids diluting; it is personal rather than abstract.

Monarchy as such is an extremely diverse political system: feudal, absolute, centralist, elective, dual, federal, etc… monarchy can include literally every type of government and political organization known to man. Roman Emperor was essentially a military dictator: throne could be gained and lost through support of the army. Habsburg Monarchy was a traditional hereditary monarchy which started out as an elective monarchy, while Byzantine Empire was a combination of military elective and hereditary monarchy. Holy Roman Empire was an elective federal monarchy, but the “elective” part gradually transitioned into “hereditary” part as Habsburgs ensured successive elections. Kingdom of Hungary on the contrary never developed a dynastic principle and always remained an elective monarchy. Meanwhile, modern-day democracy is generally ruled by political dynasties as well as financial dynasties behind the scenes.

Psychology and Sociology of Monarchy

Thematically, there are literally and psychological reasons behind the monarchy. Monarchy essentially duplicates family, with monarch acting as pater familias (this is seen with modern-day populist politics). Basically, king is not just a ruler, but father, the personalization of the nation and patriarch of the country; a pater familias on grand scale. This, then, leads to idea so often seen, that “good king” will also be a good ruler and will bring about the good times for the kingdom (see: Aragorn and Return of the King in, well, RotK). Even when said system failed, it was not necessarily due to monarch himself: Louis XVI was basically swept up in anger aimed at the nobility and his wife (an Austrian).

Ruling family is a symbol of the nation, and something people can unify around. The monarch is essentially a patriarch of the family, but on the scale of the whole country. He is the father, the personification of the nation and its foundation. This effect is much stronger in fantasy. Longest-ruling dynasty in real life is Yamato dynasty of Japan, which lasted from at least 509 AD (earliest verifiable Emperor) but might be as old as 660 BC; it thus lasted anywhere between 1 511 and 2 680 years. Pandyan dynasty in India ruled from 6th century BC to 1345 AD, or over 1 800 years. Chola Dynasty in India lasted from 3rd century BC to 1279 AD, or 1 500 years, before being brought down by Pandyans. In Europe, longest lasting in Bagrationi Dynasty of Georgia, which lasted from 780 to 1810, or 1 030 years, all in the main branch. In Western Europe, France’s Capetians ruled from 987 to 1328 in the main branch, but several junior branches still survive, with king Felipe VI Bourbon reigning in Spain. This gives them timeframe of 1 033 years, of which 341 year for the main branch. Habsburgs lasted from 1273 to 1780, or 507 years, in the main branch; but in cognatic line they reigned until 1918, or 645 years. This however is nothing compared to fantasy dynasties. Dynasty of Numenorean kings lasted for 3 287 years. Kings of Arnor reigned for 2 000 years, but House of Isildur lasted for well over 3 000 years, while House of Anarion was only around 2 000 years old when it was extinguished. This makes them significantly longer lasting than any real life dynasty, though not to the extent often thought, and longetivity of Numenoreans means that these dynasties only really saw about as many generations of rulers as particularly long-lasting European dynasties. Assuming 25 years between generations, Yamato dynasty will have seen 60 generations of rulers, and Bagrationi will have seen 41 generation. For comparison, Kings of Numenor only saw 25 rulers, and there were likewise 25 Kings of Arnor. While this is actually realistic, same cannot be said for dynasties of Westeros: House Stark has lasted for 8 000 years, which will have meant 320 generations: over five times as many as those of the Yamato dynasty.

As discussed above, monarchy allowed much more personal freedom than average democracy. Politics as such were also much more personal. Whereas democracy is highly impersonal, dependant on bureocracy, procedure and under-the-table bribing, monarchy allowed people to be much more honest and also to express their personality. From storytelling perspective, this allows much more freedom, as people are not constrained so much by an impersonal and arguably inhumane system of government. Highly structured and hierarchical yet rather clear government also has good potential for conflict which can be relatively easily understood by the reader.

Feudal monarchy in particular was based on the interpersonal relations, but even in a more bureocratic monarchies such as the Byzantine Empire or early modern absolutist monarchies said relations were important. And because same people often keep position for the long time, this allows the readers to become familiar with, and invested in, characters – in a way which modern bureocratic state would make impossible. Nobody wants to read All The Bribes of a Dishonest John, whereas emotional investment between characters also facilitates emotional investmen into characters by the reader.

Even for normal people, monarchy often allowed much more opportunity. State was much less intrusive, and unless one happened to be a serf or a slave – which was a function of economy, not of a political system as such – there was significant freedom of living and action. This was reinforced by the already-discussed decentralized nature of most monarchies.

Conclusions: Why Write Monarchy

In the end: monarchy works. It is a highly practical choice of government that is easy to understand and easy to implement on a basic level, even if most authors get specifics wrong. It was a dominant form of government for majority of human history, and for a good reason. Nowadays, however, there is a tendency to “deconstruct” monarchy, presenting monarchs and nobles alike as shallow, self-centered, selfish, out of touch, and overall evil. But that is true for people in any political system, and for any political system, and none or very few historical monarchies actually ever came close to matching the evilness of new generation of fantasy monarchies. Newer generation of fantasy, which is much more cynical, is no more realistic than the older fantasy: where old fantasy idolized monarchy, new fantasy idolizes democracy while disparaging monarchy. In reality, each system has its advantages and disadvantages, and both can turn bad.

What should matter in fantasy literature is that system makes sense: neither monarchy nor democracy appeared in a vacuum. System of governance is a logical consequence of social structure and political culture of a society; economic system too has major impact. A society that is not socially democratic will not produce political democracy either, and if it is introduced artificially, it will necessarily fail. In classical (medieval) fantasy this means that democracy is most likely to appear in independent city-states, and progressively less likely in larger political entities. Already at the level of a moderate state (e.g. medieval Kingdom of Croatia) formal democracy is highly unlikely – and if present, it needs a very good reason behind it.

In short: do not be afraid of writing a functioning monarchy. Don’t be afraid of writing a non-monarchical state (oligarchy, plutocracy, democracy, republic), or a monarchy containing states or cities with various different forms of government. But do try to understand how the system you are writing functions, lest you end up writing a feudal monarchy as an absolute monarchy or a totalitarian dictatorship.

Discussion

  1. What types of monarchy you know of?
  2. Which do you think fit needs of fantasy writing the best?
  3. What type of monarchy is closest to you and which do you find easiest to write about?

About the Author

Toni Šušnjar is an amateur historian and fantasy enthusiast with particular interest in Ancient and Medieval history as well as Medieval and High Fantasy. He also writes Military Fantasy blog.  You can follow him on the Military Fantasy Facebook page.

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D. Gray Warrior
1 day ago

Monarchies are omnipresent in fantasy most likely due to the simplicity of it. Of course, real life monarchies are quite complex, but in fantasy, you can get away with saying, "This is King Steve III of the Generic Kingdom. His son is Prince Steve IV. He will become king upon his father's death or abdication." Pretty straightforward.

It's prevalent enough that readers will mostly likely be familiar with how the country's government works without the author needing to explain it.

Politics, by nature is controversial and divisive, and absolute monarchies are seen as a thing of a past (barring a few holdouts around the world) and thus has few modern advocates, and you are less likely to offend readers than if you wrote about a fantasy society set in a democratic republic with two parties that tackles contemporary political issues.

Aldarion
3 days ago
CSEllis

At a fundamental level, the author states that medieval monarchies were far more decentralised than modern states. So far, so good, but they don't discuss that in turn power was centralised into a small group of individuals (the monarch and nobles/other major figures) and the enormous implications, inefficiencies and potential injustices therein. And all the time attacking democracy for all its injustices (which, mind, are undeniable). Still, the failure to recognise the above distinction ignores that in many ways, whilst the modern state is centralised into a single body called, well, the state, the state's powers are not. They are compartmentalised and separated – effectively decentralised – and their functions are undertaken by a far greater and more diverse group of individuals than any medieval kingdom.

Because power was not, in fact, centralized into a small group of individuals. Authority may have been, but formal authority is not power. In a premodern – which is not necessarily feudal! – monarchy, individual cities and even regions were mostly left to run themselves as they wished. This was in part because central state did not have administration necessary and so had to allow wide freedoms to local units.

You complain about the inefficiencies and potential injustices, but both inefficiencies and injustices really start appearing at large scale precisely as states start modernizing, in 14th and 15th century. That is the time of the Wars of the Roses, Hundred Years War, and so on… and none of these were as destructive as, say, Wars of Religion which happened after medieval times.

If you think that this system is fundamentally less free (within the constraints of what was economically possible) than modern administrative state, then you are merely repeating the very misconceptions I attempted to dispel. As for why I am attacking democracy, again: I am trying to explain that it is not as good as people today think it is, because that belief is the source of many of misconceptions about premodern monarchies. "They were not democratic, so they must have been tyrannical".

CSEllis

To lay this out, the state has the executive, judiciary and legislature and – in a medieval context – religion (or religions in the modern day). Monarch and nobles compressed all three elements (executive, judiciary and legislature) into one individual and, depending on the period, may also be the head of the church or potentially the personification of the deity. Add to that being the army as well (and not just Commander-in-Chief but Chief-of-Staff in modern terms) and you have a lot of power in one individual. In modern democracies, all these positions are fulfilled by one, potentially more, individuals, with things like the legislature having dozens and dozens of sub departments (I'm talking about Treasury, Foreign Affairs, Attorney-General, etc) – each of which in turn will often have (for example in the British system) a permanent professional head of that sub-department.
The sheer complexity of the (very abbreviated) description above I think serves to indicate just how many people are involved here.

Except they did not. You are, again, talking about a modern, absolute monarchy – and even there you would be wrong. In fact, judicial structure of a medieval monarchy was not dissimilar to modern state. You had courts of law, and these courts were divided according to the geographical area they covered and the authority they had. You had royal court, manorial court, county court… and all of them were pretty much run by professionals. Monarch and nobles could make judicial decisions, yes, but they were pretty much the last option if the courts of law could not solve cases.

CSEllis

Did rulers, especially into the early-modern period begin to have similar divisions? Of course, but that's an "aberration" in the words of the author. Ultimately, the author wishes to have their cake and eat it too. Was the medieval system of government more decentralised? Of course. But power wasn't – and that distinction – and the implications of that centralisation therein – are neither recognised nor discussed.

Actually, you have it reversed. Such divisions were more common in a medieval period, with the result that courts generally had more autonomy. In early-modern period, however, with centralization of political authority you also had centralization of power – you can't have one without another! – and thus also greater politicization of courts.

CSEllis

I note that serfs are described as apparently being freer than people are today. I sincerely hope the writer misunderstands the English term. A serf is one step above a slave – and though indeed your Roman slave might have much greater scope for work than our image of an African-American slave of the South – they remained slaves. The slaves put to work in Roman mines I'm sure were much freer than your modern citizen or indeed the individual of 100 years ago. The writer's description of Athenian citizens as being able to participate in a democracy thanks to them being largely at leisure is also misleading. They were no unified aristocracy and there were definite social strata. Whilst the rich certainly had more power than the poor, the voting blocs of the poor could still exert much influence. There have been suggestions in recent years that aristocratic power came under attack by blocs constituted by, among others, the oarsmen of Athenian triremes. Skilled workers? Definitely, but absolutely not a leisured class.

Athenian democracy was based in large part on slave work. There were more slaves, proportionally speaking, than in the US South before the Civil War – and South is described as a slavery society.
[​IMG]
It is true that Athenian citizens did have jobs of their own and were not exactly at leisure – but these jobs were ones which still allowed political participation. Most of the jobs that were truly difficult or dangerous were handled by slaves or metics, and of course you also had women working. So yes, Athenian democracy was enabled by the majority which had no voting rights.

And I notice you are confusing serfs with slaves in the bolded part…

CSEllis

Similarly, the author fails to give the nobles their due. Medieval monarchies were first amongst equals. The king relied upon the great lords of the realm and he went against them at his peril. They emphasise the significance of families and family names but ignore that the power of those families waxed and waned from figureheads to genuine decisionmakers. Witness Shogunate Japan, the baronial wars of the English and the War of the Roses. France's experience of the latter part of the Hundred Years War was marked by the rivalry between the Armagnacs and Orleanists. Such bitter infighting and civil wars did great damage to France and ensured it was divided when the English invaded. This is an extreme example of a very personal system that was wasteful and inefficient. The author time and again emphasises how damaging centralisation is, but fails to discuss how decentralisation has its own weaknesses.
Take another example – the gridlock of the French Revolution was in part caused by the nobles whose interests meant that Louis XVI's ability to affect change were severely hamstrung. This in an "absolute" monarchy that the author calls an "aberration". Such a position indicates that the author is less interested in informing us and more in defending their fantasy about what monarchy is.

And again all the examples you give are from modern period… plus, barons and other big nobility are one of things with which modern readers will be familiar with. I don't need to write much about them.

CSEllis
3 days ago

What a peculiar article. It reads more as a justification for monarchy rather than something that would provide useful things for a would-be author. The writer's clear political leanings further damage its credibility. Despite a section promising the "disadvantages" of monarchy, nothing much appears. The writer seems more interested in attacking democracy and the modern state than providing a reasonable assessment of the uses of writing a monarchy to any would-be author.

The author has some worthwhile points. It is true that modern fantasy has a rather starry eyed image of democracy and the ease and inherent justice of such systems. Fantasy also needs to have more varied kinds of states and other polities. Their essential point, that monarchies are easier to work with thanks to everything being focused on one or two individuals is also worthwhile.

The rest I take issue with.

At a fundamental level, the author states that medieval monarchies were far more decentralised than modern states. So far, so good, but they don't discuss that in turn power was centralised into a small group of individuals (the monarch and nobles/other major figures) and the enormous implications, inefficiencies and potential injustices therein. And all the time attacking democracy for all its injustices (which, mind, are undeniable). Still, the failure to recognise the above distinction ignores that in many ways, whilst the modern state is centralised into a single body called, well, the state, the state's powers are not. They are compartmentalised and separated – effectively decentralised – and their functions are undertaken by a far greater and more diverse group of individuals than any medieval kingdom.

To lay this out, the state has the executive, judiciary and legislature and – in a medieval context – religion (or religions in the modern day). Monarch and nobles compressed all three elements (executive, judiciary and legislature) into one individual and, depending on the period, may also be the head of the church or potentially the personification of the deity. Add to that being the army as well (and not just Commander-in-Chief but Chief-of-Staff in modern terms) and you have a lot of power in one individual. In modern democracies, all these positions are fulfilled by one, potentially more, individuals, with things like the legislature having dozens and dozens of sub departments (I'm talking about Treasury, Foreign Affairs, Attorney-General, etc) – each of which in turn will often have (for example in the British system) a permanent professional head of that sub-department.
The sheer complexity of the (very abbreviated) description above I think serves to indicate just how many people are involved here.

Did rulers, especially into the early-modern period begin to have similar divisions? Of course, but that's an "aberration" in the words of the author. Ultimately, the author wishes to have their cake and eat it too. Was the medieval system of government more decentralised? Of course. But power wasn't – and that distinction – and the implications of that centralisation therein – are neither recognised nor discussed.

To more individual remarks.

I note that serfs are described as apparently being freer than people are today. I sincerely hope the writer misunderstands the English term. A serf is one step above a slave – and though indeed your Roman slave might have much greater scope for work than our image of an African-American slave of the South – they remained slaves. The slaves put to work in Roman mines I'm sure were much freer than your modern citizen or indeed the individual of 100 years ago. The writer's description of Athenian citizens as being able to participate in a democracy thanks to them being largely at leisure is also misleading. They were no unified aristocracy and there were definite social strata. Whilst the rich certainly had more power than the poor, the voting blocs of the poor could still exert much influence. There have been suggestions in recent years that aristocratic power came under attack by blocs constituted by, among others, the oarsmen of Athenian triremes. Skilled workers? Definitely, but absolutely not a leisured class.

Similarly, the author fails to give the nobles their due. Medieval monarchies were first amongst equals. The king relied upon the great lords of the realm and he went against them at his peril. They emphasise the significance of families and family names but ignore that the power of those families waxed and waned from figureheads to genuine decisionmakers. Witness Shogunate Japan, the baronial wars of the English and the War of the Roses. France's experience of the latter part of the Hundred Years War was marked by the rivalry between the Armagnacs and Orleanists. Such bitter infighting and civil wars did great damage to France and ensured it was divided when the English invaded. This is an extreme example of a very personal system that was wasteful and inefficient. The author time and again emphasises how damaging centralisation is, but fails to discuss how decentralisation has its own weaknesses.
Take another example – the gridlock of the French Revolution was in part caused by the nobles whose interests meant that Louis XVI's ability to affect change were severely hamstrung. This in an "absolute" monarchy that the author calls an "aberration". Such a position indicates that the author is less interested in informing us and more in defending their fantasy about what monarchy is.

It is fashionable these days to attack democracies as inefficient and incompetent. I leave readers here with the alternative. The best test case we have is that of Western democracies against Hitler's Fascist state and alongside Stalin's Soviet Union. In both cases, despite many cock-ups along the way, the Western democracies fought a far more efficient war than either Hitler's or Stalin's regimes. Despite the individual dictators being able to take an interest in specific affairs, time and again, their knowledge proved inferior to the experts.
Were Stalin or Hitler's regimes monarchies? No. But they had the trappings of what the writer describes, including the centralising of power into one figure and the cults of personality around both.

Is monarchy natural? Its occurrence time and again in agrarian societies would suggest so. But there's a reason that in the modern state monarchies have proven unable to compete with democracy or oligarchy.

I encourage the author to continue writing articles, but hope they will approach history with a mind more focused upon challenging their beliefs than justifying them.

Aldarion
3 days ago
Prince of Spires

This is not a trait of a monarchy though, but simply of a pre-modern government. Rome didn't suddenly become less bureaucratic when they went from republic to empire. And technically speaking I live in a monarchy in the Netherlands, and we probably have more bureaucracy than the republic of the United States.

It does however still mean that the aversion which I have noticed many feel towards monarchy is unfounded where premodern monarchy is concerned, which is what I was writing about in the first place.

But even modern absolute monarchies didn't have all that much bureocracy as far as I'm aware. For all the jokes about Austria-Hungary, from what I know about it, its bureocracy was still very small, very efficient and very effective compared to most modern-day states (and definitely when compared to modern-day Croatia). Byzantine Empire likewise was nothing like the bureocratized monster which wrapped its enemies in the red tape that popular imagination presents it as – in fact, if we were to be truthful, descriptor "Byzantine bureaucracy" should mean "small and efficient". It was Byzantine politics which were "byzantine", not Byzantine bureaucracy – and when it comes to politics, Western states were hardly any less so.

Queshire

Well, that touches on another thing. The arguments presented presumes a set of circumstances limited enough that it just doesn't apply to a good chunk of fantasy.

Let's look at D&D. That continues the arbitrary restriction of a medieval European style setting. Sending is a 3rd level spell. Even if the average kingdom only has one Cleric capable of casting the spell that still means instantaneous, if limited, communication.

Similarly, Brandon Sanderson, one of the guys so dominate in fantasy that his three laws of magic are quoted as often as Asimov's three laws, featured Spanreed in his Stormlight Archive books that provided instaneous communication.

Agreed. In fact, I am thinking of writing about implications of communications technology on political organization someday.

Prince of Spires
3 days ago
Aldarion

Freedom is not just about repression. Large administrative apparatus of a state automatically means less freedom because state/government has its fingers in more things.

This is not a trait of a monarchy though, but simply of a pre-modern government. Rome didn't suddenly become less bureaucratic when they went from republic to empire. And technically speaking I live in a monarchy in the Netherlands, and we probably have more bureaucracy than the republic of the United States.

The level of bureaucracy of a state is dictated by what a state does for its citizens. The same with the level of what you refer to as freedom. For instance, if you have a state pension system then you will need people to administer that and taxes to fund it. This might be considered a reduction in freedom if you stretch the definition of freedom a lot. But it has nothing to do with being a monarchy or not. A medieval government simply didn't do a lot for its citizens, so they didn't need a lot of bureaucracy. If you have no universal and compulsory education for the children of your nation, then you don't need a department of education in your government. The same can be said for all other government departments. Most of those duties only started in the modern era, so you will find the matching bureaucracy. It's a sign of a modern government, not of a democracy specifically.

Queshire
4 days ago

Well, that touches on another thing. The arguments presented presumes a set of circumstances limited enough that it just doesn't apply to a good chunk of fantasy.

Let's look at D&D. That continues the arbitrary restriction of a medieval European style setting. Sending is a 3rd level spell. Even if the average kingdom only has one Cleric capable of casting the spell that still means instantaneous, if limited, communication.

Similarly, Brandon Sanderson, one of the guys so dominate in fantasy that his three laws of magic are quoted as often as Asimov's three laws, featured Spanreed in his Stormlight Archive books that provided instaneous communication.

Aldarion
4 days ago
Pemry Janes

This article seems to be flawed to me. Like stating that a society run by a monarchy is inherently more free, that's going to need some thorough evidence because I can think of several ways that the historical examples I know of were not very free. Equally, of course, you can find examples of democratic societies that had horrible repression of large populations. Like Athens.

Freedom is not just about repression. Large administrative apparatus of a state automatically means less freedom because state/government has its fingers in more things.

Also, remember this part:

Practically, monarchy makes sense because the fantasy discussed here is typical medieval fantasy.

I am discussing premodern monarchy here. This has automatic implications for the ability of the government to enforce its will.

Pemry Janes
4 days ago

This article seems to be flawed to me. Like stating that a society run by a monarchy is inherently more free, that's going to need some thorough evidence because I can think of several ways that the historical examples I know of were not very free. Equally, of course, you can find examples of democratic societies that had horrible repression of large populations. Like Athens.

The way a society governed is just like everything else to do with a group of people, it's complicated. So I get real uncomfortable when someone makes a sweeping statement that doesn't seem to be supported by much evidence.

Will
Will
7 days ago

Very informative article. Thank you very much for writing it

Aldarion
9 days ago
WooHooMan

I guess I would have just preferred more of an exploration of alternatives to a monarchy in a setting with conditions akin to medieval western Europe or more analysis on how forms of government fit into settings on a thematic level with more examples from fiction.
I’m just throwing-out ideas on what could have been included to make this blog post more useful or more broadly applicable.

Also, I refuse to believe that “most people” stick to the standard “medieval Europe” setting for their stories. If there’s one thing being on this sub forum has taught me, it’s that amateur fantasy writers are borderline obsessed with originality and subverting genre cliches.

Considering how the omnipresent monarchy is thoroughly misrepresented… though, some of these alternatives might actually be a lot easier to write than a well-done premodern monarchy.

WooHooMan
9 days ago
Electric Bone Flute

To be fair, that's the setting most people are writing, so that's where the support is needed. It's like if you had a blog for something broad like "web development;" you don't post about niche things like Elm (dead language lol), but rather about things people most people are using and need help with, like React. Does this lead to a feedback loop? Yes. That's why you create niche offshoot blogs.

I guess I would have just preferred more of an exploration of alternatives to a monarchy in a setting with conditions akin to medieval western Europe or more analysis on how forms of government fit into settings on a thematic level with more examples from fiction.
I’m just throwing-out ideas on what could have been included to make this blog post more useful or more broadly applicable.

Also, I refuse to believe that “most people” stick to the standard “medieval Europe” setting for their stories. If there’s one thing being on this sub forum has taught me, it’s that amateur fantasy writers are borderline obsessed with originality and subverting genre cliches.

Electric Bone Flute
9 days ago
WooHooMan

I feel like this article is kind of limiting. It only applies to fantasy monarchies that take place in settings explicitly similar to medieval Europe and I like to believe fantasy goes a little wider than that as it's a genre where anything can happen.
I also find it strange that in an article about the use of monarchy in fiction, there's very little talk of fictional examples outside of passing mentions to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars with most of the examples to illustrate the function of monarchies being in history.

But my setting is a contemporary stratocracy/military aristocracy so maybe this article wasn't meant for me.

To be fair, that's the setting most people are writing, so that's where the support is needed. It's like if you had a blog for something broad like "web development;" you don't post about niche things like Elm (dead language lol), but rather about things people most people are using and need help with, like React. Does this lead to a feedback loop? Yes. That's why you create niche offshoot blogs.

WooHooMan
9 days ago

I feel like this article is kind of limiting. It only applies to fantasy monarchies that take place in settings explicitly similar to medieval Europe and I like to believe fantasy goes a little wider than that as it's a genre where anything can happen.
I also find it strange that in an article about the use of monarchy in fiction, there's very little talk of fictional examples outside of passing mentions to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars with most of the examples to illustrate the function of monarchies being in history.

But my setting is a contemporary stratocracy/military aristocracy so maybe this article wasn't meant for me.

ThinkerX
9 days ago
Aldarion

So basically Holy Roman Empire if it had survived long enough? That is something I'd really like to see more of in fantasy.

Fairly close. Solaria version 1.0 was founded by…forced immigrants from Rome and other Mediterranean peoples (brought in by the Ancient Aliens right before their civilization collapsed.) Initially a 'republic' of sorts, until one guy got himself elected 'Dictator for Life.' Cue 'echo of Roman Empire,' which like our Rome, conquered a big slab of territory before the barbarians showed up. Then things sort of went to pieces for a couple hundred years. There were several warlords and cunning aristocrats who kind-of sort-of put things back together for short periods. Finally, the Fabian family, chosen as a compromise between several other more powerful clans, managed to stitch back together about a third of the old Empire, but the price was those other families demanded 'rights.' Cue another interregnum when the Fabian family fizzled and the Maximus made a bid for the top spot. The Bestia used an impressive series of legal loopholes (among other methods) to depose the Maximus and take the throne, but were badly exposed – and they knew it. Enter the Avar, the most…ethical…of the barbarians who'd brought down the old Empire, and pretty much ruled the western third. Their ruling family – the DuSwaimair – also had issues, and they got along reasonably well with Solaria 2.0. A marriage alliance was proposed between the Bestia and DuSwaimair. Other important clans in both nations took violent exception to the alliance. When the dust settled, Morgan DuSwaimair, a youngish war hero, was atop the throne of the reunited Solarian Empire. Again, though, part of the price was severe checks on the Emperors authority: the Privy Council (representing other families, the church and others) can overrule imperial edicts. The Senate (also some elected, some appointed) can reject imperial appointments, and has a lot of say in finance.

Emperor Morgan DuSwaimair was…very roughly comparable to Charlemagne (Charles the Great). His son Louis was well…like Louis… and the empire almost broke up yet again after his death…but instead Solaria ended up with Emperor Franklin, a total asshole and populist of sorts, who partly empowered the lower classes (citizenship and land for military service, plus other major reforms) at the expense of rival aristocrats. The situation Franklin created persisted through several subsequent Emperors…and the Traag War. Over time, what happens is the Emperor becomes a near figurehead, with real power resting with the Privy Council.

Alana S
10 days ago

Confession time – I figure monarchies are used in fantasy because it is easier to come up with than designing a more representative form of government. It's also convenient. Need a big bad to fight – kill the evil king and problem solve. Nee resources for your adventure – some noble person has access to treasure and materials and will support your cause, no need to fill out a requisition form. Need some sort of weird ass rule to create tension – kings can do what they want, if they want a rule that says no one can hope on their right leg on a Sunday, then they make that rule.

Monarchies also give your intrepid band of wanders from a podunk village a big fancy capital to explore with royal parties to attend while not knowing the manners and behavioral expectations. Hell, clothing alone gives you all kinds of mileage in then peasant versus rich dudes area.

I mean, I'm just as guilty – my story has a monarch.

Aldarion
10 days ago
Prince of Spires

I never denied either of those points. I said that I don't see how this is better in a monarchy. Politicians and bureaucrats get bribed. I don't deny that. But someone who would bribe a politician or bureaucrat in a democracy will do the same thing in a monarchy as well. And in a democracy larger parts of the process are transparent than in a monarchy, which makes it easier to bribe someone in a monarchy.

It is better in a premodern monarchy because of the balance and flows of power. In a democracy, government is voted in and it is claimed to represent all the people. As a result, everybody and their dog look to the central government as a tool to push their own agendas, which leads to tyranny. In a monarchy, especially a federal monarchy, local political units look at the central government as a danger to their own freedoms and rights, and thus work to limit it. As a result, tyranny on a grand scale is much less likely to appear.

Political freedom is based on subsidiarity. A monarchist system with a high degree of subsidiarity allows much more freedom and agency than a democratic system with a low degree of subsidiarity. Combine this with what I described in the previous paragraph, and you can see how the two balance each other out.

Also – and this is a big advantage of a monarchy from a storytelling perspective – monarchy allows much more local differences. Monarch is a visible symbol of unity, and the balancing act described above means that central government's power is likely (not certain, but likely) to be much more limited than in a democracy. As a result, monarchy was capable of accomodating very significant local differences: it was not unusual for a monarchist state to include local governments that were decidedly not monarchist. In Kingdom of Hungary and Croatia, you had Republic of Poljica, Republic of Dubrovnik, and a few more perhaps. Holy Roman Empire included decidedly democratic Swiss Confederacy and republican cities of the Holland.

That being said, you can have similar degree of political diversity in a confederation, but that would be much more like Roman Republic pre-Hannibal wars.

Prince of Spires

And yes, a king needs to take the people's opinion into account to a certain degree. But, it's a much lower barrier to vote someone out of office after a term that to actually rise up in rebellion against a king. One is "put piece of paper in a box", the other is "risk getting killed for your beliefs". What's more, in a monarchy, a king needs to pay more attention to those who wield force than to the interest of the people. Look at the influence the praetorian guards had on the emperors of rome. If you got on their wrong side, then they'd simply assasinate you and replace you with someone else. A lot easier to do than to rise up in open rebellion if you're a farmer someone out in the country.

See above. I am not against democracy as such. I am however against democracy on a national level, because people get the impression that all issues can be solved by voting. Which is not true. In the end, you have a democratic government when government is either a) not present or b) afraid of the people so much that it almost isn't present.

This might explain it better:
https://epublications.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1018&context=english_4610jrrt

Prince of Spires
10 days ago
Aldarion

Relative to real life, maybe, and you are too polarized here anyway (politicians get bribed in a democracy, and even a king has to take into account interests of the people).

I never denied either of those points. I said that I don't see how this is better in a monarchy. Politicians and bureaucrats get bribed. I don't deny that. But someone who would bribe a politician or bureaucrat in a democracy will do the same thing in a monarchy as well. And in a democracy larger parts of the process are transparent than in a monarchy, which makes it easier to bribe someone in a monarchy.

And yes, a king needs to take the people's opinion into account to a certain degree. But, it's a much lower barrier to vote someone out of office after a term that to actually rise up in rebellion against a king. One is "put piece of paper in a box", the other is "risk getting killed for your beliefs". What's more, in a monarchy, a king needs to pay more attention to those who wield force than to the interest of the people. Look at the influence the praetorian guards had on the emperors of rome. If you got on their wrong side, then they'd simply assasinate you and replace you with someone else. A lot easier to do than to rise up in open rebellion if you're a farmer someone out in the country.

Aldarion

But the point I was making was that democratic process is difficult to understand for the reader. The very system of checks and balances on which a functional democracy relies so much makes the entire political process extremely complex and difficult to describe. It is slow, unresponsive and impersonal. How many readers want to read about "Good Graces of Parliament, Chapter 500" or "All The Bribes of Honest John: A Story of A Lobbyst"? Regardless of your opinion on how functional democracy may be in real life, fact is that it makes for a boring story. In a monarchical setting, a king or an emperor does have the option to push through the laws, and in any case whole thing is much less procedural and much more personal, making it a far better choice from a storytelling perspective, even if for some reason you do want to discuss the entire lawmaking process.

I disagree. For starters, most of your readers will know the way a democracy works. They live in one after all. They might not know the intimate details, but they know the basics. It's not that hard to explain to a random person in the western world how a parliament works. They're the guys you vote for who approve the laws.

Also, it doesn't make a story more or less boring. It's all down to the writing. One of the most succesful authors in the world writes stories about lawyers. I don't know if you have any experience with real life lawyers, but in my experience, most parts of lawyering are boring and tedious. And yet, they make for great stories. I actually have a sneaky suspicion that most secret service stuff if actually boring as well. Same with politics. It's the characters and story which matter, not the specific workings.

A great story specifically about a republic and the democratic workings is the Cicero trilogy by Robert Harris (Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator). It's about Cicero becoming consul. There's tons of stuff about how the democracy of the late roman republic works in there. And it's wonderful. Another story, which features a kind of Athenian democracy (if I recall correctly) is "Empire in black and gold" by Adrian Tchaikovsky. It's less the focus point of the story than the Harris one, but it's still there and it plays a role and it's not a boring book.

And you can just have a democracy without actually explaining most of it. If it doesn't matter to the story, then just handwave it. That's pretty much the same as with a monarchy. We don't get much about the monarchies in the first parts of lord of the rings and it doesn't matter, since it features very little in the story. We don't get told how exactly the Rohirim function on a government level and that's fine.

The reason writers default to monarchies is because they're easy and if it's not the focus point of the story, then you can just hand-wave it, which a monarchy lets you do.

Aldarion

But regardless of historical misconceptions, the point is that bureaucracy makes for a boring story. It is formulaic, obstructive, slow to act and react, narrow-minded and obsessed with forms, formulars, regulations and procedures. And representative democracy is basically bureaucracy made into a government.

It doesn't have to be. What you've just described is a point of conflict. And conflict is the bread and butter of a story. In the empire in black and gold I mentioned earlier for instance, part of the problems in the novel arise because of slow moving bureaucracy.

Just image, a protagonists has news of an approaching enemy. He has to work his way through layers of bureaucracy before he's even able to tell the news to anyone important enough to do something with it. He then is asked to appear before the democratic assembly, where he's questioned. Parts of the assembly doubt his claim or state that it's not as bad as he makes it seem. There's discussions on the protagonists motives. Maybe there's a faction who doesn't want to spend money on an army, since their holdings are on the other side of the country from where the army is.

That's not boring, that's rising conflict and tension with each page. And you don't need to bore the reader to explain all of that. You can just have the protagonist move through the ranks of bureaucracy, becoming more frustrated with each step.

Aldarion
10 days ago
Queshire

Look, if that's the sort of conversation you want to have then yeah, let's have that. It sounds interesting. I've taken inspiration from shogunate Japan for my own Empire.

What I object to is trying to sell it as objective or not connected to modern day politics when you say stuff like, "Unlike the intrusive, authoritharian and self-perpetuating administrative monster of a modern state," in the article.

I have not tried to sell it as not connected to modern day politics, nor was that intent. I have however explained why I connected it to modern-day politics: majority of misconceptions about historical political systems stem from lacking knowledge about said systems and then comparing them to modern-day political ideals. Basically, you have idealized modern politics vs bastardized historical politics.

Prince of Spires

I don't really see this point, or how it's any better in a monarchy. At least in a democracy several of the steps are public. You've got a discussion about a law in a parliament and a vote on it. You can see who voted what. And at some point you can elect officials based on their promisses and votes. yes, there is a lobying phase which happens out of sight and no, not all politicians are honest. But this is no different in a monarchy. Except that in a monarchy, the bit in the middle, where you can actually see what discussions happen on laws and who votes for what are hidden. A monarchy doesn't have a the middle and end bits. There you just have a law which appears because monarch and the people around him decided it was a good idea.

Prince of Spires

I don't really see this point, or how it's any better in a monarchy. At least in a democracy several of the steps are public. You've got a discussion about a law in a parliament and a vote on it. You can see who voted what. And at some point you can elect officials based on their promisses and votes. yes, there is a lobying phase which happens out of sight and no, not all politicians are honest. But this is no different in a monarchy. Except that in a monarchy, the bit in the middle, where you can actually see what discussions happen on laws and who votes for what are hidden. A monarchy doesn't have a the middle and end bits. There you just have a law which appears because monarch and the people around him decided it was a good idea.

Relative to real life, maybe, and you are too polarized here anyway (politicians get bribed in a democracy, and even a king has to take into account interests of the people). But the point I was making was that democratic process is difficult to understand for the reader. The very system of checks and balances on which a functional democracy relies so much makes the entire political process extremely complex and difficult to describe. It is slow, unresponsive and impersonal. How many readers want to read about "Good Graces of Parliament, Chapter 500" or "All The Bribes of Honest John: A Story of A Lobbyst"? Regardless of your opinion on how functional democracy may be in real life, fact is that it makes for a boring story. In a monarchical setting, a king or an emperor does have the option to push through the laws, and in any case whole thing is much less procedural and much more personal, making it a far better choice from a storytelling perspective, even if for some reason you do want to discuss the entire lawmaking process.

Prince of Spires

You offer no proof why this would be the case. There is no reason why a democracy is inherently more bureaucratic than a monarchy. Chinese monarchies for instance are famous for their bureaucracy. And one of the reasons the eaastern roman empire lasted as long as it did was precisely because of its extensive and effective bureaucracy which kept the state going through all the turmoil. And I suspect that bribing was a lot more common in a monarchy than in modern democracies. It's much easier to bribe a single individual and get your way in a monarchy than having to bribe half a political party. In a feudal society if a local barron likes you then you can get away with pretty much anything. If you pay the local magistrate you get your way. In a modern democracy there are checks and balances built into the system to counteract this.

Again, the whole article is from the perspective of writing a story. Yes, historical monarchies could be heavily bureaucratized. Relatively speaking, and in relation to contemporary states. Even the most bureaucratic of the monarchies I am familiar with (Byzantine Empire and Austria-Hungary) never approached the bureaucratization of your average representative republic. As a matter of fact, Byzantine bureaucracy was – compared to basically any other modern state – extremely small and efficient. The only reason why we think of the Byzantium as highly bureaucratized state was that its Western European contemporaries had no bureaucracy to speak of, so even the (in modern terms) austere Byzantine bureaucracy was an incomprehensible mastodont to them.

But regardless of historical misconceptions, the point is that bureaucracy makes for a boring story. It is formulaic, obstructive, slow to act and react, narrow-minded and obsessed with forms, formulars, regulations and procedures. And representative democracy is basically bureaucracy made into a government. You can have an interesting democratic government in a story, maybe, but you'd have to look to Athenian Ecclesia or Norse Things for that. And that is a much smaller scale than most authors write at – plus, even Athenian system is more complex than most authors would care to wrap their brains around. FFS, they even simplify feudal monarchies, and you can't really get any simpler than that if you want a large-scale government. But the point is, for most purposes, you simply have to have a monarchical government, or else a government in a crisis, to allow for sufficient individual initiative required to keep the story interesting.

Prince of Spires

Again, this is not a defining thing for democracies. It might be the case in the US, where there are certain families which have provided many senators and even a few presidents or presidential candidates. But in the Netherlands, I can think of 1 case where the daughter of the fouding member of a political party also came to rule said party. And that was a relatively small party at that. I don't think we've ever had two prime ministers from the same family.
This is something which is likely stronger in a monarchy. Even in an elected monarchy, you have same group of nobles and the rich who decide who stand a chance of becoming a monarch. The group below the monarch is much less likely to change over time, even if the person on top changes.

It is less political dynasties and more magnate dynasties. But yes, you are correct here.

Mad Swede
10 days ago

I think you've oversimplified the arguments a bit, and you've let your own political views influence the article a little too much.

In my view no medieval kingdom/princedom was an autocracy unless it was very small. The time taken to travel meant that authority neccessarily had to be delegated. That in turn meant that the king/prince had to manage relations with a number of subordinates (the barons as they're sometimes called) who had power and resources, and who could therefore pose a real threat to the ruler. In turn, the kings subordinates would also have local subordinates of some kind whom they had to keep on side. In a kingdom with an elective kingship (Sweden, for example), those relations were very important and if the kingdom didn't have the concept of serfdom (which Sweden didn't have) then the king and his subordinates also had to consider what the free men thought (in Sweden, at the meeting of the local ting). In short, there is always an element of democracy in the way the king and his subordinates rule, simply because there has to be. The exact format for managing these relations varies enormously, but they create many opportunities for good writers to develop both the background and major plot elements in their writing.

Prince of Spires
10 days ago

There's a few reasons a monarchy is one of the go-to systems of government for fantasy. You mention two of the big ones: it fits the period of many fantasy stories and it's easy to write.

Another reason is that as a protagonist you need to be able to efect change. Being a monarch gives you this space. Or alternatively, removing a monarch as a "solution" also does this.

There's a few points I disagreed with in the article.

Modern republics have usually two dominant parties, which have no fundamental difference between them

This is simply not the case. Yes, it happens in some countries. But those are countries like the US and UK which have a "winner takes all" district system. It's not the case in other democracies. In the Netherlands (which technically is not a republic, I know) there hasn't been a single 1 party government since we introduced the current form of democracy in 1919. It's always a minimum of 2 parties needed to get a majority, and there are large parties ranging from socialists to right winged parties with vastly different agenda's. And that's the case in many different other democracies as well.

Democratic government also obstructs political processes, making them opaque and difficult to understand

I don't really see this point, or how it's any better in a monarchy. At least in a democracy several of the steps are public. You've got a discussion about a law in a parliament and a vote on it. You can see who voted what. And at some point you can elect officials based on their promisses and votes. yes, there is a lobying phase which happens out of sight and no, not all politicians are honest. But this is no different in a monarchy. Except that in a monarchy, the bit in the middle, where you can actually see what discussions happen on laws and who votes for what are hidden. A monarchy doesn't have a the middle and end bits. There you just have a law which appears because monarch and the people around him decided it was a good idea.

Later in the article, you make a similar statement

As discussed above, monarchy allowed much more personal freedom than average democracy. Politics as such were also much more personal. Whereas democracy is highly impersonal, dependant on bureocracy, procedure and under-the-table bribing, monarchy allowed people to be much more honest and also to express their personality.

You offer no proof why this would be the case. There is no reason why a democracy is inherently more bureaucratic than a monarchy. Chinese monarchies for instance are famous for their bureaucracy. And one of the reasons the eaastern roman empire lasted as long as it did was precisely because of its extensive and effective bureaucracy which kept the state going through all the turmoil. And I suspect that bribing was a lot more common in a monarchy than in modern democracies. It's much easier to bribe a single individual and get your way in a monarchy than having to bribe half a political party. In a feudal society if a local barron likes you then you can get away with pretty much anything. If you pay the local magistrate you get your way. In a modern democracy there are checks and balances built into the system to counteract this.

Meanwhile, modern-day democracy is generally ruled by political dynasties

Again, this is not a defining thing for democracies. It might be the case in the US, where there are certain families which have provided many senators and even a few presidents or presidential candidates. But in the Netherlands, I can think of 1 case where the daughter of the fouding member of a political party also came to rule said party. And that was a relatively small party at that. I don't think we've ever had two prime ministers from the same family.
This is something which is likely stronger in a monarchy. Even in an elected monarchy, you have same group of nobles and the rich who decide who stand a chance of becoming a monarch. The group below the monarch is much less likely to change over time, even if the person on top changes.

Queshire
10 days ago

Look, if that's the sort of conversation you want to have then yeah, let's have that. It sounds interesting. I've taken inspiration from shogunate Japan for my own Empire.

What I object to is trying to sell it as objective or not connected to modern day politics when you say stuff like, "Unlike the intrusive, authoritharian and self-perpetuating administrative monster of a modern state," in the article.

Aldarion
10 days ago
Queshire

Ah yes, because problematic is such a politically neutral term. Pull the other one. It's got bells on.

joshua mcdermott

yes, I have to agree. you could have made your point and had a very good article without calling out other political systems/people as : actually: This and NOT what they propose. You have presented the article as a refutation of democracy from the start without first establishing a position of positivity for your argument. if that make sense. In any case, it's off-putting. I'd suggest working from a positive point and not start with a negation of others before you even start.

Have you guys even read the article? It is an observation of a fact:
Monarchy is the most usual governing system found in fantasy. While this is often presented as problematic by democrats, it is actually a) very logical, b) practical and c) much less problematic than presented. In other words, monarchy makes much more sense in a fantasy setting than any other form of government.

It is a fact that many people / commenters / journalist see a problem in prevalence of monarchical systems in fantasy, and it is also a fact that my article is a response to those criticisms: an argument on why monarchy is not a problem and not something that should be intentionally avoided when writing a fantasy. It is an observation of a phenomenon, one phenomenon which significantly warps many people's understanding of the past and of the fantasy as such. It has nothing to do with modern politics, except insomuch as modern-day political thought impacts our views of both monarchy and fantasy – but that much was basically impossible to avoid.

It is also a fact that many people see monarchy and monarchical systems exclusively in the terms of an absolute monarchy, and even those few attempts to portray a different form of monarchy (Westeros in ASoIaF, which is supposed to be a federal-feudal state) typically fail because modern-day writers simply do not understand anything beyond "I am the state" mindset and political setup when it comes to a monarchy – they treat premodern monarchies as basically variants of modern-day authoritharian states, which said monarchies were very definitely not. What was the last time you saw free royal cities, trade guilds, traders as a class, parishes, local communities and municipal confederations play a major role in the internal politics of a kingdom? I cannot remember any: most of the time, when author even can be arsed to try and portray a feudal monarchy instead of an absolute one, you get a king, magnates, minor nobility if you are lucky, and serfs. No cities as political entities, no communities, no Church as a political entity, no middle-class nobility as a political entity, no guilds… you get the idea. And this is a problem because:
a) it significantly warps people's understanding of the period
b) it makes politics and anything connected to politics a rather cookie-cutter affair. There is simply not much diversity, just a mass of writers presenting a stupidly simplified feudal system, and a few outliers which have systems that are not feudal at all (Gondor, Videssos, Alera…).

Everything that makes both feudalism and monarchy as such interesting is lost because of this.

ThinkerX

yes, the government of Solaria, the primary nation of my primary world, is a monarchy (well, technically an Empire) with a hereditary leadership. However, succession is not automatic, and there are checks on imperial authority. Get right down to it, Solaria is more 'alliance' than 'monolithic nation.' Some provinces are authoritarian hell holes, others are ruled by elected officials.

That said, many of my characters are from the lower rungs of Solarian society – and that society is in growing turmoil: guilds or unions bossing aristocrats around, a massive increase in the middle class, technological developments like bicycles and printing presses becoming commonplace.

So basically Holy Roman Empire if it had survived long enough? That is something I'd really like to see more of in fantasy.

Amy Keeley

This was a really informative article. Democratic and republic systems get so much focus that it's hard to remember that other systems had variations as well.

I personally love the concept of an elected monarch, but haven't done nearly enough research into it to feel comfortable writing it. At the moment, I find it easiest to write about hereditary monarchies.

(I wonder if part of a hereditary monarchy's charm in fantasy is that they feel old/ancient, and help ground the world in the reader's mind, especially if the ruler's family had been in charge for thousands of years. Maybe it makes the change within the story feel that much more dramatic? *shrugs*)

Agreed. As for why hereditary monarchy is so popular in fantasy, answer is actually simple: monarchy of Gondor was a hereditary monarchy, and so most fantasy writers write a hereditary monarchy, completely disregarding the fact that even Middle Earth had a variety of political systems (Shire was an anarchist commune, Mordor a theocracy – but with a literal (fallen) angel ruling over it, Lake Town was a democracy).

Amy Keeley
Amy Keeley
10 days ago

This was a really informative article. Democratic and republic systems get so much focus that it’s hard to remember that other systems had variations as well.

I personally love the concept of an elected monarch, but haven’t done nearly enough research into it to feel comfortable writing it. At the moment, I find it easiest to write about hereditary monarchies.

(I wonder if part of a hereditary monarchy’s charm in fantasy is that they feel old/ancient, and help ground the world in the reader’s mind, especially if the ruler’s family had been in charge for thousands of years. Maybe it makes the change within the story feel that much more dramatic? *shrugs*)

ThinkerX
10 days ago

yes, the government of Solaria, the primary nation of my primary world, is a monarchy (well, technically an Empire) with a hereditary leadership. However, succession is not automatic, and there are checks on imperial authority. Get right down to it, Solaria is more 'alliance' than 'monolithic nation.' Some provinces are authoritarian hell holes, others are ruled by elected officials.

That said, many of my characters are from the lower rungs of Solarian society – and that society is in growing turmoil: guilds or unions bossing aristocrats around, a massive increase in the middle class, technological developments like bicycles and printing presses becoming commonplace.

Electric Bone Flute
10 days ago
Queshire

Ah yes, because problematic is such a politically neutral term. Pull the other one. It's got bells on.

Ah, but it was not said that monarchy is simply "problematic," but "problematic by democrats," which is a less controversial thing to say. Strong believers in democracy do think there's a problem in non-democratic monarchies.

joshua mcdermott
10 days ago

yes, I have to agree. you could have made your point and had a very good article without calling out other political systems/people as : actually: This and NOT what they propose. You have presented the article as a refutation of democracy from the start without first establishing a position of positivity for your argument. if that make sense. In any case, it's off-putting. I'd suggest working from a positive point and not start with a negation of others before you even start.

Queshire
10 days ago

Ah yes, because problematic is such a politically neutral term. Pull the other one. It's got bells on.

Aldarion
10 days ago
Queshire

Is there a reason this had to go political right from the start?

Because modern day politics and ideologies are the primary source of misconceptions about medieval monarchies. In modern world, democracy is seen as an ideal, which then leads to such smart articles as this:
Ethics in World-Building: Monarchies

The entire article was in fact inspired by the following article:
The Authoritarian Heroes of 'Game of Thrones'
which not-so-subtly implied that any fantasy author who included a monarchy as anything other than outright villains is promoting tyranny.

And as A Pineapple pointed out, I am using "democrats" with a low-case "d", that is to say, supporters of a democracy as a political system – and I am also including republicans in this label as well (democracy in this definition being what we call "direct democracy" while republic would be today's "representative democracy", just to prevent confusion).

A Pineapple
11 days ago
Queshire

Is there a reason this had to go political right from the start?

I think they were meaning little "d" democrats – those that believe in democratic or representative style government, rather than big "D" Democrats, the US political party.

Queshire
11 days ago

Is there a reason this had to go political right from the start?

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