I’m English and, even better, a Yorkshireman. I like living in a country with castles and monarchy and a splendid history. However, I do wonder why almost the default setting for fantasy is medieval England.
Feudal monarchies are pretty well-known. The King’s the top chap, then there are a range of powerful nobles, and beneath them the peasantry (possibly with a set of guilds, yeomanry and merchants in between). The familiarity helps ease readers into the world, and means the author doesn’t have quite so much explaining to do.
That’s well and good (and I can’t complain too much because 2/3 of the countries involved in my future eBook are themselves broadly similar). But why not use some other ancient civilisations as the framework for a fantasy country?
Greek city-states had a number of governing styles, with Athens (democracy) and Sparta (diarchy, with some elements of aristocracy and democracy) the best known. Athens had some fun rules, such as wealthy chaps being liable for outfitting a trireme (which was bloody expensive). However, a wealthy fellow could avoid this if someone else had more money but wasn’t paying for a ship. They proved this by offering, publicly, to swap everything they owned with the richer man, and if he did not accept the offer he had to pay for the trireme himself.
Republican Rome had a system that was similar to Sparta. Two consuls (elected annually rather than a pair of kings), a Senate rather than ephors and public ratification of certain measures (such as treaties). To be a Roman politician you had to first serve for years in the army, which was mandatory if you were a citizen anyway.
In Byzantium, the emperor was known as the basileus, and was traditionally selected by the army’s will (although quite often coups and hereditary factors were more important). However, the interesting part of the Byzantine system was that the wife of the emperor had her own palace and substantial authority in her own right. A bit like if the American First Lady got a department to run.
For those interested in this sort of thing, Polybius and Machiavelli both have interesting thoughts on governing nations. There are essentially three good systems, according to them (monarchy, aristocracy and democracy), with three corresponding bad versions (tyranny, oligarchy and anarchy). Given the relative rarity of monarchy in the world today, I wonder what most people would make of the idea that aristocracy or monarchy could be valid and good systems, instead of just democracy.
The third nation referred to in my eBook places more emphasis on a ruler’s obligations to the people, rather than on their servitude to him. This is somewhat similar to the system in Macedon, where the King was not a dictator and the army could and did make its voice heard. Alexander the Great turned back not because he wanted to, but because the army demanded it.
Hmm, that got a bit rambly, but hopefully it didn’t veer off of the Path of Interestingness and tumble down into the Crevice of Woe.