Monday, 22 April 2013

Fantasy Without Crowns

Monarchies are standard fare for fantasy, and it's easy to see why. The basics of monarchy are easily understood (we still have several in the modern world) but an active monarchy (ie one that actually runs the country instead of acting as a sort of national figurehead) is distant enough from most people's experience to be exotic and intriguing. In addition, most fantasy is set in a basically medieval world, when such monarchies were prevalent.

However, there are alternatives:


Alright, this sounds a bit weird, but it actually fits. If Ancient Greece and Rome could have something approaching democracy, then why not a fantasy world? You can mix it up with aristocracy/senators if you wish or have a pure democracy. As modern America shows, you still end up with dynastic families (Clintons, Kennedys etc) but with the added fun of vote-rigging and propaganda.

Ecclesiastical rule

Around the 15th century Italy was a proper mess, politically (in terms of money it was actually doing very well). One of the most interesting clashes was between the Guelfs and Ghibellines, the supporters of the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor (who wasn't holy, wasn't Roman and wasn't an emperor, but still…). A number of lands in Italy were ruled by the clergy, and were ecclesiastical principalities. You can of course make a religious-ruled land very extreme (cf Iran) or have a more moderate version.


The Spartans were famous warriors, but the only reason all the men could afford the time to devote to such a way of life was because of the helots. Helots did the agricultural work necessary to support the Spartans and were a subjugated people (accounts vary as to whether they were entirely slaves or had a sort of halfway status between slavery and freedom).

A mixed constitution

As created by Lycurgus for the Spartans and the system of Rome that Polybius praised, a mixed constitution involves the three noble elements of governance (democracy, aristocracy and monarchy). So, an elected assembly or individuals (tribunes) would be involved, as would a wealthy elite and a small number (not necessarily one, as there were two consuls) of leading lights. Sparta also had two kings, and was therefore a diarchy. Probably a bit trickier to write to get the balance right, but this is a very stable form of government (Sparta's constitution lasted about eight centuries and Rome's about five before it became an empire).


When writing Bane of Souls I realised that both Felaria and Denland (kingdoms) were pretty hierarchical and wanted something different for the Kuhrland (a third 'country'). So, I went for a minimalist approach. The people are not bound together by loyalty to a feudal leader but by common traditions, customs and laws. Taxes don't exist (although custom dictates certain 'donations'), which means people keep more cash, but it also means there isn't money available for a central authority to pave roads or build grand edifices. There's a greater degree of personal freedom, as well as actions being dictated less by noble commands than by the obligations of duty and honour.

For those who think the last option sounds interesting, the Kuhrisch play a role in Bane of Souls and the Kuhrland is the primary setting for the forthcoming Journey to Altmortis, which I hope to have out in the final week of May.



  1. Hello Mr. Thaddeus,

    It's been a while since I've commented, but I'm glad to be back.

    I'm also happy to say that this week I'll be buying Bane of Souls and I'm excited to start it.

    I'd like to ask you a few things to make up for lost time:

    1) Do you know where I can find an English version of the Spartan Constitution?

    2) Do you think that the British Government represents the division between democracy (House of Commons) aristocracy (House of Lords) and monarchy (HRM Elizabeth II), as you so put it in 4th section?

    3) Which Government do you find most enjoyable to write about?

    4) Which Government do you find better? Historically or presently as you'd prefer.

    Thank you for your time,

    - Bruno.

  2. I'm excited for you to start it too :)

    1) Not off the top of my head, I'm afraid. Annoyingly, I can remember reading bits and pieces about it but I'm not sure in which book(s) I read it. I have a notion that Polybius and maybe Herodotus refer to it, but I really couldn't be sure (if I can find them I'll try checking the indices to see if Sparta/Lycurgus is mentioned).

    2) Yes and no. Yes, in that we have a monarch, we have an aristocratic chamber (although it's increasingly appointed rather than hereditary) and an elected chamber. However, there's such a weighting of practical power towards the Commons over the Lords that we effectively have a democracy mingled with a monarchy (the Queen very rarely exercises power, but she still has a lot). So, it's not really a mixed constitution even though it appears to have the elements of one.

    [I can't think of a modern country that has a real mixed constitution].

    3) Monarchy. It's simple, easy to understand, and means that you have individuals with a lot of power in their hands which helps create characters and plots that are interesting and fast moving.

    4) I'd say the republican period of Rome (particularly in the third century BC) was very strong indeed. The country was still very patriotic, and it was when political dynasties and then emperors came along that Rome became weaker. The shift in loyalty from Rome to individual leaders was a permanent step in the wrong direction.