The Great Houses of Shallot

10 Jan

It is probably better to look at the Great Houses as clans, rather than families. They are immense, even the smallest having over fifty senior members; they wield vast power and influence, at least in part, because they’re a gathering of powerful magicians. Their power (and patronage networks) often stretch well beyond the boundaries of Shallot itself.

It’s fairly simple to define a Great House. It must be a large and powerful faction of magicians, one that cannot be ignored by the rest of the city. In theory, smaller families and guilds can possess the power of a Great House (and demand seats on Magus Court) but in practice they tend not to have much staying power.

A Great House is generally divided into four sections. The greater family consists of the senior members nearest to the core bloodline; the lesser family consists of the senior members further away from the core, the children consist of the underage family members and the clients consist of unrelated magicians who have accepted the family’s patronage and sworn themselves to its service. It is unusual for a member of the lesser family to have any say in the family’s internal affairs, but it has been known to happen; children and clients, of course, do not have any say at all.

The typical Great House is led by a Patriarch or Matriarch, who is elected by the family council (the greater family) and serves for life unless the council decides to remove him from his position. A Patriarch wields considerable power over the family, although there are some limits; he is also expected to spend most of his day tending to the family’s affairs, seeing to the education of its children and nurturing the family’s network of clients. It is rare for a Patriarch to change things radically, as most Patriarchs come from the greater family and tend to regard tradition as inflexible.

The Patriarch’s day starts with breakfast, which is generally shared with his wife, children and closest relatives. Once he has eaten, the Patriarch will converse with clients or work with his apprentices to further their magical studies a task that consumes most of the morning. A Patriarch will then share lunch with his senior clients (an invitation to dinner is regarded as a great honour) before attending Magus Court (or the lesser law courts) to discuss city law or plead for his clients in a courtroom. Dinner is shared with close family and rarely interrupted; the evening is free.

Lesser family members are either trained to serve the Great House (as servants, for example) or encouraged to go into positions that will allow their family to expand its influence. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: the family butler, for example, wields considerable power in his own right. Others go into teaching, where they tutor the family’s children, or join the family’s private armsmen. The family will also provide the funds for a lesser family member who wishes to open a business or something else that may enhance the family’s position.

The family’s children (greater and lesser) receive private tuition in magic from the age of six, as well as an extensive education that covers everything from accident languages to law and family history. A child is expected to be able to recite his or her entire family tree by the time they reach ten, allowing them to position themselves as heirs to ancient traditions. Particularly clever and promising children are singled out for further training, which can be offered privately (and secretly). A handful of children are sometimes dispatched to foreign schools, allowing them to make overseas contacts and keep abreast of magical developments outside Tintagel.

As they grow older, children are expected to attend formalised gatherings (and less formal parties) with children from other Great Houses. This allows them to get to know their fellows before they go to Jude’s, while their parents can show off their magical progeny to their peers. Courtly manners are drilled into them, to the point where making a mistake in etiquette can haunt someone for the rest of their life.

By law, children are effectively the property of their family (and effectively the family’s clients). The Patriarch has vast authority when it comes to shaping their lives, although wise Patriarchs understand the dangers of being too strict or indulgent. Magus Court (or other outside authorities) do not have the legal power to intervene, if they feel a child is being abused; that said, parents can be (and often are) held accountable for their child’s behaviour.

It is extremely uncommon for a family member to either betray the family or simply leave. The vast majority of family members believe in the family, even if they don’t always like it. Many of them wouldn’t know what to do outside the family (and wouldn’t have access to family funds.) Indeed, the Patriarchs often try to help the discontented find a place where they will be happier, rather than forcing them to stay somewhere they’re unhappy. That said, someone who wants to leave completely will often be given a severance package and formally disowned from the family. They will no longer be considered part of their former clan. A person who betrays the family, on the other hand, will be declared outcast. They will have little hope of finding a safe place within the city.

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4 Responses to “The Great Houses of Shallot”

  1. Ann January 11, 2018 at 12:00 am #

    A great house is also likely to have allied families with no biological linkage. The apprentices etc that don’t have their own family connections or wealth later may seek assistance from their former master’s great family with business, housing, child education, etc and this may continue over a few generations until that group either marries in or develops the wealth and connections to go independent. Loyalty by blood or by owning necessary business tools, business premises, residence, etc

    • William Ameling January 11, 2018 at 12:50 am #

      I suspect that greater family members are those close enough by blood to use the Family Sword (if it has one). While lesser family members may be those who are not close enough by blood to either be “unable” to use the Family Sword or (possibly) able to use it but not “Allowed” to use the Family Sword.

      • Ann January 11, 2018 at 4:32 am #

        In that case a family sword may be an important way of keeping the top leadership position within the original lineage even if the family council is made up of more distant family who are more personally powerful, more connected and more wealthy. A huge pain if your an outer member and the inner members are stupid.

  2. William Ameling January 12, 2018 at 1:07 am #

    Of course, since in many cases marriages may be between different families within the Clan that is a Great House, having a greater family member marry one of your children (of a lesser family) (or marry You) so that your grand children (or children) could/might be able to use the Family Sword and gain (or regain, if the blood tie had gotten diluted enough previously) greater family status would be a way of linking families (or individuals) to/within the Great Family. It could also be a reward for service, deeds, good connections, etc. to a lesser family or family member, and a punishment (or loss of status) if denied the opportunity.

    As anyone who has read history or fiction (of many types) knows, often internal politics can be quite vicious within a family or a Clan (group of families). (Look at Cat and her sisters, and her great aunt).

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