Draft Afterword: The Prince’s War

10 Jul

This is the draft, so any comments are welcome.


“When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman?  From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.”

-John Ball

Someone – I forgot who – once complained that science-fiction writers could only imagine monarchies, that numerous stories set in the far future included monarchies that wouldn’t have been unrecognisable to our ancestors from the distant past.  Their complaint, if I recall correctly, was that there were other possibilities – direct democracy, for example, or actually workable communism – and monarchies were just plain lazy.  Leaving aside the simple observation that monarchies tend to make for better stories, even if you wouldn’t want to live in those worlds personally, the simple truth is that the human race has been governed by monarchies for thousands of years.  Large-scale constitutional democracy is actually, on a historical scale, a fairly new invention.  Indeed, monarchy appears so often that one is tempted to wonder if there is something in humanity that adores a monarch.

The historical record seems to suggest that democracies have a fairly short shelf life.  The democracy of Athens, which operated on a very limited franchise, was brought low by its own internal quarrels and weaknesses and eventually gave way to outside rule.  The Roman Republic effectively suffocated under the weight of its own empire, eventually leading to civil war and the de facto creation of a monarchy.  Peasant revolts against the European aristocracies often ended with the peasants choosing not to land the killing blow, only to be slaughtered when the aristocrats regained their nerve; the downfalls of King Charles I and Louis XVI were rapidly followed by political chaos, the rise of rulers with monarchical powers (Cromwell, Napoleon) and, eventually, the restoration of the monarchy.  Even the modern-day United States has not been immune to this trend.  President Bush43 was the son of President Bush41, while Hilary Clinton was the wife of President Clinton42; there are, as of writing, suggestions that the wives or daughters of Presidents Obama44 and Trump45 will enter politics.  If they do, their connections will both help and hinder them. 

Monarchy, a system of hereditary rule, is in fact near-universal throughout human history.  So are the problems it brings in its wake.  A king who remains in power too long will grow set in his ways, unable to change with the times.  Strong and capable kings give way to sons who are far less capable and therefore weaken – and sometimes lose – the throne.  And, of course, there is not even the pretence of democracy.  Kings claimed to be the protectors of their people – smart rulers worked hard to create the illusion all the bad stuff was done by evil counsellors, who could be sacrificed if necessary – but the idea of commoners having a say in their own affairs was effectively blasphemy.

Why did this happen?

The first king, it is often said, was a lucky bandit.  This isn’t entirely true – no one can call Augustus Caesar a bandit – but there is a degree of truth in it.  The first kings (however termed) were men who reshaped society to support their primacy, creating a network of supporters who upheld the king’s position because to do otherwise would weaken their own position.  This pattern was followed by every successful king, but also powerful figures as diverse as Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein.  The reshaping gave the aristocrats, however defined, a stake in society; it also carved out a logical and understandable chain of command and line of succession that provided a certain governmental stability.  There could not be – in theory – any struggle over the succession, once a king died.  His firstborn son would take the throne.  In practice, it was often a little more complex.  It was not until the institution of monarchy became predominant within Western Europe that the line of succession was clearly laid down and unhappy heirs still posed potential threats to newly crowned monarchs (and usurpers, such as Napoleon, found it hard to gain any real legitimacy.)

This structure went further than you might think.  It co-opted religious institutions, merchants and, right at the bottom, commoners, serfs and de facto slaves.  It was incredibly difficult for them to rise in the world, but there was – again, in theory – certain limits on how badly they could be abused.  They knew their place in the world, yet they also knew how far their lords could go.  The Poll Tax of 1381 England, for example, was sparked by the government demanding more and more taxes, taxes that were beyond the commonly accepted levels and collected with a previously known fervour.  The monarch’s representatives had broken the rules, as far as his subjects were concerned, and therefore waging war on them – to teach them a lesson, rather than destroy them – was perfectly legal.  Naturally, the aristocracy disagreed. 

There were, at least in theory, advantages to this structure.  The king was a known figure, a person who could reasonably expect to be on the throne for decades and therefore show a degree of long-term planning; the imperative to sire a heir and a spare was a clear commitment to securing the future of his holdings.  The king would have a bird’s eye view of the kingdom, as well as experience in administration and warfare, and could therefore make decisions that benefited the entire kingdom.  On paper, monarchy may seem to be amongst the better forms of human government.

The problems of monarchical rule, however, are manifold.  No human ever born can hope to absorb and process an entire country’s worth of information, even when that information reaches the monarch without being altered by his servants.  Kings therefore make poor decisions because they don’t know what’s really going on.  Second, kings are often the prisoners of their own throne.  A king cannot easily rule against his great lords, the ones who are abusing the commoners, for fear of turning them against him permanently and therefore being disposed when a new challenger arrives.  Third, a king’s sons are rarely as capable as their father because they haven’t struggled and suffered in quite the same way.  The great kings of England – Henry II, Edward I, Henry V, James VI and I, Charles II – were often followed by sons and grandsons who lacked their father’s insight.  Indeed, a heir’s failings may become apparent very early on – Henry the Young King, for example – but because of the nature of monarchy it was very difficult to remove them from the line of succession. 

And, when they become kings in their own right, they were very hard to remove.  Richard II was disposed by his own cousin, Henry VI became a pawn in the original game of thrones, Charles I had his head lopped off after a civil war and James II was replaced by his sister and brother-in-law.  The price of monarchy, in short, is periods of instability caused by kings who were not up to the task, or lacked a power base of their own (Mary of Scotland) and ambitious aristocrats manoeuvring for power.

At its core, the problem of monarchy is that it puts the primacy of the monarch and his aristocrats ahead of the interests of the entire kingdom.  The king practices – he must practice – a form of nepotism.  He must put forward men who are loyal to him personally, rather than the kingdom itself; he must use his sons and daughters as pawns on the diplomatic chess board, rather than let them marry for love (or bring new blood into the monarchy).  He must raise his sons to take his place, all too aware that refusing to grant them real power will lead to resentment, hatred and (perhaps) civil war when – if – the heir’s courtiers start pushing him to grant favours he simply doesn’t have the wealth or power to give.  The kingdom therefore becomes a collection of scorpions in a bottle, the monarchy unwilling to make any compromises for fear of where they will lead, let alone allow people to question his power, and the aristocracy unwilling to put aside its prerogatives for the greater good.  This is a recipe for chaos and revolution.  And revolution can often lead to a tyranny worse than the now-gone monarchy. 


Why, then, are monarchies so popular?

There’s one argument that suggests the myth – and yes, it is a myth – of the ‘Father Tsar’ is actually quite appealing, that one can find comfort in it as one might find comfort in spiritualism and religion.  There’s another that suggests a person bred and trained for power will do a better job than someone elected into their position, although both the historical record and simple common sense suggestions otherwise.  And there’s a third that says we look at the fancy outfits and romantic lives and don’t recognise the downsides.  And there’s a fourth that hints we all want to surrender our autonomy, to unite behind a single divinely anointed leader and follow him wherever he leads, rather than questioning him too closely for fear of what we might find.  Personality cults are growing increasingly common these days and those who ask if the emperor has no clothes often come to regret it. 

Personally, I think the blunt truth is that very few of us have any real idea of what it is like to live under an absolutist monarchy.  The few remaining western monarchies are jokes, compared to their predecessors.  It is easy to watch Bridgeton and debate whether or not Daphne raped Simon; it is harder to understand why a real-life Daphne might feel driven to such an action, or the consequences if she’d taken any other course.  The fancy costumes we love hide a grim reality, one better left in the past.  As the joke goes …

“My girlfriend wanted me to treat her like a princess.  So I married her off to a man old enough to be her father, a man she’d never met, to secure an alliance with France.”

There is a temptation in monarchy.  There is an entirely understandable sense that uniting behind a single man is right, particularly if that man has divine right, and if you do that man will fight for you.  But no one can be trusted with such power.  They would, eventually, be corrupted or be replaced by those who became corrupted themselves.  Those people do not fight for you.  They fight for themselves. 

And now you’ve read this far, I have a request to make.

It’s growing harder to make a living through self-published writing these days.  If you liked this book, please leave a review where you found it, share the link, let your friends know (etc, etc).  Every little helps (particularly reviews).

Thank you.

Christopher G. Nuttall

Edinburgh, 2021

8 Responses to “Draft Afterword: The Prince’s War”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard July 10, 2021 at 4:13 pm #

    As an American, I’m not that concerned about the “relative” of a politician running for public office as it is still up to the voters. (Just look at what happened to Jeb Bush & Hillary Clinton.)

    What concerns me is the mindset of “President equals all-powerful King”.

    Both supporters and opponents see the President as more powerful than he/she actually is.

    Obama (& his supporters) play with the idea that he was going to transform the US and the world in some way.

    Trump was blamed for stuff that was outside his authority as President especially when the opponents would have condemned him if he had acted outside his authority. Of course, his opponents often claimed that he “acted outside his authority” even when Congress had given the President the authority.

    Mind you, I have had this nasty thought about a President accused of being Hitler actually dealing with his opponents just as Hitler dealt with his opponents. [Evil Grin]

  2. ruopp July 10, 2021 at 4:48 pm #

    It may be true for many countries in Europe but you forgot that in the center of Western Europe there is a small country that never had a monarchy. In fact it was built under treaties to fight the neighbors monarchs. It was also built as a direct democracy and in less than a month (August 1) will complete 780 years of existence. This country is called Switzerland.

    Believe it or not, after 780 years we still have a direct democracy including the traditional vote in a central plaza with people raising their hands to vote.

    Also, Switzerland is not governed by a president or prime-minister, it’s governed by a council of 7 ministers elected by the parliament and representing the 4 biggest parties in the country. 2 seats for the 3 biggest ones (in number of seats in the parliament) and 1 for the 4th.

    Also, The people is the sole to change the constitution and can also propose a referendum to ditch unwanted laws approved by the parliament.

    If you search a little you’ll find a lot of different forms of government that doesn’t even ressemble to a monarchy or the more common forms of democratic republics.

    It’s also interesting to note that many authors I’ve read in the past decade tend to use a form of council to alien governments or alien alliances but never to earth as if it never happened here.

    IMO, the tendency to use a monarchy or a republic is just the fact that the author is used to it.

    The problem I see using a monarchy in the future means that whoever is the first King or Emperor, he will certainly be a dictator and a Tyrant backed by the armed forces as there is no way the people will accept such form or government, not anymore.

  3. Fred Mora July 10, 2021 at 4:59 pm #


    This is a good analysis! It’s something that I’d not have been surprised to find taught by Pr. Dubois to a tired Juan Rico.

    You might want to add something about ancient vs. modern monarchies. Kings of old had very definite limitations on their effectiveness and authority, namely, speed of communication. They knew that even if they had perfect information and made perfect decisions (which few kings were foolish enough to believe), their decrees would propagate very slowly through their kingdom. The standard distance covered by royal mail cavaliers was about 30 miles per day, and that required excellent infrastructure.

    Modern dictatorships are characterized by personality cult and absolute authority of the ruler, just like old kingdoms. Additionally, technocrats and “experts” delude themselves and their superiors that they can make the absolute best scientific decisions. And thanks to modern communication and social monitoring, these decisions can be enforced to a degree of intrusiveness and micro-management undreamed of by the worst tyrant of old.

    This explains why modern dictatorships are much more fragile than the kingdoms and empires they strive to emulate. Yes, brainwashed peasant worship Comrade Supreme, just like they sanctified the king. Yes, the ruler’s orders are absolute, just like in imperial days. But the modern dictator’s curse is that his orders are actually followed. He does not need to delegate and ingratiate himself to local customs and notables. He can simply ream through his (mostly ill-advised) decisions through a hapless populace. Economic devastation, misery and starvation soon follow.

    In modern system theory terms, we’d say that the old tyrants had no choice but to use local feedback loops between action (decisions going down) and results (information going back up) and ride on a decentralized machine. Modern tyrants break local feedback loops, push down decisions from a central location, disregard unpleasant information coming back (all dictators shoot the messenger), and wonder who is sabotaging their beautiful ideas.

    The only viable kingdom that could survive in spite of modern communication would be a one with a very light touch, a sort of minimalist dictator that would promulgate only principles and delegate execution to a confederation of local governments. If your galactic emperor is aware of this and allows weeks for his decrees to be received by the most remote planets through FTL ships, then we might have a successful empire.

  4. Jared July 10, 2021 at 5:03 pm #

    What I like about the US federal government is that technically it’s designed to prevent the government from actually doing to much. With the division of authority it builds in a certain inefficiency that keeps the government from becoming to powerful. At least That’s how it’s supposed to work. Lol

  5. Not very smart July 10, 2021 at 5:05 pm #

    I agree with most of what you said. But monarchies, or rather dictatorships, aren’t completely useless. In times of crisis (the best example is war) there is often a need for quick and decisive action. Sometimes there is simply not enough time to hear every opinion and go through the long democratic process of approving decisions. And if there is a deadlock, then no decision can be made at all. In such cases, it’s better for the government to have the power to take undemocratic actions in order to have a better a chance of successfully handling the crisis. I believe that several western countries have special laws that give the government more authority in times of crisis.

    Regarding fiction – In my opinion It’s much more interesting to read about monarchies than about democracies. Monarchies simply have more potential for interesting stories about social injustice, large scale wars, politics, how various people deal with having immense power, and more…

  6. filipboa0637 July 11, 2021 at 7:15 am #

    uh, bashing power couple like Bill-Hillary is lazyness. There should be Democratic politicos who inherit position from their parents is you want to look “neutral”. Power Couple is modern phenomena and unrelated with core of monarchy “Inheritance”.

    In fact whole articles seems to blind to inheritance matter, treating monarchy no differently than tyranny/dictatorship/president. or other tendencies to personalizing leadership of nation

  7. Matthew W Quinn July 11, 2021 at 2:55 pm #

    There was a book I found on Amazon that suggested there was a genetic basis to willingness to support a king and make excuses for his actions while condemning an enemy nation’s rule for the same thing–those who didn’t were executed and therefore didn’t reproduce. Submission to authority (or at least “your own” authority) became necessary for evolutionary success.

    Evolutionary psychology is rather dubious (and I find the concept of hereditary morals/personality traits eugenicist), but that could explain the “something” that draws people to kings. Americans seem to LOOOVE the British monarchy even though I recall us fighting a war to get out from under it, and the powers of the presidency have increased over the 20th Century quite significantly. We have our own “Father Tsar” on the radio and the TV.

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