Nobility, Property, and Inheritance in the Empire

I’ve written recently about various aspects of the economic system of the Empire, the main country of the Shine Cycle, such as corporations, money, and guilds, and in one of the first Shine Cycle background posts I talked about how some elective positions are “made permanent” and become titles of nobility, but I haven’t talked really talked about the economics and societal views of nobility, property, or inheritance—which tend to get tangled up together, so I’ll talk about them all at once.

One caveat to this explanation, before we begin, is that the Empire is a federal republic; the rules about inheritance explained below apply to titles carrying a seat in the House of Peers, but beyond that exist (or not, perhaps in a few districts) on a district-by-district basis. So while the principles I’ll outline are generally true throughout the Empire, exceptions can exist.

First of all, “nobility” is seen as a quality of a person’s character, defined by actions (or the principles underlying those actions) rather than blood. While connections are not unimportant, one’s own actions are considered more important. Patents of nobility are considered recognition of nobility that the person already possessed, rather than an act conferring nobility on him or her.

Second, “estates” owned by a landowner but worked by tenants do exist, but are not common in the least. This means that unlike Regency Britain, the idea of a “gentry” defining their status by their distance from the “stench of trade” is impossible. Notions of “gentility” and “Society” are, of course, more common among those with sufficient income to distance themselves from manual labor, but a tradesman is generally considered as much a “gentleman” as a landowner.

One item bound up with this is the franchise. Nearly all districts select their representatives in the legislative bodies over them by general election, but to whom the franchise is limited varies. In some districts it is heads of households, in some it is landowners (and others with sufficient independent means), in some it is all over a certain age. Perhaps the most common is all who are not employed by another—as it’d be far too easy for an employer to (subtly, avoiding any incriminating speeches or actions, or blatantly) arrange for his workers to vote in a bloc according to his wishes rather than their own.

A fourth matter is inheritance. Property is inherited according to the expressed will of the deceased; equal division with a double share for the first-born is the most common method. (Though lifespans are long enough that inheritance has less effect on things than one might think—the child who will inherit a business is by then likely already part-owner after sharing in the labor with his father for a decade and a half or more, for example.) However, patents of nobility and other government (or ecclesiastical) provisions are not inheritable, being entailed (in effect) to the successor who will be chosen by election or appointment. There are a few districts where this rule does not exist, and local titles can be inherited. But in most of the Empire, especially in the Sunshine Kingdom, the memory that their national experiment with that system ended in tyranny and civil war cools any wish to fight the “entail”.

Similarly, oaths and contracts are generally not inherited; as a matter of custom, heirs are usually offered the chance to take an oath in their predecessor’s place, and vassals of a beloved suzerain often transfer their fealty to his or her heir. But this is not a matter of law. The law recognizes that contracts, oaths, and the like are highly personal, each party relying on the other to be trustworthy and “keep faith”, while the reliability of a designated or statutory heir is by no means guaranteed.

I’m sure there are “wrinkles” to all this that I’ve not thought of; any questions or comments?

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