Political System

The Trinian system of government can be described as an elected constitutional monarchy. Originally, Trinia was a monarchy in which the various noble families elevated one of their own to the imperial throne, but as times have changed, this system evolved. In most democratic countries that retain a monarchy, democratisation was achieved by transferring substantive power to elected politicians while retaining the monarch as a ceremonial figurehead, but Trinia took a somewhat more direct path — the monarchy itself has been transformed into a democratic institution. This was possible due to the unusual nature of the Trinian monarchy to begin with — as the monarch was elected by the aristocracy, the principle of election was well-established, and all that needed to be introduced was the idea that the person elevated to the throne should ultimately have the direct support of the people. Today, the Emperor is still elected by the lords of the various Houses, but the lords themselves are elected representatives of the people rather than hereditary aristocrats. This means that in many ways, the Emperor of Trinia is similar to an executive president in a republic, despite the formalities and traditions which continue to surround the office.

Diagram of the Trinian governmental system

House Lords

  See: Houses

All Trinians belong to a House, the historic clans into which Trinian society is divided. Each of the Houses has a Lord — this position was once hereditary, but in modern times, is elected. Together, the Lords are responsible for chosing an Emperor and five Ministers from amongst themselves. The voting strength of each House is weighted according to its population. There are no declared candidates, so a House may vote for whoever it likes, including itself. It is also possible for a House to split its vote, although few do. Because an absolute majority is needed for victory, it is rare for a victor to emerge immediately — an election can last for some weeks as negotiations continue. At any time, a House may shift not only its own voting strength but also any votes given to it by other Houses — that is, House A may vote for House B, which gives both its own support and that received from House A to House C. In general, the eventual outcome will be the result of a compromise rather than simply an outright race.


  See: Emperor

As noted, the Emperor of Trinia is the head of the Trinian government, and is elected by the Lords of the thirty-seven Houses. In ancient times, the position of Lord was hereditary, or at least kept within a certain family. Today, however, the Lords are elected by the members of the House in question, meaning that the Emperor is chosen by representatives of the people. He is then confirmed by public vote. The Emperor is responsible for appointing the Seneschal and assigning roles to the five Ministers, and for directing the operations of the government in general — it is his policies which set the country's course.


  See: Ministries

In addition to chosing the Emperor, the House Lords also chose five of their number to serve as Ministers. Officially, the five people chosen are simply the five who came closest to being elected Emperor, although as previously noted, there is seldom an actual race for the throne — rather, the selection for ministerial posts will be part of the same negotiated compromise which elects the Emperor, ensuring that nobody need by completely shut out of office. Once five people have been named Ministers, it is the responsibility of the Emperor to assign each one to a specific Ministry.


Besides the five Ministers, the Emperor is assisted by an official known in Trinian as the larisman. The standard translation of the this word is "Seneschal", although "Steward", "Chamberlain", and "Majordomo" are occasionally employed. The origin of the word suggests that he or she runs the Emperor's household, and in traditional Trinian protocol the Seneschal still officially ranks only as a senior servant. In practice, however, the Seneschal has a major role in the administration of government — he or she is responsible for helping the Emperor implement his policies, and undertakes much of the behind-the-scenes administrative work which allows this to happen. In particular, the Seneschal is responsible for coordinating the five Ministers and keeping them appraised of the Emperor's directives, and also for facilitating the deliberations of the Gathering of Monitors.

Gathering of Monitors

  See: Gathering

Trinia does not have a parliament, congress, or other legislative body — laws are passed directly by the Emperor and the five Ministers. However, the Gathering of Monitors has a number of similarities to such assemblies. It is directly elected by the people, with seats allocated to each House based on population. Most of the elected representatives are members of loose political parties, although this affiliation is not formally recognised. The role of the Gathering is essentially one of oversight — it is responsible for supervising the activities of the government as a whole, and for ensuring that all other branches of government remain within their assigned duties. In the event of problems, the Gathering has the ability to impose certain measures to correct matters — including, if necessary, the calling of an early election. In some respects, the Gathering can be seen more as a constitutional court than a legislature, despite superficially resembling the latter.


Trinian politics is strange. Basically, they're trying to run a modern democracy using rules which were invented for a medieval aristocratic oligarchy, and although they more-or-less make it work, it results in a very odd-looking political system. A large number of rules have to be bent almost to breaking point, and the "formalities and traditions" mentioned in the first paragraph are not insignificant.

Basically, the Emperor should be though of as the President of Trinia — he's elected, albeit indirectly, and is largely in charge of the government. However, the five Ministers and politicians in their own right and weren't chosen by the Emperor, and so will have their own agendas — if enough of them oppose a policy, the Emperor generally has to go along with them. The lords of the various Houses, who in some respects (but not every respect) could be compared to the governors of states or provinces, need to be kept happy, as does the Gathering (the place where most political debate happens).

The Emperor is hampered in all this by the rather archaic protocols of the imperial court, which he has to obey even though he's more politician than monarch these days. This is where the Seneschal comes in. The Seneschal is, in practice, quite powerful — the term "deputy Emperor" or perhaps "prime minister" would not be inappropriate. Due to the aforementioned archaic rituals, the Emperor cannot take as direct a role as he might otherwise do, even though he arguably has the strongest democratic mandate of anyone in government — he provides direction, but the Seneschal is the one who does all the back-room dealing to get things done. For example, it would be completely against protocol for the Emperor to actually sit down at a table with his Ministers to discuss the affairs of government — he doesn't see or speak to some of them for months at a time. Instead, the Seneschal does it for him. Likewise, the Emperor isn't allowed to negotiate with the House lords about who gets what ministry — that's the Seneschal too. The Emperor always needs a good Seneschal to translate his policies into actual movement, because otherwise, there's very little opportunity to actually make things happen.

All in all, Trinia probably does count as a democracy, even if it is a weird one. It perhaps isn't perfectly democratic, though, due to the fact that it can be difficult for people to see what's going on. The government per se is quite open — it's easy to get government offices to provide citizens with information, and so forth. But the political process is often obscure — it's notable that neither the meetings of the House lords (who elect the head of state) nor the deliberations of the Gathering (who supposedly keep it all honest) are open to the public — it's all back-room dealing rather than open debate. The five Ministers, even more so. Everybody is elected, directly or indirectly, but once they're in office they tend to go behind closed doors until the next election comes around. In the end, the result probably does reflect the broad opinion of the people, but if I was a Trinian, that's one aspect of the government I'd be a bit concerned about. (In fact, it's probably another by-product of the way Trinia retains pre-democratic rules — they've democratised the structure, but not necessarily made it much more transparent than it was in the days when it was all about aristocratic intrigue.)