Structure of the Imperium

The Imperium is a rather diffuse structure. The Imperial Court on Terra is a distant, almost mythical place. The Imperial structure that means the most to the average Imperial subject is the Great House. The House rules the world or hive upon which the individual subject lives, the nature of the Lord of that house determines the tenor of life for all his or her subjects. If the Emperor wishes to punish certain people, he need do no more than appoint a quarrelsome or merely incompetent lord.

Each Great House can govern its own domains as it sees fit. A Great House typically controls one world but may control several if it is exceptionally rich. A Great House controlling a single world will typically claim the title of Baron.  Within each subsector, one house is usually dominant – typically claiming a more exalted title like Count or Marquis (if near an Imperial Frontier). Within the sector, there is also a dominant house, typically claiming an even more exalted title such as Duke. A sector Duke must be confirmed by the Emperor (typically through the Senate) to succeed to the title. The Duke must confirm the subsector counts. However, no outside authority interferes in the operation of any given house.

Of course, sometimes a mere baron can wield such behind-the-scenes power as to be the real power in a sector. In the Calixis Sector, for example, House Krim is a great house holding only the title of a baron – it controls a rather small fief and has holdings on the capital world of Scintilla. However, its real power is not military or political – it is economic. House Krim has investments in practically every major endeavor in the sector. They hold such a large amount of debt and have such economic influence that they are a far bigger factor in sector-wide affairs than is apparent at first blush.

One thing every house has is a motto. These mottoes give an insight into the nature and personality of that house. Great House Rohan, which governs the world of Alberta IV, has as its motto “Kings we can’t be, Dukes we disdain, Rohans we ARE!”. The Great House of Adamus has “Sic Gorgiamus Allos Subjectatos Nunc” (We Gladly Feast On Those Who Would Subdue Us) as its motto and their distaff cousins, House Frump claims “Nil Desperandum” (Never Say Die) as their motto.

There is nothing simple about the administration of an Imperial fief. Each House is assessed a tithe by the Imperium, within each sector there are agents of Imperial Fiscal Intelligence (known as correctores) whose job it is to ensure that the Imperium receives its due from each of the Great Houses. Additionally, the Inquisition operates outside normal chains of authority and is answerable only to the Emperor himself – seeking out rogue psychics, rebels, and traitors to Mankind by a variety of overt and covert means. In addition to these spies – which are an accepted part of life for most noble houses – there is the Imperial Cult (and its armed forces, the Adeptus Sororitas) to deal with. Despite Imperial guarantees of religious tolerance to many faiths outside the Imperial Cult (such as the various Space Marine religions, the Cult of the Omnissah, and so on), the Ministorium doesn’t particularly like to have to compete for the devotion of the masses.

Beyond these religious and political challenges from the Imperium, a Great House must guard against sedition and treason from its own vassals, the Houses Minor enfiefed on its own holdings. On some worlds, particularly Hive Worlds, there are several great houses. Each one controls a single hive which may have as many inhabitants as some worlds. Even where a Great House has an undisputed claim to an entire world, it must also guard against rival houses. To this end, every Great House establishes a military of its own. While Great Houses might differ considerably on governmental, social, and economic theories all operate surprisingly similar to one another. Every Great House will have many of the same features and institutions:

Planetary Defense Forces/Household Troops

The military threats posed by rival Great Houses, rebellious minor houses, Xenos incursions, pirate raids (and the unspoken but very real threat of Imperial interference) compels every Great House (and many minor houses) to raise Household Troops or to at least hire mercenaries to provide security for the Noble family, protect its interests and project its power, if need be.

These Household forces are almost always patterned on the Imperial Guard (although doctrines may vary) using similar weapons, organizations, and operating assumptions. Unlike Imperial Guard units, Household Troops answer to the Great House that raised them instead of the Adeptus Munitorium.

Household Intelligence

Household Intelligence services go by many names, ranging from Special Investigations Service to the more ominous Secret Police. They fulfill the same role for the Great Houses as the Inquisition fills for the Imperium and often Inquisitorial agents will seek to infiltrate Household Intelligence and vice versa.

Household Constabulary

Local law enforcement deals with whatever local laws and customs need enforcing. Often patterned on the Adeptus Arbites, local police are variously known as Sheriffs, Constables, Watchmen, or Enforcers. Unlike the Arbitrators, which deal with Imperial Law as it exists on any given world (which may range from a virtual police state to the narrowest of mandates), the Constabulary deal with locally enacted laws – which are set by the ruling house.

Household Chaplaincy

The Imperium is a highly religious society. In many places, the Imperial Cult is seen as a political tool, a useful social fiction, and little more. Indigenous religion plays a far greater role in the lives of most Imperial subjects. Naturally, local religion cannot challenge the Imperium, or worse tolerate Chaos Cults, but so long as it doesn’t disrupt the good order of the Imperium, each Great House is entitled to its own views of religion. Most adhere to one sect or another of the Imperial Cult in the name of expediency, but this is not universally true, especially in vassal states influenced or governed by Space Marine Chapters or the Tech-Priests of Mars. Where the Great House does not adhere to the Ecclesiarchy, a Household Chaplaincy will be responsible for the spiritual welfare of the people. However, no House may proscribe the Imperial Cult entirely since to do so is tantamount to rebellion.

Aids, Levies and Feudal Rights

The Imperium is a decidedly feudal since the High Lord of Terra cannot directly govern each world, the worlds of the Imperium are generally held in fief by the myriad Great Houses. As such, each is expected to provide certain aids, levies, rents, and other services as part of its feudal devoir to the Emperor. Similarly, Great Houses will often subinfuedate to lesser noble houses (the Houses Minor). In the case of especially wealthy Houses Minor, they will in turn create vassals of their own.  Of course, the vassals of a House Minor are NOT the vassals of that House’s patrons – the vassal of my vassal is not my vassal.

Some of the more common feudal rights and responsibilities are:

Military Service: A vassal House must provide up to 10% of its military strength to its overlord for the prosecution of such wars as the Overlord may feel necessary to prosecute. For the first year of such service, the cost of maintaining such forces is the responsibility of the House providing them. After a year’s time, the forces must be rotated home or they must be paid and provided for out of the Overlord’s coffer.

Defense of the Realm: A vassal must provide whatever forces are needed to defend the realm, there is no time limit for such defensive deployments. If attacked, a vassal has the right and expectation of protection by his overlord. Suicidal efforts are not required but a good faith effort obviously is. Failure on the part of a vassal in this obligation is treason most foul, failure by an overlord is abandonment allowing the vassal to declare independence, to make his own terms and to seek a new overlord.

Scutage: If the overlord is at peace, he may demand scutage (shield money) from his vassals instead of military service. The cost of the scutage is the amount it would cost to hire mercenaries in lieu of the troops that would be demanded of the vassal. Scutage can be offered (but the overlord is not obligated to accept) if the vassal cannot raise the troops required. Scutage will never be accepted in lieu of defensive military service.

Hospitality: A vassal is expected to entertain his overlord with noble diversions and feasts when honored with a visit. The overlord for his part will not deplete his vassal’s larder and coffers by bringing an overly large retinue. Such visits are looked upon with mixed emotions by most vassals.

Tribute: a vassal typically owes the overlord ⅛ of its net revenue in any given year. Tribute is typically paid on the first day of the year.

Aid for Marriage: The marriage of an eldest daughter is a matter of great political import. Such marriages can cement important political alliances and economic mergers. Once in an overlord’s lifetime, he may demand ⅛ of a vassals net revenues to help defray the costs of such a marriage.

Aid for Knighthood: The adubment of the eldest son is a very important affair in the life of a House, it establishes a clear line of succession, eliminates any questions of legitimacy, and generally assures the smooth functioning of a house. Such a ceremony requires much pomp and circumstance. Once in an overlord’s lifetime, he may demand ⅛ of a vassals net revenues to help defray the costs of such a ceremony.

Aid for Ransom: If an overlord is captured in battle and a ransom is demanded, his vassals can be required to pay up to ¾ of the amount between them apportioned by the size of their holdings. Aid for ransom can only be demanded once a year.

Wardship: If the heir to a House is under 21 years of age, the House is placed under guardianship until the heir is of age. While under guardianship, the guardian has the right to dispose of the income of the house as he sees fit. The only restriction is the guardian cannot mortgage or sell off any of the house’s assets. The guardian may choose a marriage partner for his ward. If the ward refuses such a marriage, the guardian is entitled to 1 year’s net revenue when the ward assumes control. If the ward marries without the guardian’s consent, 2 years’ net revenue can be demanded.

Of course, most guardians do not gouge their wards to the extent allowed by law. A 50% cut with the balance invested in the ward’s best interests is considered reasonable. When the ward reached majority, he must sue for livery to insure the delivery of his estate into his hands. The cost of this action is 50% of the house’s net revenue – this is essentially an inheritance tax.

Escheat Im Propter Delictis: If a vassal refuses to render his feudal dues, he may be judged traitor and felon by his peers. Refusal to pay feudal dues is tantamount to renouncing title, failure to answer the charge is an admission of guilt. An absent defendant can be tried in absentia and be declared an outlaw and can be legally slain on sight.

If a vassal feels oppressed by his overlord, he can stage an honorable rebellion. He had better win or acquire powerful allies, because the overlord will accuse him of treason even if he forced the whole thing. The same applies to Great Lords at war with their high suzerain, the Emperor.

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