|“||People are born to their station here. They have commoners, to fight, and farm the land, and do the work. They have gentry, to trade, and build and do the thinking. They have nobility, to own the land and push the others around. They have royalty ... I forget why. In the North you can rise as high as your merits will take you. Only look at our mutual friend, Bethod. Not so here. A man is born in his place and is expected to stay there.||”|
The Union is a federated realm formed by the founding Kingdom of Midderland, the Kingdom of Angland, the Kingdom of Starikland, and the Protectorate cities of Dagoska and Westport. It is ruled by High King Guslav the Fifth from its capital city in Adua in Midderland. It is one of the two great empires in the Circle of the World; the other being the massive Gurkish Empire.
The first High King and founder of The Union was Harod the Great, some 600 years ago. Harod was the ruler of one of Midderlands many petty kingdoms, often at war with one another. He agreed to accept the advice of the Magus Bayaz, who became his most trusted counsellor. In time Midderland was unified, and Harod became its first High King.
The laws and structure of government of The Union were all established in this era, including the Closed and Open Councils, and the Inquisition; little has changed in the structure since. In nurturing The Union, Bayaz was emulating the way his master Juvens had cultivated the cradle of civilization in The Old Empire.
The High KingEdit
The Union's sovereign head of state is the High King of the Union, who technically is possessed with vast powers. The King is a hereditary monarch, where the crown is passes from one member of the royal family to another, generally to the eldest male child; it is unclear whether females are explicitly excluded from the order of succession. When a monarch dies without a clear successor, a succession crisis results, which must be resolved by a vote of the nobles in Open Council. Until the trilogy, it had happened only once in the six-hundred years, in the time of King Arnault. At the start of the series, the ruler is His August Majesty Guslav the Fifth, and the heir is Crown Prince Ladisla.
The Closed CouncilEdit
|“||"The Closed Council, whose task it should be to steer this leaking vessel, is packed with frauds and schemers. Some may be loyal, some are definitely not, each intent on pulling the King his own way."||”|
Although, the High King is technically possessed with vast powers, in reality the Union is governed largely by the Closed Council in a centralized manner. The Closed Council is composed of twelve select members: three Lords of Law, three Lords of War, three Lords of Money, and three Lords of the King's Household. There is also a thirteenth seat, reserved for the fabled Bayaz, First of the Magi, although this seat has remained vacant for almost six-hundred years. At the start of the series, the Closed Council are:
|Law||High Justice||Marovia||Head of the Judiciary System|
|Law||High Consul||Torlichorm||Responsible for foreign policy|
|Law||Keeper of the Rolls||Unknown||Responsible for records, inheritances, land and titles|
|War||Lord Marshal||Varuz||Senior commander of the Army, remains at home|
|War||Lord Marshal||Burr||Junior commander of the Army, goes on campaign|
|War||Admiral of the Fleet||Reutzer||Commander of the Union Navy|
|Money||Lord Chancellor||Feekt||Responsible for the treasury and the mints|
|Money||Minister of Taxation||Unknown||Responsible for the levies charged upon a taxpayer|
|Money||Min. of Expenditure||Unknown||Responsible for the outflow of money from the state|
|King||Lord Chamberlain||Hoff||Senior officer of the Royal Household|
|King||Knights Herald||Valdis||Responsible for the carriage of the King's orders|
|King||Arch Lector||Sult||Head of His Majesty's Inquisition|
Lord Chancellor Feekt, the Golden Chancellor, was considered the greatest politician of his day, and held the balance of power on the Closed Council for forty years. He dies at the very start of the trilogy, to be replaced by Halleck. After his death, the Closed Council was thrown into factions, with bitter rivals Arch Lector Sult and High Justice Marovia vying for supremacy.
The Open CouncilEdit
The vast power of the High King and the Closed Council is theoretically held in balance by the Open Council, a regular assembly of the realm's noblemen. The aristocracy rule their lands in a somewhat feudal manner, can collect taxes from commoners on their lands, and must provide levies to the crown in times of war.
The council is held in the Lord's Round in Adua, and presided over by the High King when he shows up, but more often by the Lord Chamberlain. The front row of seats are reserved for the heads of the very greatest families in the Union. On the left, representatives from Dagoska and Westport are seated . On the far right are those from Angland and Starikland. The bulk of the seating in between is for the old nobility of Midderland.
With the power now concentrated in the Closed Council, the nobles do not take the assembly very seriously, and often send their youngest sons as representatives, if they bother sending anyone at all. Anyone, nobleman or commoner, can seek an opportunity to be heard by the King in Open Council, by attending Audiences.
Federal Governors Edit
A portion of the High King's sovereign powers are transferred to the territorial government. In most cases, these powers are granted to an individual Lord Governor, such as Governors Fedor dan Meed, Skald, and Sand dan Vurms. These Governors may have their own council of advisers. The exception to this is Westport, which is governed by a council of twelve Aldermen, rather than an individual. The governors have considerable autonomy over their own province. They are all noblemen in their own right, with seats on the Open Council.
The King's Inquisition Edit
The King's Inquisition is an institution outside the normal judicial system, tasked with eliminating corruption, treason, and political descent within The Union; reminiscent of secret police forces in totalitarian states. Their methods are somewhat clandestine with little or no transparency or oversight. People apprehended by the Inquisition are subjected to coercive interrogation and torture. There is no due process, the Inquisition rely almost exclusively on written confessions or verbal confessions in Open Council. Those convicted are imprisoned, seemingly for life, in prisons mainly in Angland. It is headed by Arch Lector Sult, and based in the House of Questions.
Territory and Geography Edit
The Union is a disparate territory with varied climates and geography:
- Kingdom of Midderland is a large island in the centre of the Circle of the World, surrounded by the Circle Sea. It is the founding nation, and heart of The Union. It contains the capital and largest city Adua, from where most decisions are made.
- Kingdom of Angland is to the north of Midderland across The Circle Sea. It is bordered to the north by The North. The land is disputed, with The Union and The North both claiming sovereignty. The capital is Ostenhorm, and it is ruled by Lord Governor Fedor dan Meed.
- Kingdom of Starikland is to the west of Midderland across the sea. It is bordered to the north-west by Near County, and to the south-west by The Old Empire. The capital is Rostod, and it is ruled by Lord Governor Skald.
- Protectorate of Westport is a wealthy city-state and major trading port in Styria, to the east of Midderland. It is governed by twelve Aldermen.
- Protectorate of Dagoska is a city-state on the Southern Continent of Kanta on a peninsula with a small border with The Gurkish Empire. It is ruled by a Lord Governor Vurms and his council.
Culture and Religion Edit
The Union is a pre-industrial realm, reminiscent of Europe in the Middle Ages. It is loosely inspired by a kind of Holy Roman Empire (largely Germanic), with some banking and commerce from medieval Flanders, and a political system closer to the Venetian Republic. That produced names like Sult, Marovia, Valint & Balk, Bremer dan Gorst.
Adua is the largest city in the realm, with a population in the hundreds of thousands. Other major cities include Keln, Dagoska, Rostov, Stariksa, Westport, Ostenhorm, and New Keln; there are also many market towns and villages. The citizens of the Union are overwhelmingly pale skinned, with the darker-skinned natives of Dagoska being one exception. The city of Adua itself is quite cosmopolitan in comparison with the rest of the Union, with people from every land within the Circle of the World living within its walls in small numbers. Foreigners in Adua live as individuals, not as part of any "community", and are seen by Union citizens as outsiders. People in the Union speak a language called the common tongue.
Birth and descent plays a dominant role in one’s social status. The populace is largely stratified by two broad classes; nobles and commoners, with the commoners further divided into the merchant classes and the peasantry. The majority of the population are peasants, farming land owned by landowners and nobles. Peasants have the ability to appeal to law courts concerning dispute with landlords, including the Commission for Land & Agriculture, or the Secretary for Audiences. Although slavery is outlawed, there is a large gap between the rich and the poor, with half-starved beggars a common sight in the cities. Popular revolts and rebellions are not uncommon, typically by peasants against individual nobles, but also against the Crown itself on rare occasions of great discord.
Nobles live a life of comparative privilege and ease. They range from relatively minor provincial nobility to the highly prestigious "old" noble families of Midderland. Membership in the nobility is usually a prerequisite for holding high offices in the realm. In fact, nepotism and promotion through blood, rather than merit, is rife throughout The Union. Most of the nobles' wealth is derived from one or more estates. Commoners can rise in status through the patronage of a well positioned superior, however rising too high through sheer merit is frowned upon by many. There is now tension amongst the nobility because so much power in the realm has become highly centralised to the Closed Council, with the Open Council having little sway.
The last major social group are the merchants. The Union is a major commercial power, with two large wealthy merchant guilds; the Guild of Mercers in Midderland and Westport, and the Guild of Spicers in Dagoska. The nobility see the rise of these rich commoners as a threat to their own pre-eminence. There are also a number of banks, including Valint & Balk, a very old and well respected house.
One important national event is The Contest, an annual fencing competition, contested by the greatest swordsmen in The Union. It is held in the Square of Marshals within the Agriont in Adua. Competitors come from all across The Union for the event. It is a hugely popular spectator event, which gathers most of the capital's population, including High King of the Union and the royal family. The people of the cities also love spectacles; comedy, drama, and theatre of all kinds.
The Union is a patriarchal society in which males hold primary power; women have little role in political leadership, and even a significant position in commerce is unusual. The people of Midderland, the founding nation, consider themselves superior to the other regions in the realm. Education seems to have fallen from prominence, with The University now in a terrible state of disrepair and all the Adepti old men.
The Union is thoroughly secular, perhaps even atheistic. The Gurkish consider them Godless, or that their only God is money. There seems to be little ceremony around funerals with body burned, as opposed to buried like The North and The Gurkish Empire. Even the marriage of the King is officiated by the Lord Chamberlain rather than a priest.
The Union armed forces are tasked with defence of the realm, as well as promoting the Union's wider interests overseas. They consist of: the King’s Own, the Union’s principle land warfare branch; the Knights Herald, the courier soldiers of the King; the Knights of the Body, the King's personal bodyguard; and the Navy fleet. During wartime, the King will call on the nobles to augment the regular army with levied regiments from the provinces.
It is commanded by the three Lords of War, who are all members of the Closed Council: the senior Lord Marshal Varuz, who remains at home; the junior Lord Marshal Burr, who goes on military campaigns; and the Lord Admiral Reutzer of the Fleet.
It is a well trained professional force, with a strict ranking system. From highest to lowest, the titles are:
- Lord Marshal.
In recent years armed forces have suffered from a number of challenges. Firstly, since victory in the First Gurkish War, many experienced veterans have left the army. Nepotism and promotion through blood, rather than merit, is now rife in the army. Many in the officer rank are honest and enthusiastic, but inexperienced and hungry for personal glory. Secondly, the nobles are unhappy with power now concentrated in the Closed Council, and prone to provide few and poor quality Levies. Thirdly, infighting within the Closed Council leads to ineffective overall decision making. And finally, The Union has fallen behind The Gurkish Empire in military technology, with the Gurkish making effective use of gunpowder and more advanced catapults.
The King's Own Edit
The King's Own is a professional full-time standing army, and the Union’s principal land warfare branch. Well equipped, trained and motivated, it contains at least fifteen regiments of both foot and cavalry. When not away on campaign, it is barracked in the Halls Martial within the Agriont in Adua.
The fleet is the Union’s principal naval warfare branch, as well as tasked with transporting armies and supplies overseas. It is currently the most powerful navy in the Circle of the World.
The Levies Edit
Levied regiments are the reserve force of the Union army which can be called upon by the King for active service during wartime. Contrary to the King's Own, the levies are recruited by the noblemen from the lands they govern. Because of this, levied regiments vary widely in quality, training and equipment. Some regiments have a proud service history and continue to meet and train part-time during peacetime, while many others are simply levied from scratch when required. This has led to instances of Nobles, compelled to send forces to their liege, sending troops of markedly low quality or less men then requested, in order to save on expenditure or if they secretly dislike the King and council.
The Knights Herald Edit
The Knights Herald are soldier messengers dispatched from the King, or any member of the Closed Council, to his subjects. A Knight Herald is trusted to speak with the King's voice, and isn't supposed to speak at all unless on behalf of the King, until his mission is complete. They are easily identified by their polished armour, and the golden wings on their helmets.
The Knights of the Body Edit
The Knights of the Body are the royal guard of the King. Contained within their ranks are some of the best soldiers in The Union. They are tasked with the close protection of the King’s person and the royal family. They are easily identified by their glittering armour, polished helmets, and resplendent purple cloaks marked on the back with a golden sun.
The Union has had a continuous line of monarchs since the first High King, Harod the Great. King Ostus came to the throne as a child, and had jesters perform for him at every meal. The reign of King Morlic the Mad, led to civil war which nearly tore The Union apart. He was eventually murdered, and King Arnault was raised to the throne by the Open Council. King Casamir is remembered as a great warrior-King, through whose boldness and meticulous planning Angland was conquered.
At some point in the past, Starikland was brought into The Union. There was also an attempt to bring The North into The Union although it was defeated by Skarling Hoodless. In the more recent past, the wealthy port of Westport in Styria joined The Union through the influence of the Guild of Mercers.
The Union and The Gurkish Empire have been in conflict for years. The First Gurkish War occurred in Gurkhul, some nine years before the events in The Blade Itself. Both side had victories during the war, The Union at the siege and sack of Ulrioch, the Gurkish at the bridge where Colonel Glokta was captured. The war is considered a victory for The Union. Dagoska was brought into The Union during the war through the influence of the Guild of Spicers.
Two years after the end of the war, about seven years before the events in the trilogy, there was an exchange of prisoners, including Glokta. The prisoners had endured brutal treatment and torture.
In secret, the Magus Bayaz has continued to influence The Union since its founding, mainly through the bank Valint & Balk and surrogates like Lord Chancellor Feekt. He has also infrequently directly influence the realm, though he has kept his identify disguised. He acted as Lord Chamberlain Bialoveld for King Arnault, and Arch Lector Zoller for King Casamir.
The Blade Itself Edit
In the north, the ruthless warlord Bethod has recently become the self-proclaimed King of the Northmen. The Northmen sends an emissary to The Union to offer peace, but only in return for the territory of Angland. When The Union refuses, Bethod’s forces invade Angland capturing the key fortress of Dunbrec, and starting the First Northern War.
In Midderland, the ancient Magus Bayaz returns to The Union, and eventually claims his seat on the Closed Council.
Before They Are Hanged Edit
In the north, Unions forces under Crown Prince Ladisla suffer a conclusive defeat against Bethod’s army, to the north of the Cumnur River. It results in the death of Prince Ladisla. However, The Union eventually have a victory near the fortress of Dunbrec, though it in not decisive.
In Midderland, Prince Raynault is murdered in his sleep. With no heir to the throne and the King in poor health, the next King would have to be elected in Open Council upon his death. This puts the nobility into a frenzy, ready to rig the votes in their interests.
In the south, the Gurkish forces put siege to Dagoska, and eventually capture it, though only after significant losses.
Last Argument of Kings Edit
In the North, the Union have another victory at the important port of Uffrith. The decisive battle in the war occurs in the High Places. The Northern army laid siege to a group of rebel Northmen, when The Union flanked them. Bethod himself took refuge in his fortress in Carleon, but died at the hands of Logen Ninefingers.
In Midderland, Gustav the Fifth dies during a parade in Jezal dan Luthar's honor for quelling the troublesome peasant rebellion. During the King's Election, Bayaz reveals that Jezal is related to the king (albeit a bastard), and has bribed various members of the Council to vote Jezal as the new High King of The Union.
Soon afterwards, Gurkish forces land in Midderland near Keln, and put siege to Adua. They intend to put Lord Brock on the throne, as an autonomous kingdom within the Gurkish Empire. The Battle of Adua ends in a Union victory, albeit at huge cost.
Best Served Cold Edit
The Union holds a peace conference in Styria, hoping to play mediator in the conflict between Grand Duke Orso and the League of Eight. However, King Jezal is almost killed at a social event in Cardotti's House of Leisure in Sipani, and the peace conference ultimately fails.
Black Dow has been the King of the Northmen for eight years, when war again breaks out with The Union in the Battle of the Heroes. The decisive three day battle occurs near the town of Osrung, but ends in a stalemate. However, a new Protectorate region within The Union is created from the southern part of The North, under the rule of Dogman. This will act as a buffer zone between The Union and The North. It is during this war that Bayaz oversees the testing of the first primitive cannons.
Red Country Edit
A few years before the start of the book, another major peasant rebellion against the Union rocked the Starikland, led by the mysterious Conthus. The rebels were first defeated and massacred in Rostod, and then at a last stand in Mulkova. Surviving rebels fled into the Near Country.
The Union seems to be emerging from the Middle Ages, into the early Industrial Age. Cannons, first tested in The Heroes, have improved. The printing press, the coal fired piston, and mobile forges have been invented. Coal has become a valuable mineral for mining.