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For my current world, I have a continent whose countries were brought together into a single, massive empire. After the death of the last emperor, the central imperial authority crumbled and the constituent regions continued their association through the formation of a federation.

Each region, prior to the rise of the empire, was ruled by an absolute monarch whose title came via inheritance. The central imperial authority allowed the monarchs to continue to govern if they swore allegiance to the emperor. The imperial authority also decreed that each and every monarch must have training in the use of magic. This requirement has persisted to the modern day in the kingdoms of the federation.

My issue is, I can't think of a single, dominant reason for which this condition would be mandated and continue to persist after the fall of the empire.

What would be so widespread to apply to every part of a continent and persistent enough to last for at least a millennium that would require and perpetuate the need for rulers to be trained in the use of magic?


A few notes:

  • Magic in this world is not a common thing.
  • Those who can use magic are mostly of low power, such as struggling to light a candle.
  • There is no common or well-known manner in which to influence others via magic.
  • The continent is about the size of North and South America combined.
  • An abundance of magical creatures did not exist until long after the formation of the empire.
  • The ability to use magic is not genetic, but the limit of one's power is.
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Is the ability to use magic genetic? It would then make perfect sense for descendants of a magic-using ruler to also be able to use magic, thus the power and the crown are both inherited together. If this is true of all neighboring kingdoms as well, intermarriage between royalty of different nations would effectively breed the trait into future generations. Basically, exactly how royalty has always worked, plus magic. – Darrel Hoffman Mar 23 at 16:39
    
One's ability to use magic is not genetic, but the limits of one's magical strength are. It takes special training to learn to harness that power. – Frostfyre Mar 23 at 16:41
    
Do magic users need any physical objects to aid their power? Like a focus or catalyst? If so, them being very expensive to make could put magic outside the reach of anyone but the filthy rich. – Muuski Mar 23 at 16:54
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Okay, so the point still applies - if a given king or queen is a particularly strong magic-user, it stands to reason that their descendants would be as well, especially if they have been married to a member of another royal family who are also strong magic users. In addition, being royal and thus presumably wealthy, they can afford to give their offspring the best training money can buy. – Darrel Hoffman Mar 23 at 16:56
    
I don't think this matches the empire-setting you mentioned, so I'll put it in a comment instead: The simplest thing I can think of is the same thing as why a king is ruling a people, because of divine right; you can easily apply the same reasoning to magic and the lower people that accept the king's ruling as a fact will accept their ability to magick as a fact – dot_Sp0T Mar 23 at 19:58
up vote 24 down vote accepted

The biggest single thing to keep it going would be it is a symbol of power. Kings learn and perform magic. This likely has become an expectation even for the masses. If their king can't perform any magic then 'we need a new king who does!'. This might also work into a 'strong' king to protect their own countries. Even if all the king can do is light one candle with extreme effort.

Even small acts that no one else can do can add to the mystique of power and the right to rule. Being able to light a candle without flint and steel can be very useful too!

Now why would it be mandated by the empire in the first place? My best guess would be they control the magic school, they can know the strengths and weaknesses of the ruling kings and can control what is learned. Those that are very powerful, (or might be) are either recruited to be strong allies or quietly put down and blamed as an accident that happened during class. Magic is dangerous you know...

Also while 'teaching' the children of the kings the empire is 'protecting' them and indoctrinating them. Since as the next king, you wouldn't want anything to happen to them would you...

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Would that be a strong enough reason to mandate it initially? – Frostfyre Mar 23 at 14:46
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Actually it would be a valid reason for the Empire to ban magic among client king(dom)s and for it to be used after the fall of the empire by all who professed to political power. – Separatrix Mar 23 at 14:50
    
@user16295 yes, I thought it would make more sense to ban it than require it. But... – bowlturner Mar 23 at 14:55
    
@Frostfyre I missed the initial part of the question. I'll try and think 'Why' would it be mandated in the first place. – bowlturner Mar 23 at 14:56
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Keep up the illusion. Give the people something easy to understand. Teach the kings magic because the people believe it's an important trait of a king. Tell the people knowledge of magic is an important trait of a king because the kings know magic. Nobody can argue that the king doesn't fulfill the requirement, and nobody can argue that the requirement is detrimental to the position. Nor can anyone argue that this isn't something that sets the king apart and--at very least--makes him special (in a good way). Nobody has to know that you're teaching them behind the scenes, either. – Devsman Mar 23 at 20:26

The art of empire building by negotiation

A small kingdom, watching in dread as the empire steadily take over their neighbours until one day the imperial ambassadors approached the gates of the castle with a choice.

Join the empire and we offer peace, protection, magic, and free trade across our lands. You remain king you run your kingdom as you always have and all you have to do is pay your taxes and provide men to the imperial army. Decline our offer and these ten thousand orcs riding bears will encourage you to change your mind.

(This is thought to be approximately how the Aztec empire expanded, minus the orcs and bears)

While the empire stood the client kings were all trained in magic as a gift to their lines, and a way of getting the heirs to the thrones trained and indoctrinated at the capital of empire. When the empire fell centuries later the kings maintained their magic as a sign of their right to hold power.

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I think there's a missing factor in these answers: prejudice. The world runs on it. In your setting, the people just view magic users as inherently superior, for whatever reason (shouldn't be hard to justify).

The conquering emperor is also prejudiced, like everyone else, so s/he insists that the higher ranking officials in the empire must be magic users. Otherwise, they would be unworthy of leadership. The prejudice is self-reinforcing: once people get used to it, they'll automatically reject non-magical kings as unworthy.

Plus, as you said, magic is rare and difficult, so magical kings wouldn't be a threat to the central authority.

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Divine Patronage

A religious aspect could give your world a very different feel. It might not be what you are going for, but I think that it is still worth mentioning.

Magic could be, or could at least be thought to be, the mark of a deity's favor. The empire therefore requires that any rulers they have can demonstrate that their reign is sanctioned by the empire's deity. After all, what better way to ensure the deity's blessing of the land than to put one of their favored ones on the throne?

This would most likely prevent those who are particularly weak in magic from being considered as heirs to the throne regardless of their lineage. Given that magical capacity is genetic, rulers would probably want to ensure that their spouse is also magically gifted to give their children the greatest likelihood of being able to inherit the crown after them. To maximize their chances at proving that they have the deity's blessing, all possible heirs would need to be rigorously trained in magic. Disagreements regarding the ascendancy might even be resolved by a magical duel, because surely the one the deity prefers will be the victor!

This isn't to say that lineage needs to be meaningless next to the importance of powerful magic, though. It would most likely be a mix of both, at least partly because only the relatively wealthy could afford to have their children trained in magic in the first place.

Dominant religions can be quite long-lived (as shown by a number of real-life religions that have lasted thousands of years), so this social structure could possibly last the required millennium once it's taken a strong hold. If the deity involved is genuine and at least somewhat active, then it would be even more likely.

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As a safeguard against meddling wizards

You say "those who can use magic are mostly of low power" and "there is no common or well-known manner in which to influence others via magic," but this doesn't rule out the possibility that there are a very few powerful magicians, and that with the appropriate arcane knowledge they might be able to influence others. If one such individual were to show up at a royal court and start wielding their subtle powers, who knows what damage they could do?

Perhaps at the time of the Empire a great king had recently come under the spell of a nefarious sorcerer and committed terrible deeds; perhaps it's something people have been superstitious about ever since. Then the emperor and the people alike would feel safer knowing that their monarch was trained in the use of magic. They might not have the power to defeat a powerful conjuror, but at least they would be in a better position to realise that magic was being used against them.

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Along those lines, while you can't influence people with magic, surely a clever person could find some way to use it to assassinate people. (e.g. with a physical effect on an object.) If learning how to use magic (even basic magic like lighting a candle) increases your perception of magic use, it would be very useful to know that, say, the peace treaty you're being handed has a "stop heart" spell cast upon it. – R.M. Mar 24 at 18:40

There are a variety of reasons for a central body wanting to instil certain attributes into those they control.

Defence

Presumably the Empire want to make sure their chosen king remains alive so they don';t have to go through any nasty succession business that might have a destabilising effect. To that end making sure your kings have enough magical training to detect and defend against hostile magical attacks is just sensible. Perhaps the Rebellion are all magic users that want to depose the puppets of the Empire. The empire knows this and wants their kings to have defences of their own (much like training relatives of high-value individuals in self defence or kidnap survival tactics). Even a magic user with the ability to make a tiny spark can burn down a castle unless the King knows of such tricks...

Strength

The empire derives its strength from the strength of it's vassals. If the king is deficient in any area it exposes the Empire to attack, and also prevents them from ordering magical acts of retribution against the citizens of the Kings land. If the king has magical training he is seen as stronger and more likely to be able to enforce the will of the Empire (this might prove to be a false assumption, but in the minds of the empire it makes sense)

Communication

The Empire uses Palatiphones to communicate. Only those with a decent grasp of magical theory can hope to master the intricacies of the Palantiphone's user interface (those without magic just get Coldplay on a loop). The Empire will only entrust certain information to the kings: therefore the kings must be magic users in order to communicate with the Empire.

Bureaucracy

The Empire expects that a king must be able to effectively pre-empt his subjects and thus govern them wisely. In their eyes a ruler can't understand magic users without having some training, thus he has to be rubber stamped through his Magic 101 class so he has the right 'perspective'. Given the ruler this could be taken seriously or simply taken as a bit of a joke.

All of the above

The Empire could have put this policy in place for a mix of all of the above reasons. Perhaps they needed kings with some extra clout to crush the rebellion, and then need to make sure their vassal kings are well defended enough to survive any magical coups and confident enough with their Palantiphones to call for Imperial help when needed..

Of all of the reasons though I favour the Palantiphone. It's the most consistent with a large empire. Plus I love the idea of Aragorn calling tech support.

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The simplest reason why a monarch ought to be skilled at magic is so that he can rule over other magic users ("Bureaucracy"). Your "Defence" point covers some of the reason why; consider also the need to mete out justice in controversies to which a magic user is a party. To avoid any magical shenanigans to gain an unfair advantage, a monarch strong enough to detect and neutralize them is necessary. Then, should the judgment fall against a magic user, one must be strong enough to carry it out. – Monty Harder Mar 23 at 22:08

Any of a number of conditions leap to mind.

Magical Source

The imperial lineage claims privileged access to a source of unspeakable magical power. Kings who accept their condition of fealty are granted limited access to the same source. In order to demonstrate the point, kings must have elementary training in magical practice, provided by imperial wizards.

Magical Weakness

In order to perform real magic one must grasp one's own true name, in somewhat the same fashion as the Wizard of Earthsea. Everyone has such a name, but only those trained in magic can truly understand or use it. But unfortunately, using that name also makes you vulnerable to certain sorts of very subtle and elegant name-magic -- such as the sort practiced by the Emperor's magical assassins.

Flow of Benefit

In somewhat the same vein as the first case, the king is understood to be the local source of fertility and prosperity, which ultimately radiates from the Emperor. Since every king practices a form of magic that is recognizably imperial, having been trained in it by the imperial wizards, it's clear to even the dimmest bulbs that the king is not in himself primarily responsible for peace and prosperity, but the emperor.

Flow of Force

The flip-side of the same coin: the king's magical power is used ritually in certain legal instances, e.g., ordination of judges, executions, opening of the annual High Court, etc. The use of imperial magic on such occasions demonstrates that the law is ultimately underwritten by the Emperor, from whom radiates impartial justice. This also suggests that if the king administers justice corruptly, his power will fail -- and with it his life.

Metaphor and Metonymy

In a world where magic works, all of these things can be literally true as well as metaphorically so. One demonstration of magic by the king can stand in for the power of the Emperor. If a king is essentially ordained by the Emperor, through a magical rite that also opens the king's third eye and enables him to perform at least simple magic (with training, anyway), then it's also possible that the Emperor can take that power away, in which case the people (local lords, etc.) will have clear grounds for legitimate regicide.

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A need for instantaneous, long distance communication between kings

You didn't specify what "magic" is very strictly, but if it were to include the ability to communicate across long distances telepathically (or otherwise) then that would be a very compelling reason for kings to learn how to use magic (and perhaps magic is a general skill such that, if you know how to use this telepathy magic, it is not much of a stretch for you to use other magics as well).

Instead of kings, you could perhaps just have scribes or diplomats trained in this magic. But that would be akin to kings sending each other messages through interpreters rather than having a direct conversation. Cutting out the middleman is quicker, more personal, less likely to cause misunderstandings, and better able to quickly defuse tense situations (see the "Red Telephone" Moscow-Washington hotline for a real world corollary).

You mentioned that this training should be mandated. If the king is an absolute monarch in a sovereign country then you can hardly mandate him to do anything. But if he's under some constitutional or legislative jurisdiction then it might be required of him because of the communication benefits, or simply because it is something that has come to be expected from kings due to the empire's legacy.

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