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The kingdom where rulers are young

Once upon a time, lies in a faraway place a medieval kingdom following a classic european hereditary monarchy, excepted on two peculiar points. First, the ruler could be equally as Queen or King, but that point I will not linger on it too much. Then, a custom which has lived for millenias make it so that, as soon as the heir reaches the young age of 12, they become the new ruler of the country. And this even if the old monarch is still able to reign. The old ruler becomes the advisor of the new one and keep their political contacts, but in the end, it's the new ruler who makes the call on important decisions and who is publicly shown as the head of the country.

The detailed inheritance code

I know you like it, so here are some details concerning how the inheritance is done :

Regarding other members of the family, the eldest sibling is chosen as the monarch, but their younger brothers/sisters don't take their role as they become of age. If the current monarch dies, the power goes to the parent if and only if there is no siblings older than 12 who can take the crown. In case said parent takes back the power, they are "temporary" monarch until such (or new) siblings are of age. Cousins and uncles/aunts are chosen as a last resort in the event there is no direct heir and no ruler anymore, in which case the one closest -but older- to the age of 12 is chosen (aside from political shenanigans you have in such really bad situations).

Still following? Good! Now the advisor part : The eldest monarch's parent, or -said differently grandparent- keeps the title of main advisor if they get the chance to see two coronations in their life. However, the new ruler's direct parent still has some words to say as a secondary advisor. In other words, while the youngest is the one with the power in hand, they can call either of their parent or grandparent for tips.

Finally, to give a rough idea of the powers each party has : The young king at its youngest has most if not all the executive power, but until they become older, rely some of their legislative power on their advisors, since they can understand better the implications of new laws. For the young ruler it becomes kinda way of accepting or refusing a suggested law, then altering it and eventually have a word on all as they grow older and wiser. The transition process can be really quick if they prove themselves to be quick-witted, or last up to 6 years if they're less knowledgeable. Usually, at the age of 15 they have all powers a king or queen has, though.

Phew, I think it covers most of the topic and there should be no hole. I hope. On to the issue.

My problematic

I can easily predict that this tradition would reduces in general the time one monarch is in charge, to as early as 12-14 years if they have very quickly an off-spring. However, I have an hard time in dreaming how well the outcome would be, and what good things can be taken from such tradition on a political standing.

To give a comparison, I know that young rulers did exist : For instance, Louis XIV in France became officially a king at the age of 5, and while he didn't actually take much responsibility this young, he did eventually well enough to be called the "Roi-Soleil", or Sun King. In another country and time, Tutankhamun gained access to the power at the age of around 9. Yet, these cases are often unwanted cases where the predecessor died, and such events create unstability in the kingdom (like the Fronde rebellion that Louis XIV faced). If it was known and correctly announced and prepared, there would probably less ruckus, but still I have some doubts...

So what are the advantages (if any) that early power pass-on is standardized and favored, especially in the political games you have with your vassals and other neighboring kingdoms?

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    $\begingroup$ There was a period in Japan where the emperors were forced to abdicate young and so the heir was always quickly installed. This was not a way to give them power but to keep them puppet rulers. $\endgroup$ – Mary Dec 20 '20 at 3:33
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    $\begingroup$ As an ambitious, greedy, and manipulative Earl or Baron, I completely agree that an ignorant, moody, horny, self-conscious, approval-seeking teenager would make a great and easily-distractable puppet. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Dec 20 '20 at 4:06
  • $\begingroup$ @user535733 That's exactly what I fear, actually. I've very slightly reworded the question to include the implausibility of such situation as an answer. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Dec 20 '20 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ I feel sorry for these kids. They ha no chance of having any sort of childhood. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Dec 20 '20 at 16:02

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The king also has a kind of (authentic or alleged) shamanic nexus with the earth

In some ancient societies, the health and vigour of the king was considered directly linked to the health of the land, to the point that as soon as the king started to show the first signs of old age, he was sacrificed and a new, young and healthy king was crowned.

Luckily for the old king, in this society it is not considered necessary to sacrifice him, since his wisdom still is kept in great consideration, but in order to keep the land fertile, it is necessary to have a king in his prime.
Basically, the idea is to have a kind of "constitutional" kingdom, where the king is a shamanic/religious/cerimonial role, while the former king acts as a prime minister.
In this situation, obviously the main advantages are perceived, rather than real (they could be real in case of a magical setting, of course).

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  • $\begingroup$ So the king basically acts as a four-leaf clover that you cannot dry in order to preserve it. Clever :). $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Dec 21 '20 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ I've chosen your answer as accepted because it fits better what I am trying to do. Yet, I don't disregard other answers at all, since they will come up as the consequences of this advantage the commoners would hate losing : A forcibly elected, symbolic young king more ruled than ruler, a limited power at first to rule behind the scenes later and keep the lineage, and escaping tedious ceremonial responsibilities for the boon to happen, among others :) ! $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Dec 22 '20 at 18:18
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Dynastic Turnover:

I think you would have an odd paradoxical effect. There would be a motive for the king/queen to have lots of siblings, but no legitimate children. A liege with an heir is already planning for retirement. If the king has an acknowledged mistress, his children are not heirs. The liege's kids are likely off the table, or they will wait to have kids until they are older. Potentially, they might even declare their own kids as illegitimate to maintain power.

Similarly, brothers and sisters of the liege may have a motive to have lots of children - the liege will name an heir when he's ready to retire, but not a day sooner. If you have a child in the line of succession the liege likes, the chances are better for him/her to be named heir. Oddly, young children would be advantageous, because an old king could name a young child as heir and still have some 'breathing room' before being forced out. They might even name one kid heir, then name another heir right before the designated heir becomes the new ruler to prevent the loss of power.

So you may have a tradition of grooming for inheritance without naming an heir, or sequentially naming new, younger heirs from among potential inheritors. This would lead to a lot of struggles as rulers wait a little too long to pick an heir or prior heirs dispute that they were no longer heir. Royal houses may find themselves overturned by usurpers, especially if the ruler grooms several individuals to curry favor among his friends, family, and followers. While this would lead to increased volatility, it might also lead to greater flexibility as to who rules.

Potentially, the greater volatility might lead kingdoms eventually to invest greater and greater governmental powers in nobles or bureaucracies so disputes about who is king don't disrupt business as usual. Kings rarely had absolute power, and this would make it official. The fear of very young lieges in charge would also lead to this same end point. No one wants a short-term king, and no one wants an inexperienced one ruled by hormones and ignorant or inexperienced.

If this same rule applied to all nobility, it could potentially lead to an end to the rule of nobles. Other systems would crop up (guilds, churches, bureaucracies, etc.) to take the volatility out of the system, and nobles would be relegated to symbolic power.

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    $\begingroup$ The custom prevents the choice and change of an heir; The eldest one is always chosen first. Well, unless they stumble upon an "unfortunate accident" before :p ... The idea about nobility losing true power is interesting. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Dec 20 '20 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena In that case, lieges wouldn't have heirs. Human nature is such they will tend to hold on to power until the end, circumventing rules to do so. That's why we have term limits, and why Vladimir Putin is in power in Russia. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Dec 20 '20 at 13:52
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As described, this seems very implausible

While there historically were 12 year old monarchs, they were almost never effective rulers until they become older. In most cases they were king in Title only, but the kingdom was actually ruled by a regent until he was a bit older. Immaturity issues aside, a 12 year old has simply not experienced enough in their life to be as proficient at anything compared to their older selves; so, an older more experienced king was typically desirable. The only real reason people would normally choose to serve a monarch this young was because they needed someone to be the "rightful heir" to keep the nobility from starting civil wars over who gets to rule. According to the feudal mindset, if the throne is not actually vacant, then changing leadership is a very bad idea.

Then there is the secondary issue that people don't just let go of power. The person who is king already has indisputable power, and his children have none. So, the first king born into this system would just rewrite the laws to prevent his child from ascending prematurely.

Consider this instead:

While giving a whole kingdom over to a 12 year old should only be a last resort, getting a head-start ruling at a smaller scale while the king still lived is useful because it meant that new kings could step into their roles fully experienced and knowledgeable about how to rule. In England, the County of Cornwall is often assigned to the first born son to rule while the King still rules the country as a whole in this way your 12 year olds are not literal "kings", but rather lords of a significant fiefdom. It this way, your general premise will make a lot more since in that the dad is still alive and well and advising the boy while he rules, but does not have to abdicate the throne or destabilize the whole nation to do it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the alternative; Do you think this could work too if instead of a geographic power restriction, it was a domain one ? Like instead of a city, you are limited to I don't know, economic or religious matters first? With the help of advisors of course. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Dec 20 '20 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena the Roman empire would use "co-emperors". The current emperor would give part of the power and decision making to (what is supposed to be) their heir. They'd rule together but the co-emperor would have, say, 10-20% of the decisions only in certain areas. The idea being that the intended heir will be learning how to be an emperor and be able to make some decisions. Eventually the old emperor retires or dies and leaves the co-emperor is crowned as the new ruler. The co-emperor can be the son of the old one but not always - might be a nephew or brother. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Dec 20 '20 at 19:36
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The Ruling monarch would be subject to two very curious diseases.

  1. Almost all Rulers would be sterile, having no offspring.
    Apparently the stress of knowing that the moment they have a child, the universe puts an indelible 12-year expiry stamp on their reign, causes sterility among Rulers.

  2. Children of Rulers (few and far between as they are), will suffer from an acute form of timed Infant Death Syndrome. Possibly linked to puberty, this dread disease strikes shortly before their 12th birthday, leading to inexplicable deaths due to poisoning, slit throats, and other similar "natural causes"

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  • $\begingroup$ Acute form of timed Infant Death Syndrome is a natural cause of death for a future monarch ^^. I wish there were some advantages to such systems, though. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Dec 20 '20 at 12:09
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  • Monarchy in name only.
    The king is a youngster and the former king is just one very senior adviser. That gives plenty of practical power to the other advisors. Assume that on average, those royal advisors produce better government than any one king.
  • A custom of trial by combat.
    The "international order" of the setting still has a big place for trial by combat. No champions allowed, and wriggling out of a challenge would be a major loss of face. so one kingdom would rather send a 15-year-old than a 50-year-old. 12 would be a little young, however.
    Alternatively it used to be that way, and the tradition of early coronation survived.
  • A custom of diplomacy by marriage.
    All the little kingdoms squabble and make up again, all the time. The ultimate playing chip on the board is the dynastic marriage of a king or queen. Much more certain than marrying the heir apparent or the heir presumptive. So the tradition developed that heirs should turn king before they reach the proper age for marriage.
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As written, I suspect your system will break down rapidly. Humans tend to hold on to power as long as they can; a system like yours will encourage your rulers to have children late or not at all, which is a problem if there's any risk of death for the reigning monarch, which there is. Battlefields are always a hazardous place, for one, and a king unwilling to lead his troops personally is likely to lose respect and influence. Queens run up against maternal mortality, which was not a trivial matter in medieval times even for royalty: there were certainly other reasons why ruling queens were few, but the risk of the queen dying like that was one of them. And of course, for royalty, there are natural causes (disease, illness, falling down the stairs badly) and "natural causes" (poisoning, a knife in the heart, etc.) of death in surprising abundance.

This is entirely separate from the problem of a 12-year-old king or queen being the expected outcome of your system. Someone that young, no matter how well educated, simply isn't going to have the practical experience to make good judgement calls consistently. There will be exceptions (when are there not exceptions?) to this general rule, but most are going to suffer from acting on impulse and doing something stupid; teenagers are not renowned for their good sense, and royalty is scarcely immune to that. Your thought of advisors is a good one, but if the monarch is, well, the monarch, that won't be sufficient as a safeguard to stop the kid ruler from saying something insulting to the envoy of Whereverland (or responding to an insult from said envoy in kind) and inciting a war.

If your system is kept as written, you're not going to have very effective dynasties ("effective" meaning "long-lasting" for the most part). One way or another, people are going to sabotage the system to make sure this kid ruler doesn't throw a spanner into the works of the monarchy. This will likely come in the form of the kid ruler being reduced to a puppet, a king or queen in name but who has little actual power, the advisors (the previous monarch and their trusted councilors, probably) wielding the real influence, but there are other ways you could resolve this issue with relatively small tweaks.

Suggestion: make the heir's assumption of the monarchy a more gradual matter, instead of dumping the crown on their head the moment they turn twelve. Have a tradition where the ruling monarch hands off certain duties to their heir as they grow older; if tradition doesn't specify, this will probably be whatever the current monarch doesn't like to deal with (border disputes, traveling, ceremonial duties, whatever the given individual hates). The royal heir is effectively a king or queen in training, so treat them and train them accordingly.

This gives the heir a piece of power to satisfy their taste for it without overwhelming them. If they want more power, they will have to show they can wisely use and manage the power they have been granted so far; this gives them a powerful (ahem) incentive to learn to wield power properly. As they prove adept, the monarch can hand over other duties, until eventually the monarch can step down in the knowledge that their son or daughter will be fit to continue their dynasty, and as the trusted advisor they will still wield considerable influence with a fraction of the burden (they're not young anymore, presumably).

The exact time frame for abdication would probably depend on the heir's aptitude and wisdom, but something around 18 to 20 is plausible, I would think: for the truly gifted, it could be even sooner. I would recommend a tradition that the heir should not wed until after they put on the crown, to avoid having to worry about a family until they have mastered the proper use of power. Of course, if the firstborn child is mad or stupid or otherwise ill-suited to be a monarch, you'll have some issues, but that is almost universal among monarchies.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks to confirm my doubts. I think I need to heavily rebalance the system or just throw away a power holding kid. I do want a long lasting kingdom, after all ^^'. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Dec 20 '20 at 22:54
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  1. Council of elders.

The young monarchs are inexperienced in all ways, and would rely on a group of advisors more than a typical adult ruler. These advisors would likely recommend more informed and prudent actions than an individual would make operating solo. The council would be more likely to rein in disastrous and imprudent courses of action. With the day to day process of governing done by council one would lose the possibility of a crazy inspired spark of genius that some lucky royal might have. One would avoid the probability of dullards, egomaniacs and other terrible rulers that royals often turn out to be.

  1. Short life expectancy for royals.

Perhaps in this land there is lots of fighting among the aristocracy - maybe as duels with each other or in wars. They do not live long. But neither do they do much fighting until they are full grown so between 12 and 17 or 18 they are likely to stay alive. By having the power with the kids it sidesteps predictable succession crises when monarchs tend to die in their early 30s.

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    $\begingroup$ The first option, I will probably do! It was the case for most kings whether they were kids or adults, I think? Too much topics to handle alone, after all. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Dec 20 '20 at 12:06
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The Japanese Emperors did something similar.

In medieval Japan, it became the custom for the Emperor to give up the throne while still alive, and become simply a very senior advisor for the new Emperor. This created a system where often the previous Emperors had more political power than the current Emperor did. This eventually resulted in a series of civil wars between the supporters of the current emperor and the supporters of previous emperors, eventually resulting in the general collapse of the country into civil war and the beginning of a period of history referred to as the Sengoku Jidai, or Warring States Period, and the loss of much of the Emperor's power as the warring military leaders took control over the country.

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No True King

While to the outside world this Kingdom would look much like any other, in reality this would be some-other-form-of-government (oligarchy perhaps? Or even a Republic!) wearing a Monarchy suit. Think modern England but without an immortal Queen. This can be a Good Thing, especially at a place and time where all its neighbors ARE Monarchies.

1: The King/Queenship is hereditary, and largely ceremonial. Because you keep rotating out young rulers at a rapid pace (no 30-year-reigns here! Ascend the Throne and pop out an heir ASAP, for the good of the realm!) whatever council advises the King will wield the true power. Done correctly (the bane of all government systems) this isn't something the "Ruling Dynasty" will fight too hard. After all, you live like a king, you're in charge of all the royal banquets, and get prime seats for the jousting tournaments. When your alternative is a flat-out overthrow of the monarchy what's not to like? A small council of professionals is going to generally be better than absolute rule, so your "Kingdom" is likely to be better governed than its neighbors in the long term.

2: You still LOOK like a monarchy from the outside. Sure it's really this council-of-elected-burgomasters that run the country, but you still have a King on the throne like everybody else. Sure your inheritance code is a little weird, but at the end of the day Divine Right is still being followed! This takes care of one of the big problems with a not-monarchy in the time-of-monarchies. Namely, that obviously-different government types get warred on an awful lot. So it's a best-of-both-worlds situation where your "Ruler" isn't upsetting the apple cart and is just like your neighbors', but the people actually in charge are generally going to be better at getting things done.

2a: As an additional perk, you still get (albeit in a weird form) the "bonus" of making marriage alliances with all the other monarchies. This was a Big way of making and keeping the peace in Medieval societies, and having that advantage while essentially operating a "Free city" type government is great.

On the topic of "what if they don't want heirs to keep power longer" I don't actually think that'll be a huge problem. Firstly, the desire to have a stable line is something ALL monarchies everywhere care a great deal about. If you're in charge of a hereditary monarchy it amounts to a moral duty to the nation to have a child asap. Plus if you're in charge by 12, have a host of advisors marrying you off soon after, and then puberty kicks in.... let's just say it'll take more self-control than a normal teenager has NOT to produce an heir quickly, especially when all your adult mentors are egging you on.

So what happens to your Monarch Emeritus once the new monarch is enthroned? If the ruling council's non-royal members do their job right he/she will be a non-entity because they haven't learned to BE anything other than a face at ceremonies. One spoiled rich kid on a council of Actual Adults doesn't do much damage. They get the "decorations" portfolio and nobody minds. Or you could run the (riskier) option of putting them In the Field. A 30 year old with an upbringing in soldiering is in their prime as a Field Commander for military campaigns. The only problem is military victories tend to make people politically powerful, which could spell the end of your cozy Oligarchy-in-a-Monarchy-Suit style of government. You best bet would be to have a former ruler take up some sort of religious post. Not as the head of your faith (being in charge of THAT could make him or her want temporal power as well), but perhaps as a sort of spiritual figurehead. "Now King William VI is on the throne, William V will join the Royal Temple to maintain vigil there as God Wills" or some such thing. If this is a fantasy setting this Royal Temple could easily contain enough worldly delights that a former King/Queen would very much look forward to hanging out there and not care overmuch about the power they might try to gather instead.

Now I will say this would work better as a patrilineal setup rather than allowing ruling Kings and Queens. The reason is that a 12 year old king looks cute, and at 16ish can produce an heir, So he's out by say 30 on the late end. A ruling queen however comes to the throne at 12... and it's a dice game. Even with the best medical staff of the age childbirth was fraught with peril, and the younger the mother the worse the odds. So you could quite easily lose your queen in a bad birthing that leaves 0 heirs. Or you wait until your queen is older, at which point she'll have the brains God doesn't grant horny teenagers, and maybe she decides to hold off childbirth indefinitely to hold onto power, or even amass enough power of her own that she doesn't feel the need to pass it on when her heir comes of age.

There are of course a TON of problems with this setup no matter if it's male only or male/female inheritance. But the questioned wanted upsides so upsides it is!

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for prying your brain out finding a way around negative impacts. Indeed, I will probably start back from a better spot (like older coronation age), but still, I won't abandon the idea entirely since it may have a strong influence later on the story. And this answer will prove to be useful in that regard. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Dec 21 '20 at 15:08
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Wangling protocol

This is more a "how do we get ourselves out of this pickle" than a true advantage, but if the king's role is encrusted with ceremonial duties -- and worse, religious responsibilities -- this gives you a way to juggle them. Perhaps some do not have to be performed when the king is a minor -- make the age of majority 25, and maybe all those can be skipped permanently, or perhaps only just before he abdicates -- but if the king performs all the ritual sacrifices and observes all the ritual purification and purity taboos, the council of advisors can rule the nation.

Give the king time enough to do actual duties to prepare him for the task of ruling. He will also have to receive ambassadors and petitions from below, so he will need actual qualifications for that.

The king would probably look forward to his escape and have an heir as soon as is feasible.

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