# How to reconcile a feudal system with a congressional/parliamentary democracy…?

I am currently trying to create a system of government for a project that, for reasons I can't quite go into, combines elements from both European feudal systems with current democratic governments, as seen in America or the UK.

Without giving away plot specifics I'm going to try to divulge as many necessary bits of information as possible:

1. My main concern is to have the basic feudal structure intact: the king has lords, the lords have knights/vassals, and the knights/vassals protect a working class, who serve a function of that of a serf or peasant, but are given a much higher quality of living. For this reason, there are systems in place to protect the rights of the commoner, where they are represented and have rights that medieval European commoners did not.

2. I am trying to keep as many feudal jobs and professions in tact, give or take a few necessary changes. Putting typical cliché "RPG class" designations aside, I'm talking about things like manorial bailiffs and reeves, town criers, castellans, royal chamberlains and chancellors, etc. Naturally there's going to be some fluidity here as historical and cultural changes ensure their roles often changed and evolved, and having to also think of ways to include democratic elements in those positions will undoubtedly complicate things, but the important thing here is that the core of those positions (and their titles) are preserved.

3. I realize there are some modern-day examples, but I want to steer clear of copying them wholesale. There are, of course, democratic monarchies, the UK standing out the most, but even then that's not what I'm aiming for. The king of the country still holds absolute power; however, there is a congressional/parliamentary body in place to handle much of the kingdom's major issues, and to ensure the common people have a say, made up of representatives of different regions and special interest groups, etc. (the specifics of that are still being decided: I'm not really married to anything right now this far in the process, changing what I need to).

4. Regional power is still in the hands of lords (barons, dukes, what have you) who answer directly to the king, but are also expected to be held more directly responsible for the people they employ and protect than medieval counterparts, whose subjects had little to no rights.

5. Commoners still make up a poorer bottom-rung class of society, but they aren't necessarily living in filth and barely eking out a living. They might actually have more in common with the modern middle-class, although that is still being decided; point being, they have far more rights and opportunities than their historical analogues. They are allowed to own land, vote, pursue personal interests, leave manors, etc.

While it's not in the narrative, it might be best to think of this society as post-apocalyptic. Imagine a society that is stripped of modern luxuries, namely our advanced 21st-century technology, and must now resort to reverting back to this feudal state with many of its post-modern ideals still lingering and being passed along to future generations. Say, two or three down the line, there is a society somewhat resembling Europe in the Middle Ages (even down to the church having ultimate sway over some monarchs, in this case only one) but it now allows, say, women to own land, same-sex marriages, etc. It's not quite exact but it's as close as I can come without divulging too much.

That's as detailed as I can get at the moment: I'm sure I've forgotten some things and if I need to divulge more I will in future edits. Please feel free to ask me questions and I will try to answer them as best I can.

EDIT BY BSIDESWIPED: First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who responded so quickly and with so much helpful material; you don't know how much I appreciate it.

It seems to me that one of the main things that might cause a hangup in this whole situation is giving the monarch absolute power. So I guess an addendum I could make is that, maybe, for the sake of argument, let's say the monarch doesn't have absolute power, but serves a more dynamic purpose than just being a figurehead and a symbolic holdover. This problem may be solved already, though, as some of you have said that the church basically solves this need, but if you so choose, figure that addendum into your ideas as well.

Thank you again.

• Nice first question bsideswiped, welcome to the site. If you have questions on the site check out the help center and once you hit 20 rep feel free to join us in Worldbuilding Chat – James Jun 27 '16 at 19:09
• Did a few edits to improve readability (that's a lot of text!) – James Jun 27 '16 at 19:14
• Could be Barrayar a century or so after Miles. By the way, intact is one word (in Latin it means ‘untouched’). – Anton Sherwood Jun 29 '16 at 9:30

I was initially going to say that you can't have a monarch with an absolute power and a democratically elected legislature. The two are incompatible. But I thought of a real life example. Stack Exchange is a dictatorship. It's a privately held corporation with an appointed "monarch" or CEO who has the final say on day to day matters.

Stack Exchange the corporation delegates power to elected moderators. They are under no legal obligation to empower moderators or high reputation users, but they do. In this way, they are the benevolent monarch from @James' answer.

The key point there is that the democratic legislature derives its power from the absolute power of the monarch. The monarch could take back the power at any time.

This system could be stable for multiple generations if there is some way to limit monarchs to those who had that view. Perhaps the royal family teaches that to their children. Perhaps the monarch is elected for life and all the successful candidates agree with this principle.

Note that later generations of monarchs would have more trouble taking power back from the elected legislature.

A struggle between the monarch and the legislature for power could make a good setting for a story. Note that either side could be villains or heroes. A benevolent monarch could be taking power back from a corrupt legislature, or a courageous legislature could be preventing a despotic monarch from taking power. Either story works. It's even possible that both sides view themselves as heroes.

• Even better, make a book with several parts covering different generations, with the 'alignment' of each part (king, lords, rebels…) varying across them. – Ángel Jun 27 '16 at 22:57
• "The monarch could take back the power at any time". And he has done it already. – Oriol Jun 28 '16 at 1:08
• The UK has had "absolute power" monarchs and parliaments for a long time, technically the king can do what he likes.. .but taxing the peasants was the role of parliament, so in order to do many things (like go to war) he has to ask parliament to raise more funds - which they often refused to do. Its one of the reasons we have a centralised banking system - King decided getting credit was easier. – gbjbaanb Jun 29 '16 at 7:50
• If the king can't raise taxes unilaterally, then he doesn't have "absolute" power by my definition of absolute. You might consider posting that as an answer though, as the asker might be willing to consider that. – Brythan Jun 29 '16 at 13:51

My main concern is to have the basic feudal structure intact:

The basic feudal structure is mainly an agrarian structure; as you say, the king has lords, the lords have knights/vassals, and the knights/vassals protect a working class, who serve a function of that of a serf or peasant. Cities are not part of this. Make them democratically governed, like Italian communes of the end of the Middle Ages; give them stability by placing their democratic government under the protection of the King. The basic pact is, the King and the feudal lords do not mess with the internal business of the cities, the cities do not mess with the feudal structure encircling them. Then both sides will try to cheat and circumvent this, which gives you political/dramatical tension. The King can then appear as the higher lord who balances the feudal nobility and the township oligarchies, using the later to keep the former in check.

I am trying to keep as many feudal jobs and professions in tact, give or take a few necessary changes. Putting typical cliché "RPG class" designations aside, I'm talking about things like manorial bailiffs and reeves, town criers, castellans, royal chamberlains and chancellors, etc. Naturally there's going to be some fluidity here as historical and cultural changes ensure their roles often changed and evolved, and having to also think of ways to include democratic elements in those positions will undoubtedly complicate things, but the important thing here is that the core of those positions (and their titles) are preserved.

Those and also the traditional guild structure of medieval cities and town. Just have those guilds democratically governed (at least, "democratically" concerning the pater familiae of the several trading families in the towns; you can keep of course the mass of journeymen subjected to the guildmasters through "apprenticeship"). You can then balance this oligarchic element with more or less democratic participation open to wider or narrower layers of the urban artisanship.

Regional power is still in the hands of lords (barons, dukes, what have you) who answer directly to the king, but are also expected to be held more directly responsible for the people they employ and protect than medieval counterparts, whose subjects had little to no rights.

I am not sure that this is possible. Regional feudal lords are a bigger obstacle to democracy than absolute kings. Instead, I would keep them in check by either (or both) a centralised justice system, appointed by the King, to which peasants can resort against the despotism of local lords, or (and) a strong Church presence (not necessarily Christian, of course) that, as the saying goes, sides with the peasants against the most outrageous demands of the nobility - and with the nobility against the peasants, for the less outrageous demands.

Do not forget also that a feudal society is based on custom rather than legislation; if the traditional way is that peasants work for the lord five days a week, then take one day for themselves and another for their religious obligations, it should be very difficult to change this arrangement in favour of either side.

Ponder also how to solve the problem of women in such society. How is labour divided among the biological sexes, and to what extent is "domestic" or reproductive labour (de)valuated compared with "providing" labour. My gut feeling is that a more democratic political structure requires less discrimination against women and consequently either a less steep divide on which kind of labour falls to each biological sex, or some mechanism that makes domestic labour less degraded when compared with stereotypicall "male" labour.

• "I am not sure that this is possible." It is, if the king is willing to set a few examples. In Iberian medieval kingdoms, kings would every now and then hold 'cortes', where all the classes could come before him and place complaints and requests. I can think of one particular case, in Portugal, where the people of a town complained about the abuse of their local lord, and that lord was quickly stripped of his rights to that land (a sentence particularly shocking for the time because that particular lord was a close friend of the king's). ... – Sara Costa Jun 28 '16 at 13:16
• At the same time, there were 'justice officials' that went all over the land and, theoretically, any person could complain of the lord's justice, prompting the officials into auditing all the sentences and, if necessary, overrule them. – Sara Costa Jun 28 '16 at 13:16
• Do not forget also that a feudal society is based on costume rather than legislation - Did you mean "custom", rather than "costume"? Because that would be a lot less confusing. ;) – Martin Carney Jun 28 '16 at 17:24
• Similar to the procedures @SaraCosta describes, imperial China's system of magistrates kept the peace within their regions: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/County_magistrate If the magistrates are well chosen and act fairly, such a system can make the people feel adequately represented in matters of governance, while the magistrates still serve as agents of the monarch's absolute power. – recognizer Jun 28 '16 at 20:59
• @ Martin Carney - Yes, of course, costum, not costume. – Luís Henrique Jun 28 '16 at 21:39

Well I see your problem. You want power to reside in more than one person/group.

The crux of the issue is that you want democracy, where (ostensibly) the power lies with the people and their vote. Conversely, and simultaneously you want a king and lords that have absolute power over their domains.

Power can't truly exist in both places...unless it can...nope never mind it can't.

Here are some ideas that come to mind that might get you close to where you want to be.

1. The benevolent king. If you have a legitimately benevolent King a system where the King rules absolute and then listens to an elected body when making decisions this could function. The major drawback here is that kings don't last forever, and having a line of kings that are all benevolent is unlikely to the point of I wouldn't believe it. For some background reading check out some Plato. Read up on the philosopher kings.

This is actually pretty feasible in a short term scenario. And the beginning of the reign of a second not so benevolent king would be a great story setting.

1. Isolate the feudal hierarchy to the military. In this scenario the King is both head of state and head of the military (well they would be in any 'absolute power' scenario but its important to point out particularly in this case. Its not truly feudal but maybe take a look at modern Egypt...though in that case the military tends to be independent of the presidency...though (again) currently a general is the 'elected' president.

• So, you have a King, Dukes, Barons, Lords, Knights etc etc each representing a piece of land and a portion of the standing military force. The would be responsible for the daily operations of their holdings as well as the military units they lead.
• On the flip side the laws of the land would be created by an elected body and then enforced by the 'nobles'

I think this is probably my favorite option but it is complicated and again relies on the benevolence of not only a king but all the lords that support the king...its a cool idea but its hard to think it could actually happen.

How do you get those with military/policing power and generally absolute power to allow input from the masses...again this is the base problem in your scenario and there isn't an easy answer.

1. Theocracy. Ok stay with me on this one...this scenario could hypothetically work. The leader/king is the head of a state religion. They are more interested in the affairs of the gods than the affairs of the kingdom. The leader retains absolute power via their subordinate lords and can enforce any edict. Most of the time the religious leadership is disinterested in the daily affairs of the realm. So essentially the apathy of the leadership towards day to day operations allows the masses to self govern except in certain circumstances.

Modern Iran could be useful as an example here, though it is probably less democratic than you are wanting. Should serve as a decent example though.

There are probably a million different ways you can do this but the basics you need to account for are:

• Who (person or group) truly wields power. In my examples the true power resides in the monarch as they would tend to be figure heads otherwise
• What mechanism allows for power sharing. Remember any power in elected bodies stems from the willingness of the monarch to allow it.
• Most of these systems will be inherently unstable, or at least prone to falling back on autocratic tendencies

Elective monarchy.

The king/President and the ministers are elected. Only members of the aristocracy are eligible. They are the ones who take the major decisions of the state.

The rest of the parliament could be elected from the populace but their power would be smaller than the aristocrats. They help the above to take decisions but rarely have a chance to pass their own laws, unless the aristocracy approves.

A weighted vote system: the higher your rank in the society, the more your vote counts.

• A weighted vote system has it's pros and cons. If your general population are to believe they live in a 'fairly' democratic system the weighting should only be slight. eg 1 man 1 vote and an 1 extra if you are noble. You can have more weighting for the higher you go in rank as @Vincent suggested, but this may lead to animosity and civil unrest during highly charged political situations. Which is why it is no longer used in modern day 'democracies'. For example, imagine if the UK (with it's constitutional monarchy) had had a weighting system for the EU ref vote! Can you imagine the uproar! – EveryBitHelps Jun 27 '16 at 20:34
• Why not elective aristocracy? The peasants elect their barons for life, and they elect the next rung of the aristocracy all the way to the princes electing the king? Votes weighted to balance peasants with aristocrats and king as three blocks? – inappropriateCode Jun 28 '16 at 16:09

The US and the UK are actually bad models since they are neither particularly democratic nor have the degree of separation of powers you need. You need something better than either. Especially on separation of powers or your state will collapse within few years.

Iran mentioned by James is more interesting since it is actually a real world example of a nation trying to do more or less what you want with feudal switched with theocracy. Unfortunately it seems to be more based on personal "benevolence" and competence of the supreme leader than on having on actual system you could copy. The division of power between theocracy and democracy is also different from what you seem to want. Many issues they are having should still be relevant and useful to study.

As for actual suggestions:

You say you want the king to have absolute power and that to delegate along the feudal hierarchy. I'll assume that power here specifically means executive power and that their power is seen unquestioned. That would suggest that the feudal hierarchy also has direct control of mass media and public information systems.

That would leave legislative and judiciary power for democracy. Although you should remember that in a feudal system many decisions we would consider to be judiciary matters will actually be administrative decisions made by the local lord that would be appealed up the feudal not judiciary hierarchy.

To give an example: If a theft happens, investigating it might fall to the lords "personal armsmen" (really police detectives, but...). Determination of guilt if disputed might fall to local judiciary. Determination of punishment if found guilty (at court or by confession) would be for the lord as an administrative decision. Appeal for determination of guilt would be up the judiciary hierarchy. Appeal for the punishment or improper investigation would be up the feudal hierarchy.

You could confess in exchange of reduced sentence without ever entering the judicial system, so plea deals would be abundant. Possibly abundantly abused as well. Although using plea deals to get free labor to the lords mines might not be considered abuse in this system. Abuse would be reported up the feudal chain, not the judicial.

Legislative system could probably be a simple parliament of districts choosing their representatives. The parliament would then elect committees working on separate areas of legislation. The results would then be approved or rejected by the parliament. Changes to the division of power between parliament, the king and lords would be constitutional issues and require approval by both the king and assembled lords. Or if the king has "absolute power" just the king. So the privileges of the feudal hierarchy would be guaranteed by the constitution. Disputes would go to the top court of the nation, as would any complaints about laws being unconstitutional. It might be simpler to give the top court a simple veto on any legislation.

The parliament would employ large staff to provide support services and necessary legal and topical expertise. Both representatives and staff would enjoy significant protections against interference by feudal hierarchy. All effort would have been made to make them independent of the king and the feudal hierarchy.

At the same time, the parliament would be seen and represented as assisting the king, not as having power over him. The immunities and privileges of the parliament would be in order to allow them to speak and and work freely without needing to worry about offending their betters, so that they can give the king the best possible help in managing his realm.

The judiciary hierarchy would handle all disputes of guilt, evidence, validity, and constitutionality. It would be run by professional judges elected by the parliament and appointed by the king. The judges and staff would have the same privilege in order to give best service as the parliament. Reasonably the judiciary would also have the oversight of the correctness and impartiality of administrative and legislative procedures of the feudal hierarchy and the parliament. Assisting citizens in dealing with the feudal hierarchy, say when negotiating a plea deal, would be part of that.

Relationship with feudal hierarchy would probably be adversarial, with parliament somewhat ambivalent. All would be loyal servants of the king, though.

You'd also need to decide how many levels you want in these hierarchies and what their powers and duties are. Also blank are the parts where education, religion and commerce fit in.

The UK government is very interesting for a setup like yours.

It is a bicameral system:

You can then tweak the respective power of each chamber to better fit your world.

There are a number of relatively recent changes that you may want to skip in your world:

• Before the establishment of the Supreme Court in 2009, the Law Lords were the final court of appeal.

• The House of Lords Act 1999 reduced the number of hereditary peers that could sit there.

• Until the Parliament Act 1911 the House of Lords could reject laws from the House of Commons.

Thus, it seems relatively easy to adapt that for your world where there is a parlamentary democracy but at the same time the lords still have most of the power.

You might like to check out a real world example: Somaliland (Self declared independent state: Capital Hargiesa -Northern Somalia)Somaliland has managed to integrate the Clan system into the upper house of their parliament. Thus keeping traditional clan based power structures while incorporating multi party politics into their lower house- 3 (relatively) free and fair elections and counting!

The two systems are not as different as you have been led to believe. Feudalism doesn't inherently center around an all-powerful nobility. The defining element of feudalism is a hierarchical system of vassalage, and, in point of fact, in a feudal society the highest levels of the government often had less actual power than modern "representative democracies".

The key element to feudalism is vassalage. Basically deals made between different groups. For example, a town agrees that it will provide the local lord with X number of fighters for up to Y days per year, and in return the lord will see to it that no rampaging armies come through looting and pillaging. The lord becomes the lord by collecting up such agreements from multiple towns so that he can call up enough troops to defend the land as necessary. The obligations in the agreement go both ways. If either side fails to live up to its bargain, the other side is freed of its obligation, and there may be some penalty clause to the contract as well.

To tie this in with a parliamentary system, all you really need is to structure the contracts that make up the feudal system appropriately. Say, an escape clause where if X number of the barons vote "no confidence" in the local count, then all the contracts are thrown open for re-negotiation. Or a requirement that the higher levels defer to the votes cast by representatives of the lower levels in certain circumstances. Or specified rights that the higher levels are not allowed to infringe upon under any circumstances without voiding the deal and leaving the lower levels free to choose a new leader.

What you'll end up with won't be that much different from what historical feudalism produced in some areas where it was difficult for any one group to gather enough support to be the single, acknowledged leader. Check out the history behind the Magna Carta and its predecessors for some ideas about what kinds of deals were struck.

Modern parliamentary monarchies have the issues that the monarch is usually just a figurehead and a diplomat, but does not govern internal affairs. Also, feudalism implies a mostly agrarian society, which is expressed in the question, as typical jobs, and as knights/lords.

A much better example than modern countries would be the Principality of Transylvania, and maybe the 17th century Dutch Republic, but I have more knowledge about the former, so let's take a look at it for an example.

It was an elective monarchy, the ruler called the "Prince" was elected by an assembly of nobles. There was also a parliamentary system, called the Diet. However, the country was still mostly agrarian, and the lords of the land could do pretty much what they wanted on their own lands. Interestingly, while the Diet was the main form of government, the ruler still had the right to distribute and re-distribute lands among the nobles, a very clear resemblance to feudalism.

What makes it even more interesting, is that while the militarily and economical might was in the hands of the nobles ruling over vast estates and villages, the cities were something completely different. The walled cities, especially those belonging to the Saxons, had great autonomy, they could freely elect their own leaders and freely adopt any internal policy. They actually resembled independent city-states allied with the country, rather than cities being part of the country.

All in all, it was an interesting mixture of democracy and feudalism. Of course, from a modern perspective you could find social injustice, but for its time period it was quite progressive. Among other things, it was among the first countries to declare the freedom of religion (1558-1568).

To drastically over-simplify, English feudal society consisted of a conflict of power between nobles and the monarch at the top, while in everyday life serfs (I'll use the word in general to indicate commoners in vassalage, I don't want to get into the fine distinctions) interacted only with their lords (and that not directly but via intermediaries), and almost all the time had little power or leverage.

However there was a notion of the King's justice, as contrasted with local lord's courts. Supposing that you had a broadly feudal-looking system, but in which a succession of monarchs are somehow secure in power, then they might have both the interest and the ability to take an active role in spreading their justice as widely as possible, establishing and supporting their courts and making them fully accessible to all.

Then, the response to an event like the Peasant's Revolt could be for the King to listen to the concerns of his subjects and respond by establishing some kind of body through which they can represent their concerns to him outside the authority of their nobles. This body might then have certain delegated powers, and be in effect a second parliament for the commoners, or "house of commons" ;-) Perhaps it could combine the city-based guilds with the rural serfs, although historically guilds had their own routes to influence. But he can only do this if he's secure, it can only be stable if several successors in a row are secure, and the English feudal monarchy was never secure for long.

The practical problems are also high, since feudal vassals were very limited in their ability to travel and communicate, so it's not obvious how such a body would actually interact with those it's supposed to represent. Furthermore, societal attitudes about fitness to lead were such that I'd expect such a body to consist of appointed wardens of the serfs, rather than anything we'd call an elected representative. Serfs just didn't get the education to engage with the administration, and the notion of taking one serf to represent all of them (or even all of them in an area) probably wouldn't make much sense.

But if you educate serfs, and give them communication and the ability to travel and organise and represent themselves politically, then they're going to give feudalism the heave-ho, just like the bourgeoisie did historically.

Anyhow I think this is the needle you have to thread: your "serf's parliament" is the symptom of some effort by the King to ensure that a weakened nobility behaves justly towards its vassals, via a body with a general remit to petition the King, since the King's courts however strong in their authority can only consider one case at a time. Just remember that by excluding the nobles from it, it is inevitably in conflict with the nobles. This conflict can't be entirely stable if the nobles have the capacity to disrupt it when its actions don't suit them. The monarch needs somehow to have the military power to discipline the nobility if it came to it, and this was frequently absent from English feudalism.

If you look further then the West there are kingdoms that do have a Monarch with absolute power but also have a parliament. The kingdom of Jordan would be an example. Thailand had prior to 2014 both a king with and an democratically elected parliament.

Iran isn't a kingdom but it also has a ruler that distinct from the parliament and president that are democratically elected.

What those examples have in common is that the democratically elected body isn't in full control of the military but the military can be controlled by the king.

In a lot of war-torn states like Iraq local warlords do have the power over their territories even when there are democratic elections. If you look at a post-apocalyptic scenario lords that are like those warlords fit into the scenario.

I think you basically answered the question yourself near the end - you give the Church the role you need to balance the inherent inequality of the feudal system, just don't have the King as the Head of the Church - you'll probably need a constitutional block or something to keep him in his place.

To the average commoner in that type of society, King and God were both pretty much on the same level anyway - all-powerful figures you disobeyed at your peril, lest their more earthly agents come for you.

Imagine if the Catholic Church in medieval Europe was a bit more pious and benevolent than it was in reality - with that much power and influence, how much do you think they could have fulfilled the role you describe? You could look at King John and the Magna Carta, and imagine if that was driven by this kindly Church instead of rebel barons?

• The more power you give the church, the more political it becomes I would think, because it becomes an avenue for lesser nobility with political ties to exercise power if nothing else. – Kilisi Jun 28 '16 at 10:37
• @Kilisi I don't doubt it, but I believe with a truly benevolent church that would be less of an issue than with, say, the parliament system we have now. If the religious order followed strict vows of povery/chastity, for example, it would discourage the power-hungry from taking that avenue. Of course, I'm assuming an altruistic, humane, humanitarian, philanthropic religion here, but OP didn't use the 'reality' tag, so.. – TheBloodyPoet Jun 28 '16 at 23:01

Most if not all of the Central Polynesian countries that have independence use this model. It's done by having 2 or even three tiers of power (if you include Church which you should, because it's a powerful way of getting ahead by bypassing bloodline). But I won't discuss the Church much because in theory they're busy worshipping and it would take too long. And their real power for positive has degraded a lot over time.

Kings are Heads of State with mostly diplomatic duties and very little actual personal power, but they ratify important things by law so in some cases hold veto powers, and in theory can dissolve parliament at a whim, so they can exert influence with chiefs when they really want to, and they're practically demigods to the commoners (most can trace their bloodlines directly to the Gods, but most chiefly lines can also do that, most importantly they're direct descendants of a culture hero with explicit sanction to be kings through eternity or until eaten by someone equally well blooded (which doesn't happen any more these days)).

A Paramount chief has overall control of a village because he controls the allocation of titles to other chiefs in part, and he controls the allocation of land to the chiefly titles in part. Each village has regular meetings where they set out their agendas, only chiefs have input and their decisions are largely autonomous of government. Paramount chief would be like a regional King or Nobleman.

Chiefs control the land in a village so they pretty much control the voters (they tell the people who to vote for upon pain of banishment from the land).

Each high chief speaks for an extended family, speaking chiefs are the mouthpieces of the high chiefs. Only chiefs are allowed by law to run for parliament. A High Chief depending on the esteem of his title would be the various Knights, Barons etc,. A Speaking Chief would be a regional court advisor, spokesperson.

Commoners are just peasants, their only power and mouth is through their families chiefs which in theory they can depose if they want to. Rising through the ranks is done by service to the family and village (theory again) rather than inherited father to son. Their standard of life is not hardship level although intentionally kept poor, because chiefs rely at least in part on their support and their basic needs are met by laws and the needs of their communities. They're not tied to the land as in the old days where leaving the village boundaries would put them in very real physical danger, instead it's mostly economic factors, inertia and tradition that keep them there.

Government is dominated by a few elite families who can afford to educate their children. Politicians (all chiefs by law) choose govt CEO's who in turn control their departments which can become almost family businesses over time.

This is bare bones, the theory is mostly lip service and the practice is a lot different, it's actually very complex and has it's own land and titles courts in all the countries they do this. This sort of system just barely works with a lot of looking the other way. But it breeds corruption and nepotism and in my opinion is inherently unstable for many reasons.

However in it's incipient stages it's a great system and worked out well when everyone was pulling together after Independence. Over time it degenerates very quickly into an oligarchy of petty dictators controlling all resources and monopolies of industries and govt departments by families of elites. Who by necessity need to keep the commoners in their place. With three separate authority systems that aren't really compatible vying for the services and resources. All citing God as giving them the authority and all three collaborating to some extent to retain their authority, and all three capable of making a violent mess if pushed far enough. Government having the last say since they can call on overseas military help if necessary.

At the beginning it all worked well because the three tiers worked together (at the expense of the commoners. Quite quickly the Churches being overseas led became an issue, so the elites decided to manage their assets for them so they could concentrate on Religious stuff, and founded their own denomination, built theological colleges and brought religion in to line.

Most have been independent for about 50 or 60 years so the first decade was pretty good and looked very positive, then very rapid degeneration. So you can see the whole sequence.

When I read over what you are looking for, I see some incompatibilities (which I'm seeing others pointing out as well). The key will be in identifying exactly who to have what powers to lie in and in what way are they checked against each other.

One thing I might point you to is India's Caste system. I haven't looked at it since middle school (over a decade ago) but I seem to recall that there are various classes of citizens. At the top are a type of nobility (easily adaptable to European Nobility system) and below them was a priestly class followed by the Warriors. Below that I don't recall; however, I remember that at the bottom there is a class that is considered sub human in a sense.

I see an adaptation of this system possible for you where your society obviously has the nobility at the top followed by a warrior class (knight families at the top of this class) and below them the free men. This 3rd class has voting rights for a British like House of Commons. Below the free peoples are a class of indentured servants who are still stuck under the thumbs of the nobility and lack the freedoms of the common folk.

You will have to determine how one moves up and down through the class system (if they can).

I think the best example would be too look at republican Rome. There, the elected members of the senatorial class acted as a legislature and they themselves elected two co-consuls for executive function. Each co-counsel had a separate role: one assumed responsibility for military campaigns, expanding the empire's borders, bringing back riches from loot, and so on, while the other co-counsel focused more on domestic issues. Each co-counsel could only hold office for one year (as to prevent dictatorial ascension) and, once elected, could not assume the position again until an additional 10 years had passed, although this restriction was routinely abused by powerful individuals and during times of intense strife.

The Roman model could also be used to fuse the agrarian feudal system with the urban aristocratic/democratic/dictatorial structure, as Rome had an efficient and sustainable (especially if you consider the Eastern Roman Empire as a direct continuation of Roman culture up until the 15th century, as Eastern Romans did in those days) way for incorporating conquered peoples into their empire: at first they became foreign territories/protectorates, then built them up and structured their societies until they became "allies," and eventually their way of life was so inseparable from that of the (traditional, Italian) Romans that they were happy to become a fully fledged part of the empire outright, with all of the trade and security and upward mobility advantages that came with it.

The gradual transition from conquered people to ally to Roman citizen fostered a strong sense of imperial identity that persists even to this day. No empire in Europe - and arguably the world's history - has drawn as much inspiration and cemented cross-cultural cohesion as Rome.

I think the simple answer here is to understand that no power is ever absolute. King Charles I was an absolute monarch, yet still got his head cut off. King John was an absolute monarch but the barons still told him to sign the Magna Carta (or else!)

There are ways of using this - while the King has absolute power, it effectively can be limited in many ways by political means. For example, after the English Restoration, the King was absolute, but he gave parliament various powers over boring stuff, like raising and collecting taxes. As a result, although the King had power over everything, if he wanted to go to war, he had to ask Parliament nicely, and then it was up to them to refuse (rarely happened, but by god did they extract various promises from the King in return) or delay collection.

So you have a democratically elected parliament, and you have an absolute power king. None of which gets to exercise that power without restriction.

If you want absolute freedom for the king as well, you're pretty much looking at a pre-law society. (IIRC Capet was the first king to set down laws that also bound himself), once you start making laws like that, you open a can of worms that grows. Guilds get little exemptions or powers for themselves that they then guard and little islands of power grow. Gives endless scope for plots!