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Someone has discovered the secret of immortality (whoa, awesome!), but it requires what amounts to a human sacrifice and their spirit overtaking the deceased body (not as awesome!). Technically, it's more like possession than immortality, but it will be referred to as immortality since it's the soul of the same guy.

This someone also happens to be the ruler of their country in a typical monarchy, but the reason they sought immortality in the first place is they're infertile. This country is also religious (hence the monarchy, they believe their bloodline was chosen by the Gods).

I'd like this ruler to live for at least a few hundred or thousand years, but also publicly maintaining their throne into a more modern age. The original idea I had was to bring in a close circle of trusted elites that know the secret of the ruler, these elites having their own royal families with children hidden away from society, then the ruler picking one of the children to perform the ritual on to assume their identity every 50-70 years or so.

This system might work a time or two, but then you run into issues with the ruler maintaining the trust of the royal families and potential incest within the royal families' descendants. There's probably a lot of other issues I've haven't considered yet, so I'd like some help figuring out how plausible this government could be.

  • How would the elites and ruler keep the secret of immortality hidden from the public?
  • How can the ruler keep the trust of the elites? (Perhaps religious influence?)
  • What other issues would this ruler run into, outside of the usual problems of immortality?
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    $\begingroup$ That first paragraph... Hmm, it has something X-y to it... Oh Men. $\endgroup$ – Martijn Sep 20 '16 at 8:22
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    $\begingroup$ You know that moment, when the new US president has a four eyes meeting with the old one, and after that all the promises of the election time are somewhat forgotton... just sayin... $\endgroup$ – PlasmaHH Sep 20 '16 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ Why does it matter if the king is infertile? After the first possession, won't they be able to have children in the new body? Or does the act of possession render the new body infertile? $\endgroup$ – David K Sep 20 '16 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidK the infertility is plot related and part of the character's motivation for seeking immortality, it's a curse on the soul, not fixed by switching bodies $\endgroup$ – skeletim Sep 20 '16 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ This reminds me of the Emperor in the Warhammer 40K universe. Maybe you can get some inspiration from him. warhammer40k.wikia.com/wiki/Emperor_of_Mankind $\endgroup$ – Cody Sep 20 '16 at 16:20
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Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead. - Benjamin Franklin

The only way this can be kept a secret is if the immortal (let's call him Bob) is the only person to know the secret. If anyone else learns of Bob's immortality, bad things happen - through jealousy, if nothing else.

The key to Bob's plan, then, is to create a tradition: the king handpicks a successor, from a family other than his own, and anoints them in a religious ceremony shrouded in holy secrecy - a ceremony during which the old king dies. This religious ceremony also imparts Holy Wisdom and a touch of the Holy Spirit in a grueling spiritual trial.

In reality, Bob is using the ceremony to possess the "successor" and take his place. The new king comes from a different family, because Bob is infertile anyway - and it helps cut down on the civil wars over rights of succession. The secrecy of the ceremony helps ensure that nobody stumbles over Bob's secret. The Holy Wisdom and Holy Spirit fluff are to account for wisdom only the old king had, and to cover up any mistakes Bob makes from not knowing all the details of the new body's life; since it's religious, nobody should ask too many questions, right? The old king dying part should be obvious; just make sure to imply that he ascended to Heaven...

If the ceremony absolutely requires another person, things get much, much more complicated. At that point, Bob is probably best served by creating a small branch of the Church, devoted to the ceremony, and indoctrinating them from the earliest age possible. Even then, Bob should try to keep them as much in the dark as possible - couching everything in religious terms. Beware the backlash should this heresy ever be discovered...

I'll leave it as an exercise for the serious student as to how Bob creates this tradition in the first place... but receiving the Word of God as to this new ceremony, combined with a "willing transfer of power", might go a long way.

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    $\begingroup$ The only problem with this is Bob talks in his sleep! ;) $\endgroup$ – AbstractDissonance Sep 20 '16 at 0:35
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    $\begingroup$ Actually Impotent Bob can never be the King, because the OP stated that the bloodline is considered of the Gods. So, you need Bob to be a shadowy master that manipulates whatever puppet king is on the throne. Then Bob can possess away, no questions asked as different people become the King's Advisor... $\endgroup$ – Mirror318 Sep 20 '16 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ For the record, "infertile" and "impotent" are two different problems. $\endgroup$ – Lindsey D Sep 20 '16 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Mirror318 - this can go badly, puppets have an annoying tendency to grow a spine. $\endgroup$ – Morgen Sep 20 '16 at 3:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Morgen then you have yourself a story! On the other hand, being impotent and declaring yourself king of a sacred bloodline can go pretty badly, too. $\endgroup$ – Mirror318 Sep 20 '16 at 4:03
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Take a look at the Dalai Lama and how his spiritual succession is handled. Assume it is real (I make no claim one way or the other) and there you go. Hide in plain sight. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalai_Lama

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    $\begingroup$ It is not only Dalai Lama. There are several lineages (called tulku - almost 100 of them) of such persons who are considered (and tested by experts) to be reincarnations of such lineage. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Sep 20 '16 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterMasiar : what kind of experts test such things, and with what methods? $\endgroup$ – vsz Sep 23 '16 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ @vsz See movie "Little Buddha". Basically, from several similar items, tested reincarnation has to select the one he used in previous life. Multiple times. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Sep 26 '16 at 13:37
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Tell no one, deal with possessing a child

Studies show that the greater number of individuals involved in a conspiracy the less time it takes for that conspiracy to fall apart, ie, the time a conspiracy is secret is inversely proportional to the number of people involved.

Don't tell the nobles. Don't tell anyone.

Since there's a cultural belief in God, miracles can happen. Do the following:

  1. Proclaim the queen pregnant. Keep her in seclusion for nine months. You don't want anyone to know that she's not actually pregnant. If the king's infertility is known, pronounce it as a miracle and keep going.
  2. Steal a new born infant from somewhere. Make sure it is healthy and from smart parents.
  3. Take the infant home to castle. Proclaim the child as your heir and begin to raise it.
  4. When the child grows up and no longer requires a regent, possess the child and take over.
  5. The old king dies (and everyone is sad) but the "new" king goes on living. Some will notice a change in tone from the new king since the personality of the old king now inhabits the new king.
  6. Repeat as necessary till monarchs go out of fashion.
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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, but "Keep her in seclusion" means having maids or whatever attend her. Also stealing and taking care of a child isn't something you can do "in secret". $\endgroup$ – Ciacciu Sep 20 '16 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Ciacciu A king without some kind of secret service isn't going to do very well. We're also talking about a person so wrapped up in themselves that they commit murder to keep themselves alive. Conceptually, this is 1000 years ago. There's no such thing as the census. People disappear all the time with no way of finding out what happened. $\endgroup$ – Green Sep 20 '16 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ ..or get her knocked up by someone of your choosing then kill that nobody and raise the child as your own. $\endgroup$ – Jammin4CO Sep 20 '16 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ Similar to the God King from War Breaker by Brian Sanderson $\endgroup$ – Mord Zuber Sep 20 '16 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps the queen is pregnant... They just assume that the King's the father. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Sep 20 '16 at 19:11
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Sarah A Hoyt's book Darkship Thieves (and the sequel Darkship Renegades) has a similar sort of setup:

It happens via medical means rather than magical. The ruling elite basically take over the bodies of their heir when the kid matures. Keeping the secret is basically fairly easy as far as the public goes - because it's a new body, it looks like normal inheritance, and behavioural changes can be passed off as down to the new responsibilities.

Since all the elite do this, anybody who finds out gets squashed - none of the elite want their heirs/donors finding out and messing the system up.

In your scheme, with only one immortal, probably the simplest thing is not to tell the elites, and secure their loyalty by marrying them into the royal family. Or extend the immortality scheme to the elites as well.

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    $\begingroup$ Don't proclaim a spoiler in plain text. Use the spoiler tags, it's why they exist! $\endgroup$ – Nij Sep 21 '16 at 8:36
  • $\begingroup$ I would have, but I couldn't figure out how to do it - didn't see anything in the editor panel that looked relevant - How do you do it? $\endgroup$ – JerryTheC Sep 21 '16 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ I tried to edit a spoiler tag in but the edit is not visible yet... basically, start a paragraph with: >! and the whole paragraph is under the spoiler tag $\endgroup$ – Olivier Dulac Sep 21 '16 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks - it's working OK now. It'd be handy to have an FAQ somewhere with stuff like this in, and/or an editor button for it. $\endgroup$ – JerryTheC Sep 22 '16 at 11:53
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Knowledge is Power

He does not need the support of anyone. If he have the knowledge of a 70 year old in the body of a 5 year old he will be taken as a genius and rise faster trough the bureaucracy of the state.

You can even make you setting a democracy and he will always rise to the presidency. Take Bush father and Bush son in US. Take Clinton husband and probably Clinton wife in US. Look at US and Brazilian senate and congress and you will see at high offices there is many sons and daughters of someone.

Options

  1. A ritual to chose the next emperor. I saw a round table movie where the Excalibur was placed in a waterfall by Merlin with a mechanical device that will only release it if the sword was twisted in a specific way. Then, when he was certain that Arthur was his chosen, he hinted to him that he needed to twist the sword. On your setting you do not need to cheat, the kid emperor will know everybody, knows a lot about the bureaucracy of the state, knows about the skeletons on the closets. An ritual consisting in knowledge of the bureaucracy, secret rituals, administrative skill will always be won by your young emperor.

  2. School of management. Ramses II, started a sort of business school that was known as the "sons of the emperor" and declared that all of those kids are their sons and therefore eligible to the succession. Those kids was put on public offices all through Egypt and when the appointment was about proven efficiency. He actually appointed as successor one of his genetic sons, but the idea is interesting. Your emperor can appoint a kid of the school "sons of the emperor" as the successor. Of course he will appoint the kid he intends to take as host. And this may even have a religious meaning to him... he actually believe be appointed by god and see the scores of the kids on the tests as god sending him the perfect host. And this also serves as a backup, if he die unable to complete the ritual he will left good kid in control. The appointment can be kept secret. Can be part of the emperor's will so that no family tries to kill him. This also allows the emperor to appoint a new kid each few years since he does not know when he will have to perform the ritual.

  3. All of the above you can left the "will" out, and make the "sons of the emperor" school combined with a ritual. That way he will be selected.

  4. Say the truth without saying the truth, the emperor declares that had a vision where God said that his knowledge will be passed on to some kid on the realm.

  5. Hide resources the emperor can make strategic division of the knowledge and resources in the way only with his knowledge some resources and bureaucratic approvals can be done in able time. That way when he "dies" a crisis of massive proportion will start. Then, a decade latter as teenager he will begin to solve the crisis at local levels and rise up fast. In that case you probably will want the "emperor sit" be available though the crisis. That can be made by the religious claim that he will reincarnate and people needs to look for him (like the lamas do). Or make the setting a democracy with the presidency with no real power, place the power in the figure of a super-secretary that can be appointed.

  6. Plain old democracy. Since he have privileged knowledge about passwords, cracks in the bureaucracy, persons, he probably will rise up quickly in a democracy. He will be first minister for almost entire life or reelected president or speaker of the house for almost entire life provided there is no limit on reelection. In such a setting the role of the president/prime minister/speaker of the house probably will evolve in a bureaucratic web that only he knows to unravel, not by design, but by simple incompetence. After a great president, will be elected a bad one (while the emperor host body ages) because he can't do anything. When the emperor rise everything is fine and people will not blame the bureaucracy and change it. They will blame the placeholder president. In democracies laws evolve to prevent a bad president/prime minister to make severe damage and that probably will not happen in this setting. That is what will make the web of bureaucracy and mostly assures that anyone but the emperor will be able to make a good government.

I much prefer the option 3 or option 6 because has historic elements that supports their credibility: I mean the perpetuation of family politicians and Ramses II child of emperor school. Those options allow for a good or evil emperor. The emperor can simple believe he is not killing the child, but merely giving his knowledge to the kid making he or she the right successor. Or that is an sacrifice for the good of the country. Option 3 also explains why he will live surrounded by children and why they will visit him on his death bed. The kid that was sacrificed may not even be the last to visit him. They can keep the body on life support or say he is in coma.

The difficult thing is how the emperor lives to be 70 Half emperors in history died assassinated by their successors quest of power. The other half was killed because they become mad out of the fear of being killed by persons close to them (I am exaggerating a bit here). Is difficult to believe an emperor will live to be 1000 years old. I think the democracy scenario is better suited for longer times because as an super-secretary he will not be target of house-of-cards and "et tu, brute?" types of conspiracies. As the super-secretary he will be on the safest of the positions while retaining all power. And his different personas will be known by their skill in history. He can even survive a few coups and risen to power again. His country can change from an monarchy, to a communism and then to a democracy and he will still be on the highest offices. As an super-secretary known to have passion for the country, known to be critical to those above him when they made mistakes, he will probably be included in most coups. This can start on his first life. A coup can happen just before or shortly after his first reincarnation. Since he has no known sons, his new persona is not killed. But since he knows a lot about the state he became the primary advisor to the new government. Since he solved a lot of problems he become addicted to the feeling of starting over and be appraised as a genius kid.

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This is mostly the plot of the very first episode from Métal Hurlant Chronicles.

Spoilers ahead:

In some random kingdom, everyone hates the king, because he does what every evil king does (killing, taxing, restraining freedom etc.). Every once in a while a tournament happens, where the best warriors from the kingdom come to fight each other. The winner is supposed to become the new king.

In fact the king is some kind of alien or whatever super technological advanced being, who when he is about to die, use the tournament to select his next host and then implants his own brain inside the winner. This way the same king has been around for centuries without anyone ever noticing. And everyone in the kingdom loves the tournaments!

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This setup loosely reminds me of that in Sten Chronicles, which feature openly immortal Eternal Emperor. It's sci fi rather than magic, but much applies.

Without going into lengthy retelling and spoilers, his reign hinges on following things:

  1. Immortal, both details and implementation process of which are exclusive to him.
  2. Irreplaceable, the whole energy supply for the Empire hinges on Emperor personally. No Emperor = lights go out.
  3. Assasination/kidnap–proof, the specifics of immortality implementation allow Emperor to return after physical destruction of his body, which also allows to use self–destruct as protection against kidnapping.

So being immortal is "easy" (sufficiently advanced technology / magic / whatever).

The hard part is being immortal and protect yourself from being out of power and/or dead. It's much less fun being immortal forever, thrown in a jail cell. Or shot in the head few days short of next reincarnation / whatever.

Such monarch would need immense leverage so that getting rid of him is highly inadvisable and preferably impossible / unrealistically hard on top.

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None of the answers, at least to what I have seen, deal with the issue that is possessing a child. A child, whether he has the soul of the emperor or not is just that, a child.

The emperor needs to select a child, and raise them to be an heir to avert any suspicions. This is normal, as it would be the course in a normal case. Where this differs, is that when the emperor is on the verge of death in his current body, he can transfer to the heir, telling no one. From here, he can continue to be the ruler of the empire, and no one will know that he is now possessing the body of the, hopefully by this time, fully grown adult heir.

EDIT: Read this part of the comments after typing this, leaving it in because in my method it is possible for the heir to have already had a child.

You also never mentioned if he remained infertile when switching bodies. If this is not the case, once he switches the first time, he can simply have a child, and continue down the line of taking over his child when the time comes for him to "die" yet again.

This cycle could, in essence solve the problem of keeping as secret, as he needn't tell anyone, as well as allow him to easily keep the throne.

This power could also be used in case of a rebellion. Should his reign ever be threatened by rebellion, he can simply move into the bodies of one of the rebels, stating that he killed the emperor, and usurp the throne, again ridding suspicions, keeping his rule.

Sorry if this answer is a bit muddled and convoluted, my brain thinks in weird patterns.

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He need not tell anyone, but the extent of his knowlege will eventually lead to his downfall, many "generations" later. As in any concentration of power, He is surrounded by a set of insiders; Royals or Peers, whose devotion to him is essential to their position. A rising Technologically (or magically) sophisticated upper middle class resents the privilege of the "Royals" He counters the consolidation of their power by creating a sschool for promising young people, much as the early Chinese Emperors did in requiring all officials to to pass a series of Civil Service Examinations, and permitting all his subjects to try for admission to the school, regardless of their sex, social standing, family history, or personal reputation. They only need to be physically attractive, even tempered and free from revolutionary influences. His personal safety in the midst of this cultural dissonance is assured by a cult of assasins, ever ready to deal with opponents in apparently innocent accidents.
While he alone triggers the event, his succession is a public spectacle occurring every 66 years or earlier if poor health or public sentiment intervene. He longs for a fresh body, with no ills, pains or bad reps.

The end comes when the succession of new bodies eventually relieves his inability to father children, and his favorite gives him a beloved daughter. He is compelled to select her as his successor, and he must decide if he ends his life or hers.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not clear on why a government that operates by the ruler selecting his successor would suddenly turn into an inherited monarchy just because a ruler has a child. The normal reason for this is that a monarch wants to pick his or her child as successor. If he doesn't want to do so, he wouldn't need to do so. $\endgroup$ – Brythan Sep 21 '16 at 0:43

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