In my pseudo-medieval world, in the culture/religion of one of the largest and most powerful nations, woman are thought to be generally better suited to positions of power (as men are believed to be usually too impulsive, emotional and narrow-minded to wield power effectively). This is a very soft precept though and men definitely can and do achieve high success/social and political standings in virtually all fields (especially the military).

The exception is the most important position of power: the ruler of the kingdom must always be a woman. This role is hereditary, it passes down from mother to daughter (or in the event that there is no daughter, to the closest female blood relative).

Though this dynastic sovereignty is sanctioned both in the minds of the people and in this kingdom's theology, it is also deeply held that the ruler should never be allowed to become prideful and arrogant.

As such for centuries measures have been taken to avoid the latter:

  • She has no official title associated with her being the ruler. She is simply called "Lady" much as any noble woman without a rank would be called.

  • She is expected to wear simple clothes, no gold, or mink fur, etc, again of a similar style to what any daughter of an aristocrat family would wear.

  • No noble people will ever bow down to her and peasants show the same respect as they would to any low ranking noble-born (not that she spends much time with peasants, mind you), perhaps a simple low nod of acknowledgement.

  • She has no special throne or crown.

  • There is no special ceremony when she becomes ruler.

  • She is expected to never directly enact her authority, at least not publicly (no ordering people to do things).

  • She cannot talk about matters of the state in public or discuss such matters with foreign dignitaries (at least not directly).

Now obviously the two last rules need some sort of work around, otherwise she would have trouble commanding her nation:

That's where the role of king becomes important.

The king acts as essentially a substitute/avatar/mouthpiece for the ruler:

  • Instead of the ruler ordering someone's head be chopped off, she would whisper to the king to do so.

  • Instead of a foreign ambassador talking to her, they'd talk to the King and she'd listen. Whenever an important response needs to be offered, she and the King would go to a private chamber so that she can tell him what to say.

  • When a neighboring country wants to show their loyalty or amicability, they'll send an expensive and elaborate gift to the king (and specifically for the king too, I don't mean he'll act as a royal postman accepting gifts destined for her).

  • When the various consuls, proconsuls, ministers and generals, need to be told what to do, it is the king who delivers the instructions.

  • Royal speeches are written by the ruler (or one of her advisors) and then memorized and delivered by the king.

  • Senate meetings (yes there is a senate, it doesn't have much power though), are attended and overseen by the King (because constant whispering is obnoxious in that setting and the King and ruler can't leave the room every couple minutes, typically she'll discreetly write what he should say on a piece of parchment in front of him).

The only exception to all of this is meetings between the Ruler and her advisors, in these she will talk freely (the king sometimes comes along too, but there is no reason for him to speak).

In addition all of the high honors that the ruler is barred from are not in the case of the King:

  • He wears extremely expensive clothing.

  • He has a throne and crown.

  • Everybody definitely does bow to the King.

  • Everybody uses a myriad of flowery epithets when addressing the King (majesty, greatness, etc..)

  • When he becomes king (when he marries the ruler), there is a coronation.

Now I'd like to reiterate that this isn't one of these "Behind every great man is a woman" moments. Indeed, even officially the king has no power, everybody is clearly aware that every time he says something he's just parroting the true monarch. Nobody tries to hide the fact that when the King excuses himself out of the room to "deliberate on the matter at hand" it's just code for "I need to be told what to say".

Even neighbouring countries understand perfectly well that he's basically just the ruler's partner in fancy dress.

Even so, it's extremely important culturally, socially and religiously. So much so that at some point in this kingdom's history a short, minor war broke out between it and a foreign land after one of the latter's ambassadors adamantly refused to play along.

It's also very important in that the various high families of the realm will vie with each other in order to try and get one of their sons appointed king (for the obvious political reasons but also for the additional social standing it affords to have a family member be King).

So after all that explaining, my question this: is this Kingdom unstable as a result of this unusual arrangement, is it more prone to coups? Social/political unrest?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It will be seen in a less positive light by foreign countries. I also wonder if a king, or more probably former king, could become a figurehead for rebellion. $\endgroup$ Sep 10, 2017 at 13:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @pojo-guy In Medieval Europe I am fairly certain the King did the ruling directly not through the Queen. $\endgroup$ Sep 10, 2017 at 13:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ One little detail: "Whenever an important response needs to be offered, she and the King would go to a private chamber so that she can tell him what to say". The ambassador should be politely dismissed by the King and asked to come back another day, after having talked to the Lady or the Council/Senate or whatever. Medieval diplomacy took months, there was no need for "let's go talk to the other room". $\endgroup$ Sep 10, 2017 at 14:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AlbertoYagos Excelent point, I'll take that into account. $\endgroup$
    – AngelPray
    Sep 10, 2017 at 14:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ People keep using the term 'queen' because you have a female sovereign alongside a titled king figure. Also, 'queen' is easier to refer to uniquely than 'that person who runs the country using the king as a proxy and we have to call Lady.' $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Sep 10, 2017 at 16:37

3 Answers 3


The greatest source of instability is the King. If everyone expects all orders to come from the King, he can just start ignoring what the Queen says. And she can't contradict him, as she can't speak in public.

The Queen whispers into his ear, "Agree to their terms." The King stands up and yells, "That is an insult! Behead these knavish ambassadors and send their heads back to their masters as our answer. Prepare for war!"

The first king who realizes that will be the end of this system, one way or the other. The checks and balances don't work.

This is especially bad considering the way that royals traditionally use marriages to cement alliances. A clever younger prince of another country may promote himself as a potential king. While he could never rule in his own country (as the younger child), he can rule this country.

Beyond all that, what happens if the Queen isn't married? Perhaps the old Queen died suddenly and her eight-year-old daughter becomes Queen. Perhaps the King dies. What happens then?

  • $\begingroup$ She could always make a suble gesture to the palace guards indicating that the king needs to be ignored and promptly escorted to the dungeons. But yes, the eight-year-old daughter thing certainly is very problematic... $\endgroup$
    – AngelPray
    Sep 10, 2017 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ @AngelPray, "She is expected to never directly enact her authority, at least not publicly (no ordering people to do things)." Even a gesture to the guards (which the guards would have to understand that she's the true ruler!) would result in a paradoxical state whereby a witness hears the king shout "kill them all" and the guards don't obey. $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2018 at 20:10

This sounds like the historical Japanese Shogunate system, in which the Shogun controlled the Foreign Policy, military, and feudal patronage but the Emperor approved. This would last from 1600 to 1867 when the Shogun returned power to Emperor Meiji. The Emperor would have official power until the surrender to Allied forces in 1945, at which point, Japan became a constitutional monarchy where the Emperor is the head of State and performs ceremonial duties, but the Prime Minister of the Diet is the Head of Government (unlike the United States, where the Head of Government and Head of State are the same office).

Great Britain has a similar system (they are not a Constitutional Monarchy as they are one of the few democracies in the world that lack a Constitution). The major difference is the British Monarch is able to dissolve Parliament, the Japanese Emperor is not (and just an FYI, as of now the Japanese Emperor is always male, though the current crown prince has no male heirs, so there is debate in the Diet about allowing the princess to become the Empress of Japan. Without change, the world's longest reigning dynasty will end with the next Emperor).

In both these cases, all law is effectively approved of by the Monarch and all ministers are sworn in by the Monarch, but that is ceremonial at best. In both cases, the Head of State is seen as a traditional symbol of the nation and derives the ceremonial authority from that position. In effect, it is still "their" nation, but they let the legislature govern it.

Edit: During the occupation of Japan, General Douglas MacArthur was affectionately called Shogun MacArthur by the Japanese, with his role as Military Governor of the Occupation and close working relationship with the Emperor (which resulted in a preservation of many Japanese government agencies, unlike in post-war Germany, thus effectively minimizing the Occupation's presence to the average citizen) reminded them of the Shogunate system.

  • $\begingroup$ "(and just an FYI, as of now the Japanese Emperor is always male, though the current crown prince has no male heirs, so there is debate in the Diet about allowing the princess to become the Empress of Japan. Without change, the world's longest reigning dynasty will end with the next Emperor)" outdated as of 12 years ago: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Hisahito_of_Akishino $\endgroup$
    – Maciej
    Jan 16, 2018 at 16:25

Like any other thing regarding human nature it can be largely inconsistent with unpredictable turn of events, although, as they say, story tends to repeat itself. Therefore, it is to assume that the Queen takes the role of true ruler, or 'puppet-master', and the King takes the role of a 'face-of-relations'. While this system does not make for a unstable form of government per se, it can and most likely will lead to problems where the supreme authority and who the people regard with their highest esteems is.

This system can be observed in a similar form in modern democracy/republic systems throughout the modern world, where the councils/congress/senate etc. take the role of 'puppet-master', being the real rulers and the ones in charge of all the decisions for the maintenance and growth of the country. While the head-of-charge, which could be a prime minister, president or any other, is largely a representative power with all his due benefactions, and for all that they can say and order, unless they themselves take over the congress/senate with a coup of their own (another possible scenario) their decisions are thoroughly influenced and controlled by the congress/senate, and as happens most oftenly, it is the congress themselves who decide who is going to assume presidency. I am not to say that this is an absolute thesis on how most modern political system works, but it is a fair analysis of what happens or has happened in several third-world-countries throughout the world and could be a valuable information for your particular scenario.

In short, it wouldn't be particularly unstable, but several problems could arise due to the division and indirect relation of power. And again, human nature is unstable! remember that unforeseen turn of events could be triggered by any minor action and even a stable utopia could turn into a chaotic dystopia by the actions of a single person.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .