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The Imperium was feudal in its core, in order to govern efficiently a widely dispersed empire of established self-sustaining planets with a constantly expanding frontier. Feudalism with its stability and flexibility, centralization and decentralization, replaced the technological developments necessary to efficiently offset the distances and differences between.
The feudal empire required a delicate balance of forces, of interlocking loyalties and responsibilities, to maintain itself. Political power and civilization rested upon a tripod made up of the emperor, his vassals, and their means of communication and contact — the Spacing Guild.
All power was centralized in the person of the Emperor, who in theory, owned the entire empire. In practice, "Padishah Emperor" meant the head of House Corrino from the Battle of Corrin in 88 BG (which established the ascendancy of the House), to the downfall of Shaddam IV and the establishment of the Regency in 10196 AG, all composing an uninterrupted period of 10284 years.
The Emperor reigned over the entire known galaxy, actually only a minuscule portion of that galaxy directly, most notably Kaitain, the seat of the Imperial Court, and Salusa Secundus, homeworld of House Corrino, transformed into the Imperial Prison Planet.
Fiefs and Houses MajorEdit
The rest of the galaxy was held in fief by individual Houses Major, which held a large number of planets or planetary systems in precaria from the emperor, granted in perpetuity to them, yet they could escheat to the emperor in default of an heir to a House (a circumstance resulting more often from a House being forced into exile than from the failure of a genetic fine), or the emperor could declare a fief forfeit owing to the failure of a House to fulfill its feudal obligations.
Such reversions of a fief to direct Imperial control were, however, comparatively rare, except in the case of those fiefs that carried with them exceptional wealth and/or political power, such as Arrakis (documented by Omar Bruus, The Political History of Dune (Fides: Malta])).
The granting of a fief to the ruler of a House Major carried with it Imperial protection against violations of the Great Convention in House-to- House disputes, and against a possible threat of invasion by extra-galactic, non-human adversaries who eventually didn't exist.
An Imperial fief also guaranteed the holder status as a House Major and thus representation in the Landsraad, membership (although not necessarily a directorship) in CHOAM, Guild shipping privileges (contingent upon Guild approval), and immunity from direct Imperial interference (spies, official "visits" by dignitaries, and even sabotage, was constant and expected, as detailed by Zhuurazh Nimkii, I Lived Three Lives: Memoirs of a Double Agent [Zimaona; Kinat]).
Regional and planetary courts of the Houses Major tended to ape the customs and fashions of the Imperial House. Dukes and Barons grandly held audiences, heard suits, and granted petitions all over the galaxy. Most Great Houses, granted subfiefs to vassal lords of the [[Houses Minor/DE|Houses Minor], in order to increase their own prestige by creating personal vassals, and reduce the personal work and expenditure necessary to govern a planet.
The granting of planetary tenure without such nominal "immunity" gave the holder a "quasi-fief" in which governmental power was shared with a Caid of the Imperial Sardaukar — an unsatisfactory by most Houses Major arrangement. The recipient of a planetary fief agreed to accept the title of "vassal," swore perpetual homage and fealty to the Padishah Emperor and his descendants, and pledged yearly tithes of all profits accruing to the fief, including supporting levies for the Imperial forces amounting to no fewer than 1/10 of all military conscripts for planetary armies.
Various feudal "aids and incidents" had gotten attached to the system and were regarded as inviolable through long custom. These included
- an inheritance tax payable upon the death of a vassal and the assumption of a fief by that vassal's legal heir;
- the "incident" of marriage
- to be paid by an heiress for the right to choose her own husband (in practice merely a wedding tax, but taken very seriously by the Imperium, as evidenced in the legal precedent of Lady Angelica Hagal vs. the Imperium [Landsraad Archives 9183], when the High Council of the Landsraad ruled that "marriage among the members of Houses Major cannot be construed otherwise than as a political and economic merger, and as such is under the direct jurisdiction of our Sublime Padishah Emperor himself")
- droit de gite (the right of "hospitality")
- to entertain the emperor in the style to which he was accustomed could break all but the wealthiest of Houses. Fortunately, few emperors made injudicious use of this right (like Corrin XXII in 9294 AG)
The Padishah did require supporting levies from his feudal vassals as his soldiery but used mainly as a sham to cover the real source of the Sardaukar (Salusa Secundus), and as cannon fodder in the training of the Imperial legions. They were not used in actual battle.
The emperor relied on the Sardaukar, who, at their prime, were each a match for 10 Landsraad conscripts. Furthermore, House Corrino's weaponry and atomics could be matched only by the combined forces of all the Houses Major, had, by virtue of its melange stockpiles, almost unlimited wealth. The Emperor had the power to enforce his decisions if necessary, and, more importantly, the authority to expect his decisions to be carried out without enforcement.
Imperial Court and bureaucracy grew every year in splendor and expenditures.
The private diaries and journals of the Royal Household, indicate that Imperial duties, not privilege, held sway on Kaitain which included not only the administration of the Imperial planets and the management of feudal dues, obligations, and tithes, the day-to-day workings of various departments and ministries.
- The Imperial Census
- was attended to every ten- years (requiring quite a bureaucracy of its own: no one outside its offices claimed to know the exact number of worlds under Imperial sway, yet the Census concerned itself with individuals);
- the Imperial Dictionary
- ostensibly a record of Galach only, but in need of constant revision and expansion;
- the Ecological, Botanical, and Zoological Research Centers (under strict control to limit technological advance);
- the Imperial Intelligence Agency
- whose records, though available, have resisted translation.
The emperor's day, excluding audiences, was a round of reports and conferences, requiring the services of a battery of mentatsecretaries and aides.
This process of subinfeudation could continue, with Houses Minor granting subfiefs to other Houses Minor or even private individuals (or even, in extraordinary cases, to impoverished Houses Major), until a huge bureaucracy became necessary just to sort out who owed what obligations to whom. The fall of certain Great Houses to the status of House Minor (entailing loss of Landsraad representation, Guild shipping privileges, and membership in CHOAM) can be traced directly to the House becoming entangled in a coil of conflicting loyalties and obligations as documented by E. Alaynbat in The Fall of the House of Hiirak (Grumman: Lodni)
An astute and not-too-scrupulous House Minor could, use the subinfeudation process to advance itself to the status of House Major, and many of the minor planetary intrigues and plots were designs of this nature. The siridar-lord and lady of a planet were expected to be more than just political figures. As planetary governors, they were considered father and mother-surrogates to their people. Thus, in addition to ensuring peace and prosperity, they set and enforced certain social standards, patterns of courtesy as it were, among their populations. In practice, this duty came down to a velvet-gloved but iron-fisted enforcement of the faufreluches class system: "A place for every man and every man in his place."
A strict hierarchy of social privilege and rank prevailed throughout the empire, and each member of society took care to maintain his pride of place against the lower orders, from the emperor himself down through the Houses, the merchants, artisans, and freedmen, to peons, servants, and slaves. Mobility within the ranks was theoretically impossible, as one's status was determined at birth by the rank of the one's family and the educational opportunities open to the offspring of such a family. Official policy discouraged aspirations of upward mobility. Yet roads were open to those bold enough (or foolish enough) to try them.
Evidence of potential mentat ability, or intelligence plus a willingness to allow one's Pyretic Conscience to be tampered with, could be a passport out of middle-class life, either legitimately through Suk School Conditioning, or not so legitimately (nor so safely) through renegade training at the hands of the Tleilaxu. Psychologically safer, but still physically dangerous, the most common route out of the lower classes lay through the military. It was not true, as rumor would have it, that an enterprising young man could, through prowess and bravery, make his way into the elite corps of Sardaukar, although many tried by means of the emperor's supporting levies. Yet a man could rise through the ranks of many a planetary army to become a commander, a general, even a Master of Assassins (for example, see Juniper Atreo, ed. Diary of an Assassin: A Biography of Gurney Halleck, Arrakis Studies 25 [Grumman: United Worlds], compiled from records found at the Great Library on Caladan.) The third way around the hierarchy of the faufreluches was, as may be expected, financial. As new planets with new products and exports opened up, it was possible for legitimate businessmen, and their illegitimate cousins the smugglers, to make fortunes in trade: such wealth could be used to buy titles or House Minor (and even House Major) status through discreet negotiations in the proper quarters. The accusation of purse-nobility — that one's titles came out of one's pocketbook — was one of the deadliest insults in the Imperium, yet sources show that a case could be made for the Harkonnen tides having been acquired in this way.
At times whole populations lived outside the faufreluches system: such as the Fremen on Arrakis and the exiled noble Houses on Tupile. The Imperial government, blocked all efforts to circumvent the system, and that's how House Corrino maintained its ascendancy for so many generations. The feudal pyramid appeared to all members of the Imperium as if carved in stone: no movement was easy, no revolt possible. Imperial agents cultivated a persistent pessimism among the population to bolster their power base which acted as a psychological deterrent (in addition to religious restrictions) against technological and political innovation, keeping the empire safely feudalist for over 10,000 years.