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The Great Houses or Houses Major are the most powerful and important Houses with voting right in the Landsraad.
Their number was not fixed; they varied in history with political and economic fortunes, and depended to some degree on the strength of the empire's basic institutions: There were as few as 35, and as many as 157.
All other, lesser houses belonged to "Circles of the Empire," each being accorded a certain number of votes representing each sector or system in the known universe and circles elected representatives to sit at each session of the Landsraad, with a rotating representation on a regular basis. The different circles had differing methods of electing representatives.
At their worst, the Great Houses represented arrogance, privilege, selfishness, greed, lust for power, repression, military adventurism, political machination, and a blatant disregard for the rights or the desires of the populations they governed.
At their best, as with the House of Atreides and others, the Great Houses were a workable form of government, providing guidance for the populace, economic welfare, justice, protection from Imperial bullying, security, the promise of lifetime service with fair wages and a comfortable retirement, selflessness, and a sense of community.
Unfortunately, given humanity's penchant for misusing power of all kinds, the negative elements tended to outweigh the positive in most cases.
Definition and historyEdit
Technically all of the noble houses belonged to the Landsraad, but already from an early date in the history of the empire only certain of the more influential houses had voting privileges.
During the final Corrino emperors, the Great Houses were at their height and functioned in surprisingly similar ways, despite their cultural, political and governmental diversities. Most had private permanent protective force for both the noble families and their private and House properties, which sometimes rivaled the best that the Imperium had to offer.
Many of the Houses had long-term transportation agreements with the Spacing Guild that ensured priority shipment of goods or troops during periods of high competition or crises, unless the Imperium overrode them during times of supreme interstellar stress.
Following the accession of Emperor Leto II Atreides, the fortunes of the Great Houses declined drastically, as more power became concentrated in the Imperial Fortress. By 11000 AG, one-third of the Great Houses had been vanished or reduced in status to Minor Houses; less than a dozen had stepped upward to fill their positions.
The situation reached crisis level by 11500 AG, when the Great Houses were reduced to half their number at the time of Leto's accession. The functioning of the Landsraad was endangered, sessions became scarcer and finally ceased completely Leto's death. Former members of the Landsraad became known as mediatized houses," giving them slightly higher status than the few surviving Houses Minor.
Ultimately, it was not Leto II who destroyed the Great Houses; he only created the proper conditions for them to deteriorate slowly. This decline perhaps says more about the Imperium itself than about the Houses proper.
The Great Houses only represented a part of the entire system and its long-term historical picture shows the problems inherent in the Imperial structure.
Most of the Houses used a highly centralized form of governance, based on the hereditary or elected leader, a council consisting of economic and political advisors and the commanders of the private armies, and a regular series of audiences with the populations they governed.
In fact, the Houses ruled unchallenged in their local fiefs, which often consisted of one or more planets or planetary systems. Only a handful of planets in the Imperium (for example, Finally, Libermann, or Refuge) possessed Free Planet status, serving as open marketplaces to the known universe.
The Head of the Household (who also was the official representative in the Landsraad) was generally a hereditary position, although some families elected their Heads from among the family membership at large, or from certain specific lines; other clans practiced variant forms of succession, such as the House al-Qair, in which the Head of the House was automatically the eldest surviving member of the family.
Family heads attended sessions of the Landsraad regularly and others appointed official Representatives to act in their stead, with same legal status as their masters, and thus could act unilaterally in their behalf; for this reason, the practice was not widespread unless the Head of the House was ill or so.
Legally, the Head of the House was the House.
Candidate houses to gain full voting status must have demonstrated
- a minimum level of wealth (generally, siridar grants of one planet of moderate value, or several planets of poorer status),
- an understanding of political processes and power and
- a desire to participate in the governance of the empire,
- historical growth of their houses as evidenced by grants of land or titles, and
- a certain éclat which is difficult to define, but which nonetheless remained the hallmark of all the houses attaining this status.
Candidate houses required sponsorship by at least three other Great Houses.
Their admission was by a vote of the assembled houses in session, requiring a majority of the entire membership in three successive sessions.
Since the Houses Minor tended to vote for this status indiscriminately, the outcome of such voting rested with the Imperial Bloc and the Spacing Guild, giving them an inordinate amount of power on this particular issue. Huge sums of money could exchange hands to enroll one new member of the Great Houses.
Expulsion from the Landsraad required a simple majority of the members actually sitting in any one session. Movement in or out of the Landsraad was generally slow throughout the centuries. While the political feuding between the Houses Major had always been great, all seemed to recognize the necessity for the Landsraad without which unity of worlds would be doomed. Few, therefore, were willing to carry their animosities to the point of expulsion.
Under certain circumstances, the Head and his House could be tried by the Landsraad for treasonous acts against the Empire or the Landsraad, and the Head or his House or both exiled, deprived of their titles and lands, or exterminated.
There were nine such trials in the history of the Imperium; only one, that of House Masudi, resulted in the execution of all family members in 3536 AG. The Protector James Shi-Lang also ordered the name of this House expunged from all Imperial histories and records, although he was not successful in obliterating its memory; therefore their crime left no trace in the archives.
The total number of votes accorded to all Landsraad members was 1,000, divided as follows:
- 100 to the Imperial House,
- 400 to the Great Houses,
- 400 to the Minor Houses,
- 100 to the Spacing Guild.
The Imperial House sat both as representatives of the Imperium and as representatives of the ruling family's House, and received in addition to the Imperial Vote the votes accorded its clan.
Many of the Houses Major obtained proxies for the votes of lesser houses, or even of circles; these alignments were versatile, depending upon the issues at hand. In general, the Landsraad acted in most matters as a counterbalance to the Imperial power, providing a check upon the tendency toward autocratic centralization.
The votes accorded each Major House depended upon its status in the galactic community, as determined by the Guild, which maintained its position as a (generally) neutral observer. The maximum number of votes given any one house was ten, the least was one.
Voting allocations were published by the Guild prior to each session of the Landsraad and could be appealed only to the Landsraad itself. Houses might accrue more votes than the maximum allowed if they inherited the voting privileges of other houses, or if they obtained officially certified proxies from other houses or circles.
Houses might avoid the responsibility of voting on certain issues of controversy by granting limited proxies affecting one vote only, or all votes on a particular issue.
At the heart of each House, large or small, old or new, was the economic machine that financed the private troops, interstellar commerce, luxurious living, and aspirations to power.
The Houses used sophisticated long range economic planning to diversify their holdings; one-market clans went bankrupt and the Houses learned that diversity generally meant higher profits and greater stability. They followed a practice of reinvesting their money into as many different commodities as possible. Eventually only a few Houses still relied solely upon one particular product or service as their principal means of support.
Great Houses employed insignia to serve several purposes; a coat of arms was the signal mark of noble status that displayed the owner's distinction and individuality since it was unique, and proved descent from an ancestry that had achieved greatness, or at least notoriety. Also, figures or colors of the coat was used as a badge by retainers, soldiers, or servitors, and the association with the House was clear for all to see.
They were certainly used before the Imperium, and may derive from Terra itself. The names of the colors are ancient and unchanged in millennia: or (yellow or gold), argent (silver), gules (red), azure (blue; compare The Azhar Book), sable (black), vert (green), purpure (modern Galach parfal), tenné (orange), and murrey (dark red).
The registry and approval of coats of arms rested with an office of the Landsraad called the College of Heralds. Three ranks of officers, kings of arms, heralds, and pursuivants, settled disputes over claims and administered the use of arms.
Heraldry has a unique syntax. For example:
- House Corrino
- "White a lion sejant guardant erect or." That is, "on a white field, a yellow or gold lion, seated facing the viewer.
- House Alman
- Gules on an eagle displayed wings inverted white, beaked and armed or, a shield or with heart of the first (i.e., with a heart of the first color named).
- House Atreides
- Sable a falcon's head couped gules encircled by laurel branches vert.
- House Kenric
- Party per chevron or and vert (a field of yellow overlaid with green in the shape of a chevron) in chief (at the top) three bexants gules (red circles) fesswise (horizontally), in nombril (at bottom center) a rocket ascending argent.
- House Wallach
- Sable on a pale (a vertical band) argent, a closed book tenné encircled by a serpent vert.
- House Wikkheiser
- Azure an anchor or between alpha and omega white.
- House Ophelion
- Party per cross on 1 and 4 vert a lozenge (diamond) argent, on 2 and 3 or a cross formy sable.
- House Tiiopa'it
- Argent a bend (diagonal band) azure in sinister (left) base a pentagon of the last, in dexter (right) chief a wolfs head sable erased.
- House Delambre
- Party per fess azure and purpure a bar potenty argent, in chief a lasgun or, in nombril a harp or.
- House Ezharian
- Vert on a fess argent, three roses gules fesswise.
- House Moritani
- Azure on a bend argent a ringed planet gules, in sinister base and dexter chief a star of five points of the second.
- House Fenring
- Argent a chain sable palewise two lions rampant combatant gules.
- House Harkonnen
- White a ram's head caboshed guardant azure.
- House Ordos
- Or two bones white per saltire, in dexter chief entwined with ivy vert.
The pennant served chiefly as a battle flag on a long staff which marked a rallying point for troops in combat. It usually bore only the principal color or colors of the arms.
The House Atreides pennant, for example, was black and red; House Corrino's was white with a gold stripe, but as the pennant of the House (rather than the throne) was never used as a battle flag (the Imperial Battle Flag was that of the Sardaukar, plain black).
Houses did not hesitate to adopt special battle flags for situations in which ambiguity might threaten command control.
Those attached to a Great House often wore a badge to show their allegiance. The badge was usually the charge, or figure, from the coat of arms. Thus, the badges of several Great Houses were:
- a falcon's head in red
- a golden lion
- a ringed planet in red.
List of Great HousesEdit
This is an indicative list of the Great Houses of the Landsraad around 10196 AG in order of significance: House Alman, House Atreides, House Corrino, House Medvedev, House Vico, House Beskid, House Kemic, House Wallach, House Malmusetz, House Wikkheiser, House Kyzyl, House Opheiion, House Qaii, House Tiiopa'it, House Delambre, House Ezharian, House Hajns, House Moritilai, House Ordos, House Clanriearde, House Forbino, House Ginaz, House Hybla, House Morotai, House Pastran, House Pinang, House Thorgod, House Tombe, House Ttoenne, House Bagrationi, House Harkonnen, House Ispartha, House Penchi, House Togramah, House Ludvonsa, House Burgerich, House Chlemnik, House Genissai, House Guilford, House Hirado, House Isfahan, House Khumali, House Masjed, House Samarama, House Bromeli, House Cephalus, House Edomdred, House Elioz, House Emar, House Estilon, House Chulian, House Jungius, House Lynwyck, House Molay, House Noabar, House Pibeseth, House Rejani, House Rhylme, House Sikcunri, House Spokan, House Yasu, House Abefor, House Bendau, House Chinognia, House Costino, House Daryai, House Destrym, House Fenring, House Halleck, House Hemming, House Ichihara, House Istaivan, House Lidoping, House Menemtahe, House Mustami, House Ngara, House Parakrama-hu, House Raicnur, House Sulaimani, House Surakarta, House Villish, House Xingus, House Zalmunna, House Mwami, House Amminadab, House Andersson, House at-Tam, House Barlevin, House Chelly, House Demavend, House Dupleix, House Est, House Fidbolgs, House Iasi, House Igal, House Isonzo, House Jerodme, House Lassoki, House Latzko, House Lexander, House Lompok, House Lonsle, House Melui, House Meyerwal, House Nicolpri, House Niembach, House Orzaba, House Ossian, House Paligo, House Phyfe, House Polotsvi, House Reginaud, House Rhibera, House Shahrukh, House Shi-Lang, House Yuzovka.