Last Wednesday we started a new series by looking at the Fresian Merchant League, but this was just a brief overview of it, much like our prior Culture Friday segments. This week we will start drilling down into this bedrock of wealth, corruption and villainy to show you the sort of people your characters may be working for… or against.
This week on League Wednesdays we have the Four Governing Families.
From left to right in the image we can see the Hugenberg, the van Windburg, the van Rosedaal, and the Heisenstein families. They are put in the order of most to least powerful and the first and last of the governing families are not native to Alfresia. It were these four families that created the League and for the past century have been sitting comfortably on top. While there are many, many lesser families, none has of yet threatened their rule.
These four didn’t gain their money overnight when they created the League, they were wealthy dynasties well before the Alfresian War of Independence, with lots of guilds and merchant alliances bowing to them. The formation of the League was a safeguard against what the future may hold. After all, there may come a time when the winds of capitalism are not blowing their way. By creating their own sovereign nation, they have some protection, some insurance, against this.
The League has often been called the epitome of republicanism, of freedom, of a man’s potential to become whatever he desires, but the truth is far from it. While there are no kings, emperors, or some such at the head of the League (the Hugenberg’s noble status notwithstanding) shouting commands at the peasants, the League is not the laissez faire, free-for-all country that most think. It is far more feudal than even the Patriarchs of the governing families would admit.
This pseudo-feudalism is most evident by the League’s organisational structure. At its head sits the king, the League itself: invisible, unreachable, speaking only through his advisors. Below him sits the four Dukes, the four governing families. Then the league is subdivided further and further down until you reach the individual stores. Each trade family, great and small, is subject and vassal to the family above them, with the greatest families having a half dozen or so vassal families. Through this the four governing families keep control of the League as the lower caste families can’t join forces with those of a rival governing family.
Because of this, the “reach” of the governing families are often overestimated. The van Rosedaal family is quite famous for its luxury weapons, each one a work of art handcrafted start to finish by a single artisan. However, the van Rosedaals never see the weapons, the raw material, or even the artisan; they don’t make the deals or even do the paperwork. It is the Holt family, the van Rosedaal’s vassal, which handles all of this, but they only oversee the broader picture, the shipping, the taxes, that sort of thing. In truth, it is the van Laar family, a vassal of the Holts which are the weapon specialists. They do all the work, they gather the raw materials, the artisans, they get the work orders, and they see it done. At the end of the day, however, the van Rosedaal family takes their share of the profit and gets the recognition.