TV Tropes Monday: Royals Who Actually Do Something

Tweet of the Day: A Dance with Dragons


Noblesse oblige is a French phrase literally meaning “nobility obliges”.

The Dictionnaire de l’Académie française defines it thus:

  1. Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly.
  2. (Figuratively) One must act in a fashion that conforms to one’s position, and with the reputation that one has earned.

The Oxford English Dictionary says that the term “suggests noble ancestry constrains to honorable behavior; privilege entails to responsibility”. Being a noble meant that one had responsibilities to lead, manage and so on. One was not to simply spend one’s time in idle pursuits.

The basic principle behind the Royals (or Nobles) Who Actually Do Something.

Well, they damned better, otherwise what would be the point of having royals/nobles as characters?

If not it not it would go something like this:

Blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda, blah, blah blah some more and so on and so forth…..

Action packed isn’t it?

And it made sense in ancient times (at least before the French Revolution) since political power flowed directly from the person of the King, you know L’estate c’est moi and all of that. Translated literally into “I am the State” or even “I am the country!” His power extended as far as his reach, which is why many monarchs had multiple palaces (or in some cases made others come to them, hence the importance of capitals) around their kingdom, as they travel and brought their justice/law (thus the concept of the court of justice was born, although in time both “courts” diverged in essence and meaning) with them. They also led armies in battle (they had to be at least present on the battlefield if not actually fighting) and had a very hands on approach to ruling.

But things have changed since then (although absolute monarchs still exists they are in the minority) with such concepts as the rule of law and democracy displacing if not erasing nobility all together. Most monarchs today are mere figureheads, more important as symbols of national unity and historical continuity than actual rulers. Because of this they rarely conduct actual affairs of state and do not expose themselves on the field of battle (insert exceptions here.)

That means that writers of science fiction most find ways to work around the historical trend, such as:

  • The Royal with actual political power: He is no mere figurehead. True, he may not lead armies on the field of battle but he certainly make decisions that affect the lives of his subjects. It also means that people who want his powers will target him, both politically as well as physically. Gentlemen, draw your long knives please.
  • Tradition Demands It: The Noblesse Oblige thing all over again (see above.) It may be because the government has a feudal future arrangement. Or that people (be their serfs, citizens or soldiers) don’t have any respect for royal laziness. After all Rulers rule, but only as long as the subjects follow. Laziness and good PR never mix, at least not well. The people expect a little more from their leaders than stand and look pretty or give great speeches.
  • Fisher King: The Land is the King and the King is the Land, or so the saying goes. The health of the kingdom is tied to the health of the King. The more active the monarch is (fighting wars, fathering children, enacting useful laws) the healthier the kingdom is. The opposite is also true.
  • Everybody Fights, Nobody Quits!: The country, planet, galaxy is under attack! What is a Princess to do? Runaway? Not this Princess! She takes a gun and fights for her throne and her people. It may be fending off assassins, leading soldiers in battle or as a spy for the Resistance, but by the Powers that Be (which she may well be) she ain’t staying around to wait for the enemy, she is going after them. You go Sister Lea!
  • I HAVE THE POWER! Maybe there is something to that blue blood after all. Tremendous psychic powers, superhuman strength, the ability to breath in space, who knows, but Lord Such and Such is a cut above the rest and only he can stop the alien invasion.

Of course, there is one caveat to all of this: just because a noble can do something, doesn’t mean that he should.




2 comments on “TV Tropes Monday: Royals Who Actually Do Something

  1. Good point. Who needs them if all they do is sit around and look pretty? They were elevated to positions of power in the past because they actually did something to help their people, not because they deserved it just for being born. I could see either type in a SF/F story, though. Weird cults could rise up around titles, even if they are nothing more than a parasite. Many possibilities, however you look at it 🙂


    • It’s a good way to contrast the “good” ruler from the “bad”. One works for what he has the other simply lays about and does nothing or worse.


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