Royal Court Structure
A royal court, or noble court, is the household of a monarchy and may also have some residual politico-advisory functions. A king’s court would include a royal harem and concubines, a bodyguard corps, entertainers etc.
Basically a functional pyramid scheme where you have the family at the top and a bunch of leeches at the bottom who seek power, money or approbation from those above them.
The King is the heart of a court, surrounded by the Inner Circle and by part-time and full-time courtiers. The inner circle is composed of one or two people from each of the power blocs (insiders) and directly advises the monarch. The rest of the court is a mix of favoured and ambitious nobles and family members who want to get into the Inner Circle and/or keep their jobs.
Besides the immediate family, most monarchies have uncles and aunts of varying degrees that fill various feudal roles (dukes, counts, earls, barons etc.). This is a major source of sneakiness and conflict, especially if the Evil Uncles are on the throne and trying to usurp their children.
The heir is the person next in line for the throne and the target of assassination attempts from people trying to jump their way into the throne. He/She is also the centre of a court’s religious life and may have a role in ceremonial duties.
A queen, like a king, is at the heart of any court. She is usually the most powerful person in a royal court, and her inner circle includes people from each power bloc.
For example, there would be one or two religious figures – and often both a bishop and a chaplain – who have a special relationship with her. Then there would be a treasury minister or a chief treasurer, as well as a petty financier who deals with the small money matters. Then there is a head of state, as well as the usual military and judicial bodies.
The queen’s court may be based in a single place, several places, or be a mobile, itinerant court. It can also include an embassy in London or other cities. A royal court can also include the Queen’s Bench Division (formerly known as King’s Bench) which travels with the monarch and hears cases that directly affect her, or cases involving great persons privileged to be heard before her.
A prince, by definition, is the next in line for the throne. Their court will usually be more focused on securing their future role as monarch, with a lot of advisers. This includes heirs, nobles, clerics and other people with royal appointments who want to be a part of the inner circle.
In a typical castle, this will also include a master treasurer, huntmaster and any number of advisors who act as lobbyists for different groups. There might even be chefs (with the most capable being very sought after) and jesters.
The king is the focal point of the court and his or her inner circle will contain one person from each power bloc. Anyone else in the outer ring is there for their own reasons, such as wanting to be close to the monarch or hoping to make it into the inner circle. This is particularly true of the heir. They spend most of their time waiting to become the monarch and can be the subject of assassination attempts by people who are trying to speed up that process.
Although royal courts can still exist, largely ceremonial and with some residual politico-advisory functions, modern ones have shifted to a more democratic base. But they still have massive support staffs, as Valentine Low explains in COURTIERS: Intrigue, Ambition and the Power Players Behind the House of Windsor (St Martin’s, $32).
In standard royal court there’s the inner circle of the monarch, their spouse/ess and subordinate prince/ess and children; the immediate family filling various feudal roles; and other members of the family forming competing families that are all trying to assert influence on the monarch’s favour. Add in a few aristocratic dukes, counts and earls and other nobles that are filling the various feudal positions for their own reasons, plus any number of special favourites who have a Backstory with more substance than “I’m here because my uncle’s my father”.
Finally, there are the servants that keep the whole show running. There may be some kind of hierarchy between them but they all share one thing: access to the monarch and his/her spouse.