From: AOL Ojerasmus
Subject: [GREYTALK] Elected Nobles
<< Consider the 'Holy Roman Empire', will you?
What about the Holy Roman Empire?
It was basically a 'hereditary' elected monarchy. A varying number of nobles and clergymen were electors who got to chose the next emperor (Between 5 and 8 I believe). Some of those electors were hereditary positions and some were granted by either the emperor or pope. Which of course gave the sitting ruler a huge influence on his successor especially as it was sometimes possible to do the electing while he was still alive (called I believe the King of the Romans and usually a son or cadet member of the ruling house).
While it was nominally an elected position it eventually settled into a defacto hereditary Habsburg monarchy due to the emperors ability to create and fill titles and the dependence of the electors on Imperial military and fiscal aid.
In the early middle ages there would often be outsiders put forward by one power group or other as candidates but over time I believe uncontested elections became common. The threat of putting up a candidate was often enough to win concessions for the electors in the later years of an emperors rule and the election during the lifetime of the previous encumbent meant that promises were usually stuck to.
While we are on the subject all nobles of the empire above Knight rank were known as princes of the empire similar to the Aerdian model used in Ivid. Their feifdom would have a seperate designation (dukedom, county whatever) but all the nobles would also be able to call himself a prince of the empire (which also gained some voting rights on seperate issues but not election).
It probably came from the fact that the Empire was nominally at least a confederation of petty states with the Emperor starting off as a position intended to work for their security against external threats rather than as a day to day ruler. All of the states ruling families felt that they were monarchs within their own states and viewed the Emperor as their elected servant rather than a true feudal overlord. Again as in all such matters there were huge differences between what happened in practice especially when the Habsburgs made the position almost hereditary and what the princes clung to as the traditions and laws of the realm. As the name suggests they considered themselves the succesors to the Romans and classical ideas such the senate or even democracy were highly thought of even if their practice was a far cry from what we consider democracy.
Elected monarchies were actually reasonably common in central Europe, Poland was an elected monarchy for a while and I think Hungary also had periods of elected rule. The Pope was of course elected and was an important secular ruler. With limited centralisation election was often the only way to come to a decision no one person had enough power to dictate, when power became more centralised in the late middle ages/early modern period the elections for royalty and for the day to day running of countries tended to give way.
When a monarch often depended on taxes or armed levies from his nobility they often wanted concessions and some form of vote was a nice way of showing what was what in the confused politics of Germany. Election of some form was also an option in times of a disputed succession but again it was a far cry from democracy.
I agree that modern democracy features too heavily in RPGs and should be eliminated but the idea of all powerful royal houses also features too heavily for my liking. The idea of divine right of kings and of central authority came to the fore nearer the early modern period than the period that Greyhawk seems to evoke. Kings needed the support of their nobilities and a good way of winning it was to let them in on the decison making process either in the form of councils or parliaments or often in continental europe by promising them a say over the succession. It still resulted in the same families ruling countries but they had to pay for votes to ensure it.
As for the Duchy, presumably it kept the name it had under Keoland, going back to the HRE there were plenty of Counties whose rulers felt they were supreme within their own boundaries and felt no need to inflate their titles.
All of the above was from memory, apologies if any errors slipped in.