A Beginner’s Guide to Drucraft #17:  Houses of the UK

Houses in the United Kingdom are divided into three categories:  Great, Lesser, and minor.  Great Houses are those which possess a Well of class S or S+, Lesser Houses are those which possess a Well of class A+, and all other Houses are classed as minor.

While in the past the Great and Lesser Houses had various special privileges under the law, these were chipped away at over the centuries, and most of the remaining ones were effectively nullified by the Oakenshott ruling of 1927, which set the precedent that House membership did not grant any special status in criminal or civil proceedings.  Great and Lesser House status does still give the House the right to a seat on the Board, but corporations and private individuals with appropriate Well holdings also qualify for Board seats in exactly the same way.  Nowadays the only legal benefits unique to the Houses are extremely minor and antiquated ones, such the right to a certain term of address or being entitled to wear a particular item of clothing to Board meetings.

By the mid 20th century, it was commonly believed that the time of the British Houses was coming to an end, and that they would dwindle into insignificance.  While many Houses did indeed suffer this fate, others proved more adaptable, and successfully made use of their Wells, sigl traditions, and inherited wealth to carve out a niche for themselves in the modern world.  Most of the current Houses of the UK are weaker than they once were, and in absolute terms the fraction of the British economy that they control is small, but they command an amount of influence out of proportion to their size and a House surname still carries a good deal of social weight.

The Great Houses

At the time of writing, the Great Houses of the UK number eight:  Barrett-Lennard, Cawley, Chetwynd, De Haughton, Hawker, Meath, Reisinger, and Winterton.  There are currently nineteen S+ and S-class Wells officially registered in the United Kingdom, and these Great Houses collectively own just under half of them.

These Wells rarely change hands, and as such the number of Great Houses rarely rises or falls.  This is partly due to special UK regulations that restrict the sale and purchase of S+ and S-class Wells, and partly because the Great Houses are all fantastically wealthy – for a new Great House to rise, they’d have to buy an S-class Well from its existing owner, and said owners generally have little motivation to sell.  The last time that the count of Great Houses changed was in 2009, when House Egmont sold its Light S Well to LLV Holdings, relinquishing its Great House status in the process.  The roster has remained steady since then.

A brief overview of the current Great Houses can be found in Chapter #18.

The Lesser Houses

Lesser Houses are those Houses of the UK who own a Well of class A+.

A+ Wells in the UK are highly valued.  The legal restrictions on their sale are much less onerous than those on the sale of S-class ones, and while acquiring an A+ Well is still a difficult and expensive process, it’s a realistic goal for a sufficiently wealthy House, corporation, or individual.  Lesser House status also grants a seat on the Board, automatically making the holder a player in UK politics.  As a result, competition for these Wells is fierce.  A minor House will fight tooth and nail to own one, and a Lesser House won’t sell theirs unless utterly desperate.  It’s almost unheard of for a House to own more than one A+ Well, and very few corporations have succeeded in purchasing one (though not for lack of trying).

Unlike the Great Houses, Lesser Houses see a fair amount of turnover.  While some of the current Lesser Houses have held their place for more than a century, there have been just as many new arrivals who owe their places to a meteoric rise (often followed by an equally meteoric fall).

There are too many Lesser Houses to list in detail, but a few of the more notable ones are described in Chapter #19.

The Minor Houses

Any House whose most powerful Well is of A-class or below is considered a minor House.

There is no significant barrier preventing a family from declaring themselves a minor House.  In theory, anyone with a D-class Well in their back garden could draw themselves up a coat of arms and start calling themselves ‘House Something-or-other’ – they’d be laughed at, but they could do it.  In practice, though, most minor Houses are quite old, with family trees and ancestral holdings tracing back hundreds of years.  Often they end up outlasting Great and Lesser Houses vastly more wealthy than they are, simply because they aren’t notable enough to draw unfriendly attention.   

Minor Houses often have a strong connection to their family Wells and lands.  A typical minor House will have held land in a particular county for hundreds of years, and it’s not uncommon for them to have groundskeepers or Well tenders or shapers whose great-grandparents worked for the great-grandparents of the current Head of House.  It’s common for minor Houses who’ve recently made the jump to Lesser House status to place heavy emphasis on this family history, as if to remind everyone that they haven’t forgotten their origins.

But while most Minor Houses are old, many aren’t.  It’s surprisingly common for a new House to be founded by some locator or investment banker or car salesman who by some strange set of circumstances came into possession of a Well and decided to make a go of it.  Most of these new-born Houses disappear within a generation or two, but others take root and grow, and over time come to develop histories and traditions of their own.

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12 Responses to A Beginner’s Guide to Drucraft #17:  Houses of the UK

  1. Nick says:

    Did I miss something when I listened to the book, as I don’t understand what “A Seat on the Board” means? I guess some governing council for mages or civil authority, but where and with what powers escapes me.

    It would seem that House Ashford had to do some politicking with mundane MPs/Ministers to get control of the Light Well in Chancellery Lane, so perhaps the Board is outside the normal (this-world) civil government?

    • Benedict says:

      It was in the glossary, so no, you didn’t miss anything. The Board is part of the UK government, and is the body covering drucraft issues in the UK.

      The Board has veto power over the sale and purchase of all Wells in the country. This is rarely an issue for low-rank Wells, but by the time you get up to A-rank Wells and up buying (or selling) them is as much a political operation as a business one.

  2. Kevin says:

    Very informative as always but a possibly a stupid question, are Chapters 18 and 19 describing the Greater and Lesser Houses an in world book that we are reading right now, or is it in Inheritance of Magic because I cannot recall those chapters going over it.

    And is House Ashford’s Bishop Well an S+ or regular S class? Tobias said it was the fifth strongest but I don’t know if that is Wells overall or Light specifically.

    Thanks again always a treat to read after I come home from work.

    • Celia says:

      Tobias told Stephen Ashford was a lesser house, so their well should be A+. Chapters 18 and 19 of AIoM don’t address the houses. I was guessing that might be his next two blog entries? (But have we really had 17 entries so far?!?)

      I guess you can’t add up two different wells together to have the equivalent of one higher level well in order to gain greater house status?

      • Benedict says:

        Yes, this is number 17. The Great and Lesser House articles will be the next two worldbuilding blog entries.

        No, you aren’t allowed to add up two different Wells to get a Board seat, though people have tried to get the laws changed to allow it.

      • Kevin says:

        Well got the Chapter question clarified and I guess the Bishop Well is A+ but I only asked since it was supposed to be the fifth strongest well, and I didn’t know if that meant Wells overall or just Light Wells in Great Britain. And it said that the Great Houses only own under a half, so it could be that the others are held by corporations the goverment, or other Lesser Houses who might not want to become a Greater House for whatever reason.

        And in the last AMA it was said that House Ashford could become a Great House in theory so I just assumed they had a S class Well that maybe they didn’t want the hassle, and prefer their Lesser House status for continuity reasons and not rock the house so to speak.

        But that leaves the bigger question how much stronger is a S+ or S Well is? I mean if it is double the power of a A+ well why would anyone sell theirs unless they had another to spare. I mean was House Egmont really bad at managing their wells with that kind of output? I guess the finacial crisis really put them over the edge…

        • Celia says:

          I was looking for the place in AIoM where Tobias discusses the strength of their primary well: he says it is, “The Bishop’s Well. Sixth strongest in London.” It logically can’t be the 6th strongest in the UK, since there are 8 greater houses, all of whose wells are stronger by definition.

          I do also wonder why house Egmont sold their well. Surely they could make a lot of money selling sigls. Unless they couldn’t decide on a heir, sold the well, and split the proceeds? Like when siblings inherit their parents’ house together – they either sell it and split the money, one buys the other out, or they all live there, constantly squabbling, but neither can legally kick the other out. Or does the heir to a house typically inherit the well along with the primary residence and the fortune? Is house inheritance typically all or nothing, to avoid splitting the generational wealth?

          • Benedict says:

            House Egmont will be described briefly in article 19.

            The usual pattern for House inheritance is that one heir inherits all or almost all of the House holdings, while others get very little. Usually those others continue working for/living with the family, though – it’s very rare for them to be actually kicked out into the street.

            Plenty of Houses throughout history have tried to do things in a more equitable way, either splitting the wealth or having the kids jointly own it. It tends to lead to a lot of family infighting and resentment while the House suffers from a lack of leadership. Usually this causes the House in question to fall apart within one or two generations. Pretty much every existing House that’s survived for any length of time has survived for this long precisely because they DON’T do this.

            That said, the all-or-nothing approach can cause plenty of problems as well. Succession problems are the number one killer of Houses (and for lots of corporations, too).

          • Kevin says:

            I just feel for the same trap a lot of people fall for when I assume a city means the entire country! Yes if it is the sixth strongest in London it would follow that it’s an A+ Well, if there are only 19 S Class Wells in the UK. It will be fascinating to see Steven’s reaction to one especially if it is twice the size of an A+ one.

            And yeah that makes the succession problems the Ashfords have make more sense especially if a good percentage of them are not good at Drucraft. Makes Charles Ashford’s comment about Steven being a political inconvenience more interesting I can’t wait for him to stick it his grandfather and stepfather just by being competent.

  3. Celia says:

    What is the “certain term of address?” 🙂

    • Benedict says:

      I haven’t got around to working that out. Given that the story isn’t going to be following Board meetings any time soon, it’s a low priority!

      • Celia says:

        I really liked how you had Mages address each other as “Mage Drauk” or whatnot in Verus when being formal. Really added to the worldbuilding. Though I don’t think that started til around book 3 or so.

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