Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Widow of Georgios, by Sean M. Brooks

This essay should be thought of as a spin off of my "The Imperial Gardener" piece, which focused on Josip III.  In this article I want to pay a bit more attention to the unnamed widow of Emperor Georgios.  Chapter II of THE REBEL WORLDS has Admiral Kheraskov telling Dominic Flandry: "Everybody knows what Josip is, too weak and stupid for his viciousness to be highly effective.  We all assumed the Dowager Empress will keep him on a reasonably short leash while she lives."  Plainly, this lady was a woman of some force and strength of character if she was able to be a restraining or moderating influence on Josip.

The text quoted in this paragraph from Chapter III of  A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS inspired in me a few more reflections about the widow of Georgios, as Poul Anderson was summarizing the circumstances leading to Hans Molitor's usurpation of the throne: "Nor had he changed from the leader who let his personnel proclaim him Emperor--himself reluctantly, less from vain-glory than a sense of workmanship, when the legitimate order of succession had dissolved in chaos and every rival claimant was a potential disaster."

I stress paying heed to this "legitimate order of succession."  Which means, at the time Josip died, there were Wang princes in the line of succession, the most senior of whom would and should have succeeded Josip without fuss or difficulty if it had not "dissolved in chaos."  I wondered what might have happened if the Dowager Empress had outlived Josip.  Would she have had, to use Roman terms, so much "auctoritas" and "gravitas" that the Empress Dowager would have been able by the sheer force of her name, character, and authority to prevent "the legitimate order of succession from dissolving in chaos"?

Nicholas Rosen brought to my attention an important text relating to the legitimate Wang succession in Chapter 21 of THE GAME OF EMPIRE, where the traitor Olaf Magnusson was conferring in secret with a messenger from Merseia (the great rival and enemy of the Terran Empire): "Well, Hans Molitor had it easier--the Wang dynasty was extinct, aside from a few idiots who could raise no following.  Everybody wished for a strong man and the peace he would impose.  Hans was the ablest of the contending war lords."  Mr. Rosen pointed out that the fact the Policy Board split over accepting as Emperor Josip's Wang cousin was why "the legitimate order of succession had dissolved in chaos."

Let's ponder in conjunction the two texts quoted above.  Josip died childless, yes, but the Wang dynasty was not totally extinct, as Magnusson reminds us.  The most senior of these Wang princes should and would have succeeded to the throne if the times had not gotten so bad.  I could speculate that a more junior Wang prince tried to claim the throne ahead of the senior heir except that Magnusson's comment does not seem to indicate there was strife inside the Wang Imperial family over the succession.  We do see mention of the Policy Board splitting over accepting Josip's successor.  I interpreted this as meaning not all members of the Board were willing to accept Josip's heir as Emperor.  And then, suddenly, "the legitimate order of succession dissolved in chaos."

Taking all this, along with what Admiral Kheraskov said about the Empress Dowager in Chapter II of THE REBEL WORLDS, I can only regret how little we know of the widow of Georgios (not even her name!).  Also, another point needs to be addressed, to soften the cold analysis given here: we should not forget the tragedy seen here, the sorrow the Empress Dowager very likely felt from knowing her own son was such a bad and unworthy Emperor.  To say nothing of how the last years of Emperor Georgios were darkened and saddened from him knowing his son was so unsatisfactory an heir.


  1. This is an interesting approach: reading between the lines; deducing what the text implies; imagining how the events described or merely implied must have affected the characters, including even those who remain off-stage. Sometimes, the conclusions reached may not have been intended by the author but they nevertheless remain valid inferences from what he wrote. This must be part of the process that an author goes through when planning a sequel.

  2. Hi, Paul!

    Yes, I'm sure Poul Anderson did exactly that many times, when writing additions to a series, reading between the lines of what he had already written, to see what might happen in the new work he was writing. And, of course fans would be doing exactly the same thing, and coming up with ideas and suggestions that Anderson himself sometimes adopted.

    And I do wish we knew more about characters as different from each other as the Empress Dowager and Leon Ammmon (the latter of whom we do see in A CIRCUS OF HELLS).

    And thanks for making the corrections to my "Widow" piece that I requested!


  3. I like your essays Sean. This one is shorter and to the point.