Fan Questions: Sídhe Politics

Dana, a faithful reader, asks:

What’s the relationship between Chief Matron and Primus, when they’re not married? and how much power (in a matrilinear society) does the Triad hold, especially in relation to the Primus?

Someone has been paying attention! In the Wonder, sídhe Courts are led by a Triad of (female) “Matrons” and by a (male) Primus, something like a chieftain or petty king. The Triad is related to the “triple goddess(es)” of Celtic mythology such as the Irish war-goddesses Badb, Macha, and Anu, but the idea goes back at least to Roman times, when unnamed “Matres” or “Matrones,” apparently goddesses associated with fertility and family life, were worshiped across northern Europe.

The Primus is a stand-in for fae kings like Finnvara, who is said to have ruled the daoine sídhe from Cnoc Meadha in County Galway.

As I’m imagining it, then, sídhe society is not strictly matriarchal, meaning women are in charge. Rather, it is matrilineal, meaning inheritance passes through the mother, not the father as in the ancient and medieval cultures of Europe. For a frame of reference, many Native American tribes (including the Cherokee) are matrilineal. A person belongs to the clan of his or her mother, and one’s “blood relatives” are counted exclusively in terms of one’s mother’s family.

In Cherokee and other Native American cultures, there is a balance of power between the sexes in which the men are in charge of hunting, war, and diplomacy while women are in charge of farming, property, and family. That isn’t a perfect model of what is going on among the sídhe, but it’s close: The Primus is something like the head of state, conducting diplomacy, leading in war, and generally ensuring that the Eldritch Law is upheld. Meanwhile, the Triad is more like the supreme court, resolving inter- and intra-clan conflicts and handing down decisions on how the Eldritch Law should be applied.

That perhaps explains how power is shared between the Triad and the Primus. Now, to the other part of Dana’s question:

Most of the time, the Primus will be the husband of the Chief Matron or ranking member of the Triad. She, in turn, is the ranking (female) member of the ruling house within each Court. This is what readers see with Crom Cornstack and his wife, Mara Hellebore. (Since inheritance passes from mother to daughter, women never take their husbands’ surnames!) As we will see below, it is also possible for the Primus to be the son-in-law or other close relation by marriage of the sitting Chief Matron.

But the situation is currently different in the Summer Court. The former Summer Primus was Vergosus Bright, who was married to Anya Redmane, the Chief Matron. But Vergosus faded in the 1970s. (The Fair Folk don’t die, as a general rule, but will “fade” when they have grown weary of this world.) Normally, the Primacy would then have fallen to the husband of Anya’s daughter—who would herself become next in line to fill the position of Chief Matron. (There would be a convocation of the house of Redmane to ratify the choice, but most of the time this is purely ceremonial.) Unfortunately, Anya did not have any daughters.

This caused the normal succession to shift to Anya’s cousin Martha and her husband, Ambicatus Bright (the brother of Vergosus—sídhe families tend to be somewhat inbred). Ambicatus would be elevated to Primus, and Martha would become Chief Matron, Anya retaining the powerful position of Chief Matron Emerita.

Here is where things got sticky, however. You see, Ambicatus was publicly humiliated when he fell victim to a rather elaborate prank. Although the perpetrator insists this was not his intention, the end result was that Ambicatus’s reputation was so damaged that it became unthinkable that he should ever serve as Primus. He and his wife went into self-imposed exile so as to avoid being the target of scorn and derision for the next several hundred years.

This left the Summer Court in a mess, as there were no other women of the Redmane line to whom to turn. (Nuala Redmane, the daughter of Martha and Ambicatus, was too tarnished by Ambicatus’s disgrace and only barely held on to her own seat on the Triad.)

At this point of social upheaval, the rival house of Fairchild, led by Dubessa Fairchild, compelled Anya and Nuala, the remaining members of the Triad, to offer Dubessa a seat on the Triad and to name her husband, Belas Wakefire, as the new Primus. This was at least somewhat tolerable in that both Dubessa and Belas had Redmane males in their respective family trees.

Backed into a corner, the Triad agreed to Fairchild’s demand. For the last forty years, the Summer Court has found a way to share power between these two influential families with only a minimum of open hostility.