Merchant Prince
A merchant whose chief good is political power.
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(permanent link) added: 2012-12-26 20:41:15 sponsor: Specialist290 (last reply: 2013-01-08 10:11:49)

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The Merchant Prince is a merchant or other capitalist who uses the wealth, knowledge, and skills (often including outright bribery) he has acquired to become a member of society's ruling class. Unlike in One Nation Under Copyright, the Merchant Prince doesn't necessarily own outright the society he rules, or even run a Mega Corp.; he may, in fact, be only the "first among equals" among many competing merchants. However, this usually doesn't keep him from trying to run the government like he would his business.

Note that to qualify for this trope, a merchant must rise to power as a consequence of his own power and wealth. A merchant who inherits political power because he was already the rightful heir to the throne doesn't count, as he would have gotten that throne regardless of his mercantile activities. A Self-Made Man who becomes royalty by being wealthy and renowned enough to marry the king's only daughter would count, however.

Generally, a Merchant City will be ruled by one of these, or by a council of them modeled after those of Renaissance Italy.

A particularly successful Intrepid Merchant often "retires" to become one of these. Some video games based on the An Entrepreneur Is You model may have becoming one as the player's goal.

Not to be confused with The Merchant Princes Series, which, despite the name, doesn't really feature the trope.


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Examples:

Anime and Manga

Film
  • In It's a Wonderful Life Mr. Potter uses his money to basically run the entire town except Bailey Building & Loan.

Literature
  • Xaro Xhoan Daxos in A Song of Ice and Fire, richest man in Essos and member of "The Thirteen," the ruling council of the city of Qarth.
  • In the first Foundation novel (which was reprinting stories previously published in SF magazines) the final story is "The Merchant Princes." The Foundation has become a merchant of technology, and rules the Four Kingdoms surrounding it thereby. Hober Mallow, the "Merchant Prince" of the story, uses technology brokering to expand the Foundation's sphere of influence even further.
  • Prince William of Ceta in Dorsai!. Using his business talents, William managed to acquire enough political power to de facto rule a planet. And managing to manipulate the interstellar market, almost conquered all of inhabited space.
  • Nicholas van Rijn, from Poul Anderson's Technic History series, is the head of the Solar Spice and Liquors Company, one of the several conglomerates that make up the Polesotechnic League, a interstellar trading group more powerful than any planetary government. Van Rijn is a classic self-made man, and he is more powerful and influential than many actual princes.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga, the entire system of Jackson's Whole is run by a set of corrupt merchant princes, including Baron Ryoval, Baron Bharaputra and Baron Fell. (The title is honorary.) The only reason they're not considered criminals is that they have all the power, and no other system can enforce its rules on Jackson's Whole.
  • In C. J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union series, the Alliance was created by the heads of powerful merchant clans who didn't want to be controlled either by Earth or by the newly-formed technocratic Union, so they used their wealth and power to create a new independent government headquartered at Pell which they basically control (after having fought Union to a standstill).
  • In the Discworld novel, Going Postal, Reacher Guilt is a powerful merchant and conman who is attempting to use his wealth and power to displace the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork.
  • In Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, businessmen like Presteign of Presteign have so much power that they essentially are the government, and their family names are treated as titles.
  • In Norman Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron, Jack's investigations lead him to tangle with one of the richest and most powerful men in America, Benedict Howards, whose influence can not only threaten Jack's media career, but his life.
  • Elihu Willsson, the "Czar of Poisonville" in Red Harvest. A powerful and rich industralist, he had enough influence over half of California and de facto rule a city... until he lost control of the corrupt officals and gangs that helped him put down a worker's strike.

Live-Action TV
  • The Ferengi in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (and the general Star Trek 'verse) were a Planet of Hats of merchant princes, as political power was very much connected to success in business.
  • "Jock" Ewing from Dallas, the patriarch of the family and father of J.R., Gary, and Bobby, was an oil baron who was teaching his sons to wield wealth as a form of power the way he did. He was most successful with J.R.
  • In Bones, in the two-part episode "Yanks in the UK", a powerful American businessman in London uses his political influence to get Booth and Brennan (who are in town for a conference) seconded to Scotland Yard to investigate the death of his daughter, despite the fact that the FBI has no jurisdiction in the UK. Things get more complicated when the businessman becomes a suspect in a second murder.

Tabletop RPG
  • Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms setting. The country of Amn is ruled by the Council of Six, each a merchant-king with more money than they can spend. In descending order of seniority they are the Meisarch, Tessarch, Namarch, Iltarch, Pommarch and Dahaunarch.
  • The Third Imperium in Traveller, and to an extent the First and Second Imperiums as well, were founded and maintained by Merchant Princes. While the ruling class often went into more traditionally "princely" occupations like military service (especially with the Second Imperium), the role of the Merchant Princes always remained an important one.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Traders are aristocratic merchants given practically free rein by the Imperium of Man. As in they can do anything from trade with Xenos to outright piracy.

Video Games
  • The upcoming DLC The Republic for Crusader Kings will allow players to become one of these within the great merchant cities of (among others) Italy and the Hanseatic League.
  • The Europa Universalis games have Merchant Republics, ruled by this sort of character.
  • The Merchant Prince series of strategy games casts the player as an Intrepid Merchant in 15th century Venice and allows them to gain key posts in the government to further their ambitions.
  • In Dragon Age, use of the in-game codex and chats with some NPCs reveal that the country of Antiva, while nominally a monarchy, is effectively a plutocracy- ruled by a dozen or so merchant princes with personal armies, vast resources and a heaping helping of the local assassin order, the House of Crows.
  • In Uncharted Waters and its sequel, New Horizons, while some of the playable characters had main careers as merchants and some did not, any character with enough gold could invest in the markets and shipyards of foreign ports, and with enough investment over time could bring the port into their home country's "sphere of influence" which would afford them a favorable market there as well as expand the power and influence of their home country. Such influence-buying helps the character enter the nobility and advance upward in noble rank, which implies increased political power.
  • Much like Uncharted Waters, Sid Meierís Pirates! allows the player, a professional "nautical salvage expert," to advance in rank and title with his patron countries by attacking the ships of their foes. One of the endgame retirement options, based on the player's score, has him becoming a colonial governor himself.
  • CEO Nwabudike Morgan in Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri. While of African royalty and rich on Earth, he had none of that when he was reawakened on the starship Unity. Despite not having any official position in the mission, Morgan managed to worm his way into the leadership and gather a large following in the few days he was awake before the Landing, set off to Planet with his followers, and create a powerful faction only with his own talents.
  • The leaders of Goblin society in World of Warcraft are known as Trade Princes, usually the most business savvy, greedy and ruthless of the lot.

Real Life
  • As noted above, many cities in Italy were ruled by merchant princes at some point or another. The foremost example was Venice, a republic ruled by a Doge who was elected from the ranks of the Senate for life and assisted for much of the city's history by a secretive Council of Ten. Its chief rival, Genoa, was also ruled under a similar system.
  • A modern example: the oligarchs of 1990s Russia. These nouveau riche capitalists were the power behind the ever drunk Boris Yeltsin.
  • J.P. Morgan, the American philanthropist and financier. Morgan's skills in business not only transformed the economy, but also managed to use his influence to offset two economic panics. In addition, Morgan financed McKinley's campaign during his election and re-election.
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