"A complex web of intrigue, in which death comes as poison, or a dagger in the night. That kind of murder is like a fine wine."The court here is that group of not-so noble Nobles who hang around a king's corridors of power. They are dissolute, dissipated, degenerate, depraved — let's just sum it up as "decadent" — to such an extent that every thing they touch becomes corrupted. The country they are ruling is heading for doom while they play their spiteful little courtly games. How the court got that way differs from story to story. More often than not, the source is at the top. They caught it from the monarch. You see this court in a lot of stories, maybe even a majority of stories about courts. It is the go-to source for intrigue, backstabbing, and illicit affairs. And, face it, you'll need those things if there is going to be any fun at all. This is a Sub-Trope to Standard Royal Court and Aristocrats Are Evil. When less than half of the court acts like this, something (or someone) else may be in play. See Evil Chancellor or Evil Prince for the possible cause.
—Corkus, Berserk Abridged
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Anime & Manga
- In Berserk, it seems like all the major nobles in Midland are out to get Griffith, who ends up as the target of two assassination plots by the jealous nobility. Griffith, however, is no slouch himself, and all of the nobles who take part in the assassinations end up dead or blackmailed.
- In The Bride of the Water God, both the Emperor's Court and the Court of the Water Kingdom are filled with intrigue and characters at cross-purposes. Of course, many of the characters are in both courts...
- In Vinland Saga, the court of King Sweyn Forkbeard is said to be so opulent it is populated with beautiful slave women taken from every corner of the world, filled with conniving politicians, and the arena of many a bloody duel to the death.
- In Legend of Galactic Heroes, bombs, poisons, abductions, gunfire and suicides are not unheard of in Imperial politics.
- Ooku is set in the Shogun's harem, which develops into a place of backstabbing maneuvers.
- In Code Geass, the Britannian Royal Court comes off as this, given the scheming nobles and The Social Darwinist Emperor. The Chinese court has this as well, with the scheming Eunuchs being the Chinese counterpart to the Britannian nobles.
- Sword Princess Altina is rife with this. Every royal court shown, regardless of country of origin, is filled with nobles or royalty constantly fighting, scheming, poisoning, or just plain sending armies after one another while vying for succession. Even Altina's own father, the Emperor of Belgaria, sent his 14-year-old daughter to the front lines just to be rid of her, and when she asked for a weapon, to defend herself, gave her a massive decorative sword, thinking she'd be unable to wield it.
- Being set at the eve of The French Revolution, Rose of Versailles features the Court of Versailles, with her immense decadence and deadly enough that, during Louis XV's reign, Madame Du Barry, lover of the king, poisoned one of her own maids to try and frame Marie Antoinette for it, only for Oscar to hold her at swordpoint and remind her she was antagonizing the future queen while her power depended from the health of a very old man.
- Versailles is especially contrasted to the Austrian Court, where the protocol was nowhere as rigid and the sober Maria Theresa would allow only the smallest amount of luxury and no deadly politicking. Some of Marie Antoinette's problems come from growing up there, resulting in her being initially too open and naive for Versailles' standards (and never fully growing out of her naivete) and being blinded by the magnificent opulency of the French court.
- The Russian noble houses in Nikolai Dante, especially the ruling Makarovs and the Romanovs.
- Most, if not all incarnations of the Hellfire Club in the X-Men comics. While they are not actually royalty, they try their best to invoke this.
- Luther Arkwright: Queen Anne presides over a court of deadly intrigue and decadent orgies in Heart of Empire. Her closest servants view her absorbing the vitality of her enemies as their "favourite bit".
- Queen Of Shadows has the Circle of Generals of the Shadowkhan Empire. The Generals are constantly competing with each other for influence with the Queen. And now that Hiruzen's hold on the coveted title of Yojimbo is weakening, many are making their move for it — Ikazuki is hinted to be plotting a Klingon Promotion, Jirobo has been working on a long term plan to manipulate the Queen into being his puppet, Kuro is considering dumping his long-term loyalties to Jirobo and hitching his wagon to Ikazuki's rising star, and Kamisori is offering to support his friend Ozeki in making a power play. How this will all play out is yet to be seen.
Films — Live-Action
- Louis XVI's court as portrayed in the French movie Ridicule exemplifies this trope, showcasing how nobles' political power and status is highly dependent on their wit. One victim of a mocking jest sees his request to the King rejected, gets ostracized and ends up killing himself as a result.
- Spoofed (among many other tropes) in The Court Jester.
- Speaking of our good friend Louis XVI, this is played for laughs in History of the World Part I. "It's good to be the king!"
- Par for the course in Hamlet adaptation Legend of the Black Scorpion. Pretty much everyone is trying to kill everyone else.
- Again, the French court in Start the Revolution Without Me. In fact the French come in for this a lot. Check any incarnation of The Three Musketeers although the degree will vary.
- A Song of Ice and Fire has the deadliest court in modern fantasy. In a Crapsack World where seven powers duke it out to gain control of the realm, Magnificent Bastards, Smug Snakes and Byronic Heroes trade gambits like they're in a pillow fight. And God Save Us from the Queen!...
- And they're so busy fighting each other that they don't notice the army of zombies and god knows what else from beyond the Wall.
- Eddard Stark had the opportunity to become King of Westeros in the backstory, but he let Robert take the Iron Throne. Partly out of a sense of honour, and mostly because he didn't want to deal with the court. Years later, Robert made him Hand of the King and dragged him back to the court, and it all went downhill from there.
- The Lannisters full stop. They are so rich that they have a long history of decadence and corruption.
- The nobles from the Bitterbynde books. The heroine, being a borderline Mary Sue, makes a few faux pas and has to run away when her pretence gets discovered — but of course till then she's been the most graceful and beautiful of women at court as well as a thousand times purer than these cruel, superficial twits.
- In Interesting Times, the Agatean Empire has definitely fallen into this, with murder via poisoning or assassination being an acceptable way of promotion (as long as it is discreetly done), powerful noble families, a rather insane Emperor, and rigid class stratification. Of course, Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde make things, well, interesting.
- In Dragon Bones, high king Jakoven thinks his court is this. It is not clear whether he is right, or just paranoid ... the only on-screen backstabber at the court is he himself, with his habit of killing the queen's lovers. (No, not out of jealousy, he appoints them to that position himself. He just thinks they're gaining too much influence). Some nobles occasionally spin some intrigues, but mostly against Jakoven, who has only himself to blame for that political climate. Some off-screen backstabbery is implied, but not dwelled on.
- The royal court from The Chronicles of Amber, basically a Big, Screwed-Up Family and their lackeys. So much backstabbery your brain will give up.
- Although not a court in the usual way, the nobility from Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst's The Empire Trilogy, with their oh so deadly Game of the Council, might well qualify.
- The nobles from the first novel of The Final Empire when their society is still intact. They indulge their extravagances while the rest of the population is nearly starving and there's the extra fun of some of them secretly being Mistborn which means powerful sorcerers and born assassins.
- In the second The Wheel of Time book:
- Rand al'Thor comes into Cairhien, a big city with such a court. At least the intrigue bit is definitely fitting - everyone tries to pull him to their side by sending him invitations. Rand tries to avoid this by burning all the invitations... which they, of course, take as a cunning political move. Ultimately, his actions indirectly lead to the assassination of the king and the entire country falling into a civil war.
- The Seanchan also seem to operate under these rules. Tuon, the Empress's daughter and heir, notes that her position was attained partly by eliminating the competition, permanently. She also forgives Beslan's acts of treachery during a crisis because he was unaware of the crisis. Her tone suggests that if it were not during a crisis, there would be little to forgive.
- Seanchan nobles routinely make assassination plans for anyone they deal with, even if they don't really intend to go through with them. Tuon finds it incredible that she and her new husband Mat won't have to scheme against each other.
- The court of Governor and Sole Autocrat Barholm Clerett in The General, where intrigue is an artform, treachery a given AND on top of everything else the Governor is borderline insane. As the saying goes, 'A simpleton from the Governor's Court could give lessons in intrigue to [any other royal court on the planet, save possibly the Colony's]."
- The goblin court in John Barnes's One for the Morning Glory. Explicitly described as a parody of King Boniface's.
- The high council of Menzoberranzan, in the Forgotten Realms books. Usually, the backstabbing comes from a lower-ranking House that wants to be on the high council, but frankly the entire city is afflicted with a pernicious case of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
- David Eddings is very fond of this trope: it shows up in the Imperial Courts of both The Malloreon and The Tamuli, and the protagonists take great advantage of it: in The Malloreon, they foment discord to the point that a civil war breaks out inside the walls of the palace; they use it as cover for their escape, while in The Tamuli they help the figurehead emperor overthrow his own government and seize control by throwing a party, getting the assorted aristocrats drunk, and imprisoning the lot of them.
- In the furry fantasy novel The Fangs Of Kaath, the royal court of Osra is a den of decadence and coldblooded political calculation that could consider genocide as well as accommodation as solutions with equal ease. While the heroes, Prince Raschid and his love Sandhri are the first to note it's a fun place for a party with food and sexy serving girls (who are openly eager to hop into bed when asked) galore when it is in a peaceful mood, they are otherwise repelled by its venal side and it suffers a Karmic Death at being nearly totally destroyed in the climactic battle in the end with nearly the entire villainous Royal family dead except for the straight arrow heroes who find themselves unquestionably on top and in charge of things to run their way.
- C.S. Pacat has a helluva one in Vere. It features political intrigue, forbidden romance, and rampant pedophilia and sexual assault.
This was Vere, voluptuous and decadent, country of honeyed poison.
- A Court Of Thorns And Roses: A running theme. Under the Mountain resembles the Capitol in its elegant brutality, and while the Autumn Court isn't evil per se, it is highly political and quite a swamp to navigate, even for a particularly scrappy human. The Nightmare Court is also this, duplicitously, so Rhys can keep up the illusion that he's a languid, hedonistic bastard.
- The titular character of Volle is a foreign spy sent to infiltrate the court of Tephos by posing as the long-lost son of a dead noble. He quickly finds that while outright assassination is uncommon, blackmail and deals made in the bedroom are all but standard procedure. And thoroughly enjoys himself.
- The Imperial Court of Golgotha, homeworld of The Empire, in Deathstalker series by Simon R. Green is this writ large IN SPACE. His "Forest Kingdom" Series and "Hawk and Fisher" books also feature a wide variety of these. Special mention has to go to the court in Blood and Honour, where they recklessly dally with eldritch abominations.
- In William King's Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf novel Wolfblade, Ragnor is warned in advance that Terra is this.
- In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 novel Faith & Fire, the Battle Sisters find the aristocrats like this: hopelessly languid, using fans that could double as weapons if they were capable of fighting, and so heavily perfumed that one Sister says they obviously used a crop duster.
- The Japanese Imperial Court in the Tale of Genji— and Real Life— was an epitome of this trope. If its members weren't plotting against each other they were having illicit sex with somebody else's wife or mistress.
- The Heian Court started out much more benign—see literature like the Man'youshuu for examples of what Japan was (supposedly) like about two hundred years prior to Genji. Genji is set in Heian Japan about a century before it fell apart and was replaced by the Kamakura bakufu, which in turn led to the Muramachi period.
- The entire book Dune is practically one long convoluted case of court intrigue. The Emperor, who was secretly in league with the Baron, was trying to off the Duke by giving him a deathtrap "promotion" to take control of a flailing production operation that he surely had no hope of turning around, while the Illuminati-like women's convent neared its ultimate goal and began pulling the political strings in new and dangerous directions, all ending in the collapse of the Corrino Imperium and another Jihad.
- Special Mention to House Harkonnen, who are revoltingly decadent and incredibly dangerous - the Baron is a fat, disgusting, gluttonous, implied paederast, as well as a sadist; his nephews are 'just' maniacal sadists; torture is something of an after-dinner entertainment (a passage shows Harkonnen workers cleaning up the remains of one of these in one of Brian Herbert's books, a favourite pastime of Caligula) and the whole affair generally resembles Ancient Rome at its worst (gladiatorial arenas, paedophilia and all.) The aesthetic is pretty bizarre, with sweeping robes and gold combined with stinking oil and huge pollution, smoke and filth - the Harkonnen live in finery but are completely filthy both morally and physically.
- In a chapter header quote from her extensive historical works Princess Irulan casually mentions her suspicion that her father had a hand in some of the attempts to assassinate her mother, sisters and self. She is in fact devoted to her father Shaddam IV, and he to her, but she also knows that her mother's refusal to bear him a male heir has put him in a terrible position making her death and her mother's and siblings politically convenient.
"Royal families are not like other families."
- In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files novels:
- The White Court. It helps that those involved are all White Court vampires that make plans as way of life; at one point Lara says something to the effect that no one will respect her if she attempts to seize power by straightforward means. The Raiths are a bit dysfunctional, to say the least.
- The Winter Court as well. When attending a party in Arctis Tor, Harry tries to keep an eye on anyone suspicious. He soon realizes that's impossible, and instead resolves to keep an eye out for anyone charging at him with a knife and screaming.
- In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Gods of Mars, the court of Issus.
The First Born do no work. The men fight—that is a sacred privilege and duty; to fight and die for Issus. The women do nothing, absolutely nothing. Slaves wash them, slaves dress them, slaves feed them. There are some, even, who have slaves that talk for them, and I saw one who sat during the rites with closed eyes while a slave narrated to her the events that were transpiring within the arena.
- The Court of the Taysan Empire in the Spaceforce books is the centre of government for the oldest and most advanced of the three great galactic superpowers. It's ruled by the Empress, who is an absolute monarch, with the Imperial and Noble Castes in attendance. It's heavily implied that a lot of backbiting and faction wars go on.
- All four fey courts in Wicked Lovely have elements of this, but the worst would have to be the dark court, and the winter court.
- The court of Herod Antipas, under the pen of romantic writers (e.g. in Oscar Wilde's play Salome). King Herod is depicted as an incestuous womaniser; Queen Herodias a murderous schemer. The princess Salome, of course, has a famously pathological infatuation with John the Baptist.
- The royal court of Terre d'Ange, in Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series. Everyone sleeps around, there is much scheming and backstabbing, and there are Masquerade Balls.
- In Robert E. Howard's The Devil in Iron what Octavia is willing to flee from even when she's frightened of Conan the Barbarian.
- In Sano Ichiro, the entire court, save Sano himself is caught up in a web of political scheming and sexual depravity right under the hilariously stupid shogun's nose.
- In Robert E. Howard's Kull story "The Shadow Kingdom",
Strange to him were the intrigues of court and palace, army and people. All was like a masquerade, where men and women hid their real thoughts with a smooth mask.
- Aluwna in Star Trek: The Genesis Wave has aspects of this, as noted by Regimol (a Romulan agent):
Regimol: A quite delightful planet it was. They weren't without their political intrigue, of course, and their class structure wasn't fair by Federation standards. Still it reminded me a lot of Romulus, if you could turn the Romulans into a peaceful, insular people”.Captain Picard: “Their overseer was recently murdered.”Regimol: “See, reminds me of Romulus”.
- The Egyptian: The palace has a higher child mortality rate than the poor quarter of the capital city.
- Maledicte stars a god-touched murderer dropped into a shark tank of limp-wristed sociopaths. In other words, a Deadly Decadent Court.
- Lord Iron from "The Cambist and Lord Iron" is a member of such a court.
- The emperor's court in The Chronicles of Magravandias is famous for its rare imported pleasures and exotic slaves. And the death and disappearance of inconvenient people.
- The French court in La Reine Margot certainly falls into this as you're almost guaranteed to die the second you're not useful to the Valois, or specifically to Catherine.
- In Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure: the Yao people of the Kingdom of Cath. Adam Reith rescues Ylin Ylan, the Flower of Cath, from barbarians, which ends up complicating his life more than it should.
- Anything and everything by the Marquis de Sade basically involves this trope turned Up to Eleven. This is maybe not totally without any base in reality, as Sade himself was certainly part of this court, although large numbers of readers have missed the fact that Sade was also a moralist who was condemning society in his writings.
- Most of the action of The Curse of Chalion happens in one of these, with the main character as tutor to the inexperienced but quickly-learning royesse. As her eyes begin to open to the court's true nature, she says to him "We're under siege here, aren't we?"
- Gulliver's Travels parodied this with the miniature land of Lilliput.
- British statesman Lord Chesterfield mentioned this trope in his Letters to His Son. (letter 78/79)
- "In my next I will send you a general map of courts; a region yet unexplored by you, but which you are one day to inhabit. The ways are generally crooked and full of turnings, sometimes strewed with flowers, sometimes choked up with briars; rotten ground and deep pits frequently lie concealed under a smooth and pleasing surface; all the paths are slippery, and every slip is dangerous."
- "Those who now smile upon and embrace, would affront and stab each other, if manners did not interpose; but ambition and avarice, the two prevailing passions at courts, found dissimulation more effectual than violence; and dissimulation introduced that habit of politeness, which distinguishes the courtier from the country gentleman."
- In It Can't Happen Here, Buzz Windrip's fascist administration is characterized by ruthless internal politics and jostling for power. Doubly so near the end of the book, when Saranson forced Windrip into exile in France, and Haik later assassinates Saranson. When they're not jostling for power, Windrip's advisors engage in depraved parties where alcohol and sex are plentiful. Macgoblin once hosted talks with business leaders during a lavish party in a Roman-era boat, served by naken hostesses. After exiling Windrip and assuming power, Saranson has debauched parties with plenty of handsome young men.
- The Reynard Cycle: Reynard views the court of King Lionel this way in Defender of the Crown, and not without reason. Court intrigue is one of the major features of the plot.
- Basically the entire Roman aristocracy in Francine Rivers’ The Mark of the Lion.
- The Psi Lords of Takis in the Wild Cards series. One character from Earth observes that skullduggery is "like a fifth classical element" on Takis.
- In the Videssos Cycle, the royal court has this bad. How bad? In only two of the four novels do the main characters even try to face the Big Bad. In the other two books (and the first half of the books in which they do fight him) they spend all their time suppressing insurrections so that they can send the army out of the capital without worrying that there will be another coup attempt while they're gone.
- The city of Theatrica and its citizens. The society considers itself classless and entirely noble, relegating peasant status to all non-Theatricans (thereby keeping the elite/pleb contrast intact).
- The Kitan court in Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven. About as Truth in Television as a fantasy novel can get, as it is closely based on Tang Dynasty China, where the court was plenty deadly and decadent. (The events of the novel pattern the intrigues that led up to the An Shi Rebellion, which some historians consider to be, in terms of percentage of casualties, the deadliest conflict in human history.)
- Vorkosigan Saga is a Zig Zag. By Miles's time it is simply a Standard Royal Court and most of the politics looks like fairly normal parliamenteering with mundane tricks like exchanging support for each other's favorite project. However once in awhile a Vor will stoop to thuggery. There are a number of Vor that are useless and vice-obsessed—or pretend to be, like Ivan and By. These seem to be a minority. When Miles was a child, however, the Barrayaran system was much more violent, and assassinations and attempted coups were an expected feature of politics.
- The King's Court is this in Sir Derek And The Faeries, although it isn't helped by the fact that the King is something of an idiot, as he sleeps with the Queen's Ladies-In-Waiting despite knowing what a terrible idea that is, then banishes the only person who could get him out of his bind.
- The Age of Fire series has the court politics of the Lavadome — hundreds of dragons, all vying for the favor of, or entry into, the Imperial Line. And as for those already in the Line, they're constantly struggling for influence, power, and ultimately the chance to take the Tyr's throne for themselves.
- Whitehouse presides over a modern, corporate executive version in The Damnation Game. For one thing, Whitehouse and his cronies get his bodyguard drunk and try to force him into an orgy involving two prostitutes as a joke.
- The Court of Lothar in Restoree is much too decadent and deadly for a nice American girl like Sara — though in fact she copes quite nicely.
- In the Erebus Sequence, Demesne is full of politics and scheming, with few nobles concerning themselves with anything but their own status and advancement. It doesn't help that the king doesn't pay any attention to it and leaves everything in the hands of a manipulative Majordomo. In the second book, attempts by Anea and Russo to reform the court and establish a rudimentary democracy are fiercely and violently resisted.
- The Hunger Games: The Capitol, if the story of Snow's ascension to power is anything to go by.
- The Dinosaur Lords: The Palace of the Fireflies, the seat of imperial power in Nuevaropa, is full of intrigue, treacherous plots, illicit romances and backstabbery. The Emperor being rather terrible at his job and civil war raging a few princedoms away is just a cherry on the top.
- The Goblin Emperor: It is made clear that the court of Ethuveraz is this pretty much at the beginning of the story, when his cousin tells the protagonist: "The wolves are waiting to devour thee."
- In the Realm of the Elderlings series, the Jamaillian court is less well described than the Farseer court at Buckkeep, but obviously much bigger and both more deadly and more decadent, with the Satrap at the top, an unstated number of advisors and nobles, the Satrap's Heart Companions (not to be confused with a harem, although to Companion Serilla's dismay most Heart Companions have chosen to do just that) and all other members of the court going unmentioned. And everyone is seemingly doing their level best to get as much power as possible, at whatever price.
- The Witchlands:
- Implied when Vaness tells Safi that she needs the latter's Living Lie Detector powers to cleanse her court.
- The Nubrevnan High Council feels this way to Vivia, as many conspire against her either to aid another group or nation, get more power for themselves or marry her and render her their puppet on the throne.
- Game of Thrones: King's Landing. Deadly for many characters, including King Robert and Ned Stark. The Title Drop moment refers to the nobility's high rate of turnover.
- The court in The Tudors might be even more corrupt than its real-life counterpart, and that's not easy to do...
- Queen Elizabeth's court in Black Adder II tends towards this trope. She beheads someone if she's bored. Or if they don't tell her that her nose looks pretty.
- Kings: The court of Gilboa is a polished, modern-day bureaucracy where the king wears suits and rules from a conference table. That doesn't make any difference to the murderous, treacherous and utterly corrupt proceedings that go on behind closed doors, though...
- Mark Antony's and Cleopatra's Court in Rome is so decadent it turns former Magnificent Bastard Mark Antony into a fat whiny crybaby.
- Doctor Who:
- The non-renegade Time Lords have been depicted like this ever since Robert Holmes first took a more cynical view of them in "The Deadly Assassin", and even more so in the Darker and Edgier spin-offs. During the first part of the revived series when they were officially dead the Doctor liked to imply that they were dedicated and unselfish defenders of the universe. At least, until it became a question of "us or the rest of the universe", and they settled on "us." After the Doctors saved them, it only took two more seasons for it to be revealed just how much they hadn't improved.
- Expanded Universe tells us just how much the Doctor was lying-even before the Time War there was a specialized branch of Time Lord bureaucracy specifically to act as a Decadent Court, the Celestial Intervention Agency. At first, they were nothing more than a darkly intrusive Internal Affairs sort of organization. When the Time War came, they started taking measures to enforce Time Lord dominance across the timelines. They succeeded.
- I, Claudius, starring Derek Jacobi and numerous other high-profile British actors. This series, based on a series of novels, recounts the life of Claudius, the awkward fool who would be emperor... and the drama, treachery, and intrigue that happened in the royal household. It's even more intense when you consider that it is based on historical events. But then, truth is stranger than fiction. (Historians, however, reject the idea of Livia as poisoner.)
- The Caesars was a Granada series covering the same time period as I, Claudius, and likewise featured the tangled web of incest and murder that was the Julio-Claudian royal family and their social circle. Just to name a few examples, Livia happily admits to having arranged "a good many" deaths over the course of sixty years, Livilla and her lover Sejanus conspire to poison her husband Drusus so that they can rule Rome as regents for her son Gemellus when he succeeds Tiberius, and Caligula has sexual relations with all three of his sisters - until he accidentally strangles one and has the other two banished for allegedly conspiring against him.
- Another BBC Production, The Cleopatras, takes place in a court where, if you weren't marrying your sibling (or your parent, or uncle, or niece), you were having them killed to keep them from becoming a threat to you. (Sometimes you married them, and THEN killed them when you fell in love with someone else.)
- The Hamptons in Revenge serves as a good contemporary example.
- Though not monarchical, Washington DC resembles this in NCIS.
- Not technically a court but the upper decks of the starship Ascension are this. Except for a dedicated few the main occupations seem to be jockeying for position, partying and sleeping with each others wives/husbands.
- King Arthur's court in Carry On Laughing! is the polar opposite of its usual portrayal - the knights do little else besides arguing, drinking and showing no loyalty whatsoever to their king (not that he deserves it - he doesn't exactly set a good example).
- Babylon 5 has the Circle of Houses of the Centauri Republic (actually an empire), extremely decadent as a side effect of the Centauri considering sobriety a vice (as all Centauri have many duties, and taking breaks and having pleasure is a duty that serves to keep them capable of fulfilling the others) and the House lords going overboard, and deadly due the competition among the nobles of a civilization heavy on Realpolitik. It's rather telling that when Londo had lord Refa killed Refa is surprised at the circumstances (as they were rather convoluted and for once he was innocent of what Londo wanted him dead for) and means, not that Londo is having him killed, and the latter is because Londo could have just have slipped him the second part of the poison he had administered him early for a blackmail.
- Subverted with the Royal Court: they're the ministers appointed by the emperor and the ones that actually run the Republic, and the Nobles know better than interfere with their jobs without really good reasons.
- In King Crimson's debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, most of the lyrics (for songs like "21st century Schizoid Man", "Epitaph", and the title track) described a corrupt, falling-apart world of medieval/futuristic kingdoms. The lyrics were written by Peter Sinfield.
Myths & Religion
- The major Olympians of Classical Mythology (and some of the minor ones) are often portrayed as a decadent court in myth and popular culture. With no opposing force, they spend their days pursuing mortal women, engaging in hedonism, figuring out how to back stab each other, or terrorizing mortals for slights real and imaginary. They only survive since they are all immortal. The only saving grace is they all have moments of benevolence toward mortals and not all of them are as decadent.
- William Shakespeare's Sonnet 25:
Great princes' favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun's eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
- The Dark Crystal has the Skeksis, who act like this, even though there are very few of them left. There's a justification for the Skeksis — since they're the darker halves of the souls of the Precursors it's in their very nature to engage in hedonism and power grabs. It's quickly shown that this is a bad thing for the species because they killed each other until there were only about 10, and that was because the surviving Skeksis are in an eternal power struggle where they can't kill themselves off without the resulting infighting killing them all. The leader of the Mystics knows this so performed a Heroic Sacrifice suicide to take out their leader and destabilize the court so his stepson Jen could get an opening to complete the prophecy.
- In the Big Finish Doctor Who audio "The Holy Terror", the Doctor finds himself in a medieval court society ritualised and traditionalised to act like one of these - queens must always have a kind, good heir and a deformed, scheming bastard son who usurps his brother, the High Priest's job is to stab the king in the back - all as symbolic traditions surrounding the coronation.
- Pick an Elysium (or court) with Fae or Vampires in any The World of Darkness game, and this is what they're like. Granted, you'll have biker lords and harlot duchesses along with your typical "proper" lords though, oddly on an equal footing.
- Mage caucuses and consilii can veer into this as well.
- The Seelie and Unseelie Courts of Dungeons & Dragons are the epitome of what happens when the Deadly Decadent Court is run by The Fair Folk. The Unseelie Court is noted as downright lethal unless you are very, very carefully prepared.
- Invoked by Azalin, ruler of Darkon, in the Ravenloft setting. Although personally above such self-indulgence, he actively encourages Darkonian nobles to debase themselves at wild court parties, the better to expose their vices and collect dirt his secret police can use to control them.
- The various Courts of Raksha in Exalted are like the above, and everyone's a Reality Warper to boot. The Realm's various social organizations come close to this as The Empress valued competition among her underlings and descendants. Heaven is a cross of this and the Corrupt Corporate Executive as it's a deadly decadent bureaucracy. Pretty much all Exalted types have charms that can encourage or discourage this type of behavior. Abyssals take the cake, however, as they possess a Socialize charm that causes any social group they use it on to devolve into infighting and backstabbing. In other words, they can ''create' a Deadly Decadent Court at will.
- Ars Magica covenants are prone to becoming like this when they fall into their Winter phase, with larger, more powerful covenants and Domus Magni being major antagonists because of it. Coeris, the House Tremere home covenant (yes, that Tremere) is especially ripe for it because of their extremely competitive and cutthroat political policies and general impenetrability by anyone who can't beat them at Certamen.
- The Dark Eldar in Warhammer 40,000 fit this trope to a T. The Dark City basically started out as a composition of trade hubs and private realms of noble houses that were outside the jurisdiction of the rulers of the old Eldar empire. It was there the spread of decadence that would eventually lead to the Fall of Eldar started, and many of those same noble houses continue to exist 10,000 years later (although many have reinvented themselves as Kabals), still continuing the behaviours that lead to the Fall.
- The courts of Warhammer Fantasy's Dark Elves are essentially based on control, cruelty and the dominion of the powerful to exercise utter obedience in those underneath them. The Hanil Khar is an annual pledge of allegiance to the ruler of a city that regularly features the cold-blooded torture of any who dare to bring insufficient tribute, with outright execution common to those who really fail to produce. Keep in mind, this is their awards ceremony here. Another indicator of the murderous nature of Druchii court life is the rigid etiquette of social space that evolved because the Dark Elves are so damn paranoid about being straight-up assassinated. Very tellingly, it is measured in sword-lengths. Lowborn Dark Elves may not approach a lord closer than three sword-lengths without being summoned, retainers may remain within two lengths, and lieutenants, trusted retainers and lower-ranking highborn may approach to a single sword-length. Within a sword-length is the most intimate space, and is reserved for lovers, playthings and, very characteristic of the Druchii, mortal enemies. You have to really think about the parties that these guys attended that forced this sort of system to be adopted.
On a similar note, the various political scenes in Imperial provinces tend to feature this sort of thing. With both the nastiness and decadence of political squabbling getting worse the further south you go. People in the northern Empire generally tend to look down on flowery speech and deceit and would much rather settle disputes with simple legal proceedings often concluding in non-fatal trial by combat. This is a necessity, because the northern Empire is regularly harassed by Chaos-worshiping Norse raiders and Dark Elf corsairs, so it usually pays to settle disputes quickly so the Burgomeisters and Elector Count can ready their forces to keep the berserking Vikings and sadistic SM Elves at bay.
- Many a Martian Court in Rocket Age. Demarcation Point One also counts, since Ambassadors to the Europans live lives of luxury, but are constantly trying to back stab one another.
- Cyrano de Bergerac:
- Count De Guiche pays a court of False Friends who talk about him behind his back, uses Viscount De Valvert to abuse lesser nobles, bullying Roxane and Cyrano, sends one hundred men to punish a poet, and this trope is constantly discussed by all the Gascons as a proof that De Guiche is No True
ScotsmanGascon. Oh, and remember, you will not go anywhere in this court unless you have wit! Subverted In Real Life: De Guiche was one of Cardinal Richieleu’s collaborators and they transformed France from a poor backward country into a continental power.
- Parodied with Ragueneau’s situation: At Act II, Raguenau is called "King of the Bakers" but is clear that his court of poet friends are only flattering him to eat at his expense, that his neglected queen, Lisa, is cheating on him with the Musketeer, that his own employees are abusing his Conspicuous Consumption, Crack Is Cheaper attitudes, that all those things will lead him to ruin, and when his only real friend, Cyrano, lampshades this, the "King" cannot accept the truth. At the beginning of Act III, the Kingdom (the bakery) is lost.
- Count De Guiche pays a court of False Friends who talk about him behind his back, uses Viscount De Valvert to abuse lesser nobles, bullying Roxane and Cyrano, sends one hundred men to punish a poet, and this trope is constantly discussed by all the Gascons as a proof that De Guiche is No True
- Arguably, Judge Turpin's Masquerade Ball in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (though since it only features in one scene it might be more of a Fête Worse than Death). All of them stand there and laugh while the judge rapes Lucy.
- As You Like It: The court is a treacherous place where everyone is miserable until they head to Arcadia.
- Pretty much ALL of Shakespeare's histories, with Richard III being the most extreme example. Even in Henry V, Act II opens with three nobles being exposed as plotting the King's assassination; he tricks them into arguing against mercy for a minor offender, reveals that he knows what they've been up to, and has them all executed without trial, then carries on with his war plans as if nothing's happened.
- In John Milton's Comus, the Lady observes that Sacred Hospitality is found more often among the poor, even though its courtesy was named for courts.
- A very small, but sufficiently treacherous, instance in The Lion in Winter, where King Henry II of England, his queen Eleanor, their three surviving sons — Richard, Geoffrey, and John — and King Philip II of France are all plotting something. Lots of backstabbing and temporary alliances result.
- In Final Fantasy Tactics, the royal court of Ivalice, inspired in part by the War of the Roses, who manipulate, backstab, frame each other, and ally themselves with the Legions of Hell (wittingly or not) to achieve succession and absolute rule.
- Final Fantasy XII's House Solidor and the Archadian Council are no better. Including the "join forces with Eldritch Abominations" part.
- The Iron Council of Magnagora in Lusternia. They're monstrous even by the standards of a city twisted by The Corruption and populated by racist mutants: backstabbing, murder and cannibalism are all actively encouraged means of advancement, and their Physical God chief advisor is the resident manipulative chessmaster.
- The Interactive Fiction game Varicella plops you in the middle of such a court; the first time you play through you'll spend a while exploring then run out of time and get killed. The next time you'll solve a few more puzzles, until in the end you know exactly how to make every move count.
- The Italian Nobles in Assassin's Creed II are all about killing one another in order to advance their own goals (especially in the case of the Templars). Truth in Television actually.
- The Aristocrat Club in Rule of Rose consists of a bunch of orphaned children playing rich and powerful nobility, complete with constant intrigue and rivalries, accompanied by complex rituals which often involve torture and/or hazing of one another, as well as cruelty against animals.
- In Crusader Kings 2
- Your court is filled with people conspiring against you, and vice versa. There's an entire game mechanic for hatching Evil Plans and conspiracies, a second one for attempting to spark civil wars and rebellions and a third option to just pay large stacks of gold to send assassins after people you don't like. The Crusader Kings series could even be seen as Deadly Decadent Court: THE GAME. The decadent part is especially evident with the DLC that allows people to play as Islamic dynasties: non-landed family members get more and more decadent, which is a very bad thing.
- Merchant Republics are no picnic either: a feudal realm has one ruler and his associated court. Republics have five great families, each with their own ambitious younger members and ungrateful vassals, all nominally subject to the Doge but scheming madly to steal each other's trade posts and ensure that their patrician succeeds the Doge should he meet an untimely end.
- In the Dawnguard DLC for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, joining the Volkihar Vampire Clan makes you the target of two different backstabbing plots during your very first quest with them. According to Garan Marethi afterwards, this is considered standard Volkihar politics. However, when you become the Lord of Volkihar, no one tries anything funny on you, because everyone knows what you did to the previous Lord who did try.
- In all five galaxies of Imperium Nova the roleplaying forum features at least one. Though the mechanical side of the game only covers the more overt actions of the players (wars, duels, dynastic marriages, etc, the worst they can do is assassination).
- The Last Story takes places on an island run by a court which has fallen into this. Nearly anyone who isn't outright evil is an Upper-Class Twit. If not both.
- Dragon Age has the Orlesian Empire's capital of Val Royeaux, which fits this trope. The unending machinations of the upper class are known as "The Great Game", and participation considered something of a pastime. Orlesian nobles make extensive use of bards who are trained in, besides music, espionage, assassination, and sabotage. The Big Bad of the novel The Stolen Throne is Meghren, the usurper-king of Ferelden, who was given this position by Emperor Florian, his cousin, for displeasing him. Meghren himself hates Ferelden and the so-called castle where he rules and periodically petitions Florian to be allowed to return to Val Royeaux. Judging by the comments of Fenris, an escaped slave, and Dorian, a runaway noble, the Tevinter Imperium also counts. It's just as corrupt and has the added danger of being enthralled with Blood Magic. The ancient Elven empire was apparently as bad as Orlais and Tevinter combined, with an immortal nobility who enslaved the lower class elves.
You get to have a go at playing court politics in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Which starts with you getting judged for your background (unlucky for you if you're an elf or Tal-Vashoth) and only gets more murky. If you do well you can get the person of your choice in charge of the Empire. If not... you've still got a hole in the sky to fix. The whole sequence features an absurd amount of murder, trickery and nice hats. And shoes, don't forget the shoes.
- Vivienne, one of your companions in Inquisition, as well as Leliana and Josephine are all accomplished players of the Game - Vivienne because she's the First Enchanter of the local Circle, Josephine because she's the ambassador to Val Royeaux from Antiva and Leliana is a former Bard. Josephine's a former Bard as well, but she has quit that job.
- Notably, Vivienne points out that it isn't just about espionage and murder, but social etiquette. Her introduction has her willing to murder an Orlesian noble for daring to cause trouble to her guests in her own house, and for racially insulting her earlier according to Cole. If you spare him, he's forced to leave with his tail between his legs and Vivienne remarks that he'll most likely be disowned for his actions. Also, a conversation with Varric points out any social faux pas would be very lethal.
Varric: I have a serious question for you, Iron Lady.
Vivienne: I can hardly wait.
Varric: In the Imperial Court, if someone uses the wrong fork at dinner, is that WORSE than death or just social suicide?
Vivienne: It's impossible to say, my dear. Anyone who has ever so misstepped was stabbed to death with the proper fork.
- Cassandra does not approve of "The Game" seeing it as nothing more than a glorification of murder and corruption.
- The popular Civilization IV mod Fall from Heaven has the Balseraphs who are all about this trope with the "deadly" part of the trope's former title being key. Those still sane and able to escape have done so long ago. Perpentach, the king of the Balseraphs, likes to dress up as a clown and kill people for amusement (basically, imagine The Joker being in charge of a country). His daughter Keelyn was born of a brief dalliance with a spy from a nation that seeks to bring out the Apocalypse. Born in a dungeon and kept from human contact, she learned to summon hellish creatures and temporarily rules while her father is away.
- The Nohrian Court in Fire Emblem Fates. King Garon's inability to sever ties with a woman once he fell in love with her led him to take many concubines in addition to his wives (Queen Katerina, and once she dies, Queen Arete), so he sired a lot of illegitimate children. While at first he loved all of his children equally and doted on them like a good father would, his concubines fought and chafed with one another for his favor and used their children as a part of this. Bullying, scarring, assassinations and deaths of both concubines and children occured until only four half-siblings were left: Xander (Katerina's son and the legitimate heir), Camilla, Leo, and Elise (all born from concubines), who were all tired of the in-fighting and resolved the inheritance of Nohr's throne among themselves, and in the process formed strong ties to one another. Unfortunately, the whole affair not only left deep psychological scars on them (especially Xander and Camilla) but it horribly hardened the once-kind Garon and he became neglectful, abusive, and ruthless, which became even worse after Queen Arete died in a Heroic Sacrifice. Because Xander, Camilla and Leo remember Garon's doting affection for them, they will not directly oppose him even if they agree that his rule at the present is overly harsh and ruthless, and they hope that once their father conquers Hoshido, he will go back to the kind ruler and father he was. What they don't know is that Garon is dead and his corpse is being used as a familiar by Anankos in his plot to destroy both Hoshido and Nohr.
- Similarly to Lusternia, the first playthroughs in Long Live the Queen are going to get the Player Character killed, in a variety of manners. Wearing a crown, as fourteen- year-old Crown Princess Elodie is set for, means having a big shiny target on the head in Nova's turbulent political climate. In particular, it's very heavily implied that Lucille, Countess of Nix is behind many of the assassination attempts that Elodie encounters, as her husband (Elodie's maternal uncle) is next in line for the throne, followed by their daughter Charlotte. It's possible to prevent these events from occurring at all by ingratiating yourself with them in such a way that grants them the level of power that they're looking for, but good luck with that if you don't have a plan from the get-go.
- In Seven Kingdoms: The Princess Problem, the royal court of Corval is famously decadent and intrigue-riddled. One of the possible backgrounds for a player character is that of a lady of Corval's Inner Court, requiring and providing bonuses toward social and political savvy.
- The Nobles in Twig consider all their prestige in terms of who is where in the chain of succession; having never killed to rise in the succession means that one is viewed as weak. Individuals are enhanced as children using cutting-edge science, the more radical the more prestige. Weddings are always targets for biological warfare and assassination.
- In Adventure Time, the Fire Kingdom is an officially Evil hotbed of backstabbing, plotting and fratricide. Flame Princess tries to reduce this, but the fact that she seized the throne by force and imprisoned her father rather reduces her claim to the moral high ground.
A bit of a Truth in Television trope, since nations with absolute rulers and a wealthy aristocracy have tended to breed Deadly Decadent Courts like flies. Imperial Rome, its medieval continuation the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire, Imperial China, and pre-Revolutionary France are the archetypal examples that most writers seem to crib from. Non-royal "courts" often work too, such as the Soviet Union.
- In the Stalinist Soviet Union, the somewhat "puritanical" version of this trope was in effect. There was officially not supposed to be any decadence, luxuries or other stuff of the sort, but there were plenty of luxuries for Stalin and his close comrades, though how much they enjoyed them is a different matter. Stalin gave his mother a palace, for example, but she refused to make use of it, sleeping in the servants' quarters and cooking her own meals. In post-Stalinist times, the decadence finally came to town, though it was still discreet and subtle, never fully shown to outsiders. Though one of the causes of the fall of the USSR was exposure of this corruption and decadence, it survived the fall unscathed and continued in The New Russia, now stripped clean of any and all Communist puritanism and its practitioners reveling in their new status as the officially unequal upper class. Simon Sebag Montefiore called his excellent book on Stalin The Court of the Red Czar.
- The Byzantine Empire was so infamous for this that another term for this trope is "Byzantine politics." Case in point, Byzantine Empress Irene and her gender swapped version of King Henry VIII's spouse killing spree, cutting out the eyes of former Emperors and current Emperors (the Emperor was supposed to be an image of divine perfection, so mutilating somebody made him ineligible). Plus the court was subject to other influences, such as the Church and the Vikings hired for the Varangian Guard (famously resulting in Harald Hadrada, Viking, Varangian Guardsman, soon to be King of Norway, and would-be conquerer of England, castrating and ripping out the eyes of Byzantine emperor Michael V Kalaphates in 1042.) Irene specifically had her own son and successor blinded, in a way calculated to cause his death, in the chamber where she had given birth to him.
- Even if it sounds strange, The Hittites. The royal court of Hattusa was truly a deadly place- full of relatives ready to betray the king at the first opportunity.
- The Ottoman Empire was likely the defining post-renaissance example; that it was intentionally set up so that every Sultan's death resulted in a frantic power-grab by every potential heir, with the winner having the legal right to have ALL surviving losers strangled to death was just the tip of the iceberg.
- The court of Saudi Arabia approaches this, although exile, shaming, and reassignment to Antarctica are preferred to outright killing; after all, almost all members of the court are (half)-brothers or cousins (being descendants of King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud), and the public image of family unity must be maintained. However, by all accounts, the internal politics of the Al Saud are quite dangerous—particularly now that there's a Succession Crisis due in a decade or so that everyone can see coming from a mile away—and the decadence of the Saudi court is so legendary, it has a trope.
- Probably apocryphal, but worth repeating. The astrologer at the court of Louis XI of France (known as "the Universal Spider" for his intricate and devious plots) had (quite by accident) accurately foretold the death of someone close to the king. Louis decided to have the unfortunate astrologer executed, but had a last question: "When do you foresee your own death?" The astrologer replied: "That I cannot divine, but it will be three days before Your Majesty's death." After that, the (in real life) superstitious Louis gave the astrologer all possible protection.
- Niccolò Machiavelli himself strongly recommended against this; besides the obvious risks to one's personal security, the high taxes required to support a decadent court tend to encourage rebellions.
- Louis XIV told Machiavelli "Screw That" and proceeded to create an Absolute French Monarchy revolving around an extensive Bread and Circuses political spectacle with him at the centre, building the chateau de Versailles and controlling the rebelling French barons Fronde by forcing them to develop an expensive lifestyle that defines French fashion to this very day. It worked for a time, and it certainly put an end to the period of French civil wars and the decentralized power of the nobility; but behind the scenes, Louis XIV was working extremely hard to keep the system afloat, and his successors Louis XV and Louis XVI never fully understood that they, too, needed to work hard. Cue The French Revolution, and a posthumous I-told-you-so for Machiavelli.
- The system of Louis XIV's royal court itself also caused problems for his successors, for instance by increasingly isolating the king and his court as well as a large part of the aristocracy from the reality of life in Paris and the provinces, which contributed to the slowly building crisis that culminated in the Revolution. Also the decadence of the court, which to a large extent was exactly what Louis planned, gradually became a reason for intellectuals of the Enlightenment to criticise the court and the aristocracy and caused notable scandals. During Louis' own reign the "Affair of the Poisons" (1677-1682), during which many members of the court and even some of the king's inner circle were implicated and accused of poisoning and witchcraft put the "Deadly" in Deadly Decadent Court as, despite being partially hushed up, it resulted in 36 executions, two persons dying under torture, and several prominent courtiers falling from grace or being exiled.note Also the system where courtiers had to vie for the king's favour and conduct intrigues against each other did not always lead to the most competent men being assigned the important state positions. That finance minister Nicolas Fouquet abruptly was stripped of his office and possessions and imprisoned for life is said to have been due to the machinations of his rival Colbert, while it is said of many a French commanding general in the War of the Spanish Succession that they were good at currying Louis XIV's favour but bad at leading an army. And the problems caused by royal favour and support by court cabals deciding who was put into command of France's armies would grow even worse during the Seven Years' War...
- His rule also laid the seeds of the French Monararchies total financial ruin and the revolution. A large part of his efforts to win over the nobility was built on essentially making the nobility and the church tax exempt. A loss in revenue that was ultimately never made up for, but which was compensated for by drastically increasing the number and rates which the peasantry had to pay to the crown. Which was simply added on top of the taxes the peasants already paid to their local church and nobility to begin with. His successors incompetence is often blamed because things started falling apart under them, but the financial system of the French Monarchy was a ticking time bomb because of him which ultimately resulted in both the Revolution and in the bankruptcy of the state.
- Adolf Hitler's inner circle was full of people vying to outdo the other; they called it the Obersalzberg Kamarilla.
- Albert Speer, Hitler's chief architect, and later on super-minister of the Third Reich, describes this in great detail in his memoirs, showing that this deadly decadence was a crucial factor in the defeat of Germany. Even as the war grew larger and riskier, and as Gerany's armies faced stronger resistance and suffered great defeats, Hitler's inner circle focused mostly on political rivalry and on backstabbing each other, not caring all that much about the war. And going further down the pyramid, the gauleiters (sort of a regional governor with almost-absolute authority) only cared about their wealth and luxury, protecting their share of Germany's income with absolute zeal, even on the brink ot total defeat. Even though his main priority was overseeing the country's military economy, Speer had to distract himself with these political rivalries to keep himself in power. In other words, just like Louis XIV and (probably) Stalin, Hitler planted the seeds of his empire's downfall even before it began to rise.
- Depending on who you ask, the US President's staff, Joint Chiefs, and various executive underlings qualify. Although the person you ask may say it was worse under one president and not so bad under another.
- Office politics can be this sometimes, if you replace killing with firing.