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Decadent Court
aka: Deadly Decadent Court

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Why waste effort running a country when you can drink and party all day and night?

"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."
Corkus, Berserk Abridged

The court here is that not-so-noble group of aristocrats who hang around a monarch's luxurious halls. They are dissolute, dissipated, degenerate, depraved, privileged and back-stabbing— 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 drink, flirt, gossip, and play their spiteful little games and jockey for status and position.

How the court got that way differs from story to story. More often than not, the source is at the top (i.e. they caught the "rot" from the monarch). An extreme version is if the ruler is bat-crazy and murderous, like The Caligula. Conversely, the monarch may be good at heart, but is ineffectual for any number of reasons (scheming Evil chancellors, plots by an evil Cardinal), and the various factions end up outcompeting each other in hopes of gaining favor and securing titles, land and treasure.

Even when these nobles have official titles and duties, expect them to be annoyed at any requests by underlings for them to actually do any of the work on estate management, administering their lands, treaty signing or diplomacy associated with being the Earl of X or the Duchess of Y. They have far more important things to do, like having their servants open another bottle of vintage Claret and seducing that attractive French Maid.

You see this kind of setting in most stories about long-established royal courts. It is the go-to source for intrigue, backstabbing (metaphorically and literally), gratutitous fanservice scenes of masked ball orgies or parties, brothels and illicit affairs. And, face it, you'll need those things if there is going to be any fun in the story at all.

Often, The Fair Folk and the Princes and nobles of Hell are organized around feudal lines, and in these cases the Faerie Courts of great fey kings and the entourages of mighty demon lords are invariably depicted as halls of treachery, ruthless social climbing, and subtle and vicious insults truly beyond human ken or capacity.

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. The "court" may be a similar setting with an aristocratic leader and hangers-on, such as a junta's self-styled emperor, a Lord of a manor house, a planet's Lord Viceroy in a Space Opera, or a vampire lord's coven in a castle or old mansion.

See Evil Chancellor or Evil Prince for the possible cause. For a depraved, unfair court of law, try Kangaroo Court. Can overlap with Crazy Workplace.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Altina the Sword Princess 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.
  • 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 attempts on his life end up dead or blackmailed.
  • Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto shows the Corrupt Church of Renaissance Italy as this, and the titular Cesare Borgia as the reformer that Niccolò Machiavelli, at least, believed he could be.
  • 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.
  • In Legend of the Galactic Heroes, bombs, poisons, abductions, gunfire and suicides are not unheard of in Imperial politics.
  • One Piece has Luffy's homeland Goa Kingdom. The nobility of Goa fits this on the spot, being so vile that they would burn down the slums just to save their "clean" reputation.
  • Ōoku: The Inner Chambers is set in the Shogun's harem, which develops into a place of backstabbing maneuvers.
  • Rebuild World: Cyberpunk example. While the series is filled with Corrupt Corporate Executive intrigue amongst One Nation Under Copyright, the Lawrence family and their Lion Steel corp are a de facto noble family in charge of one MegaCorp. Them and their Recruited from the Gutter to be brainwashed servants all come across as arrogant, and in the Chloe arc of the web-novels, it's explored how cold and bloodthirsty politics within the company are, with whole branches of the family being dumped into the wasteland to survive as hunters for mistakes they had nothing to do with based on The Social Darwinist ideas. Internal warfare and backstabbing is encouraged by their A.I. puppetmaster Alice with her Blue-and-Orange Morality, under the excuse that it's to impress her puppet CEO Lawrence himself.
  • The Rose of Versailles:
    • Being set at the eve of The French Revolution, it 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.
  • Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs:
    • In this Science Fantasy setting, a large part of this is tied up with Lady Land tropes: Noble women treat poor male nobles as Cannon Fodder, slaves, or at best, a Hen Pecked Husband who gets their accounts drained to pay for their wives distant mansion and lovers. The women are followed around by Smug Snake demihuman "slaves" that are in fact full time gigolos with more rights than poor male nobles. The whole system was designed as part of a Government Conspiracy to centralize power around the ruling dynasty.
      • As the series progresses, more and more of the male depravity gets shown to balance the scales, with things like Frampton's treasonous schemes, and Kyle being a Child by Rape. The male noble depravity is especially emphasized in the official Role Swap AU Marie Route Alternate Timeline.
  • 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.

    Audio Plays 
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • The Russian noble houses in Nikolai Dante, especially the ruling Makarovs and the Romanovs.
  • X-Men: Hellfire Club in the X-Men comics. They consider- and carry- themselves as self-styled royalty and engage in the decadence, in-fighting for position and power, etc. common to circles of power.
  • 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".
  • The Inhumans runs on this trope.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: The smarter and more favored members of the Saturnian Empire's court realize that they can advance through the ranks, and prevent themselves from losing rank, through backstabbing and betraying and framing others for their failures. It's a court where the elite are waited on hand and foot by slaves, and are in danger of failing in the eyes of their emperor and being executed or enslaved themselves at any moment.

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • In King Explosion Murder the Shield Hero, this is Siltvelt's government in a nutshell. The demi-human-run nation is under the control of a Council that consists of the four major tribes of Siltvelt (the Hakuko's, the Genmu’s, the Shusaku’s, and the Aotatsu’s) who only care about advancing themselves and their own tribes'/races' interests and ignore the rest of the demi-human civilians. The nation’s church, the Grand Holy Shield Church, and its religious head, Patriarch Ozsan, are also highly corrupt and use religion to pacify the citizens and spout teachings that support the corrupt and repressive government, the broken caste system, and the bigotry towards and enslavement of humans. Prime Minister Trinock is just as greedy as the rest and seeks to exploit those that will benefit him and his country and has no care for lesser demi-humans. Lastly, their current king Janio is a lazy and rotten Spoiled Brat who is little more than a Puppet King to Trinock and the council.
  • In The Lost King the infighting between Garon's concubines has turned the Nohrian court into a hostile environment, even leading to the concubines murdering each other and their children. Garon's unable to stop the murders because he can't prove that the concubines are actually doing them, and he can't just send them away for fear of offending their families or provoking the self-made concubines into more overt actions of sabotage.
  • Ripples and its sequel Stirred have a rare example where this is a step up from the alternative, as this version of Phobos cares more about keeping peace than having a iron grip on his power. He'd rather have some sketchy allies won over without violence than purge everyone untrustworthy.
  • The court of Wuhan in The Weaver Option is so bad that there are multiple open murder attempts during the Governor's victory ball, before the coup attempt is launched.
  • one day at a time (Nyame): Gotham's high society is portrayed as a subdued version of this, with various families (minor and major) all scheming over the course of several generations to eventually usurp the First Families, particularly the Waynes, and take control of their fortunes. Not helping the matter is that a fair number of those socialites are/were also members of the Court of Owls, who have been ruling Gotham from the shadows for centuries and are a large part of why the city is corrupt. In the first timeline, Jason Todd, upon becoming the official head of the Wayne Family, absolutely refused to involve himself in Gotham politics for several years outside holding an occasional charity ball for the Wayne Foundation almost explicitly because of this trope. It was only after the arrival of Helena Wayne, his father Bruce Wayne's only known living biological heir, that he finally started playing along — specifically to protect her and her inheritance.
  • Chasing Dragons: While not as bad as canon, the royal court of Westeros is this. The primary divide is between Stannis' faction (which is taking a pragmatic route towards increasing and centralizing the Iron Throne's power), Cersei's faction (which is closely tied to the Faith and has become increasingly radicalized when it comes to the role of religion in the realm's politics), and Renly's faction (which is nominally loyal to Stannis and trying to counter Cersei, but is also fueling Renly's ambitions). And on top of all that is the various Great Houses trying to gain influence via courtiers for the sake of their own agendas.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Nazi high command in Downfall (2004), waiting on a deluded Hitler while fighting rages above.
  • 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.
  • Par for the course in Hamlet adaptation Legend of the Black Scorpion. Pretty much everyone is trying to kill everyone else.
  • The Skeksis from The Dark Crystal are genocidal hedonists who only think about living an eternal life, maintaining their power over Thra, enslaving the Podlings, dressing in riches and feasting, not even bothering with physical exercise. Without an Emperor to keep everyone in check, they would certainly jump at each other's throat. There's justification— 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 he performs a Heroic Sacrifice suicide to take out their leader and destabilize the court so his stepson Jen can get an opening to complete the prophecy.
    • Their decadence is expanded upon in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, showing their backslide from at least pretending to be benevolent and wise rulers to dropping all pretense of not being hedonistic back-stabbers, with the key point being their discovery that their Gelfling subjects could be processed into a youth-restoring elixir. The Skeksis would sacrifice many Gelflings in the process, and drive them to near-extinction after a prophecy revealed that a Gelfling would put an end to their reign.
  • The cabinet and inner circle in The Death of Stalin are a republican version of this trope. Due to the totalitarian and extremely repressive nature of Stalin's regime (including eliminating people just for stuttering), many of the Politburo betrayed their friends and enforced all of Stalin's order to appease him from purging them too. Out of all the members, Beria was considered as the most depraved and psychotic member as he also performed numerous sexual assaults on children.
  • The Brethren Court in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, being the "ruling body" over hordes of uncontrollable rogues and pirates, seems to only have any order at all because Captain Teague is the one enforcing The Code. It is best described by Elizabeth and Jack:
    Elizabeth: This is madness!
    Jack: This is politics.

  • In spite of being a democracy, the Primes of Nuryevet in A Conspiracy of Truths function like this — it's incredibly common for them to abuse their power to enrich themselves to the point that it's offhandedly expected of them by multiple characters, to Chant's horror.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has one of the deadliest courts in modern fantasy, for all that it's unlikely to be the most decadent on the planet (Yi Ti probably has that in the bag; sorry Volantis). In the westernmost, backwater continent in a Crapsack World where at least seven major power blocs duke it out to gain control of the realm, Magnificent Bastards, Smug Snakes, ambiguous question marks and Byronic Heroes trade gambits which cost lives like they're in a pillow fight, yet Anyone Can Die. And God Save Us from the Queen! No, really. Cersei is many things, but safe to be around is not one of them (especially if you think you have leverage on her).
    • 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 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.
  • Hurog: 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.
    • At first the Courts of Chaos, Amber's opposite number, appear a subversion: things there are pretty peaceful for the most part. However, each pentalogy happens to take place in a turbulent time for the relevant court, and it becomes clear Chaos can be just as bad. The difference turns out to be maturity, as Order is a more recent invention and its royal bloodline, while fewer in number and invested with more individual power, simply have less in the way of learning experiences to temper their ambitions.
  • 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 Series, 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. Menzoberranzan is an in-universe study of this trope, as its patron goddess hates stability or any feeling among her followers of security or comfort and only allows them to be unified when she has an immediate use for them. Otherwise she encourages bringing down the strongest of her followers while also keeping her realm from weakening enough to collapse... and should there be the potential of getting a power base better than a city of drow worshippers, she's willing to let it go.
  • 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 K'aath, 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.
  • Captive Prince 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.
  • Simon R. Green: This trope appears in multiple series of his.
    • Deathstalker: The Imperial Court of Golgotha, homeworld of The Empire, is this writ large IN SPACE.
    • Forest Kingdom: Featured in multiple kingdoms in both the parent series and the Hawk & Fisher spinoff. In book 1 (Blue Moon Rising), the King's Barons and their allies are openly plotting against him, and even host a gathering of rebels in his own castle, plotting to kill him and install the eldest prince as their puppet ruler. It backfires, because Prince Harald is loyal to his father. Then in book 2 (Blood and Honor), the court recklessly dallies 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.
  • Dune:
    • 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 Holly Black’s work, all faerie courts have some aspects of this, but most notable is in The Folk of the Air. Most characters are looking to increase their status, with the exception of Cardan who is not ambitious and just doesn’t want to be beaten for his failures.
    • Even among the teenagers, you can see aspects of this. Most children sent to lectures are supposed to endear themselves to children of royalty. The bullying in the book is really the teenagers of royalty trying to establish the hierarchy within their lectures.
    • The royal family is a mess of neglect and abuse, and spare no love for each other. Of the members of the royal family who are characterized, the oldest is a psychopath willing to turn murder his entire family for power, the middle son also schemed and murdered his way into power, and the father at least could be charged with child endangerment.
  • 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 (2012) 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 Hapan in Star Wars Legends practiced this, being a straw matriarchy of narcissistic Human Aliens whose culture, at least among the upper classes, was based on assassination attempts and struggles for power. Most upper-class Hapans would think nothing of arranging the death of their entire families it would advance their own cause. During the Second Galactic Civil War, the Skywalkers were forced to get involved in their political intrigue to save their queen from an assassination attempt by Psycho for Hire Aurra Sing.
  • 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.
  • 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 taken to extreme levels. 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.
  • World of the Five Gods: 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 naked 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.
  • The Archduchy of Crius in Space Opera series Lucifer's Star has the same scheming and backstabbing of Dune with the various Houses all plotting against one another for position and prestige. It, notably, leads to a We ARE Struggling Together situation as they continue this in-fighting even in the face of conquest by the Commonwealth.
    • One example? Protagonist Cassius Mass is the clone of his Evil Chancellor father who wanted to disinherit his own children as a way to spite their mother's house that he was forced to marry into. Cassius was then trained to plot against both his siblings as well as their mother while the same was done to them—ironically ending with the three siblings plotting against their parents.
  • In both the book and film adaptation of Stardust, the kingdom determines its succession by which of the king's sons is still alive. They are directly encouraged to murder each other with no legal repercussion.
  • In A Face Like Glass the court in Caverna is incredibly subtle and deadly - so much so that even the person in charge is basically plotting against himself.
  • Technomancer by MK Gibson: Demonkind has one of these with the Princes at the top and humanity at the bottom. They constantly fight for power, territory, prestige, and petty revenge.
  • Isaac Asimov's "The General (Foundation)": The inner court of Emperor Cleon II is full of sycophants and back-stabbers, each looking to secure their position for when the Emperor dies and possibly taking the throne for themselves. Despite his painful and incurable disease, Cleon keeps an eye out for possible revolts and betrayal, including young generals popular with the military.
  • Subverted in Warbreaker. The Court of Gods is this on paper; it is certainly decadent, consisting of people worshiped as living gods whittling their days in idle luxury, save for when they give their lives to heal someone. As Lightsong points out, the decent people are the ones who give their lives earlier, so what's left are the selfish ones. However, despite the fears of neighboring Idris, they're not a deadly court, and most have to be talking into preparing for self-defense. Double Subverted when it turns out that the real danger wasn't the gods or the priests, but the administrators, who were manipulating the Idris fear.
  • The palace of Daevabad in The Daevabad Trilogy. Ghassan al Qahtani rules over six mistrustful djinn tribes and deliberately keeps them all pitted against each other to ensure that they won't muster the unity to turn against him. When he does need them unified, he turns them on the part-human shafit. This creates an intensely distrustful atmosphere of blackmail, coercion, manipulation, and violence—that his own children love each other at all is astonishing given the way he pits them against each other.
  • The Sunne in Splendour takes place during the Wars of the Roses, and it portrays Edward IV's court as being filled with wine, feasting, gambling and when the queen is discreetly looking away, lots and lots of loose women. Edward's youngest brother Richard blames Edward's early death on those who enabled Edward's debauchery.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Ascension: Not technically a court but the upper decks of the titular starship are this. Except for a dedicated few the main occupations seem to be jockeying for position, partying and sleeping with each others wives/husbands.
  • 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.
  • Black Adder II: Queen Elizabeth's court tends towards this trope. She beheads someone if she's bored. Or if they don't tell her that her nose looks pretty.
  • The Caesars: 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.
  • Carry On Laughing!: King Arthur's court 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).
  • 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.)
  • 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" - and as the Doctor explained, when Wilf pointed out how he'd always talked about his people like they were wonderful and amazing, that that was how he chose to remember them, but he has most certainly not forgotten the reality.
      • After the Doctors saved them, it's zig-zagged: while it only took two more seasons for it to be revealed just how much the upper echelons hadn't improved, the military and the civilians are depicted as being as decent (or no worse than) anybody else in the universe.
    • 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.
    • The noble court in "The Androids of Tara" is known for two things: silly hats, and internecine scheming. At one point, Count Grendel of Gracht is loudly describing his plan to claim the throne, involving at least two murders, and the Archimandrite - at least according to the novelisation - pretends not to hear any of it, having learned from a lifetime at court that when the nobles are scheming, your life expectancy goes up if you don't take sides.
  • Game of Thrones: King's Landing, which Ned Stark calls a "rat's nest" in the very first episode. Deadly for many characters, including King Robert Baratheon and Ned himself. The Title Drop moment refers to the nobility's high rate of turnover.
    • Littlefinger, a more-apt-than-most embodiment of the court and its mentality, advises Ned Stark on its ways:
    Littlefinger (seeking a messenger who can go between them): "Do you have someone in your household you can trust?"
    Ned Stark (eagerly): "Yes."
    Littlefinger: "Wrong answer."
    • House of the Dragon: Things were just a little better in Westeros under 200 years prior under the reign of King Viserys Targaryen, who openly called out his courtiers for bringing their politics on what was supposed to be a relaxing hunt. Though after Viserys' death, House Hightower thought it was the right thing to usurp the Iron Throne and things went downhill from there (also, Alicent Hightower takes advices from Lord Larys Strong, a creepy clubfooted schemer similar to Littlefinger).
  • The Great: The court of Peter is full of wild debauchery and constant jockeying for the prime attention of the Emperor, and later the Empress. Amidst all the drinking, eating, partying and public sexual acts, there’s deals made and betrayals conducted on the daily.
  • I, Claudius: Based on a series of novels, it 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.)
  • Kingdom (2019): The entire series, both in the introductory episodes and trailers, established the courtly intrigue with the bottom of the palace's pond littered with those who were unfortunate enough to fall victim to it. This compounded the series' Zombie Apocalypse as the court and ruling clan were vying for power rather than alleviate the crisis. Furthermore, one of the main character—Yi Chang—began to be targeted by the consort who would have him killed for her own son to ascend the throne.
  • 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...
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Downplayed with Numenor in Season 1. Numenor is stable and prosperous, but no without problems, the king, is too ill to rule and Miriel takes his place as Queen Regent, but she is a very divisive figure among her people. Pharazôn is a corrupted Evil Chancellor who bribes people and works secretly behind Miriel's to dispose her by turning the people on her and allowing them to insult her name. There is Tamar, a blacksmith who works for Pharazôn as an Agent Provocateur among the people. As for the citizens themselves, they hate the Elves an it doesn't take them too long to turn on their rulers. And while the show took a lot liberties from the books, they still have to respect the big events, which means the things are about to turn really ugly for Numenor under Pharazon.
  • The Man in the High Castle: After they won the war, the Nazis have established a dog-eats-dog hierarchy, with the uppermost echelons of the Party and (Para)military constantly scheming against each other for supremacy. Hitler himself even falls victim to an ambitious underling who desires to become Fuehrer so he can start a nuclear war against their former Japanese allies.
  • NCIS: Though not monarchical, Washington DC resembles this.
  • Revenge (2011): The Hamptons serve as a good contemporary example.
  • The Rise of Phoenixes: The royal court of Tiansheng. The princes are plotting against each other, the emperor is manipulating his sons, and the only way for Ning Yi to stay alive long enough to get anything done is to pretend to be an idiot.
  • Rome: Mark Antony's and Cleopatra's Court is so decadent it turns former Magnificent Bastard Mark Antony into a fat whiny crybaby.
  • Star Trek: A few of the various alien races occasionally dip into this to varying degrees.
    • While the Klingons are the Trope Namer for Klingon Promotion, their version of this trope is a bit more complicated. A standard Klingon state assembly can very easily result in more than a few deaths; at one point during a civil war, the Chancellor was challenged to a duel, and proceeded to kill his opponent before returning to the matters at hand. That all said, more underhanded actions such as poisoning or politicking are considered deeply dishonorable, and if exposed, are not all tolerated; in Deep Space Nine, one Klingon attempted to ruin a rival house by financially assaulting it, and when this came to light he was stripped of his honor and exiled.
    • Though the exact nature of their government is not entirely clear, the Romulans are a bit straighter an example, with the Romulan government indicated to be an intricate web of alliances between factions that only work together to the point their interests align. The moment those interests stop aligning, they can and will turn against each other.
  • Super Sentai
    • The Gorma Tribe in Gosei Sentai Dairanger seems to be led by one. This faction seems to be running on Klingon Promotion, so many of its members try to manipulate or backstab each other. The Gorma Emperor is also revealed to wield an Artifact of Doom, which renders him violently insane. This makes dealing with him a very dangerous task.
    • The Evil Army Shadow Line from Ressha Sentai Toqger is modeled after historical European monarchies, with each of the members possessing a title of nobility. Members of this faction scheme against each other almost as much as they do against he heroes of the show. On several occasions, some of the members even ally with the ToQgers to further their agenda against their colleagues.
  • True Blood: Vampire society is largely modeled after feudalism in Medieval Europe. It consists of vampire monarchs who spend most of their time either indulging in their luxuries, accumulating treasure, feeding on humans, or are attempting to take control of territories owned by other monarchs (either through force or political marriages). Overseeing all of this is a shadow government known as The Authority. As shown in season 5, it consists of Vampire Chancellors who are perfectly okay backstabbing each other as long as they get to keep their power.
  • The Tudors: The court might be even more corrupt than its real-life counterpart, and that's not easy to do...

  • 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 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.
  • The Odyssey: In the absence of Odysseus, a flock of nobleman suitors have gathered in the palace of the kingdom to present themselves to the queen. The suitors waste the kingdom's money on their entertainment, and plan to kill prince Telemachus for getting in their way.
  • The Bible: The northern kingdom of Israel after the Jehu dynasty ended, which became a constant series of Klingon Promotions up until its final king Hoshea, when the Assyrians invaded and conquered the territory, taking the people into exile.

  • In Midst, the aristocracy of the Trust aren't cruel, but they're oblivious to the lives of the less Valorous. They have so many Valor beads that they've had to get creative about wearing them: while most people are lucky to have a necklace, or even to escape their debt, Loxley's entire gown is made of Valor beads.
  • In The Hidden People, the court in question is The Unseelie Court so there was never any doubt.

  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • BattleTech: House Kurita's internal politicking is more often violent than not. Houses Liao and Steiner end up like this when the families crazier traits manifest in the current ruler. The Davions have to deal with a minefield of regional politics and lesser nobles while the Mariks have to contend with representatives from a few hundred worlds and very powerful provincial leaders. Civil wars are common in the Inner Sphere for this reason.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The Seelie and Unseelie Courts of 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. That being said, the 5e Dungeon Master's Guide notes that Seelie and Unseelie do not directly correlate with good and evil, and that there are denizens of the Feywild that belong to neither court or even reject being part of one.
    • The various dukes and duchesses of the Nine Hells of Baator are constantly scheming against each other, fending off ambitious underlings, and aspiring to supplant Asmodeus as the ruler of Hell. For his part, Asmodeus is a Magnificent Bastard able to play his would-be rivals against each other, most spectacularly in the Reckoning, where Hell split into two warring factions that upended the political order, only for Asmodeus to emerge unscathed. As for the rest of the archdevils:
      • Archduchess Zariel of Avernus was toppled for a time by her ambitious general Bel, but she's since retaken the position, yet retains Bel's services as an advisor. While she defends the gates of Hell, she also plots revenge against Asmodeus for his part in her corruption.
      • Dispater, the Iron Duke of Dis, has grown increasingly paranoid about retribution from Asmodeus for his part in the Reckoning, and rarely leaves his inner sanctum. His advisor Titivilus does much to encourage these rumors, and now all but rules Dis in his master's name.
      • Viscount Mammon of Minauros was the first to prostrate himself before Asmodeus after the Reckoning failed, to the disgust of his fellow conspirators, and is desperately trying to build up a war chest now that his ex-lover Glasya has become a fellow Archduke, out of fear that she may punish him for not resisting when her father ordered them to break off their relationship.
      • For a long time, Archduchess Fierna of Phlegethos was content to let her father Belial do all the work running the layer while she enjoyed herself (often with him), but after becoming fast friends with Glasya, she's being more active and independent, setting up her own cultist networks "just in case" anything happens to her dear father. Belial has had to put his own schemes against Levistus on hold until he's sure of his daughter's goals and loyalties.
      • Levistus was imprisoned within one of Stygia's glaciers after killing Asmodeus' consort, and for a time the archduke Geryon ruled the frozen layer. Geryon served as The Mole for Asmodeus during the Reckoning, but despite his loyalty (or perhaps because of it) he was exiled, and rule of Stygia passed back to Levistus... without the prince being released from his frozen prison. Now Geryon fights an insurgency to retake his position while raging at Asmodeus, and Levistus rules telepathically from an iceberg while raging at Asmodeus. The entire scenario is speculated to be an attempt by Asmodeus to purge the two rivals of their worst tendencies, or create an opening for a more worthy would-be ruler to exploit.
      • Malbolge was once ruled by Moloch, who rebelled against Asmodeus upon the urging of his most trusted advisor, Malagard the Hag Countess. Moloch fled the plane after his defeat and the Hag Countess was installed in his place despite not being a baatezu, but then she was in turn replaced by Glasya, Asmodeus' own daughter, who had ended a rebellious phase and been rewarded by elevation to an Archduchess. She's since poached talented devils from other archdukes' courts and forced them to scramble to readjust their plans without antagonizing her, and by extension, her father. Meanwhile, Moloch is trying to raise a mercenary army to retake his former layer, but is stymied by the fact that every time he returns to Baator, he is demoted from an archdevil to a lowly imp.
      • Baalzebul was once ruler of both Malbolge and his own layer of Maladomini, but as punishment for his betrayal in the Reckoning, Asmodeus transformed Baalzebul into a disgusting sluglike creature, until he had spent a year like that for every lie he told a fellow devil. He's since finished his sentence and regained a humanoid form, but Baalzebul dearly wishes to repay Asmodeus for this humiliation.
      • Mephistopheles of Cania once toppled himself in the guise of "Baron Molikroth," in order to purge his court of conspirators. When he isn't scheming against Baalzebul, Mephistopheles is telling Asmodeus, to his face, how one day he will rule Hell. It's possible that Asmodeus keeps the openly disloyal archduke around because Mephistopheles is so determined that he shall be the one to overthrow Asmodeus that he interferes in the other archdukes' conspiracies to do the same.
    • 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 this, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Warhammer:
    • The various political scenes in the Empire's 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 S&M Elves at bay.
    • Prior to their revamp in 6th edition, the Bretonnians were heavily based on the decadent, narcissism-ruled French aristocracy under Louis XVI, to the point that the cult of Slaanesh, the Mad God of Sex Is Evil, was rampant throughout the nation. They've since become Knights In Shining Armor more likely to settle their offended senses of honor with a Trial by Combat than skullduggery.
    • Tilea is run by merchant princes and not nobles, but the region is renowned for the volatility and decadence of its upper crust. Poisoning and assassination are a regular fact of life, and just about anyone worth anything will hire a Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards (ogres are particularly favoured) as most Tileans won't trust other Tileans to guard themselves out of fear they've got an agenda (or is on someone else's payroll). The one exception where Tilea is less corrupt than The Empire is that Skaven infiltration is much less common: Tileans hate Skaven and would rather die than cut deals with them, as opposed to some of the Empire's nobility.
    • The Dark Elves' courts 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.
    • The Dark Elves likely inherited this tendency from the High Elves, who practice a downplayed example. The High Elves regularly engage in blackmail, espionage, rumour-mongering and Gambit Pileups a-plenty in their courts as the various nobles of various ranks and from various regions jockey for position and favour in the Phoenix King's court, to the extent that in certain rulebooks, which character in your High Elf army counted as its General was determined by a dice roll, not who had the highest Leadership value. Even the Phoenix King isn't entirely safe and is expected to play the game in a way good enough that no-one can accuse him of playing it (though an elected position, Phoenix Kings rule for life, but said rule can get rather impotent if the princes lack respect for the king, which they will if he lacks political clout). Unlike the Dark Elves, however, violence is limited to honour-duels (and also frowned upon when it happens), and murder is forbidden. The original High Elf/Dark Elf split comes from the one time the 'no murder in politics' rule was broken and the Dark Elves were the ones who agreed with said murder.
    • The Skaven are a species wide example. Any Skaven is by nature selfish, backstabbing, and cowardly, who believes that the only thing of importance is the survival and gain of the individual. They will engage in no shortage of assassinations, betrayals, and sabotage, with some warlords getting murdered on the spot by their ostensible allies in front of the others (it's implied that this is considered a perfectly legitimate way of rising in ranks). Even during times of war, different Skaven clans will spend as much time plotting against their "allies" instead of their actual opponents, and even then, the different Skaven in the clans will be plotting against their kin. The lore notes that this is probably the only reason they haven't already taken over the world.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Highborn, the leading nobility of each Imperial world, live sequestered from the impoverished masses they rule over in their comfy little spires and palaces, and the knowledge of etiquette is as important to them as the knowledge of poisons and assassination plots. Being the most important or most powerful Highborn in your court basically means having to live your entire life in paranoid terror, seeing assassins behind every corner, and being right. They essentially treat Imperial citizens as slaves or chattel, and may form entire noble syndicates ruling over solar systems. The Administratum doesn't particularly care what they do with their planets as long as they pay their tithes (because the Imperium is a Darker and Edgier version of The Federation), so they're unlikely to ever face consequences for their decadence.
    • The Dark Eldar 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.

  • As You Like It: The court is a treacherous place where everyone is miserable until they head to Arcadia.
  • 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.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac:
  • The royal family and their entourage in Into the Woods. When a rampaging Giant destroys the kingdom's village and even the palace, the princes are more concerned with chasing after women that aren't their wives. The royal steward only lets the Baker announce that a giant is on the loose due to Cinderella's influence. When they get incontrovertible proof of the Giant's existence, they plan to simply hide out the problem in another kingdom, leaving their subjects for dead.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier: The court of the Magic Kingdom. While Ja'far seeks to implement positive change for the Magic Kingdom, the Sultan’s court and then-Grand Vizier are only interested in maintaining their own lavish lifestyle at the expense of the people. They laugh when Ja'far proposed reforms, and go off to enjoy some opium. They cut off the royal entertainer’s ear to spite her, and later kidnap her for the Sultan when he declares she will be his wife.
  • Westeros: An American Musical: It's a little hard to parody A Song of Ice and Fire without having this trope show up. It's to the point that "Small Council", the play's counterpart to "Aaron Burr, Sir" from Hamilton, changes the "talk less, smile more" line to "trust less, conspire more". The following song, "Plot Development" is about several members of the royal court having their own little conspiracy underway.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy
    • Compilation of Final Fantasy VII: While there are no monarchs in the Urban Fantasy world of VII, the leadership and Executive Board of Shinra, Inc. have this dynamic; the death of President Shinra is met with complete apathy from everyone including his own son and heir Rufus Shinra, Professor Hojo tries to screw over everyone near the end of VII For Science!, Heidegger and Scarlet are opportunistic assholes who try to take power the moment it seems like Rufus is out of action, everyone is content to divert funding from Palmer's department in favor of their own efforts, and Rufus Shinra even once tried to usurp his own father prior to the events of VII. Essentially, the only honest member of Shinra's executives is Reeve Tuesti, who ends up defecting to AVALANCHE by the end of VII.
    • 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.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • High Rock, the homeland of the Bretons, is made up of endless multitude of city-states, principalities, baronies, duchies, and kingdoms that had, until the events of Daggerfall, resisted all attempts at centralization into a single culture or government. As such, their political intrigue is more cutthroat than is typical elsewhere in Tamriel, with the use of assassinations, spies, and double agents rampant. This has been mitigated somewhat after the Warp in The West, which converted High Rock's dozens of petty city-states into three "kingdoms," but still prevalent.
      • Although High Rock is the place highlighted in lore, Daggerfall shows that at the least the Redguard kingdom of Sentinel, in Hammerfell, is not much better.
    • In the Dawnguard DLC for 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:
    • The most obvious example is Orlais, which is based on medieval France. The unending machinations of the upper class are known as "The Great Game", and participation is considered something of a pastime. Orlesian nobles make extensive use of bards who are trained in—besides music—espionage, assassination, and sabotage. Even the servants engage in the Game, often working as spies and/or jockeying to improve their own position.
    • Then there's Orzammar, where the Noble Dwarf gets caught up in his younger brother Bhelen's machinations, forcing him to work with Bhelen or his rival Harrowmount. Neither choice is optimal, either. Harrowmount is kind but staunchly conservative, while Bhelan is straight out of A Song of Ice and Fire but progressive economically and socially.
    • You get to have a go at playing court politics in Dragon Age: Inquisition, when a quest sends you to a grand ball to prevent the Empress's assassination. It starts with you getting judged for your background (unlucky for you if you're anything but a non-mage human) and only gets more murky. If you do well you can get the person of your choice in charge of the Empire. If get tossed out and the whole kingdom dissolves into chaos as you fail to prevent the killing. The whole sequence features an absurd amount of murder, trickery and nice masks. And shoes, don't forget the shoes.
    • Vivienne, one of your companions in Inquisition, as well as advisers Leliana and Josephine are all accomplished players of the Game - Vivienne because she's the First Enchanter of the local circle and arcane adviser to the Empress, Josephine because she's the ambassador to Orlais from Antiva, and Leliana is a former Bard. Josephine's a former Bard as well, but she quit that job. Shockingly, Solas fits right in himself, even dropping his veneer a bit and becoming a slightly snooty aristocrat, and admitting enjoying court intrigue. Primarily because he was an Evanuris thousands of years ago, the ancient elven equivalent of Orlais.
    • While Orlais is the nation most notorious for their court intrigues, that's only because they're poetic enough to have a name for it. Other nations that engage in this trope are Tevinter (a nation ruled by mages where it's an open secret that any mage of political standing practices blood magic), Antiva (a nation with a Puppet King that's truly controlled by assassins and merchant leaders), and Orzammar (in a notable aversion to Our Dwarves Are All the Same). The Chantry, the setting's dominant religious sect, engages as well (unsurprisingly, they're headquartered in Orlais); they're well aware that their decrees shape the culture of the entire continent of Thedas, and clerics (including the Divine—the setting's Pope) are not above employing spies and assassins to do their dirty work.
  • 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.
  • Fire Emblem, as a primarily Medieval European Fantasy series pursuing a degree of versimilitude, has those crop up fairly often.
    • 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 All Along and his corpse is being used as a familiar by Anankos in his plot to destroy both Hoshido and Nohr.
    • In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the three countries of Fódlan all have this problem to varying but noticeable extents:
      • The Adrestian Empire is all but openly run by a group of corrupt high nobles who organized an insurrection in response to attempted consolidation of power by the emperor, Ionius IX, and reduced his status to Authority in Name Only. Their leader, Duke Ludwig von Aegir, in addition to usual trappings of an unscrupulous, avaricious noble, also sanctioned the inhumane experiments on the children of the royal family in an effort to make 'a peerless emperor' controlled by them. The experiments were performed by a group of dark mages who held little to no respect to the lives of their subjects, and the leader of those mages also posed as the emperor's brother-in-law and the Imperial regent who had been presumably killed by them before. Out of the eleven subjects, only one — Edelgard von Hresvelg — survived, at the cost of her hair color, a significant part of lifespan, and, implicitly, shattered previous belief in the world... and especially the Goddess. The horrors she endured also led to the determination to bring down the Crest nobility system that directly led to the suffering of her family, as well as the Church of Seiros that condoned and proliferated said system — with any means and at any cost. As her very first act upon ascending to the Adrestian throne, Edelgard began to cleanse the system by dismissing and imprisoning several of the most corrupt and uncooperative high nobles, particularly Duke Aegir — an act the player may witness firsthand on her route. At the end of her own route, after reuniting Fódlan, she dismantles the nobility altogether, with positions in the government instead given to those who earn them by personal merits and skills.
      • Behind its image of The Good Kingdom ruled by shiny knights faithful to their liege, the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus hides a court that rivals their Adrestian counterpart in both decadence and deadliness. Most notably, the previous king of Faerghus, Lambert Egitte Blaiddyd, fell victim to a scheme by several court members discontent with reforms pushed by him. They — along with Lambert's queen Patricia who was desperate to meet her daughter from the previous marriage — contacted the Court Mage, Cornelia Arnim, to orchestrate an ambush on the delegation led by Lambert to the neighboring land of Duscur. The attack, which left King Lambert and most of the delegation dead, was subsequently blamed on the population of Duscur, resulting in a massacre of the country by the Faerghus army. Also, Lambert's son Dimitri, who personally witnessed the tragedy, was thoroughly impacted by the event and lived to seek retribution for it ever since. Later it gets even worse: on three of four routes, Cornelia orders the assassination of Lambert's brother Rufus who ruled the kingdom as a regent, then pins it on Dimitri before joining with a group of nobles to surrender most of the kingdom to the invading Imperial army. The crown prince narrowly escapes execution and spends the next few years in exile which damages his already fragile psyche even further. On the remaining route, the kingdom is somewhat more stable, but Cornelia still tries to backstab it during the battle for Arianrhod — since Cornelia's, or precisely her placeholder's, true allegiance is with the aforementioned Mad Scientist mages.
      • The Roundtable of the Leicester Alliance is marked by intrigue and disunity, as a large chunk of its members seek for personal benefit at the expense of the nation as a whole. The new heir of the ruling family, Claude von Riegan, finds the infighting between families ruling parts of the Alliance so heavy, when the war breaks out he is effectively forced to pit the pro-Adrestian and pro-Faerghus/anti-Adrestian factions against each other while maintaining an appearance of neutrality. Eventually, it becomes so overwhelming for Claude — who, by the way, has another throne to claim — that he books out of it altogether on every route, including his own (though there are two exceptionsSpecifically...).
    • In Fire Emblem Engage, the court of Elusia is similar to Nohr's in many ways. Hyacinth, the king of Elusia, had multiple mistresses, which resulted in the queen(Ivy's mother) clashing with the other concubines, forcing out all of Hyacinth's illegitimate children apart from Hortensia. After Hortensia's mother died, Hortensia would not have survived had she not used her talents and charisma to make allies in court, just as her mother did. It doesn't help that Hyacinth encourages worship of the Fell Dragon Sombron, or that Hyacinth falls under Sombron's thrall after the Fell Dragon awakens. Unsurprisingly, Ivy plans to change things once she becomes queen.
  • Human society in Guild Wars 2 is dominated by these, which may have something to do with their decline. Divinity's Reach is controlled by ministers scheming against the Queen. One of them, Minister Caudecus, is a major antagonist in the personal story and Living World Season 3.
    • The nobles of Vabbi emphasize the decadent aspect of this trope. These people are all Upperclass Twits who devote all their time to partying and relaxing, completely oblivious to the abuses of their Mummy ruler or the suffering of the common folk due to the war.
  • In Darkest Dungeon, the Court was once a home to this, a vast collection of nobles and visiting dignitaries from surrounding lands who gradually debased themselves with drink and games until they slid into horrific debauchery involving illicit drugs and cruel, murderous sport. They were so excessively debased that when the Ancestor proposed they drink a wine made of vampire blood, they accepted it eagerly, and barely halted their horrific indulgences even while being transformed into monstrous insects. By the time of the game's events, the Court is now a collection of crazed, inhuman mosquito-vampires who clothe themselves in the trappings of nobility.
  • In Shuyan Saga, the prosperous kingdom of Zhong Rong, a long way from any fighting, is not big on taking action. They seem to lean more towards the overly-sensitive, artistically-minded kind of decadence than debauchery (breaking mid-session to look at plum blossoms), but it has the same result — they don't want to send troops.
  • World of Warcraft
    • The Highborne night elves all respected and loved Queen Azshara and would have never dreamt of betraying her. The backstabbing happened in her royal court where nobles and high-ranking mages would spitefully betray and slander each other to vie for their queen's attention.
    • One of the Warcraft universe's afterlives, Revendreth, has the Ember Court, originally run by the Sire Denathrius. Despite originally being made to punish the wicked, the denizens of the realm gradually created a culture of greed and gluttony around exploiting the realm's sinful souls for their own ends. After overthrowing Denathrius, the Venthyr player is actually given the option of creating their own Ember Court to help reunite the guardian covenants of the various afterlives into working together in a uniquely social setting.
  • The main premise of King of the Castle is that all of the land's nobles are trying to usurp the King, and must enact a three-part scheme in order to do so, usually resulting in at least the current King's demise.

    Visual Novels 
  • 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.
  • In Sunrider, the royal court of the Holy Ryuvian Empire was like this according to Sola di Ryuvia. She describes it as a place where saying the wrong thing or snubbing the wrong person could easily get you marked for death, and believes that her father, the second son of the Emperor, had his older brother and father assassinated in a bid for the throne (which he then blamed on his bastard half-brother, Crow Harbor).
    Sola: The Ryuvian court of my era was… a snake pit. Betrayals. Assassinations. Machinations. They were a part of the palace culture.

    Web Comics 
  • The Elven court in 8-Bit Theater is all assholes. The Elven Nominal Hero Thief isn't much better, though.
  • The Vampire Lords in Midnight's War still carry many ancient rivalries they had before they revealed themselves to the mortals. However, disputes among them are highly formalized and cordial, to avoid disrupting their blood collection.
  • In My Dear Cold-Blooded King, the Blood King's court is filled with political maneuvering and death plots. He fosters a false reputation for being ruthlessly murderous simply to stave off assasination attempts.
  • Azure City in The Order of the Stick has a very prominent nobility, with cloak and dagger methods being the norm for them. Lord Shojo began a practice of feigning insanity to avoid being assassinated, and his successor Hinjo accurately guesses he'll get a ninja death squad shortly after he takes the throne.

    Web Original 
  • The Empire in Breaking Providence is rife with corruption where things like a noble's son being a bandit lord is common place. Most notably, when a Dark General is captured, she is sentenced to be subject to "Divine Justice", which translates to letting the nobility rape her to death for a fee. The actual queen isn't corrupt, merely caught somewhere between being unwilling and unable to actually clean house.
  • 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.
  • A Practical Guide to Evil:
    • The Court of Ater is expected to be this, as all of the in-fighting between nobles keeps them from causing trouble outside of the Tower. The Black Knight describes it as the most lethal environment short of an actual battlefield. Food and drink at their parties is routinely poisoned, but usually only in a way that will cause humiliation to anyone inept enough to attend without learning the antidote in advance and stupid enough to then eat or drink.
      Black: Praesi nobility has a regrettable propensity for stabbing.
      Captain: And poisoning. And blood magic. Calling the Tower a snake pit is doing a disservice to snakes; they don't usually bite unless provoked. Some of the fuckers up there will have you killed for wearing robes that look too much like theirs.
    • The Winter Court also apply, being the fairy court more aligned with evil.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.

    Real Life 
A bit of a Truth in Television trope, since nations with absolute rulers and a wealthy aristocracy have tended to breed Decadent Courts like flies. Imperial Rome, its medieval continuation the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire, Imperial China (and later communist-controlled 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.

  • The Spartans were an entire city-state made up of this: while the plurality of societies around this era had slaves, Sparta was special in that the amount of slaves in actually surpassed the amount of true citizens, with the Helots being treated as little more than property for the Spartiates to use. The Spartiates ruling class themselves did no labour of their own and delegated everything ranging from building, to farming, to housework to the Helots, while male Spartiates are trained essentially from birth to be soldiers and playing political games and female Spartiates passed the time by playing sports. One of the rites of passage for a male Spartiate was even hunting down and killing an Helot - in fact killing Helots was essentially a social necessity for them because if the slaves decided to rise up, the fact they were the majority would have been enough to wipe out the laurel-resting Spartiates, a fact which Athenians attempted to exploit by inciting rebellions.
  • The Soviet Union had several examples of this:
    • In the immediate aftermath of the Red October, Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks had to share power with other revolutionary groups like the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. There was a lot of political maneuvering as Lenin and his Co-Dragons Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky deprived their rivals of power, along with brutal repressions of dissent like the Kronstadt Rebellion.
    • When the Bolsheviks had seized full power and Lenin's health was failing after several strokes, much of his inner circle began maneuvering to see which of them would be the Dragon Ascendant. Stalin and Trotsky were the most heated rivals and likeliest successors. Their feud ended with Stalin succeeding Lenin and Trotsky being exiled from the USSR.
    • When Stalin took full control, he created a sense of fear and paranoia in his own inner circle. He liberally used The Purge as a means of reminding his cronies that no one was truly safe, and any of them could be next if he decided they were no longer useful to him. This promoted a toxic political culture that left only the most sleazy, corrupt, and amoral people in power by Stalin's end as they are the only ones ruthless enough to do so, willing to do anything to survive and advance in Stalin's 'court' even if it means scheming, selling out and screwing over even their colleagues.
    • When Stalin himself died, several of his cronies engaged in a deadly power struggle to succeed him. Nikita Khrushchev won the fight, and had his main rival, the serial rapist Lavrenty Beria, arrested and executed in cold blood. With his death, the power struggles became far less deadly. When Molotov tried and failed to depose Khrushchev, the latter had the former shuttled off to a diplomatic post in Mongolia.
    • More generally, the somewhat "puritanical" version of this trope was in effect in Stalin's USSR. There was officially not supposed to be any decadence, luxuries, or other stuff of the sort, but there were plenty of luxuries for Josef 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 the 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.
    • It is worth noting that some historians contest the above narrative, as it is mainly the interpretation of the USSR from an American perspective, who are known opponents of the Soviets. The truth may be less black-and-white and clear-cut than in this trope example.
  • 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. No matter if your mother was your father's favorite, one of his wives, concubines, or slaves, all of his sons had equal claim to the throne and represented a threat to you so long as they lived. It didn't help the Janissaries, the Sultan's bodyguards who eventually became corrupt, also at times chose a new heir to fulfill their political agenda. The Ottoman royal harem was no less of a viper's nest, with concubines competing among themselves for the Sultan's affections and to secure their children as the heir so they can become the newest Valide Sultan or Queen-Mother. To this end, they were not above conspiring with eunuchs to get rid of overly ambitious rivals, like stuffing their bodies into bags and throwing them into the sea or gelding them to prevent them from producing competitors of the throne. It's believed that the average life expectancy of every new concubine was 5 years.
  • 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 helped inspire 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 (failing to master the "accomplishing much" part of what Benjamin Franklin would call "the art of accomplishing much while appearing to accomplish little"). 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's 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  A system where courtiers had to vie for the king's favour and conduct intrigues against each other was hit and miss in ensuring that the most competent men were assigned the important state positions. Sometimes it worked, such as when the grossly corrupt finance minister Nicolas Fouquet abruptly was stripped of his office and possessions and imprisoned for life through the machinations of his rival Colbert, who took his place and greatly improved taxation. On the other hand, many a French commanding general in the War of the Spanish Succession was better at currying Louis XIV's favour than 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 Monarchy's 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 the bankruptcy of the state.
    • On the other hand, the French court that preceded Louis's reforms was just as bad. The Frondeurs repeatedly struggled with Louis's mother Anne of Austria and Cardinal Mazarin for power even during a long war with Spain, intriguing against the royal household and each other, with one of the best French generals even defecting to the Spanish. Louis didn't create a decadent French court so much as he reformed it to one that better benefited the state (at least for a time), particularly in cleaning up a lot of the aristocratic corruption.
  • 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 Germany'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 of total defeat. Even though his main priority was overseeing the country's military economy, Speer had to distract himself from 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.
    • Part of this was because Hitler himself deliberately encouraged infighting and Klingon Promotion in the NSDAP and the government, as he thought it would lead to the most capable people rising to power. The constant infighting also served a practical purpose; competition kept any one subordinate from amassing enough power to threaten Hitler. It's telling that the only time Hitler had to take direct action against his underlings (the Night of the Long Knives when he crushed [among others] the SA "Brownshirts") was early on before he had his Decadent Court fully set up.
  • 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.
  • The Ptolemies - who ruled Egypt for 300 years following the death of Alexander the Great - are especially famous for three things; sibling marriage among rulers (a long-standing Egyptian custom which they appropriated), recurring civil wars among family members, and a lavish lifestyle that made the early Romans gape in shock and envy. During the so-called Hellenistic Age (roughly 323 - 30 B.C.E.), the Ptolemies were the wealthiest rulers in the Mediterranean, and they threw parties and spent money like nobody’s business.
    • While many rulers of the dynasty lived only for such parties and enabled a "kill or be killed" mentality among their relatives, Cleopatra VII was notable for her intelligence and political savvy (she spoke nine languages, presided over an intellectual revival in Alexandria, and used her magnificent wealth - among other things - to keep her kingdom from being annexed by Rome for nearly 20 years).
  • The Roman Empire had a lot of this, as numerous Legion generals attempted to usurp the throne, Senators attempted to humiliate or murder their rivals, the Praetorian Guard murdering Emperors who didn't pay them enough or upset them in some way, and more. This is a major reason why the Western Roman Empire failed: due to Senators and merchants not wanting to pay to support the army, plus would-be usurpers and civil wars impacting the quality of the Legions, the Empire eventually collapsed under its own weight with only the Byzantine Empire managing to endure despite this.
  • Despite being meant to set a good example for Christendom as a whole, the Holy See has gone through multiple periods of this, with broader consequences for both the territory it directly rules and the entirety of the Catholic Church.
    • One infamous such era was the Saeculum obscurum (dark age), also known as the Pornocracy (Rule of the Harlots), which lasted from 904 to 964. During this time, the Papacy was heavily influenced by a corrupt aristocratic family called the Theophylacti and their allies. Corruption and hedonism flourished, and many popes who reigned during this time are known or suspected to have been sexually active.
    • Things got pretty deadly and decadent during The Renaissance as well. Rodrigo Borgia, for example, was infamously elected in the 1492 papal conclave after he bribed other cardinals into supporting him, and he himself became a cardinal because he was appointed by his uncle, Pope Callixtus III. Many popes financed building projects and their hedonistic lifestyles through the sale of indulgences; backlash against such obvious money-grubbing helped kickstart The Protestant Reformation.
  • In her letters, Louis XIV's sister-in-law Elizabeth Charlotte, Madame Palatine wrote to her relatives and friends complaining about the increasingly decadent French court at Versailles at the end of 17th and beginning of 18th century:
    I believe that the histories that will be written about this court after we are gone will be better and more entertaining than any novel, and I am afraid that those who come after us will not be able to believe them and think they are just fairy tales.
    • The Memoirs of Louis de Rouvroy, better known as the Duke of Saint-Simon, or simply Saint-Simon, which cover significantly the same years are a goldmine in this regard. He describes the petty precedence quarrels (about which he was not so above himself), the endless slanderous gossip, the machinations of less-than-competent people to get positions of power/authority, etc.
      • They're particularly interesting for giving an alternate point of view towards Madame's (2nd spouse of Monsieur, the notoriously Camp Gay brother of Louis XIV), the Palatine Princess, whose writings, while invaluable, are often cruel and far from objective towards people she didn't like. Same can be said of Saint-Simon of course. In fact his Memoirs are far more famed in France than the Palatine letters.
      • Saint-Simon doesn't even bother to maintain the masquerade of Louis XIV "secretly" marrying Madame de Maintenon. He makes clear that everyone at the Court is in the know, yet cannot mention, even less criticize it, because it's guaranteed disgrace. He goes into lenghty descriptions of how the Maintenon does all she can to assure that Madame de Montespan's bastards and bastardresses will have an eminent position after the King's death, and marry prestigious aristocrats. It's because she was what amounts to being their nurse and basically raised them while their mother was focused onto keeping her Favorite's status.
  • King Edward IV of England was a warrior king, who achieved great victories at the Battle of Towton and the Battle of Tewkesbury, and was the longest serving Yorkist king during the Wars of the Roses. At 6'4'' he was tall, handsome and affable, and when he wasn't winning political and military victories, he was indulging in wine, food and women with his cadre of male favorites. In short, he ran his court like a Medieval frat house. He famously alienated key allies by marrying for love, but that didn't stop him from taking many mistresses, fathering many bastards, and after he was done with war, eating and drinking himself to an early death that would have far reaching historical consequences.

Alternative Title(s): Deadly Decadent Court


Court Culture

Corruption in the Chinese court

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