Friday, October 9, 2009

The Storm is Coming! #11: Too Many Amyrlins: What a Witches' Brew!

Too Many Amyrlins: What a Witches' Brew!

By Linda

In 2005-6, after some lengthy and productive discussions with Dominic, I decided to compile everything I could find about the laws and customs of the Aes Sedai. Just about everything Aes Sedai do is according to, or influenced by, custom or law, and consequently there are a great many of both; so many that I ended up with two large essays: one on the laws and customs of the Aes Sedai administration and the other on those regarding all initiates of the Tower.

The first of these essays, Aes Sedai Laws and Customs: Administration, is now republished here on the Thirteenth Depository and contains information on the customs and laws of Tar Valon, the Ajahs, the Amyrlin and Keeper, the Hall and Sitters, and the Mistress of Novices, with real world comparisons where appropriate.

In this post I wish to look at some pertinent aspects of the laws regarding the Amyrlin.

Currently the Aes Sedai have an embarrassing abundance of Amyrlins and scheming-Amyrlins-in-waiting. Some are rather better behaved than others, but the fact remains there should only be one of them. (With the wannabes firmly under control.) How do the Aes Sedai legally get rid of unwanted Amyrlins?

Of course, first they have to figure out which one/s they don’t want, and which one they do!

Raising an Amyrlin

Strictly speaking, neither Elaida nor Egwene are legal Amyrlins, since neither had all Ajahs represented when they were elected. However, Elaida can claim that the Blues have since abandoned the Tower. Her decree disbanding the Blue Ajah is probably as much political necessity as a result of her hatred of the Blues, allowing her Hall to pass proposals requiring the greater consensus (and there has been at least one of these, see below).

During the ceremony to raise the Amyrlin, the candidate and her three sponsors mutually pledge heart, soul and life for each other (Lord of Chaos, In the Hall of the Sitters). This implies that unsatisfactory behaviour of one of her sponsors can affect an Amyrlin’s reign (or life) and that of an Amyrlin her sponsors’ careers or lives. Egwene’s sponsors were: Sheriam, Morvrin and Myrelle. We don’t know who Elaida’s were, if she even had any (they seem to have skimped on ceremony a bit due to subterfuge and haste); possibly two of them were the other two Red Sitters, Pevara and Teslyn, but that still leaves one other. It would be most interesting if one (or more!) of Elaida’s sponsors was exposed as Black.

It is expected that a new Amyrlin chooses her Keeper and Mistress of Novices from the Amyrlin’s former Ajah, although there is no law or custom for this. Such favouritism is equivalent to nepotism in the Catholic Church, where in former centuries Popes (the closest real world equivalent of the Amyrlin) would install a nephew as their Cardinal Camerlengo or Private Secretary. Popes unable to do this were weak ones yielding to the most powerful faction in the College of Cardinals, as Elaida installed Alviarin as Keeper to gain the support of the White (and the Black) Ajah in the Hall (The Fires of Heaven, Prologue).

Nepotism is a difficult issue for Amyrlins; on one hand they are expected to appoint officials from their former Ajah and to have an ideology and leadership style consistent with their former Ajah, and on the other, they are considered to be of no Ajah, favouring none.


The Amyrlin's word is law and has been for over 3000 years (The Great Hunt, Summoned). The Amyrlin can issue any decree she wishes, and we have seen three young Amyrlins each make decrees which contravened laws or customs and yet were accepted. They suffered political difficulties, because there are checks and balances to the Amyrlin’s power in the form of the Hall and perhaps also the Ajah Heads. The Hall seldom dares infringe far on the Amyrlin Seat’s authority, unless it is united against the Amyrlin ( Crossroads of Twilight, A Mark).

The Amyrlin can lose authority, especially with the Hall, by going against custom and law (Lord of Chaos, The Amyrlin is Raised) or making unwise decisions. She may find herself forced into taking on a public penance (A Crown of Swords, Prologue), or be unable to get the Hall to accept or act on her decrees, or have her activities restricted (A Crown of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike), or even be deposed or forced to resign. This could happen to either Egwene or Elaida, or both. One advantage the Amyrlin has is that whatever the Hall votes, none of the proposals can be carried forward without a decree from her (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences). If Egwene wasn’t highly skilled in Tel’aran’rhiod and thus able to convene her Hall there, she would have already been deposed due to not being able to fulfill the duties of her office. Lelaine alone would have seen to that.

The Hall’s authority is not far short of the Amyrlin’s and an invitation to the Hall is actually a summons (Crossroads of Twilight, A Chat with Siuan). The Hall can conduct trials, determine failure, lay blame and propose punishment of Aes Sedai and, most importantly for this post, it can depose an Amyrlin, or pressure her to resign.

It is the Hall’s place to negotiate with dissenting groups of Aes Sedai and resolve rebellion ( Crossroads of Twilight, A Mark), or with non-Aes Sedai groups, and also to decide whether to continue using the Oath Rod ( Crossroads of Twilight, What the Oath Rod Can Do). The Halls will shortly have to do all of these things.

There is also much political rivalry between the Amyrlin Seat and the Hall:

While the Amyrlin Seat is by law the absolute power in the White Tower, in fact her power has always depended on how well she could lead, manage or intimidate the Hall, as there are many ways that the Hall can balk any Amyrlin's plans.

- A Crown of Swords Glossary

Tower law provides a way to forestall these shenanigans when the Tower has declared war: the Amyrlin directs the war by decree and the Hall must approve any decree regarding the war with the greater consensus and carry them out as promptly as possible (The Path of Daggers, The Law). Strictly speaking, the rebels are under martial law, and so must obey Egwene regarding the prosecution against Elaida. Of course, arguing over what does and doesn’t comprise orders about the war is a great way to slow things right down…

If the Amyrlin finds the Hall unworkable, she

may call for any Sitter to resign her chair, or indeed for all to, and that call must be heeded. This is seldom done, however, as nothing stops an Ajah from returning the same Sitter or Sitters except a custom that sisters not serve again in the Hall after leaving it. As an indication of how serious such a call for mass resignation would be, it is reliably believed that it has happened exactly four times in the more than three-thousand-year history of the White Tower, and that while two of those resulted in the selection of an entirely, or nearly, new Hall, the other two resulted in the resignation and exile of the Amyrlin involved.

- A Crown of Swords, Glossary

So dismissing the entire Hall is risky and thus only a last resort. Elaida’s belief that the Amyrlin has absolute power may make her foolishly arrogant enough to consider unseating her Hall in this way. Interestingly, mutiny of the rank-and-file Aes Sedai against the Hall and Amyrlin has occurred six times (see below), which is more often than mass resignation.

Resignation of the Amyrlin

Resignation has happened in times of rebellion, or turbulence and stalemate with the Hall and when the rank and file Aes Sedai mutinied against the Hall and Amyrlin, although we have no information on the procedure. In the Catholic Church the resignation of the Pope has been the typical means for ending schisms. In 1417, at the end of the Great Western Schism, one Pope resigned and the other Pope and an antipope were deposed. As I showed in my recent post A Waste of Aes Sedai, the Aes Sedai are under a schism and it may be that one or more of the Amyrlins will resign or be pressured to in order to end it.

Deposing an Amyrlin

This requires the greater consensus in the Hall: a minimum of eleven Sitters with the presence of at least one Sitter from each Ajah except the Amyrlin’s former Ajah (which won’t be informed of the vote until afterwards) and all Sitters standing in favour (A Crown of Swords, Glossary). It is not done without good reasons and the Amyrlin is supposed to be publicly charged and tried first, and given the opportunity to defend herself against the charges (The Fires of Heaven, The Practice of Diffidence). Elaida broke custom, and came very close to breaking law, in the way she had Siuan deposed summarily (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences).

An Amyrlin can expect to be deposed for hiding one of the Forsaken from justice, as Egwene did with Moghedien, and for unsuccessful scheming and large scale failures such as kidnapping the Dragon Reborn (or unsuccessfully attempting to do so) or sending a large, but inadequate, number of sisters to capture male channellers so that they are captured instead (The Path of Daggers, An Unwelcome Return), as Elaida has done. It is considered probably too harsh a penalty for not informing the Hall of the Dragon Reborn and hiding him from the Tower (The Fires of Heaven, The Practice of Diffidence) as Siuan did. Either Egwene or Elaida are at risk of being deposed: Elaida for outrageous and divisive decrees and the failure of her missions, Egwene for being captured and because Lelaine really wants her job badly enough to commit serious crimes, as we will see in my next post in a couple of days’ time.

Deposed Amyrlins are often stilled as well, if they broke serious laws or brought the Tower into disrepute. The Aes Sedai try to ensure that a deposed Amyrlin will not be a rival to any new Amyrlin.

False Amyrlins

The whole matter of being a deposed Amyrlin is really serious during a schism. There have been rebellions which raised their own Amyrlin, an equivalent to schisms in the Catholic church which elected antipopes. A false Amyrlin, by definition the Amyrlin of the losing side, must be stilled and executed by law (Knife of Dreams, Prologue). Such an extreme penalty alone would not encourage any Amyrlin in this situation to concede her position for another.

Convening the Hall

Either the Amyrlin or one or more Sitters may convene the Hall. The minimum number of Sitters for a legal session of the Hall, a quorum, is eleven (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting) and they can commence once the quorum is reached.

For the greater consensus, at least one Sitter from each Ajah is required, with a minimum of eleven Sitters present and every Sitter who is present must stand (A Crown of Swords, Glossary). The greater consensus is required for the Amyrlin’s decrees regarding the war when the Tower has declared war, for raising an Amyrlin, and for the removal of an Amyrlin or Keeper (in which case their former Ajah is not represented).

Of course there might have to be a certain amount of urging for the removal of an Amyrlin to be considered. Both Halls, particularly that of the White Tower, have been disunited, and barely able to make any decisions.

Note that neither Hall has one Sitter from each of the seven Ajahs. Elaida is two Ajahs down, since the Red Sitters are also (or will be) absent from the Tower Hall for a time, but they wouldn’t be called to the Sitting which would consider deposing Elaida. Of course their very absence may give the other Sitters the opportunity to discuss this very issue. However, ideally the next Amyrlin of the united Tower would be freely elected by Sitters of all seven Ajahs.

Elaida managed to achieve the greater consensus and get Keeper Alviarin removed, due to declaring the Blue Ajah disbanded.


If the Hall and Amyrlin of either side remain locked in turmoil or stalemate, so that inconsistent or ill-advised decisions are made, or even none at all, the sisters can mutiny – rise up and force the Hall and Amyrlin to resign as has happened six times previously in Tower history (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory) according the the secret histories. Neither the Amyrlin nor the Hall is immune to being held accountable.

So if all else fails…


Timmay said...

I just can't see Lelaine achieving her dream and get herself elected, not for anything more than a chapter or two at the most and that would be rather pathetic. There just isn't enough time for that, even with three books left.

I know Jordan's been paralleling the Great Schism, but he doesn't have to follow history that closely. I think Lelaine's illegal shenanigans are going to blow up in her face, and Romanda will decisively triumph over her, even though she won't beceome Amyrlin either.

Fanatic-Templar said...

Well this is fortuitous. I was wondering if you could explain to me Siuan's statement to Moiraine (in private) back in The Great Hunt about "Only twice since the Breaking of the World has the Amyrlin Seat been stripped of stole and staff."

Surely that can't be, so how can Siuan say it, bound by the Three Oaths as she is?

Linda said...

Ben: The answer to that depends on whether Jordan had his history sorted out or not at that time. Myself, I think not, since in that same session Siuan said she was the fifth Amyrlin in a row raised from the Blue, which is hooey: there were two Blues, then Sierin (Grey) and then another two Blue Amyrlins.

Apart from that, Siuan was telling, or perhaps reminding, Moiraine of the publicly available history of the Tower: the two Red Amyrlins who were stripped of stole and staff.

Two Amrlihs resigned after sacking their Halls. That may or may not be gebneral Aes Sedai knowledge.

And then there's the six secret sackings of Hall and Amyrlin by mutiny of the rank and file Aes Sedai known only to the Halls, Keepers and Amyrlins. Siuan absolutely couldn't tell Moiraine about this, because it would be treason. Since this isn't a legal deposition of the Amyrlin alone, I guess it didn't count to Siuan as the Amyrlin "being stripped of stole and staff," more as a general nuking of the whole Tower executive.

But it's just as likely a mistake/change of mind on RJ's part since there was that definitely incorrect statement about 5 Blue Amyrlins in a row.

Linda said...

Timmay: I don't mind Lelaine looking pathetic!

I threw it in as a possibility that is worth considering, in the light of real world history. Certainly the times are as chaotic and, dare I say, absurd currently in the books as they were during the Great Schism.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... Why are we assuming Pevara and Javindhra will be absent from the Tower for long? They Travelled to Andor and will Travel back, right?


Linda said...

Because they have gone to one of the most dangerous places on the mainland. It's not a given they'd even get out of there alive. Pevara had her doubts.

They were also planning on returning with Warders. Since they were neither planning, nor given permission, to bond men against their will, they will have to speak to, assess, and then ask and maybe persuade one or more men to be bonded. That all takes time.

They're aware this is probably their only chance at the BT, too, so they'll persist until they either succeed, or they seriously fear for their lives.

We don't know when that scene in the Epilogue took place, and likewise we have no idea how long they were there trying to get Warders.