The Old Estates
The Old Estates are the ancient, uniquely privileged aristocratic families of San Dorado. Their origin lies in old Writs of Tithe and Sequester issued from the 10th century onward: compulsions of arms and tribute placed on local great men, compensated in return with immutable freedoms and prerogatives. From the interplay of these rights and obligations arose the primogenial patriciate of San Dorado: the Old Estates, a tightly knit class of powerful clans invested by centuries of esoteric liberties, interrelated through blood and marriage, bound in arcane webs of duty, obligation, custom and commitment.
The promulgation of Writs was formally abolished centuries ago, in 1606. Since then many of the Old Estates were snuffed out by time, treason or simple tough luck. Others have endured, their wealth rising and falling with the tides of fortune, their political and social influence undimmed. The Old Estates are some of San Dorado’s most infamous names: Ashcroft and Tarielka, Belseram and Santarium, San’Jon and Sinclair. They are, without fail, exceedingly protective of their status, property and exclusive rights. The scope and particulars of these assembled privileges vary between dynasties and is sometimes not fully known outside the family that holds them: fine points and technicalities could be argued and interpreted, and must therefore be jealously guarded with veils of ambiguity, sophistry and tradition.
All the Old Estates predate the most modern form of the Community of the Companies of San Dorado
by a significant margin. And by ancient custom, based on the historic formulation of the writs of compulsion at their root, the Estates are considered right-and-duty-bearing units. They uniquely retain the right to own shares in the Community as a dynastic house. This is arguably the most important of all their myriad freedoms, and the root of their vast and abiding influence in the affairs of the city.
As far back as the written history of San Dorado goes there has always been a council, or tribunal, of the great men*, the Conti
, the Old Estates. This is the Sanhedrin, the ‘sitting together’, that once ruled the entire city. That function has long been superseded by a more formal government in which the myriad factions of San Dorado have their share. But the Sanhedrin still exists. The exclusive meeting ground of the city’s most highborn dynasties is the Isarnon Barbican, a late-19th century skyscraper located in the heart of Shevirat, known across the city as simply ‘The Sanhedrin’. It is a temple dedicated to maintaining San Dorado's most ancient collusions, and the secret meeting place of the Circle of the Blind Angel.
* I'm using 'men' here because 'great person' doesn't sound quite right, but San Dorado has a long and proud history of affording all genders and sexes equal opportunities to be stabbed in the back.