Law 24: Play the Perfect Courtier


The perfect courtier thrives in a world where everything revolves around power and political dexterity. He has mastered the art of indirection; he flatters, yields to superiors, and asserts power over others in the most oblique and graceful manner. Learn and apply the laws of courtier-ship and there will be no limit to how far you can rise in the court.

In the past the court garnered around the ruler, and had many functions: Besides keeping the ruler amused, it was a way to solidify the hierarchy of royalty, nobility, and the upper classes, and to keep the nobility both subordinate and close to the ruler, so that he could keep an eye on them. The court serves power in many ways, but most of all it glorifies the ruler, providing him with a microcosmic world that must struggle to please him.

16 Successful Courtier Plays

1. They please but are not pleasing too much.
2. Obeying but somehow distinguishing himself from the other courtiers.
3. Never distinguishing himself so far as to make the ruler insecure.
4. Have mastered the science of manipulating people.
5. They make the king feel more kingly;
6. They make every-one else fear their power.
7. They are magicians of appearance, knowing that most things at court are judged by how they seem.
8. They are gracious and polite.
9. Their aggression is veiled and indirect.
10. Masters of the word, they never say more than necessary.
11. They get the most out of a compliment or hidden insult.
12. They are magnets of pleasure— People want to be around them because they know how to please.
13. They neither fawn nor humiliate themselves.
14. They are wizards in the accumulation of influence
15. They become the king’s favorites, enjoying the benefits of that position.
16. They often end up more powerful than the ruler.

The royal court may have more or less disappeared, or at least lost its power, but courts and courtiers still exist because power still exists. The laws that govern court politics are as timeless as the laws of power. There is much to be learned, then, from great courtiers past and present.

The 15 Laws of Court Politics

1. Avoid Ostentation. It is never prudent to prattle on about yourself or call too much attention to your actions. The more you talk about your deeds the more suspicion you cause. You also stir up enough envy among your peers to induce treachery and backstabbing.

2. Practice Nonchalance. Never seem to be working too hard. Your talent must appear to flow naturally, with an ease that makes people take you for a genius rather than a workaholic. It is better for them to marvel at how gracefully you have achieved your accomplishment than to wonder why it took so much work.

3. Be Frugal with Flattery. It may seem that your superiors cannot get enough flattery, but too much of even a good thing loses its value. It also stirs up suspicion among your peers. Learn to flatter indirectly—by down-playing your own contribution, for example, to make your master look better.

4. Arrange to Be Noticed. There is a paradox: You cannot display yourself too brazenly, yet you must also get yourself noticed. This task requires much art. It is often initially a matter of being seen, in the literal sense. Pay attention to your physical appearance, then, and find a way to create a distinctive—a subtly distinctive—style and image.

5. Alter Your Style and Language According to the Person You Are Dealing With. The pseudo-belief in equality—the idea that talking and acting the same way with everyone, no matter what their rank, makes you somehow a paragon of civilization—is a terrible mistake. Those below you will take it as a form of condescension, which it is, and those above you will be offended, although they may not admit it. You must change your style and your way of speaking to suit each person. This is not lying, it is acting, and acting is an art, not a gift from God. Learn the art.

6. Never Be the Bearer of Bad News. The king kills the messenger who brings bad news: This is a cliché but there is truth to

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