An ancient house, long known for maintaining ties to industry and aristocracy alike, the Van Gelder of the Known Worlds fell from grace four and a half centuries ago... but their recently rediscovered kin on Yathrib, separated by 950 years of divergent history, never lost their status as one of the 'Great Houses' of the world, and are now radically different in culture to their kin beyond the jumpgate.
History of the House
With their roots in a coalition of Dutch, Swiss, and Belgian zaibatsu that formed on Urth to send joint expeditions through the jumpgate during the early years of human star-travel, the Van Gelder lay claim to a history that spans more than two and a half millennia. It has not, however, tended to be a terribly exciting narrative - though for the great majority of the time, it was a tale of near-unbroken success. Quiet, steady accumulation yielded great dividends over a span of centuries.
Seeing the writing on the wall for the First Republic, the coalition acquired several outlying planets, intermarried members of its leading families, and formed House Van Gelder (named for the Chief Executive Officer of the merged corporation) to set itself on the path to becoming one of the leading noble houses of the First Republic.
It remained a Great House throughout the interregnum, the Second Republic, and into the Dark Ages - and it was in the wake of the Second Republic's collapse that the Yathribi jumpgate closed in 4093, sealing off the holy world of visions from the rest of human space.
In the main part of the Known Worlds, the Van Gelder retained their prominent position into the 46th century, and were among those to ally with Vladimir as he became the first man to reunify those worlds still accessible through the jumpweb. The new Emperor, however, broke promises made to a number of his allies - including the Van Gelder, who were among those Houses to turn on their betrayer, seeking to bring him low.
They failed, and only survived by surrendering to one of those Houses with whom Vladimir had not broken faith. As a result, for the past 450 years, the Van Gelder of the Known Worlds have been vassals of House Decados. Stripped of their old homeworlds, living only at the sufferance of their masters (though they are permitted to manage various holdings, including some valuable ones on Malignatius), and converted into a house of assassins and spies, they now bear little resemblance to their former selves. Only the blandly unremarkable facade remains.
On Yathrib, however, the Van Gelder were among a number of Great Houses that not merely survived but thrived, even as their kin were falling elsewhere. Holding one of the original Seven Seigneuries, they have played an important (but not dominant) role throughout the post-separation history of the Shining Gulf, and they have more than once held one of the Great Offices of the Crusader State.
Here, the van Gelder - the locals (like some of their offworld kin) customarily dropping the capital V in favour of an older form of the name - cemented a role for themselves as a guild- and commerce-friendly House, known for their stewardship of their lands, their close ties to the sea, and the great cattle and horse-breeding ranches of their hinterland in the veldt.
Local House Culture and Ways
- Blandly avaricious past
For much of its history, the House was known for little save an appreciation for wealth: its members were regarded by many of their peers as bland and uninteresting, and even more than the al-Malik they had a reputation for unfashionably commercial interests and connections. Still, straddling the worlds of industry and aristocracy certainly seemed to serve as a recipe for success for century after century.
On Yathrib during its 95 decades of separation, the local van Gelder retained many of their connections to commerce and industry, and the greatest Guild stronghold on the planet is to be found in the Free City of Rotdam, which has prospered under the protection of the County of Johburg.
- What we do ourselves, we do better
The long decline of native industry and the loss of all interstellar commerce, however, wrought great changes upon the Yathribi van Gelder. Long associated with the neo-Boer movement that had settled the veldt of Johburg, the local van Gelder increasingly became agrarian aristocrats - their patronage of commerce and industry turning from shareholdings and seats on boards into a close relationship with the emergent guilds, especially with those that gradually took over Rotdam and with the technical experts who maintained the planet's links to near orbit and outer space.
The change in role altered the familial image - and the manner in which it saw itself. The pursuit of wealth was no longer viable as a stand-alone measure of success, when wealth was increasingly tied up with land and land required power-plays and risky expenditure to acquire. Instead, the van Gelder increasingly promoted the distinctive qualities of the neo-Boer culture - independence, determination, and self-reliance - and sought to enhance their wealth by developing the lands they already held, acquiring new fiefs only cautiously.
More interested in trade and internal investment than external expansion, the van Gelder have frequently been proponents of compromise and cautious ambition amidst the often-turbulent politics of the State: they believe in aspiring to change the world for the better, but commerce and fief-management are each so much more reliable in a stable environment, after all. In war, however, the van Gelder tend to take a 'never say die' attitude towards the defence of their estates, their trade networks, and their people: to allow undue harm to befall their interests would entail both a loss of status and a dire breach of honour. And should people be lost to the enemy, they are not to be forgotten - however long it might take to achieve, captives have a right to liberation, or to vengeance if it is too late for freedom.
- Play hard, but play fair
Some noble houses found themselves too small to survive after Yathrib's abrupt isolation. Among those absorbed by the prosperous van Gelder were elements of House Windsor, with results most visible in the unusual hobbies now beloved of the van Gelder: cricket is a County-wide obsession for many at all levels of society, while rugby predominates during the cooler months of the year. A preoccupation with such unusual interests (especially when leavened with maritime and commercial idioms) sometimes renders van Gelder conversation rather hard for others to understand.
Windsor influence might also be detected in the van Gelder approach to honour: in addition to a firm expectation that one's word is one's bond there is a marked emphasis on noblesse oblige - to truly be a noble, one must act nobly, by honouring and assisting those above and below oneself in the hierarchy of society. Those for whom a noble is responsible merit her care and attention, as do those superiors to whom she owes feudal service; whether or not an explicit promise has been made to the individual in question, by accepting her privileged role in society a noble is deemed to have also accepted the responsibility of aiding and protecting her subjects and superiors alike. To some pragmatic van Gelder, those who are not directly a noble's responsibility are entirely unprotected, though others adopt a markedly altruistic attitude, drawing upon the Church's doctrine declaring nobles to be martyrs for society as a whole.
As an extension of both noblesse oblige and their changed attitude to wealth, the van Gelder now take an unusually paternalistic and hands-on approach to rulership. An overflowing treasury is considered less a measure of success - and certainly a far inferior mark of culture and good taste - than a well-maintained estate housing a healthy and productive population, or a successful cultural event or work of fine art. Naturally, reserves must be maintained to deal with emergencies, but the simple accumulation of specie for its own sake is distastefully uncouth: after all, the true value of wealth multiplies when it is invested in fine art and the productive improvement of one's homeland.
Similarly, proper comportment is an important element of honour: only if one is seen to adhere to 'the rules of the game' might one uphold one's good name and truly merit honourable treatment in return - whether in a sporting contest or a life-or-death crisis, honour matters. So, of course, does victory, but it is not the only consideration: "play hard, but play fair" might be a second family motto. Bounders and cads merit severe punishment for their dishonourable deeds; the mark of a gentleman, after all, is playing the game properly. Anything else just wouldn't be cricket.
Johburg, above all others - it's not 'merely' the County the van Gelder rule, but the region with which the house is most closely connected by culture and inclination. The House has been intimately associated with the area that now forms the County since the early days of human settlement on Yathrib. Formerly, the County also extended across the Gulf to the East, and there are still scattered van Gelder survivors among the taifa lordships beyond the County's frontiers.
Long-standing mercantile ties led to van Gelder presence throughout the Pearl Cities and the Antipodes, though most such enclaves have been eliminated during the past century of warfare; survivals are most frequent where the al-Malik of Hydessos have helped to protect them, much as the van Gelder sheltered al-Malik within the bounds of Johburg.
The centrepiece of the van Gelder presence is the Johburg itself, an ancient fortress dug into the heart of a hill overlooking the city of the same name, though the iconic Fisher Hall adjacent to Akko and the Summer Palace outside Margat are much more luxurious court centres than the subterranean base.
- din Alt: The most noteworthy local branch of the van Gelder are the din Alt, who have long been the pre-eminent sept of the House on the planet. Regarded as the senior line by both ancestry and by right of their title, they have held the County of Johburg for centuries.
- Gant: A van Gelder sept has long held the Sovereign Baronetcy of Gant. It has frequently been subject to rumours suggesting that it is intimately involved with the Board of Regulation - House van Gelder's security service on Yathrib. During the Betrayal and Wars, it was almost wiped out.
- Margat: One of the more senior lineages, closely associated with the din Alts - but, like many other Yathribi lines, they were all but exterminated during the Betrayal and subsequent years of fighting.
- Riven: Technically a minor house in its own right, the line of the Barons Riven of Lattakieh (now a taifa fief, South of Tyche) has long been closely allied with the van Gelder, and is now regarded by many as part of the larger house.
Leading Yathribi van Gelder:
- Amber van Gelder: Countess of Johburg, head of house
- Nathalie van Gelder: legitimised natural daughter, heiress
- Valentijn van Gelder: Baron of Teldam; Amber's younger brother
- Wife and (adult) children
- Legitimised natural son (also adult)
- Ysbrandt van Gelder: Sovereign Baronet of Gant; cousin to Amber and Valentijn
- Seraphine de Moley: nee van Gelder; dowager baroness and regent of Arvin; cousin to Amber and Valentijn
- Sonja van Gelder: (NPC) Baroness of Margat; heiress to the Margat line; wife of Arkady Decados
Offworld Van Gelder
- Agravain Van Gelder: Inquisitor of Yathrib; Abbot of Saint Palamedes
- Trisje Van Gelder: Knight of the Phoenix (Imperial Questing Knight)
NPC Baronets (incomplete list)
- Aldert van Gelder: Lord of Eisenborg (Helborg)
- Sir Bors van Gelder: Lord of Shaft VII (Helborg)
- Noire van Gelder: Lady of Great Bay (Johburg) and Blackwater (Teldam)
- Otto van Gelder: "Fat Lord Otto", Baronet of Vaal Crossing
- Captain ?? van Gelder: Baronet of Three Cliffs (Teldam)
Typical Yathribi van Gelder Traits
- Characteristics: Wits, Ego, Calm
- Natural Skills: Charm, Melee, Observe
- Learned Skills: Ride, Sailor, Steward
- Blessings/Curses: Condescending, Noblesse Oblige, Subtle
- Benefices: Guild allies, technological artefacts