High Lords of Terra
"Power doesn't corrupt people, people corrupt power."
- William Gaddis
"The measure of a man is what he does with power"
"Functionaries are like books in a library : the higher they are, the least they serve."
- Georges Clemenceau
After Horus got his heresy on, the Emperor had to "ascend" the Golden Throne to keep himself alive. Since he wasn't dead, Roboute Guilliman reasoned that a new leadership was needed to guide the Imperium. He set up the High Lords from the old Council of Terra with himself as Lord Commander of the Imperium inviting the heads of the Administratum, the Officio Assassinorum and the Adeptus Mechanicus to the table as well. As time went on, the Ecclesiarchy, the Inquisition, the Navigators and others were also invited.
While it's plainly evident that they are not making the Imperium better, there is some evidence that they may be making the Imperium worse than it actually needs to be (although whether this is due to malice or incompetence is anyone's guess, most people are betting on the latter). Exactly what they decide on isn't clear either. "Making decisions that affect the whole galaxy" sounds like a lofty purpose but really all the different departments seem to do things by themselves. The Space Marine chapters decide where they fight, the Inquisition governs itself, the Navigators govern themselves, the Administratum is like a machine just left running and doesn't even change gears....so unless they are just the people with the stamps to approve everything, we need some more fluff on what they are doing GW!
Well good news, I guess: as of 6th they are becoming more and more pro-active. AND in the new series The Beast Arises has them as the main characters and thus finally see how they run things. TL:DR oh, my God-Emperor, they're worse than the fans believed. During the War of The Beast about half the High Lords were politicking and trying to use the biggest Ork WAAAGH! in their favour and the others try to deny its existence leaving only the Grand Master of Assassins to deal with reality (go figure why he wanted to kill the jackasses). Funny enough they're also all portrayed as being very good at their jobs. the Imperial Navy High Lord is a skilled admiral for example, just too self-centered in making sure their faction is on top than work together. Of course, then the Grand Master of Assassins did The Beheading.
For the times the present day 41st millenium High Lords are mentioned, they tend to be treated with rather neutral tones. Typically the fluff only brings up their reactionary declarations to military matters and nothing about their politics, leaving their effectiveness and competence open to speculation. Given that Warhammer 40k is often about Your Dudes ("Your Setting" in this case), this is likely intentional.
As of the Gathering Storm, Roboute Guilliman came back on Terra and proceed to go full 'Powerfisting-mode' at several members of the High Lords, replacing them with people whom Papa Smurf trust and knows of their capabilities and competence. The other High Lords who were not removed were given a mean look by the Blue Wonder and were essentially given a second chance with Robby keeping a close eye on them. As you can imagine, the surviving old turds promptly shit themselves as now they are forced to actually do their fucking jobs for once.
The High Lords are theoretically a dynamic body that changes based on the needs of the Imperium. In reality though the same nine old fucks decide everything millennium in and millennium out. Said fucks include:
- Ecclesiarch: The head of the Adeptus Ministorum, or Ecclesiarchy, was granted a seat in M32, which became permanent three centuries later. During the Age of Apostasy, the Ecclesiarch briefly usurped the Master of the Administratum as most powerful High Lord. Goge Vandire solved that problem by being head of both, then went nuts with power and had to be killed by the Sisters of Battle. As of M41, the Ecclesiarch is considered tied with the Fabricator-General and the Grand Master of Assassins for second most powerful High Lord.
- Fabricator-General of Mars: The head of the Adeptus Mechanicus will occasionally take time from meditating on the Omnissiah or running his own nation to help run the Imperium.
- Grand Master of Assassins: The head of the Officio Assassinorum, the Grand Master is constantly watched by the other High Lords, out of concern that he might assassinate the others. Mostly because one Grand Master did. Funny story.
- Grand Provost Marshal: Head of the Adeptus Arbites. Makes sure the Imperium's myriad jackboots know whose skulls to bust.
- Inquisitorial Representative: A member of the Inquisition sent to insure that the Emperor's pet psychopaths are up to date on what laws to enforce, which can be difficult given how factionalized the Inquisition has been shown to be in fluff. An Inquisitor's term is 5 years after which he has to step down to make place for another. It is interesting to note that while there is hefty political competition for the other seats, the seat of Inquisitorial Representative carries little merit because it prevents an Inquisitor from carrying out his primary duty: to directly protect the Imperium from its many enemies by working in the field, not from working at one of the shiniest of desks in the galaxy. They are selected, often unanimously, from Inquisitor Lords from the sectors near Terra, granting the individual the title of Inquisitor Lord Terra even after his service ends. On the plus side, the Inquisition mostly runs on an "influence" system, and becoming the Inquisitorial representative gives the Lord Inquisitor in question a substantial boost in influence. Furthermore, one almost never becomes a full-fledged Inquisitor (let alone a Lord Inquisitor) without a lot of hard-earned field experience doing dirty work in the nastier parts of the galaxy, so the Inquisitorial Representative is likely to be one of the more competent and practical members of the bunch (whether the Inquisitor in question is entirely sane and rational is another matter entirely). However, in rare cases the Inquisition is too busy to send a representative because Xenos and Chaos incursions are too numerous. It's been noted by Imperial historians that whenever there wasn't a representative from the Inquisition on the High Lords to keep things in check, bad things happened.
- Master of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica: The guy in charge of making sure the Imperium's giant network of psychic email servers don't go to shit, and the training of various kinds of psykers within the Imperium.
- Master of the Administratum: The head of the Imperial bureaucracy. While the the Master of the Administratum is an equal with the rest of the High Lords on paper, in practice he is considered the "head" of the Senatorum and most powerful of the High Lords, and they are fucking territorial about that.
- Master of the Astronomican: While the Adeptus Astronomica isn't nearly as large or influential as the other members' branches, they keep the light of the Astronomican burning. The Astronomican in turn keeps every other High Lord from being fucked inside out by daemons on their way to meetings, so they let this guy have a chair.
- Paternoval Envoy: Representing the Navis Nobilite, this guy makes sure that the Navigators have a say on what's going on, so they won't get declared abominations to the holy human form. Unlike the other posts, he is not the head of the combined Navigator houses, but a representative from the Paternova, the currently effective head house of the Navis Nobilite. The Paternova cannot attend meetings because he stays in the Palace of the Navigators due to...changes he underwent upon assuming the post, which would cause
mass rioting among the populacequestions among the less-informed. As a result, the Paternoval Envoy is usually from a weak house who couldn't upset the balance of power among the Navigators.
The remaining three positions are chaired on a rotating basis by who are either people too weak and ineffectual to get uppity, or people with minimal interest in playing politics. They include:
- Abbess Sanctorum of the Adepta Sororitas: The head of the Adepta Sororitas. The only member of the High Lords who is a woman by default, she is elected from the leaders of every order of the Sororitas. Like the Inquisitorial Representative, there is no real race for this position. It is in fact considered a penance to become the Abbess Sanctorum, which given the other assholes in the Senatorum is not that far from the truth. Before the Abbess is formally induced she is to take a pilgrimage to San Leor, the homeworld of the Daughters of the Emperor. The current would-be Abbess, Sister Sabrina of the Order of the Ermine Mantle, disappeared during her pilgrimage. Tradition dictates there cannot be another Abbess elected until the current one's fate has been determined, so the seat of the Abbess remains empty as of now.
- Captain-General of the Adeptus Custodes: Got on the council by virtue of being the Emperor's BFF and the leader of the Adeptus Custodes, and has very little to actually say about galactic affairs, likely because he has his hands full making sure the warp breach beneath the palace doesn't spill out into into the streets. He sticks his head out every now and then to make sure the High Lords keep their shit together and to tear the next Goge Vandire a new asshole. Even though he is the second-most useless High Lord, whenever he does attend a meeting, all the other High Lords sneak glances at him.
NOTICE ME, SENPAI!. Not really, it is more about a Custodian being a murder machine leagues ahead of anything short of Greater Daemons.
- Cardinal of the Holy Synod of Terra: Some old guy from a group of old guys who spend all their time arguing about slight deviations in doctrine. Their only useful function is electing the head of the Ecclesiarchy who gets them their chair on the council. Mentioning that this is a conflict of interest is considered heresy.
- Chancellor of the Estate Imperium: The Imperium's head paper pusher. Seriously, he's a glorified secretary. The most useless of the High Lords and only gets on if the Master of the Administratum feels he needs another vote on things and can muscle him in.
- Lord Commander Militant of the Imperial Guard: The leader of the Emprah's hammer. Nominally in charge of every man woman and child in the Imperium with a flashlight to point, although the bureaucratic distances and sheer, incomprehensibly large numbers of personnel involved means that he mostly dictates uniform and grooming standards, and maybe operational doctrine if the bigwigs at the Departmento Tactica are feeling indulgent.
- Lord Commander of the Segmentum Solar: Commander of the Imperium's forces (those that listen to the military bureaucracy anyway) in charge of guarding humanity's chewy center.
- Lord High Admiral of the Imperial Navy: Having discarded the shiniest of flying space cathedrals in favour of the shiniest of desks.
- Speaker for the Chartist Captains: Spokesperson of the Merchant Fleet, this High Lord defends the interests of the various trade captains within the Imperium. They are similar to but less powerful than Rogue Traders, but make up about 90% of the Imperium's spacefaring capability. There are four levels of Merchant Charters: from flying fixed and limited routes to being allowed to travel through all of Imperial space within the Segmentum.
The Thirteenth Lord
Guilliman's original position of Lord Commander of the Imperium lasted at least until the mid 32nd Millennium. They took the title of Lord Guilliman, (presumably because no one had the balls to remove the plaque from the door) The dude in question was the de jure leader of the Senatorum Imperialis and on paper was the commander of the entirety of the Imperium's military forces. We say "on paper" because the last dude prior to Chapter Master Slaughter Koorland was a puppet to the other agents of the senate. Koorland's successor; Maximus Thane also took the dual role of Chapter Master of the Imperial Fists as well as "Lord Guilliman" and was presumably the last to hold the title because after issuing a series of standing orders, he decided to leave Terra and rebuild the broken Imperium following the War of The Beast, only returning to deal with The Beheading. The post appears to have been abolished at some point after this.
As of the closing years of the 41st millennium, Roboute Guilliman is back as the Lord Commander again, mostly because literally nobody else could be trusted with a job that important.
As mentioned, the High Lords of Terra are a dynamic organisation, that shifts and changes according to the politics of the day. The sixteen lords listed above in no way represent the entirety of Imperial government, nor do those Lords who "don't" get a seat on that particular day lose their ability to have their voices heard or be able to impact policy, the Senatorum actually consists of hundreds of politicians all with their own voting rights and agendas.
Those positions that fall out of eminent favour simply become "High Lords", which also comes with a reduction in privileges; including the right to give orders to Custodians (they make the distinction between High Lords and those of the High Twelve). That right to give orders however is rendered moot within the Imperial Palace, as the Custodes leaving their posts would mean Terra, and by extension the Galaxy, would be fucked inside out.
When it is expedient or politically advantageous to do so, the High Lords may choose to take seats in various chambers around the Imperial palace. While some chambers are large enough to seat the whole of the senate and then some, others are barely larger than an office where lesser lords get excluded.
- The authors of the Horus Heresy series are collectively referred to as the "High Lords of Terra" on Black Library's blog. According to Dan Abnett, this is intended as self-deprecation. Yes, even the makers of 40K canon think the High Lords of Terra are useless.
- All tea and biscuits are the property of the High Lords of Terra and no one else. They are needed for the constant meetings the High Lords have (most likely to decide what colour to paint the Imperial Palace's walls this season).
- The High Lords do decide on foundings of Space Marines and assign the title of Warmaster to special individuals undertaking Imperial crusades. However considering how many chapters turn renegade or do their own thing and how many crusades seem to fall into failure, this could be further proof of the High Lords' collective uselessness.
- With Papa Smurf as defacto leader of the entire Imperium again, the usefulness of the High Lords have went up a reasonable notch.
- Their Fantasy equivalent, the Council of Thirteen manages to be more effective and productive despite being run by megalomaniac backstabbing ratmen drug addicts.