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Laws on Barrayar made for an interesting collection; they were not static - some were modern and others dated to their Time of Isolation. Some came to be overruled at later times, such as one that allowed divorce in the case where a spouse was known to have Cetagandan ancestry.[1]

Two particularly distinguishing features of Barrayaran law were its preference for spirit over precedence, and the high importance it gave to voice oaths.

"The fundamental principal was clear; the spirit was to be preferred over the letter, truth over technicalities. Precedent was held subordinate to judgment of the man on the spot."
―Relative importance of precedent versus spirit of law[src]
"A verbal agreement is the most binding of contracts! Your soul is in your breath, and therefore in your voice. Once pledged it must be redeemed…. It is not mysticism! It’s a recognized legal theory!"
―Miles Vorkosigan tries to explain voice oaths to Felicians[src]

Major changes to Barrayaran Laws occurred after the events of A Civil Campaign, when it became clear that their system for handling reproductive technologies needed serious upgrading; that took several years of committee work to complete. After the events of Cryoburn, it became apparent that a similar upgrading was required for end-of-life technologies as well, and was likewise expected to involve several years of committees.

Various and sundry laws on Barrayar[]


  • Only one of the Emperor’s designated officers or a Count or a Count’s heir could swear a vassal.[2]
  • The right to petition one’s count directly was not universal – one way to get it was to have one’s father die in military service.[3]
  • Attempted assassination on one’s Count’s heir carried the same capital charge of treason as an attempt upon the Count himself.[3]
  • Counts could only have 20 Armsmen; no standing armies permitted - Vorloupulous’s Law[4].
  • “To receive an Armsman’s oath before one was confirmed as a Count or Count’s heir was a serious crime, a violation of one of the subclauses of Vorloupulous’s Law.”[5]
  • To arrest a ruling District Count required an Imperial order.[6]
  • At least one non-Vor was named heir to a District Count (Lord Midnight).[7][8]
  • A Count’s acknowledged female bastards (particularly Imperial and count-palatine ones) were entitled to a dowry.[9]
  • A Countess was by law and tradition something of an assistant Count.[10]
  • A Count who wished to disinherit an official heir required an Imperial order. He could not disinherit his heir’s heir.[11]
  • “Count’s choice before Count’s blood, unless the Count has neglected to make a choice. Only then does male primogeniture come into play.”[12]
  • Public buildings (offices, schoolrooms) were required to display portraits of the Emperor and the District Count.[13]


  • Arresting a Vor who wasn’t a ruling Count was handled at ordinary police levels.[14]
  • After divorce or widowing (or orphaning), custody of boys went to the father's family while that of girls went to the mother's family.[15][9]
  • A Vor mother of a boy who wished to challenge the official legal guardian from the father’s family for custody of the son had to take suit to the guardian’s District court to prove the man unworthy and unfit to have charge of the child.[9]
  • Vor could own private swords, hunting weapons, stunners. Non-Vor could not own swords.[16]
  • Non-military Vor could not own nerve-disruptors.[17]


  • Retired Armsmen didn’t generally have to agree to become unretired. However, in the heat of battle, a Vor lord might invoke “certain archaic loyalty oaths” to unretire an armsman.[18]
  • There was no rule that said a woman couldn’t be a sworn armsman; it just had never been done before Mark Vorkosigan swore Elena Bothari-Jesek.[19]
  • A liege-sworn vassal who wished to retire had to petition their lord for release as an “Extraordinary Favor.”[20]


  • Age of maturity was 20.[21]
  • Military law was unclear on just how long someone could be held "on suspicion".[22]
  • Large degrees of genetic manipulation was “wildly illegal on all three planets of Barrayaran Imperium.”[23]
  • Slavery was illegal on all three planets of Barrayaran Imperium, ruinous indentured servitude laws is a different matter.[23]
  • In at least some circumstances, fast-penta’ing a wife for ImpSec interrogations required permission from the husband.[24]
  • A person could not be legally married to more than one other person.[25][26]
  • There was no known ruling regarding the status of a voice-oath when someone was in cryo-statis: “Your word can’t be your breath when you don’t have any breath, after all.”[19]
  • Only three uses of parchment existed: Imperial edicts, originals of edicts from Council of Counts or of Ministers, and orders from Council of Counts to its members.[27]
  • Despite modernization Barrayar do not have the concept of No-fault divorce.[1]

Capital Punishment on Barrayar[]

  • Quartering – for desertion in heat of battle.[4][28]
  • Public exposure and starvation – for treason committed by a Vor.[29][4]
  • Beheading – for dueling[30] and for armsman disobeying a liege-lord in combat.[31]
  • Hanging – for various offenses, including impersonating a military officer.[32][33]
  • Unstated means of execution – for impersonating an Imperial Auditor and for attempting to bribe an Imperial Auditor.[34][35]
  • Unstated means of execution – for attempting to assassinate one's Count or Count's heir [3]
  • public dismemberment - for particularly offensive emperors such as Yuri (refs: various and widespread)

Some Non-laws[]

  • Rule 27B: "Never make key tactical decisions while having electro-convulsive seizures."[36]
  • Rules 2, 9, 11, 13: Various and sundry social rules determining which Barrayarans could have conversations about what types of sexual behavior under what circumstances.[37]

Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 12
  2. The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 9
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "The Mountains of Mourning"
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 6
  5. A Civil Campaign chapter 8
  6. Barrayar chapter 11
  7. Mirror Dance chapter 14
  8. A Civil Campaign chapters 2,14
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 A Civil Campaign chapter 5
  10. Diplomatic Immunity chapter 7
  11. Barrayar chapter 10
  12. A Civil Campaign chapter 6
  13. Memory chapter 11
  14. A Civil Campaign chapter 19
  15. Komarr chapter 16
  16. Barrayar chapter 2
  17. Komarr chapter 19
  18. Memory chapter 8
  19. 19.0 19.1 Mirror Dance chapter 18
  20. Memory chapter 2
  21. Barrayar chapter 19
  22. Memory chapter 24
  23. 23.0 23.1 Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 2
  24. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 7
  25. Barrayar chapter 17
  26. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 13
  27. The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 18
  28. Diplomatic Immunity chapter 5
  29. Shards of Honor chapter 5
  30. Barrayar chapter 8
  31. The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 5
  32. The Vor Game chapter 13
  33. Mirror Dance chapter 11
  34. Memory chapter 16
  35. A Civil Campaign chapter 12
  36. The Vor Game chapter 10
  37. Barrayar chapter 4