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"I told him... that you poured out honor like a fountain, all around you."
"That's weird. I don't feel full of honor, or anything else, except maybe confusion."
"Naturally not. Fountains keep nothing for themselves.
―Aral Vorkosigan and Cordelia Naismith[src]

Cordelia as depicted in Cordelia's Honor. Art by Gary Ruddell.

Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan (NAY-smihth vor-KO-suh-g'n) was a citizen of Beta Colony, and an officer in the Betan Astronomical Survey. After falling in love with enemy Admiral Lord Aral Vorkosigan, she moved to Barrayar to marry him and became a Barrayaran subject. As Lady Vorkosigan, she became Regent-consort of the Barrayaran Imperium, and later Countess Vorkosigan. She was the mother of Miles Naismith Vorkosigan and his clone Mark Pierre Vorkosigan. After her husband retired from Barrayaran politics, she was appointed Vicereine of the planet Sergyar. While it is true that her husband was also appointed Viceroy at the time, she was Vicereine in her own right and not as his wife.

Early years[]

Cordelia Naismith was the daughter of Miles Mark Naismith and Elizabeth Naismith. Her father, who was in the Betan Astronomical Survey, died in a shuttleport accident. She had one brother on Beta Colony, who later married and had two children. Like her father, Cordelia pursued a career in the Astronomical Survey. Her specialty was astronavigation, and she was ambitious for ship command.[1] At age thirty,[2] the command of the ship she was on became open, but she gave up her pursuit of it to please her then-lover, a fellow officer. He left her shortly thereafter.[1]

By the time she was 33 she had achieved the rank of commander and was given her own command, the Rene Magritte, a sixty-person survey vessel. While exploring an unknown planet, her crew was set upon by the Barrayaran military. Most of the crew escaped on their shuttle, but Naismith, Lieutenant Reg Rosemont, and Ensign Dubauer were abandoned on the planet.[3]

Naismith and Dubauer initially evaded capture and contacted her vessel, but were discovered by Barrayaran soldier Konstantine Bothari and shot at with a nerve disruptor. Both survived, although Dubauer was left with permanent brain damage. Upon waking up, Naismith was captured by the Barrayaran commander, Captain Aral Vorkosigan.[4]

Vorkosigan had been stunned in the back and abandoned by his troops as part of a mutinous plot. He took Naismith prisoner, and after an argument, Dubauer as well. Since they had no access to communications, the three of them were forced to hike through the wilderness to reach a Barrayaran weapons cache. When they arrived, the cache was occupied by Vorkosigan's subordinates. Vorkosigan regained control of his forces and captured some of the mutineers, although others escaped into the jungle.[5]

Cordelia Naismith by gemmiona

Naismith was transferred aboard Vorkosigan's ship, the General Vorkraft, and made a prisoner. Meanwhile, her own crew went back to the planet to look for her and found Lieutenant Radnov, the chief mutineer. Working with Radnov, a team of Betans smuggled themselves aboard the General Vorkraft. While Radnov tried to seize the ship, they freed Naismith. She learned to her dismay, however, that Clement Koudelka had been greviously injured by a nerve disruptor in the process.[6]

The Escobar War[]

Aral and Cordelia later crossed paths again during the war precipitated by Barrayar's abortive attempt to invade Escobar, into which Beta Colony was brought as an ally of Escobar. Cordelia received a promotion to captain, and was transferred to the Betan military – the Betan Expeditionary Force. After she successfully broke the Barrayaran blockade, allowing vital military supplies and weapons to reach the Escobarans, she and her crew were captured and taken prisoner.

During her time as a military prisoner she was brought to the attention of Ges Vorruyter, a high-ranking commander of the Barrayaran forces and a notable sadist and pervert who enjoyed tormenting and raping female captives. She was spared a violent rape at the directive of Vorruyter when Sergeant Bothari rejected his orders and killed him by slicing his throat. Later, upon the conclusion of the war, many of her compatriots and allies believed that she was the heroine who slew Vorruyter, earning her a brief status as a heroic celebrity on Beta Colony.[7]

However, her favorable opinion of Aral Vorkosigan, protestations of his honor and integrity and later her profession of love for him, quickly earned her the suspicions of her government, who believed that she had been psychologically conditioned and brainwashed to serve as a Barrayaran deep-cover mole, using the supposedly false love affair as a means of transmitting intelligence to Barrayar. After several attempts to remedy this non-existent psychological tampering, including being drugged against her will, and being told that her mental state would prevent her from resuming her command, Cordelia fled to Barrayar, and became Aral's wife, and thus Lady Cordelia Vorkosigan, only to learn that the retired soldier she thought she was marrying was to be pressed into government service as the new Regent of Barrayar upon the death of the elderly and gravely ill Emperor Ezar Vorbarra. Upon her husband's appointment, she was to be titled Regent-Consort.[8]

As Lady Vorkosigan and Regent-Consort[]

Cordelia Vorkosigan by gemmiona

"And is this your Betan Penthesileia?"
―Vortala's impression of Cordelia

Upon the death of Emperor Ezar, a period of political instability ensued, replete with assassination attempts on both Cordelia and her husband, the new Regent. While pregnant, Cordelia was present at a soltoxin poison-gas attack on her husband by political terrorists. While both Cordelia and Aral were given the antidote, the antidote would have disastrous affects on her unborn child, and both were rendered infertile by the poison.[9]

The political instability flared into full scale insurrection when Count Vidal Vordarian and his conservative Vor allies mounted a coup d'etat and seized the Imperial Residence in the hopes of apprehending both the child-Emperor Gregor and his mother Princess Kareen, whom Vordarian hoped to marry and seize the throne. The ensuing tumult became known as the War of Vordarian's Pretendership, in which Gregor was rescued from the palace by loyalists and Princess Kareen was killed. Count Vordarian was also killed by beheading during an attempt by Cordelia and her allies Sergeant Bothari and Ludmilla Droushnakovi) to break into the Imperial Residence to rescue her gestating fetus, now transferred to a uterine replicator due to the damage from the soltoxin gas antidote. The uterine replicator had been housed in the residence, and in danger of failure due to neglect when the residence was occupied by Vordarian's forces.[10]

Cordelia become known as the woman who executed Vidal Vordarian and presented his severed head to her husband and his faction at Tanery base, as well as to the partisans of Count Vordarian who were present to negotiate a settlement, thus bringing the insurrection to an end. This incident earned her no small degree of awe and respect from the military-minded Vor caste, all the more unique due to her being a woman.[11]

"But, Aral," said Cordelia, stunned. "Vortala emphasized I was to have no power."
"Vortala... is not all-wise. Let's just say, he has a little trouble recognizing as such some forms of power which are not synonymous with force. Your window of opportunity is narrow, though; at age twelve Gregor will enter a pre-Academy preparatory school."
"But do they realize...?"
"I do. And you do. It's enough.
―Cordelia and Aral discussing Cordelia's influence over Gregor during his formative years[src]

In addition to Aral's role as Regent and Cordelia's affiliated social position as Regent-Consort, Aral and Cordelia were appointed the distinct honor of being the legal guardians of the child-emperor Gregor, and Cordelia was given essentially a guiding role over his formative years and education, placing her in an enormously powerful position to mold the emperor's political and social attitudes and thus affect Barrayar's future as a whole. The full repercussions of her new role went almost entirely unnoticed by the Council of Counts and the more conservative elements of Barrayaran society.[11]

Cordelia once wished for many children, including daughters. The main reason that Cordelia and Aral did not have any more children was not due to the inability to procreate (with Betan medicine, functioning cells were all that were required to reproduce), but any healthy children would weaken Miles' status (and endanger his life) in his family due to his deformity. An undamaged son would have been put forth as a replacement, while a daughter could have been married to someone healthy, and their children possibly named heirs.[12]

Mother of Miles and Mark Vorkosigan[]

As a result of the soltoxin antidote given to her, her child, Miles, suffered severe physical deformities which were partially ameliorated by additional treatment received in the uterine replicator; her father-in-law, Count Piotr Vorkosigan refused to allow the deformed child to use his name. In the High Vor culture, male children received their paternal grandfather's first name as their own, while the maternal grandfather's first name became their middle name; Miles thus would have been Piotr Miles Vorkosigan. Instead, he was named Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, after Cordelia's own father.[13]

Cordelia and Aral intentionally had only one child, their son Miles. They later discovered that a clone of their son Miles, whom Miles named Mark Pierre Vorkosigan, had been created without their knowledge.[14] While his legal status as a Vorkosigan was questionable on Barrayar, Cordelia unquestionably accepted him as her son. She endorsed him openly to the rest of Barrayaran society, buffered his culture shock to Barrayar, bought him a ship to use to find Miles, and even helped his love life by acting as a go-between for him, his girlfriend Kareen Koudelka, and Kareen's parents.[15]

As Countess Vorkosigan and Vicereine of Sergyar[]

Upon Count Piotr's death, she became Countess Vorkosigan. Later, long after Emperor Gregor achieved his majority and following his heart attack and subsequent retirement, Aral was named Viceroy of Sergyar. Cordelia became Vicereine Countess Vorkosigan, an appointment she was given in her own right, and not as a courtesy title. Their new positions required them to move to Sergyar to assume its governance and settlement.[16][17]


A few years after Aral's death, Cordelia, using frozen gametes, decided to have up to six daughters by Aral, who would be raised on Sergyar with her surname of Naismith, to avoid any complications regarding the Vorkosigan countship. She also offered Oliver Perrin Jole, Aral's long-time secretary and co-spouse the opportunity to have three-parent sons using Aral's genes and her mitochondria. The two of them renewed a love-life distinct from the prior one they'd had as co-spouses of Aral.[18]

She then retired from the Vicereineship and moved to a secluded coastal area on a different continent on Sergyar, where she began her retirement project of raising the daughters, beginning with Aurelia Kosigan Naismith. Nile was planned as a second child to come about two years later. Jole chose to live nearby as he rose his own family: three boys, also by Aral, the first to be named Everard Xav Jole. There, he took up a post-military life studying Sergyaran marine biology.[19]

Ideology and Policies[]

―Cordelia's favorite swear word[src]

Cordelia maintained an independent and assertive front, being a full partner to Aral - which was not all that unusual for a Barrayaran wife and mother. Some women were described as dominating their husbands; most notably the Countess of Pierre le Sanguinaire. Cordelia's status as a female military hero - even though she was on the enemy side - gained her admiration and acceptance from Vor society. Her original intent to assimilate and become Barrayaran was derailed by the soltoxin attack that nearly cost her her son's life – an incident that likely was the source of her antagonism towards many Barrayaran traditions, particularly body births. Cordelia was the 'most invisible' of political wives[20], deliberately remaining out of the spotlight and initially bending her energies to rearing both her own son (Miles) and Gregor. She was openly critical of Barrayaran customs and politics, and tended to preface descriptions of such with her favorite swear word, "Barrayarans!"[21][22][23]

She heartily encouraged imports of galactic thinking and goods, uterine replicators in particular, and was vocally disrespectful of native Barrayaran ideals, institutions and mores. As Countess Vorkosigan, she was the architect of a large-scale medical scholarship program, making galactic standard education available to Barrayaran students with promise, and not just those born Vor.[24][25]

Personal Appearance and Style[]

"She ran her hands over her red hair, parted in the middle and held away from her face by two enameled combs, and flopped it over her shoulders to curl loosely halfway down her back. Her grey eyes stared back at her from the pale face in the mirror. Nose a little too bony, chin a shade too long, but certainly a servicable face, good for all practical purposes."
―Cordelia looking at herself in a mirror[src]

Aral and Cordelia gemmiona

Countess Cordelia Vorkosigan was a tall woman, with roan-red hair leavened with gray, that she wore parted in the center and long in the back (in her youth, her hair was a coppery red) and 'sea grey' eyes. Although not accounted a great beauty, with her face having a nose a bit too bold, an a jawline a bit too strong, she was nonetheless an attractive woman. Cordelia wore the conventional and ornate dress of a Vor-class matron, long flowing skirts and tailored bolero style jackets, with the air of a child playing dress-up; it was one of the few aspects of Barrayaran culture she genuinely enjoyed.[26][27] Up to the death of Aral, she'd grown her copper hair nearly waist length, but when the time came to give a death offering, she'd shorn it all off to burn. Since then, she'd kept her hair short as a tribute to his memory.[28]

"The night she’d cut all her waist-length hair, which Aral had always loved, nearly to the roots to lay in the burning brazier. Because the usual sacrificial lock had seemed absurdly inadequate. Not one of her fellow mourners had said a word in protest, nor asked one in question. She’d never worn it longer than its current finger-length, thereafter."
―Cordelia's tribute[src]

Early in her marriage and new to her status as Lady Vorkosigan, she relied upon Lady Alys Vorpatril's expertise in Barrayaran fashions and etiquette, as to not socially embarrass her husband to his political foes.[29]

Cordelia also had a psychological quirk of stuttering under severe duress. It is unknown whether she continued to suffer from the tic in later years.[30]


Bazil Jesek and Elena Bothari-Jesek named their first daughter Cordelia in her honor.

Similarly, Delia Koudelka Galeni was probably named after her as well.

Behind the scenes[]

A source for Cordelia's appearance is Vanessa Redgrave - see goodreads.

Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Shards of Honor chapter 3
  2. Memory chapter 12
  3. Shards of Honor chapter 1
  4. Shards of Honor chapters 1,2
  5. Shards of Honor chapters 1-4
  6. Shards of Honor chapters 5,6
  7. Shards of Honor chapters 7-10
  8. Shards of Honor chapters 12-15
  9. Barrayar chapters 1-8
  10. Barrayar chapters 10-15
  11. 11.0 11.1 Barrayar chapter 19
  12. Brothers in Arms chapter 10
  13. Barrayar chapter 10
  14. Brothers in Arms
  15. Mirror Dance chapters 14,16
  16. Mirror Dance chapter 32
  17. Memory chapter 2
  18. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen
  19. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, Epilogue
  20. Brothers in Arms chapter 9
  21. Barrayar chapter 7
  22. The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 4
  23. Mirror Dance chapter 12
  24. Mirror Dance chapter 15
  25. Memory chapter 11
  26. Shards of Honor chapter 14
  27. Barrayar chapter 1
  28. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen
  29. Barrayar chapter 5
  30. Shards of Honor chapters 12,13

External links[]