The Vor, otherwise known as the Vor class, were the military caste and the aristocracy of the planet Barrayar. Barrayarans who were not Vor were occasionally referred to in the books as plebes or proles. Vor status was considered genetic, hereditary, and inescapable. All Vor surnames began with the syllable Vor-, often prefixed to a recognizable surname from some Earth nation (e.g. Vorsmythe).
The prefix Vor- was dropped during the officer candidacy exams for the Barrayaran Imperial Service (though not in the service itself) to emphasize the ideal of meritocracy. While Vor men were typically expected to be involved in military or government service, Vor women were traditionally responsible for running the estates and household.
One Vor privilege was the right to own swords: The traditional armament of a Vor warrior was a set of two swords, a longsword and a short sword. Officers who were Vor wore these with their Imperial Service parade uniforms. Vor women carried a Vorfemme knife and men in a Count's family sometimes carried a Vor seal dagger.
History of Vor
Function of Vor
The Vor functioned as the aristocratic caste, and were given privileged military status. Historically, no Vor could be denied a commanding role in the military, regardless of competence, though Aral Vorkosigan's Regency shifted the military into much more of a meritocracy: a saying was "no twice-twenty-years Imperial Service man need yield to any Vor for his place in our military caste."
During the Time of Isolation, it was a crime for a non-Vor male have a Vor woman lover; it was considered "stealing her honor", and punishable by death though in real life - as opposed to romantic fiction - the matter was rarely pushed that far presumably because few Vor families wished to make their women's peccadilloes public. However, suggesting that an high-ranking family like the Vorkosigans might have some ancestors in common with the Caravanserai people was considered extremely insulting.
Levels of Vor
The term "High Vor" does not appear to have had official standing within Barrayaran society, but was used informally by characters to refer to the upper-most, aristocratic portion of the Vor. The Vor were a military caste, and while all Vor had certain legal privileges and responsibilities, Vor status did not necessarily denote wealth or political power. All aristocrats were Vor, but only a small portion of Vor were aristocrats. Other terms used to indicate types of Vor included "Old Vor" and "Rural Vor".
Members of a Count's immediate family were also titled. The heir, usually the eldest son of the Count, was Lord (Surname); his wife was Lady (Surname). Other children of a Count were called Lord or Lady (Forename) (Surname), e.g. Lord Mark Vorkosigan or simply Lord or Lady (Forename) if the surname could be inferred from context.
According to the author, other Vor could be referred to as Lord (Surname), and considered High Vor, as a mark of some other form of authority or historical idiosyncrasy. For example, Ivan Vorpatril was not heir to the Vorpatril Countship, but he, and especially his mother, Alys Vorpatril, were High Vor because Padma Vorpatril, Alys's husband and Ivan's father, was descended from Prince Xav Vorbarra (and thus next in line after Aral Vorkosigan as a potential claimant to the throne) and also because Alys's role as Gregor's social caretaker gave her a measure of power and respect. In some cases the title was tied to a position, notably the Imperial Auditors were styled Lord Auditor (Surname).
If a person also had a military rank or held an Imperial appointment, their rank preceded the title: General Count Piotr Vorkosigan, Prime Minister Count Aral Vorkosigan, Imperial Auditor Lord Vorkosigan etc.
Oaths of the Vor
The Vor caste offered varyingly strong oaths and promises, ranging from an oath of service to the emperor and the Imperium when they entered the Military up to that of being a vassal secundus to their Emperor.
Additionally, Armsmen swore an oath for life to their Count when taking up their service. Any man could offer his own personal promise. How serious this was could vary but it was usually equivalent to "I promise".
The Vor had a particularly high regard for an ideal of honor. When they swore by "their word as Vorname" it was much more equivalent to a serious and heartfelt oath, akin to "I swear to God." This was so strong that men, including Aral Vorkosigan, had been known to kill others for calling them on their word.
The following is a list of all Vor names that have been confirmed to have a district associated with them. There were 60 such districts, but there are not yet 60 names known to go with them.
- Vorbarra - The Imperial family, their name came fourth in an alphabetical listing of counts.
- Vorbataille - Lord Vorbataille was a Count's heir in Winterfair Gifts.
- Vorbohn - The family traditionally commanded Vorbarr Sultana's municipal guard.
- Vorbretten - A friend of Miles, the most-recent Count was discovered to have a Cetagandan ancestor, leading to an impeachment trial before the Council of Counts, and it also led to him being ridiculed, often called René ghem-Bretten. The Vorbrettens born after the Cetagandan occupation manifested musical talents, no doubt a result of inheriting carefully designed Cetagandan genes.
- Vordarian - Soon after the death of Emperor Ezar, the then-Count Vordarian attempted to usurp the throne from the child Emperor Gregor. The Vordarian's District was one of the most modernized on Barrayar.
- Vordrozda - Miles Vorkosigan exposed then-Count Vordrozda as a traitor, who attempted to have his cousin Ivan conveniently disappear as the opening act of a Byzantine plot to become heir to the Imperium.
- Vorfolse - From a family that reliably chose the wrong side of any conflict, the most-recent Vorfolse named himself independent of all parties and eked out a rather impoverished living in an apartment in Vorbarr Sultana.
- Vorgarin - The Count was a friend of Henri Vorvolk. Their district was known for particularly good stroganoff.
- Vorhalas - Compensating for the treason of his sons Evon and Carl in Vordarian's Pretendership, Count Vorhalas was the most loyal, upright and conservative member of the Council, but no friend to the Vorkosigans.
- Vorharopulos - A count who was primarily known for an unfortunate livery, namely chartreuse and scarlet.
- Vorinnis - A potential contender for the Imperial throne; during Vordarian's Pretendership, he attempted to name himself as a neutral and play "both ends against the middle."
- Vorkalloner - One of the stiffest old sticks in the Conservative Party.
- Vorkosigan - A line of ten Counts (Miles became number 11), but few collateral descendants. Thanks to former Regent Aral Vorkosigan, the family enjoyed special favor with the Emperor.
- Vorlakial - The count was one of the few men Aral Vorkosigan could name as his superior in strategy; he was mysteriously killed shortly before Vordarian's Pretendership. Darkoi was in Vorlakial's District.
- Vorloupulous - Famous for Vorloupulous's Law which limited each Count to only 20 armsmen and made starting a private army treason for a Vor Lord.
- Vormercier - A count named in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance.
- Vormoncrief - The official leader of the Conservative Party.
- Vormuir - A count whose district was losing people and who tried a radical solution to the problem.
- Vorob'yev - Lord Vorob'yev was the Barrayaran Ambassador to Cetaganda. Vorob'yev house livery was red and black. Note: Vorob'yev is an actual Russian surname derived from vorobey, meaning sparrow.
- Vorpatril - A large clan with a link to the Vorbarra line through Ivan Vorpatril's late father, Padma Xav, who was a grandson of Prince Xav Vorbarra.
- Vorpinski - A Count who used to be close friends to Donna Vorrutyer.
- Vorreedi - Lord Vorreedi was entitled to wear a House uniform
- Vorrutyer - A large clan infamous for erratic or insane personalities. Aral Vorkosigan's first wife, who took lovers on the side and committed suicide when her relationships were learned of, was a Vorrutyer, as was Aral's male lover, the corrupt and sadistic Ges Vorrutyer. Aral himself was descended from Count "Le Sanguinaire" Pierre Vorrutyer, or Bloody Pierre. One Count Vorrutyer, Pierre Vorrutyer (grandson of Bloody Pierre), was eccentric if not actually mad, and failed to name any heir. His sister Lady Donna went to Beta Colony to be surgically changed into a man so she could inherit the title as Lord Dono, over her malicious cousin Richars, while her foppish drunkard cousin Byerly used his contacts to lay the groundwork at home. According to Byerly Vorrutyer, Vorrutyers came in two flavors: either extremely reclusive or very flamboyant.
- Vorsmythe - An industrialist family; Miles Vorkosigan told his clone-brother Mark to speak with Vorsmythe about his "Butter Bugs". Another member of this family was mentioned in Memory as a General and an Imperial Auditor.
- Vortaine - A count who was unlikely to vote for René Vorbretten or Dono Vorrutyer.
- Vortala - Count Vortala was the last of Emperor Ezar's Prime Ministers and served as Prime Minister to Aral Vorkosigan during his Regency. He was a reformer who mistakenly tried to fix Barrayaran society from the top down, and the likely founder of the Progressive Party.
- Vortashpula - The heir to the countship chose to become engaged to Lady Cassia Vorgorov.
- Vortienne - The most-recent count was infamous for never attending Council sessions.
- Vortrifrani - The most-recent Count Vortrifrani was suspected of a plot to crash an empty space freighter onto the Imperial Palace, though ImpSec were unable to link him to the actual saboteurs.
- Vortugalov - Mentioned by Miles and Elena Bothari-Jesek as a possible successor for Gregor in The Vor Game. He would be supported by the Russian-speaking population of Barrayar.
- Vorvolynkin - A usually-reliable member of the Conservative Party; his daughter-in-law Louisa had some ability to persuade him to change his votes.
- Vorvayne - The sixth Countess Vorvayne starved herself to death at her husband's feet after he was convicted of treason and himself starved in a stockade.
- Vorville - Mentioned by Miles and Elena Bothari-Jesek as a possible successor for Gregor in The Vor Game. He would be supported by the French-speaking population of Barrayar.
- Vorvolk - The most-recent Count, Henri, was one of Emperor Gregor's close friends and one of only a few Counts near him in age.
Other Vor names
The following is a list of Vor names that come up during the series but do not appear to have a district on Barrayar associated with them. While it is possible that all Vor names represent a district, the novels have been very ambiguous with respect to these names. A brief description is given of any individual known to be associated with that Vor name; if they have been identified as using the title Lord or Lady, this is also noted.
- Voraronberg - member of Emperor's staff, identified by the title "Lord".
- Vorberg - Barrayaran Imperial Security courier
- Vorgier - The Imperial Security Captain on the Barrayaran wormhole civilian transfer station in the Komarr system.
- Vorgorov - Young Cassia Vorgorov had a crush on Ivan Vorpatril.
- Vorgustafson - Imperial Auditor, former industrialist.
- Vorhartung - Probably no longer extant, the Council of Counts met in Vorhartung Castle.
- Vorhovis - Imperial Auditor
- Vorkeres - Tatya Vorkeres, daughter of Lord Vorkeres, married Count Vorbretten.
- Vorkraft - inferred from the warship General Vorkraft
- Vorlaisner - Imperial Auditor
- Vorlightly - A historical 'Lady Vorlightly' was married to the then-sitting emperor, serving as precedent for the social and ceremonial protocol of Gregor's marriage to Laisa Toscane.
- Vorlynkin - Barrayaran Consul on Kibou-daini
- Vormurtos - Lord, likely a Count's heir, as he was stated to be a supporter of Lord Richars Vorrutyer and his bid for the Vorrutyer Countship.
- Vorparadijs - Imperial Auditor, retired general
- Vorsoisson - Etienne Vorsoisson was Ekaterin Vorkosigan's first husband.
- Vortalon - A (in-universe) fictional holovid hero.
- Vorthalia - Mentioned as a heroic legend, such as Vorthalia the Bold or Vorthalia the Loyal.
- Vorthys - Georg Vorthys. Before becoming an Imperial Auditor, he was a professor of engineering who specialized in failure analysis; he was named as "Lord Vorthys" at least once.
- Vortorren - Madame Vortorren on Komarr sometimes babysat for Ekaterin Vorsoisson; her husband was the Serifosa Dome regional Deputy for the Imperial Counselor.
- Vorvane - A prominent family; Lord Vorvane was Minister for Heavy Industries.
- Vorventa - Lord Vorventa the Twice-Hung was one of only a few people tried for a crime after death.
- Vorwyn - Lord Vorwyn was mentioned only as an enemy to Selig Vorkosigan during the First Bloody Century.
- Vorzohn - Eponym of "Vorzohn's Dystrophy". No person bearing this name is ever mentioned.
Behind the scenes
- "Vor does mean 'thief'!"
- ―Duv Galeni[src]
These are obscure, but the word exists in Russian, one of four languages spoken on Barrayar. As вор "Vor" means thief. Most aristocracies arise from warlords, who in turn tend to arise from competing bands of brigands, so this explanation is plausible.
The Russian "dvor" means "court", and "dvoryanin" were the "new nobles" created by Ivan the Terrible and Boris Godunov to counterbalance the boyars (old nobles).
In the Russian translations of the Vorkosigan saga, though, Vor is rendered as For (Фор); the novel The Vor Game is called Igra Forov/Игра Форов ("The Game of the Fors") in Russian.
In modern Russian, the expression "Vor v zakone" ("Вор в законе"), which has the literal meaning of "Thief by Law", refers to a high-ranking figure in organized crime in Russia and other formerly-Soviet states. Although there are significant differences in many details, they serve a similar function to the mafia dons of the United States.
Notes and references
- The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 1
- Shards of Honor chapter 15
- Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 16
- Barrayar chatper 7 Cite error: Invalid
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- Barrayar chapter 5 Cite error: Invalid
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- Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 12
- A Civil Campaign chapter 8
- Shards of Honor chapters 2,11
- "Winterfair Gifts"
- A Civil Campaign chapter 1
- A Civil Campaign chapter 2
- The Warrior's Apprentice
- A Civil Campaign chapter 17
- A Civil Campaign chapter 7
- Barrayar chapter 15
- Barrayar chapter 1
- The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 7
- Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 5
- A Civil Campaign chapter 3
- A Civil Campaign chapter 5
- Cetaganda chapter 2
- A Civil Campaign chapter 14
- Cetaganda chapter 13
- A Civil Campaign chapters 14,17
- Mirror Dance chapter 16
- Mirror Dance chapter 14
- Komarr chapter 7
- Mirror Dance chapter 17
- Komarr chapters 20,21
- Memory chapters 16,22,28
- A Civil Campaign chapters 2,6
- Shards of Honor
- Memory chapter 28
- A Civil Campaign Epilogue
- A Civil Campaign chapter 13
- Komarr chapters 17,21
- Komarr chapter 11
- Mirror Dance chapter 4
Vor of Barrayar on Wikipedia