The Patrician is the ruler (read: "dictator for life") of Ankh-Morpork since the end of the monarchy, with the death of King Lorenzo the Kind at the hand of "Stoneface" Vimes, then commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch and supposedly ancestor of Samuel Vimes. In absence of a monarch, the Patricians have inherited the right to create lordships.
Upon the death (or perceived disability) of the Patrician, a council of guild leaders elects a new one immediately, without any sort of campaign or overt search for candidates. They will have had their replacement in mind for some time. Quite often the change is accelerated by the intervention of the Assassins' Guild. In theory, the council has also the possibility merely to require the Patrician to step down; but this idea had been brought up only once and wasn't implemented.
Historically, Patricians were often power-mad, selfish men who didn't want to share their power. They believed in the principle of "one man, one vote" (as in, "I am the Man, I have the Vote"). Such a figure would have powerful enemies, and frequent assassinations would be attempted. The Patrician would decide to hold on to his power monopoly even tighter, and not to trust anybody. This would make for more enemies, more assassination attempts, more paranoia on the Patrician's part, and it would go on until an assassination attempt was successful and a new Patrician came into place. The more insane Patricians have been discussed in Guards! Guards! and Men at Arms. People often pointed out that being a patrician simply would drive a man mad. Ankh-Morporkians sometimes speculate that their current patrician, Lord Vetinari, may be mad underneath his cold, calculating sanity.
While the idea of a dictator elected by a college of representatives is unusual on Roundworld, a parallel to the Patricianship exists in the governance of professional sports leagues. There is usually a Commissioner or League President who is at once all-powerful and totally beholden to the team owners; he is in charge as long as he doesn't annoy more than half of them. The Guild of Assassins is not usually involved, of course.
- Frenzied Earl Hargarth
- Deranged Lord Harmoni
- Nersch the Lunatic
- Olaf Quimby II
- Laughing Lord Scapula
- Lord Smince
- Lord Samphire
- Homicidal Lord Winder (appears as a character in Night Watch).
- Mad Lord Snapcase, also known as Psychoneurotic Lord Snapcase (appears as a character in Night Watch).
- Havelock Vetinari: the current Patrician (note the lack of an adjective), appearing throughout the Discworld chronicles. It is confirmed by Terry Pratchett himself as well as The Discworld Companion that he is the patrician in all books except for some of the events in Night Watch
Patrician during the events of Mort
There is a suspicion that the Patrician at the time of Mort may not have been Vetinari: Death attends a lavish party for the (un-named) Patrician, on the tenth anniversary of his accession to the patricianship, where there is very lavish food and drink and all present dance a drunken conga around the palace. It is perfectly possible that Vetinari might allow a party to take place which he either does not attend, or attends briefly, for reasons of State or other intrigue. But the text of Mort had Death in the conga line behind Lord Rodley, with the Patrician's small pet swamp dragon holding onto Death's bony hips and looking frantically for an escape route.
We are told elsewhere that Vetinari's sole pet is the elderly terrier Wuffles. Also, he does not come over as the sort of person who would be part of the dragon fancy. And would anyone have dared get riotously drunk, and perform the Serpent Dance through every room in the palace, disrupting its normal business, picking up Palace employees, incidentally kicking over the buffet table and destroying a glass-fronted cabinet, in the presence of the abstemious and fastidious Havelock Vetinari? Or indeed in the knowledge that he would certainly know where and to whom to direct the repair bills/carpet cleaning receipts for prompt payment afterwards? (And "every room in the Palace" by implication includes those places where normal visitors would think twice about going, ie the dungeons, lest they not be allowed out again...)
From contextual evidence, this party can be placed around seventeen to twenty years prior to "the present day". Or, as he has done in the past, perhaps Death was not attending a party at the same point in the time-space continuum as the majority of the book. Perhaps, in his confused search for the greatest things in life, he went to a time known for its fun-loving reputation(?).
Shortly after leaving Death's employment, Mort marries Ysabell. Even assuming they wanted to start a family immediately, it would be nine months to a year before Susan Sto Helit comes along. When Susan is first seen in the books, she is in her middle to late teens, and at this point, seventeen years or so onward from Mort, Vetinari is definitely Patrician. (See Soul Music)
Additionally, given that Vetinari would seem to be in his late forties in the present day of Night Watch (given that he seems to have been in his late teens thirty years prior), he couldn't have been much past twenty years old when he took the job if he'd already had it for ten years as of Mort, when Soul Music takes place about 17 years after that and Night Watch a bit of time after that. This may be possible, but is a bit hard to imagine (for one thing, he'd have needed a bit of luck to grow a decent goatee at that age).
It is generally assumed that the Patrician prior to Vetinari was Lord Snapcase (see above); however, the possibility exists that there were one or more interim patricians between these two.
However, Terry has always denied this interpretation:
"I'm pretty certain that the same Patrician was in all the books. [...] He's clearly lost weight and got more austere. It must be the pressure. As for racehorses and so on -- Vetinari is not the first Patrician, and no doubt the earlier ones, like Lord Snapcase, were often crazed, greedy and acquisitive. So he has inherited all sorts of things. But he doesn't change anything without a reason."
When the people on alt.fan.pratchett were not immediately prepared to take his word for this (after all, what does he know -- he's only the author...), Terry conceded:
"How about: maybe he was Vetinari, but written by a more stupid writer?"
When some people on alt.fan.pratchett questioned whether Vetinari would really be the type of man to throw the kind of party described in Mort, Terry answered:
"I've always thought the Patrician is a party animal. Can you imagine waking up next day and remembering all those witty things you said and did, and then realising that he was listening?"
It is also written in The new Discworld Companion that "The holder of the office throughout the Discworld Chronicles (apart from some events in night watch) is Havelock, Lord vetinari"
The word Patrician comes from the hereditary ruling class of ancient Rome, said to be the descendants of Rome's original inhabitants. The patricians apparently took control of the city following the exile of the last king of Rome and founded the Roman republic. The patricians widely abused their power over the lower classes leading the plebs to sue for political equality with the result that in later centuries patrician status offered little more than rarity value. The patrician, ie noble-born upper classes, also alienated the intermediate equestrian class, which can be likened to the middle classes of modern society (although this is an oversimplification: the equestrian class is otherwise thought of as "the knights" of Rome, more like the lower strata of the upper classes, than a middle class in the modern sense) For more, see here.
It is interesting that on the downfall of the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus, in September 476 AD, the leader of the victorious Ostragoths (who captured the city intact with little looting and sacking) refused entreaties for him to take over as Emperor. Instead, Odeoacer declared his intention to carry on ruling Rome and what he had captured of the Empire with the rank of Patrician...