"If a man can be judged by the quality and number of his foes, then I am indeed a great man."
- — Imperial Commander Throm Percevus
The political leader of a world of the Imperium of Man is known as a planetary governor or sometimes as an Imperial governor, and is considered an Imperial Commander in military matters. Regardless of his or her specific title, a planetary governor is an individual with the (often hereditary) authority to rule a world or even an entire star system in the name of the Emperor of Mankind.
The planetary governor of a particularly important world may also serve as a sub-sector, sector or even Segmentum governor in some cases. Naturally, since the vast and dispersed nature of Imperial space would make a totally centralised system of interstellar government unfeasible, the planetary governor is given discretionary political control over the administration -- including governance, defence and economic development -- of the planet in question.
In theory, an Imperial Commander is duty-bound to the Adeptus Terra. In practice, though, he or she is an independent autonomous ruler who can govern their planet as they see fit with only minimal interference from the other organs of the Imperium.
As long as the planet's Imperial taxes are paid, its mutant and psyker populations are kept under control, the requisite tithes of psykers and Astra Militarum regiments are delivered to the Imperium and the planet is governed competently, the governor is free to run the planet however they choose.
Imperial planetary governors are expected to defend their planet in the name of the Imperium, maintaining the necessary Planetary Defence Forces and orbital defences. Due to the fickle nature of the Warp, astropathic communication with the Adeptus Terra is often delayed and sometimes prevented entirely.
Often this means that governors must make decisions on the defence of their world without advice and help from Terra, meaning that for the world to prosper, every governor must be adept at military matters as well as the development of the planet's trade and commercial infrastructure.
Planetary governors are usually referred to in Imperial feudal nomenclature as "lords," and their position often becomes hereditary depending on their world's political culture. Even though governors are given these extraordinary powers over a planet's population, they come at a price. The governor is a sworn vassal of the Imperium, and as such is required to provide military support to local Imperial campaigns.
In the early history of the Imperium this was a simple process, a straightforward pledge to provide a certain number of troops and to fight in person when required. This was later seen to be too inflexible because as the Imperium grew, the differing numbers of troops provided made poor use of some planets' populations and on others too high a proportion of the population was sent to war, leaving the planet sorely short of the labour required to efficiently run its economy. This pledge was thus later replaced with a tithe to provide Astra Militarum regiments.
The tithe is assessed by the wealth and available resources of the planet. As part of the tithe, the governor is expected to supply troops to the Astra Militarum, the troops often being requisitioned from the planet's existing Planetary Defence Forces. The tithe is also a percentage of the planet's economic output, in whatever form that may be derived.
Most tithes are regular obligations, while others are demanded when specific circumstances are met. These requirements lead to a close relationship between Imperial planetary governors and the officials of the Departmento Munitorum who look after the deployment of troops and supplies across the galaxy. Both military and economic tithes go to the Departmento Munitorum who can raise soldiers from across entire sectors of the galaxy.
On the Forge Worlds of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Imperial governor is only Imperial in name. The Tech-priests choose amongst their ranking archmagi who will be promoted to the rank of fabricator-general, the Mechanicus' equivalent rank to that of planetary governor.
The fabricator-general's loyalty is always to the Cult Mechanicus first and the Imperium second, and they are notably more independent of the Adeptus Terra than other planetary governors, their only obligation to the Imperium being that their world delivers the required tithes in war materiel and other manufactured items in due time.
Those Imperial Commanders possessed (sometimes literally) of the worst excesses of arrogance and hubris may take it upon themselves to bring about not only the secession of their own fiefdoms from the Emperor's realm, but to foster such thoughts in their neighbours. This is especially true in regions isolated from the Imperium at large, perhaps by vast gulfs of interstellar space or by raging Warp Storms.
The leaders of such worlds might band together under a single, charismatic leader, and establish small stellar empires. Such entities rarely endure for long, for any agents of the Imperium's bodies residing upon their worlds either rise up or call for aid. Some do manage to maintain a semblance of legitimacy and stability; however, the population is entirely ignorant of the fact that their worlds have cut all ties with the rest of Humanity.
Some especially foolish leaders go so far as to openly pronounce themselves separated from the Imperium. These are doomed, for the Imperium launches mighty crusades to reclaim such lost territory, often accompanied, or even led, by the agents of the Holy Orders of the Emperor's Inquisition.
Planetary Governors and the Inquisition
Regardless of the type of political system by which a world is administered, there exists a single individual who holds the post of Imperial Commander, or planetary governor. Most of the worlds of the Imperium are entirely independent, at least so long as tithes are forthcoming, but others are the domains of such bodies as the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Departmento Munitorum or even the Space Marines of the Adeptus Astartes.
Even so, there is an official who holds such a rank -- a magos prime or fabricator-general in the case of the Adeptus Mechanicus, a supreme prefect in the case of the Administratum, or the Chapter Master or designated mortal regent in the case of the Space Marines. The exact title varies from world to world, but the political principle is more or less universal.
When acting overtly on any of the Imperium's worlds, it is common for an Inquisitor to go straight to the top -- to the world's Imperial Commander. Should the Inquisitor have need of the world's resources, most cut out the middle men and make their requests -- or demands -- directly of the individual who holds ultimate power on the world.
Depending on their demeanour, an Inquisitor might approach an Imperial governor as a peer, with appropriate ceremony. They might hold court, laying out requirements and pacifying the governor's ego with honeyed words and shows of respect.
Regardless of the words they use in such instances, no Inquisitor considers themselves anything other than above the Imperial Commander, and such players are amongst the most dangerous and effective of the Inquisition's operatives. Other Inquisitors make no such compromises, riding roughshod over local sensitivities and demanding in no uncertain terms what they require.
The vast majority of Imperial Commanders comply with an Inquisitor's demands without hesitation, for even if their people are ignorant of much of the greater Imperium, they are fully aware that they are just one world amongst multitudes and ultimately owe their power to the grace of the Adeptus Terra. Some governors might feel wounded by an Inquisitor's methods, resenting a blunt reminder of the limitations of their own powers. It is still a very foolish Imperial Commander indeed who presents any objection to an Inquisitor's demands.
It is when the Imperial Commander has something to hide that things get interesting. In such an instance, the Inquisitor is most likely testing the governor, knowing full well that he or she has something to hide and perhaps seeking to force their hand. In so doing, an especially bold Inquisitor might unveil a rebellion that would otherwise have taken many solar months of investigation to bring about; the Imperial Commander revealing their treachery for all to see.
Notable Planetary Governors
- Annesh (Ionis) - Annesh was the planetary governor of the world of Ionis who foolishly led a plan to have his world secede from the Imperium in order to rule his own empire. An Eversor Assassin broke into the Governor's palace in order to kill him, but instead found a bomb and was killed in the resulting explosion. Secretly, Annesh and his co-conspirators observed the explosion from orbit. Gloating at the spoils to come, Annesh was surprised when one of his co-conspirators transformed into their true form -- that of a Callidus Assassin -- who proceeded to deliver the Emperor's judgement upon the terrified former planetary governor.
- Aulis (Taros) - Former planetary governor of the Desert World of Taros in the Ultima Segmentum, Aulis willingly annexed his world to the expanding T'au Empire, beginning in 978.M41, which culminated in the events of the Taros Campaign in 998.M41. An Avenging Sons Space Marine Chapter Kill-team was dispatched to kill the treasonous former Imperial Commander, but T'au troops saved him and his bodyguard. Following the failed Taros Campaign, the T'au Empire renamed the world "T'ros." Much of the planet's Planetary Defence Force subsequently went on to serve as volunteers in the T'au Empire's military forces as Gue'vesa troops.
- Gerontius Helmawr (Necromunda) - The governor and ruler of the Hive World of Necromunda in the Segmentum Solar is Lord Gerontius Helmawr. His ancestors are known to have reigned for the past seven thousand standard years at least, and records of government before that time have long since disappeared. The Adeptus Terra leaves Lord Helmawr to govern his domain as he pleases, as it leaves all Imperial Commanders free to administrate their worlds. So long as Helmawr fulfills his feudal obligations to the Imperium his position remains secure.
- Herman von Strab (Armageddon) - Herman von Strab was the Overlord of the vitally important Hive World of Armageddon during the Second War for Armageddon, during which he gained notoriety for his disastrously inept leadership. He rose to power the same way all others had done before him, through assassination of the other claimants to the Overlord's throne, mainly, his three elder brothers, who considered their younger sibling too stupid, weak and incompetent to take as a serious rival -- to their unfortunate ends. Even before the Second War for Armageddon began, he displayed his ineptitude, and tried to deal with Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka and his WAAAGH!, himself. An even worse military commander than he was a planetary governor, the poorly ordered forces he had at his disposal were quickly overrun and destroyed. When Space Marine forces arrived, Lord Commander Dante of the Blood Angels Chapter took command of the beleaguered planet, and placed von Strab under house arrest. Somehow, von Strab escaped in a stolen Land Speeder, which was later found badly damaged, but his body was missing. His whereabouts remain unknown.
- Lukas Alexander (Kronus) - Governor-Militant and Astra Militarum General Lukas Alexander was initially sent to the world of Kronus in the Lithesh Sector of the Segmentum Ultima to track down and capture Farseer Taldeer after her actions on Lorn V. His forces landed in an abandoned city, and found traces of ancient relics scattered across the planet, including a Hellstorm Cannon, a piece of weaponry from the Horus Heresy-era Imperator-class Titan Aquila Ignis. The city was renamed "Victory Bay," and Tech-priests began excavating the Titan's massive Hellstorm Cannon. The Imperium then granted Lukas Alexander the title of "Governor-Militant" of Kronus, and tasked him with conquering the planet for the Emperor.
- Lufgt Huron (Badab Primaris) - Lufgt Huron, the Tyrant of Badab, was once the Chapter Master of the Astral Claws and self-proclaimed Imperial Governor of the world of Badab Primaris in the Maelstrom Zone of the Ultima Segmentum. But ultimately, Huron became corrupt in his ambitious pursuit of power and corrupted most of his Chapter as well, leading him into open rebellion against the Imperium of Man, known as the Badab War, which lasted from 901-912.M41. Bound to machines which keep him alive and forever in pain, Huron is now a scarred creature of hate known as Huron Blackheart, the Chaos Lord of the Renegade warband of Heretic Astartes called the Red Corsairs.
- Marius Hax (Scintilla) - Marius Hax is the Sector Governor of the Calixis Sector, an Imperial sector located in the Segmentum Obscurus on the northern edge of the known galaxy, adjacent to the Halo Stars and the Eye of Terror. As Sector Governor, Marius Hax is the most powerful man in the Calixis Sector, who rules over his vast domain in the name of the Adeptus Terra from the Lucid Palace on the sector capital world of Scintilla.
- Mykola Shonai (Pavonis) - Mykola Shonai was the planetary ogvernor of the Imperial Mining World of Pavonis, located in the Segmentum Ultima. Following a brief, but bloody civil war years earlier, Mykola was replaced in office by her nephew Koudelkar. Behind his back, his aunt proceeded to invite a T'au trading congregation to the Governor's Palace in the hope of making Pavonis prosperous and independent again. Enraged at her actions, a vicious firefight erupted between the Governor's forces and his aunt's. During the fighting, Koudelkar was kidnapped by the T'au and turned to their cause of the Greater Good. Captain Uriel Ventris of the Ultramarines Chapter later arrived on the scene, and, after killing the remaining T'au, sent Sergeant Learchus on a covert mission to rescue the governor. A full-scale war was fought across the planet between the T'au forces and the Ultramarines' 4th Company. When defeat seemed inevitable, Uriel threatened to destroy Pavonis from orbit and the Tau withdrew. During the war Governor Shonai was killed, but not before repenting and pledging his allegiance to the Emperor once more. After the invasion was repulsed, the Administratum assumed direct control of the planet, and any remnants of autonomous government were completely eliminated.
- Pella (Donia) - Pella was the planetary governor of the Civilised World of Donia located in the Segmentum Pacificus during the early 41st Millennium. He is notable for being the father of the renowned Astra Militarum commander, Lord Solar Macharius.
- Duke Severus XIII (Kulth) - Under the leadership of the former Sub-sector Governor of the Periphery, Duke Severus XIII of Kulth, the Severan Dominate is a confederation of worlds located in the Periphery Sub-sector of the Calixis Sector in the Segmentum Obscurus that has seceded from the Imperium of Man, and is currently in open rebellion.
- Yawell (Morisha) - When a Venenum Temple Assassin, Urhua Theraux, was despatched in 563.M37 to assassinate the Renegade Planetary Governor Yawell of the world of Morisha in the Segmentum Ultima, during transit the Assassin's starship was caught in a Warp rift, holding the vessel in a temporal stasis for some six hundred and ninety-eight standard years. Not knowing that a Warp time dilatation had occurred, Theraux proceeded to her destination, only to find her original target long dead, and replaced by an anti-Imperial democratic committee, consisting of some 1,000 members. Undaunted, Urhua Theraux succeeded in killing the entire committee after spending three whole solar days poisoning all the chairs in the council's auditorium.
- Vardus Praal (Isstvan III) - Vardus was an Imperial baron and the planetary governor of Isstvan III in the last days of the Great Crusade. He was corrupted into the service of Slaanesh by the Chaos sects already present among the native population of the world and led a rebellion against the rule of the Imperium. Praal was slain when four Space Marine Legions commanded by the Warmaster Horus launched a massive assault upon Isstvan III's capital, the Choral City. Praal and his corps of potent Renegade psykers known as Warsingers were slain during the Imperial offensive. Following the rebellion's defeat, Horus unleashed a Virus Bomb assault upon his own troops, determined to eliminate the Loyalists among his ranks before he began his own rebellion against the Emperor. The population of the world was largely eliminated by this betrayal, remembered to history as the Isstvan III Atrocity.
- Battle for Armageddon (Specialty Game), Rulebook, pg. 21
- Dark Heresy: Ascension (RPG), pp. 157, 174-175
- Only War: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 51, 334-337, 339, 347, 351, 371
- Only War: Enemies of the Imperium (RPG), pp. 9-10, 12, 16-19, 21, 28, 31, 110
- Only War: Final Testament (RPG), pp. 5-6, 9-10, 16-17, 126
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1st Edition), pg. 171
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (4th Edition), pg. 101
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (7th Edition) (Digital Edition), pg. 286
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (8th Edition), pg. 27
- Nightbringer (Novel) by Graham McNeill
- Courage and Honour (Novel) by Graham McNeill