House Skade occupies a unique position in the Kindred political and social structure. Although they have no seat on the Council, that's more of a consequence of their strict policy of political neutrality than their importance. The Triumvirs command a level of respect - and sometimes fear - greater than any of the Council members save perhaps the Seer. This gives them what might loosely be termed a measure of "diplomatic immunity" amongst the Kindred, a freedom of action enjoyed by no other group of vampires - and certainly no other Invictus. They have a reputation as warrior-scholars, deadly if you threaten their accumulated troves of lore, but not aggressive unless provoked. Their reputation, though, goes far beyond London. Kindred society is local, and relatively few vampires know or care what happens beyond their own city, but House Skade's opinions are a factor in Invictus politics right across the continent of Europe.
As a collective, they hold the rank of Keepers of the British Museum Elysium. They're also the Invictus representatives to the Temple. The two roles mesh smoothly, since the British Museum is, by long-standing tradition, "neutral ground" between the three supernatural factions, a resource that all three want to be able to use in peace. All of the "Big Three" acknowledge House Skade as the keepers of that peace, because Skade are both impartial and ruthless in enforcing it. In 1936, a Ventrue elder unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate a Mage in the British Museum's famous Round Reading Room. Skade never even considered taking the side of the Kindred against the Mage; they staked the Ventrue on the spot, testified against him before a Court of Others, and personally executed the sentence of Final Death passed against him. The demonstration proved educational, and the lesson has not, thus far, had to be repeated.
A few of the Kindred know that House Skade has been based in London since the middle of the sixteenth century, but for most, their knowledge of the House only goes back as far as World War Two. When the majority of the Invictus leadership fled the city during the Blitz, House Skade became known as the "Invictus who stayed". More than that, they were Invictus who, in an act of unprecedented generosity, opened the doors of its Great Library and offered shelter within to any Kindred who sought it, subject only to two conditions. First, any Kindred sheltering in the Library must agree to defend it against any who might threaten it, regardless of Covenant or other allegiance. Second, those protected by House Skade must henceforth assist it in procuring and protecting any cultural and intellectual treasures which it sought.
They were, by Kindred standards, remarkably generous terms, but there were pragmatic reasons for them. When World War II began, the complete mobilization of Britain and its Empire acted to water down most of Skade's influence. The resources called in by the government drained the Library of its mortal protection and researchers, and the Triumvirs needed a way to make up the loss. As an almost incidental side effect, it made the hitherto secretive elders of the House well-known and well-respected amongst the wider Kindred community.
Then came the Final Death of Prince Marlowe and the Carthian coup. The Invictus leadership fled London en masse to escape the Blitz. Not only that, they took the majority of the Knights of the Thorned Wreath, the Covenant's strong right arm, with them. The cowardice of their leaders sat very ill with the Knights, but their oaths gave them no option but to accompany and protect them when the fled. The Knights held a lottery. The losers were the ones who would flee London with the Invictus leadership; the winners, regardless of age or power, remained to assist House Skade, now the First Estate's most senior London representatives by default. They reported to their former brother in arms, Jonathan Clavain. The presence of the Knights, and the assistance they offered their fellow Kindred at House Skade's orders, helped cement both the House's reputation and its influence. Triumvir Ilia Volyova, the senior Triumvir at the time, took advantage of the opportunity to expand the Library, increase the defences, and build upon the House's power base.
When the Carthians assumed power, House Skade did the one thing most Kindred wouldn't have expected: nothing. They completely ignored the power struggle. In the eyes of Ilia Volyova and Jonathon Clavain, the Invictus leadership had given up all right to rule by fleeing.
House Skade's neutrality was of critical importance. With the Eagle in torpor, and the former Invictus Primogen of London fled and discredited, the Triumvirs were the only elders of sufficient age, power and influence to rally the disparate Invictus fiefs of England to mount a counter-attack and attempt to regain Praxis.
In the wake of the Carthian coup, there were some hot-heads who called for the Covenant to move against House Skade, the only remaining Invictus power players in London, and seize its resources - especially the Great Library. For their part, House Skade initially refused to endorse, recognize, or even present themselves to the new Carthian council, making it clear to the entire Kindred population how little they cared about the new leaders of London.
As provocative as this was, the new Council didn't consider a full-scale confrontation with the House a viable option. First, of course, there was their ability to rally and unite the Invictus throughout the rest of England to consider. Secondly, the huge accumulation of goodwill and favours which they had garnered from Kindred of all Covenants - including the Carthians themselves - made it possible that a move against them might spark off a civil war within London's Kindred. Thirdly, its leadership were clearly elders of tremendous (if unquantified) experience and power, and its primary enforcers, Leon St. Gabriel and Nathaniel Donatein, had proved just how effective they could be in acting against the House's enemies. But at the same time, the House had shown that it never attacked unless first provoked, and that its sole concern was the protection of its vast collection of lore. An attack on it would represent an enormous risk for little or no gain.
Finally, the majority of the Council were concerned that two of its members, Thomas Wyncham and the Seer, would be on the side of House Skade if any conflict did break out. Robert Knox bluntly asked Wyncham whose side he was on if the chips were down. Wyncham blandly replied that it would be best for everyone concerned if the chips stayed up. The Seer merely commented coolly that folly is often its own reward.
Yet at the same time, House Skade's refusal to recognize the new Council couldn't simply be ignored. At first, the Council considered a harsh crackdown on other Invictus interests as a sort of shot across the bows to House Skade, but the Seer, supported by Robert Knox, suggested an alternative. The assets and territories of the Invictus elders who had fled were given over to House Skade; those Invictus who remained in London were permitted to keep all that they owned. At a stroke, this gave House Skade a vested interest in the new order and drove a wedge between the London Invictus - including House Skade - and the First Estate outside the capital, reducing the potential threat of a united Invictus counter-coup. House Skade realized this, of course, but the move also entrenched its own position further, and ensured that the Invictus would retain control of the resources abandoned by the exiles. And the offer was an implicit recognition by the new Council of House Skade's position and legitimacy.
Triumvir Ilia Volyova made no public comment on the Council's offer, several days later House Skade offered access to the Great Library to the Carthian leadership - a privilege offered to the leadership of all Covenants by House custom.
When the Eagle arose from torpor in 1969, he was far from pleased to discover the situation in London, but he shared the Triumvirs' contempt for the Exiles and considered the resources they'd abandoned far better off in House Skade's hands. He immediately began to lay plans to retake the city, but he is proceeding slowly and incrementally, concerned not to undermine House Skade's status. As he sees it, they represent a bulwark against further erosion of the First Estate's position in the capital.
House Skade did eventually turn most of the territories surrendered to them in 1941 over to the Invictus Inner Circle, but they did set aside two of the best areas for others. The first was given to the Knights of the Thorned Wreath, as recognition for their service to Skade and the sacrifices of those whose oaths of loyalty forced them into a cowardly retreat from London against their wills.
The second was maintained by the House but used as a place for the Invictus to hold court, open to all. This was important because despite their neutrality, House Skade is a hundred percent of the Invictus. While they do not always offer direct support to the covenant for fear of the impact on their mission, they actively sponsor guilds and social events, often taking individual Kindred under their wing to train and groom them for leadership across the British Isles and the continent of Europe.
Recently, however, tensions over House Skade's exclusion from the Kindred Council came to a head. Triumvir Volyova argued that the Carthians were being reckless ignoring mortal society. Without effort to ensure the Kine are protected and controlled, peace, she believed, would never reign. Political, economic, or social strife endanger the long term safety of the Library, and she argued that the House should either seek to claim Praxis directly, or back a third party to act on the House's behalf. Triumvir Clavain was more inclinded to the view that the Council's hands-off philosophy towards London's undead citizens would reduce the causes of conflict within the city. As more and more Kindred become invested in the freedom to pursue projects, he suggested, they would work to maintain the status quo and ensure peace in the region.
To pre-empt the response from Triumvir Clepsydra, Wyncham made House Skade an offer; he would attempt to engineer the removal of Eleanor Verne, the most passionately anti-Invictus member of the Council, and her replacement with an Invictus Councillor, in exchange for the House continuing to support the Council system.
The history of House Skade is largely unknown to the Kindred of London, but it begins in Constantinople shortly after the city's founding. A vampire, already ancient when the first bricks were laid, came to the city from far off lands to establish a library which would protect all of the knowledge in the world.
The vampire Skade had already acquired lost texts and forbidden knowledge from both the Middle Kingdom and far off India. She now sought to add to these works. It was an effort that consumed her existence, and over time she embraced childer to help her with her effort.
Sadly, all things must end, and when the city of Constantinople fell, Skade died defending the library, as did all of her childer save two: Ilia Volyova and Clepsydra. Unaware of the others survival, the two gathered what few texts they could and fled to different parts of the world. Ilia Volyova established herself in a monastery in Granada, while Clepsydra fled to Baghdad.
Clepsydra was forced to move again just prior to Baghdad's destruction by the Mongol's. She fled to Granada, learning of the city's tradition of education and culture from travelers. It was there that she and her "sister" were reunited. Clepsydra had just recently risen from torpor, while Ilia Volyova would soon succumb to the sleep of the ancients. A courtship began that lasted for 20 years, and in the end the Invictus Prince of Granada was summoned to oversee the formation of House Skade, named in honor of their fallen Sire.
In the middle of the sixteenth century, House Skade moved one final time. Seeking to flee the church and the allies of the king, both of whom demonstrated a xenophobic fear of knowledge, Ilia Volyova and Clepsydra came to London. It was here that Jonathan Clavain began the third member of the House.
Over the following centuries, House Skade entrenched itself amongst the Kindred of London and the Invictus of Europe. Never taking power directly, their strategy was to position themselves so that any effort to remove them would be too costly. Their scion, Clavain was sent to participate in the formation of the Temple. Their resources began funding Elysium, backed Guilds, and worked to ensure the stability of the city.
Triumvir Clepsydra is "known" (for which read: that's what everyone says, even if they can't prove it) to be the oldest member of the House, and has recently emerged from torpor. A long-term strategist and a deep thinker, she's the occultist and philosopher amongst the three Triumvirs. She's widely rumoured to be the Kindred who sets the House's overall direction and goals. Of course, the Kindred doing the whispering understand neither elders in general, nor the Invictus, nor the dynastic system very well, but rumours have never needed to be accurate to be widespread.
If Clepsydra has a reputation as a strategist, Ilia is seen as more of a formidable tactician, and a very dangerous enemy to have. Robert Knox once described her as the most popular Kindred of his acquaintance - challenged on the point, he quirked an eyebrow, and said that he could think of no-one with fewer living enemies. She is seen as someone who favours analysis over blind faith, and proof over trust; of the three Triumvirs, she is the scientist. Although she isn't as smart as her elder "sister", Clepsydra, she does possess more mental flexibility. She's willing to resort to violence more quickly than the other Triumvirs because she's confident in her ability to adapt rapidly to a quickly evolving landscape and pull House Skade out ahead. She will shortly enter torpor, however, leaving the House's fate in the hands of Clepsydra and Jonathon Clavain.
Clavain is the only member of the House whose origins are reasonably (if sketchily) well known, and (probably) the only one who was originally native to England. He was Embraced in the sixteenth century, and fought for the Invictus against the entrenched tyranny of the Lancea Sanctum. Like Thomas Wyncham, he was a founder member of the Temple (though membership is held by House Skade as a whole, not Clavain alone), and Wyncham openly regards him as an old friend and former comrade-in-arms. Whether Clavain reciprocates these feelings is unknown, but at the very least it ensures that Skade is always guaranteed a sympathetic hearing before the Council. Clavain's public image, whether accurate or not, is as a man of honor, who deals honestly with those who approach him and doesn't prevaricate. Of the three Triumvirs, he is the warrior-philosopher
Though not himself a Triumvir of the House, Donatein was probably the first Kindred that most vampires think of in connection with Known as the Hand of Skade, even before he took a high-profile role at the city's Prince. He does whatever jobs the House believe need doing, whether that means representing it at meetings of the Temple, overseeing its finances, or pursuing (by whatever means) its enemies. He's not popular - the most common reaction to him amongst the Kindred is probably unease - but he certainly commands enough respect to make him effective at his job.
If Donatein is the Hand of Skade, Sebastion is the voice. He acts as an ambassador to the younger Kindred of England and Europe who cannot relate to the ancients of the Triumvirate.
Since his elevation as the majordomo of House Skade in the 1980s, Sebastion has managed to advance his personal interests and the interests of his family and bloodline while securing House Skade’s position in England. His managerial skills have allowed him to host Elysium balls, oversee the House’s financial empire, and build goodwill with the other covenants.