Nearly every society needs to have its traitors, but not every traitor is the same. Before we get too deep in, I think we need a definition of “traitor”. For this post, we assume that a traitor is someone who is actively working against their own government. But why?
Knowing the motivation of the traitor is incredibly important. There are those crusading “traitors” who are working against the evil aspects of their government. Sure, they’re traitors to their government, whatever style of government that might be, but they are patriots who love their country as well. They aren’t going to burn the crops and salt the fields just to win. This is their homeland and they need to preserve it while defeating the government.
Similarly, there are those traitors who are just traitors against a small number of people in the government. This is often the case when the younger brother seeks to overthrow his older brother the king. Again, this is the land he wants to rule. He is not going to want to destroy the capital city that he intends to rule from. Here he might be willing to burn the crops of those who support his brother, but would still not want to do serious permanent damage to the prize he seeks to win.
A lot of historical traitors have turned coat simply because their feelings were hurt. Most often these are the guys who want recognition for something and when they don’t get it, they sell out their country/government. Sometimes it is obvious that they have switched sides, like when they show up with someone else’s army behind them, but sometimes it is not so clear. Would a scorned general allow an enemy into the country just so he can then lead his troops to victory and become the hero? Would a craftsman of some sort turn over the plans to a new factory because he wasn’t given the chance to manage the project? These traitorous acts in order to boost your own reputation nearly always backfire, but that’s not what’s going through his head when he’s committing the crimes.
What’s the outcome? Well, often you wind up with war, sometimes civil war. One of the main issues is that even if it goes this far - What do you do afterwards? How many times have younger brothers either tried to or successfully overthrown older brother kings? What do you do with the nobles from the other side? Most often they are forgiven and allowed to continue on as if nothing happened. Maybe they lose some land that the winner rewards his guys with, but not too much changes. Sometimes the winner is so pissed that he starts executing folks and taking lands wholesale. That’s when the consequences become harsh and long standing. Those who paid the price for backing the wrong guy remember the punishments, and so do their children (typically as a blood feud). I cannot give the true historic reference, but I recall reading about a younger prince who tried to overthrow his brother nine or ten times (in France). Each time was a failure, and the prince, being royal, could not be executed, only told to stay in his distant rural castle. Even though the winner/king did not try to punish the guys siding with his younger brother, the battles themselves cost the kingdom so many nobles from that generation that it had a serious impact on society.
More on Traitors soon.