The Known Worlds are a collection of 42 human inhabited planets. These planets were once the centre of the Second Republic and are now all that remains of that pinnacle of human civilization. They are considered, mainly by its inhabitants, to be the centre of human civilization.
All these planets officially owe allegiance to the Phoenix Throne, currently held by Emperor Alexius Hawkwood. The truth however is much more nuanced: the central government is relatively weak and local rulers may chose to ignore edicts issued by the government. Further complicating things is the fact that the Known Worlds are divided into several factions.
Each world possess a mix of technological levels going from near Urth Dark Ages to second Republic. Their inhabitants are only vaguely aware of where they are in relation to other inhabited worlds in real space, despite the re-emergent science of astronomy.
The most important characteristic is the lack of any form of faster-than-light communication. News often travels by word of mouth and the Town Criers.
The orders of the central government, located in Byzantium Secundus, have therefore to be carried by a courier ship. This takes a considerable amount of time, and local rulers and officials simply don't have the time to inform the capital and then to wait for instructions and orders. As a consequence they have to investigate, evaluate, judge and decide all pressing matters by themselves. This gives them a considerable amount of leeway, personal power and autonomy.
House Li Halan