I like the idea of neutral agents, but would still want the player to have their own.
A core part of the agents is just giving the players more to do, more stuff while waiting for power to accumulate or for the next key election to arrive. I think there's a lot of room for agents to do stuff which the enthralled noble couldn't (wandering off into the wilderness to dig up artefacts, escaping from pursuing investigators, getting involved in a nation's politics in a weak but temporary way and then moving on once the necessary damage is done...).
That said, neutral merchants sound like a good idea. I like the idea of the world being very alive, and having stuff going on all the time, regardless of whether the player is involved or not. Gotta keep the numbers low enough that it looks alive, but still understandable. Shouldn't look like an ant colony with a million units moving across every location every turn. Neutrals could then be manipulated to serve the player's interest, such as by infecting them with a disease and allowing them to spread it, or by planting evidence on them and having the investigators chase them instead of the player's agents.
I'll see what we can get for this version. There needs to be a lot of code changes to allow agents, so it may take a while. I've been working on the voting since then, adding a whole new screen to allow the player to negotiate for vote switching using liking (possibly liking of an agent) or power. Should allow voting to be smoother for the player to follow, allow agents to get involved in politics in a small way, and speed up the voting. Voting was taking so long that societies couldn't do anything because they were holding elections nearly 60% of the time.
But yes. Agents are a good idea we'll try to get in, and neutral agents sound like an interesting idea to explore.