Being calm and concentrated, determined, and having personal integrity are some of the attributes of a good king. A king’s desirable attributes include being hardworking and active, speaking effectively, defending people, preserving order, blessing others, and honouring others’ efforts.
While most people would consider these attributes to be admirable, history has shown that they do not necessarily convert into the acts one would expect. Take a closer look at the traits of some of history’s greatest successful monarchs.
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A Generous King
Consider what kind of king you’d like to live under for a bit. What is the nature of this ruler? Kindness and charity may come to mind as some of the first attributes that come to mind. While they are wonderful attributes in a regular individual, others may argue that they are not applicable to rulership.
Niccolo Machiavelli, a Renaissance-era philosopher and political scientist, argues in his controversial but iconic work The Prince that it is more vital for a ruler to be feared than adored. Machiavelli claims that a stable ruler cannot always afford to be the “good guy” and must be harsh when the occasion demands it.
When you study some of history’s most famous leaders, there are arguments for this theory. Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caesar, William the Conqueror, and Genghis Khan were not known for their humanitarian efforts. Instead, they mostly exploited their abilities to aid their kingdoms’ military prowess. Some common attributes of a good monarch could be derived from their examples:
Military strength entails several seemingly benign personality attributes, such as the ability to remain cool in the face of chaos, decisiveness, and singleness of purpose.
A king’s speech was often used to motivate his people or warriors and explain why his decisions were good ideas, regardless of whether they worked out.
Personal integrity does not always imply devotion to traditional morality. A monarch, on the other hand, has to be certain of himself and his acts at all times.
Aside from military strategy brilliance, the finest rulers tended to be open to listening to and implementing ideas from their advisors.
However, as you can see, none of the monarchs described above became famous for being always polite.
The King’s Function
It’s a little more difficult to characterise the actual job of a monarch these days, because it’s evolved significantly over time. In mediaeval times, for example, a king had essentially final say over the laws and judgments that were made in his kingdom.
Many ancient civilizations, including Egypt, Japan, China, and even Rome, regarded rulers to be divine creatures and treated them as gods on earth — or at least the closest thing to deities. As you can think, meeting these expectations wasn’t always simple. Looking back at The Prince, Machiavelli offers an intriguing solution: “It is not necessary, then, that a Prince should have all the good qualities [of leadership], but it is most necessary that he should appear to have them; indeed, I will venture to assert that if he has and invariably practises them all, they are harmful, whereas the appearance of having them is useful.”
What Machiavelli is implying is that a king’s adherence to a strict set of moral principles isn’t always necessary (or even wise). What matters is that he appears to be doing so. While this may appear hypocritical, it is in line with modern standards.
When someone stands for president in the United States, we want to hear that they have a pristine personal and professional history. It only takes one long-ago affair or an unpleasant life choice to spark a full-fledged media controversy. In contrast, according to a 2019 research, only 17 percent of Americans trust the government to “do what is right” “almost always” or “most of the time.”
This raises an interesting argument, especially given that many modern kings serve primarily as symbolic figures with little to no political influence. While we cannot always expect our leaders to be faultless, most people hope that their rulers reflect the values that they wish their country to represent. Perhaps one of the most common roles of modern and historical kings is to represent their countries to the rest of the world.
What Characterizes a Good King?
So, how is a monarch meant to be both a brutal military leader and an upstanding human being (or at least appear to be)? It’s a tight line to walk, yet a few kings throughout history have managed to do so.
A noteworthy example is Athelstan, who was the first person to be recognised as King of England. Thelstan reigned from 925 to 939 and was portrayed in the iconic TV drama Vikings. Thelstan was a gentle and benevolent monarch known for his devotion to the Christian faith. He supported learning, developed a fair judicial system, and exhibited compassion whenever he could.
That said, he wasn’t hesitant to fight the Vikings, Scots, Norse, or anybody else who threatened his country. Overall, he was one of the few kings in history who was able to combine honesty with military and political might in a way that historians feel benefitted his people’s interests.
Charlemagne, often known as Charles the Great, ruled over much of Western Europe between 768 and 814. Despite his reputation for uniting all Germanic peoples into an one realm, he spent the majority of his reign at war.
Despite being a fiery and adept military strategist, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans in 800. As a monarch, he sparked the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of cultural and intellectual renewal. Charlemagne was able to ensure that his legacy would continue on long after his death by combining his military strategy talents with his capacity to promote study and cultural advancement. He is still referred to as the “Father of Europe” by some.