“I’m only a kid.”

In an early medieval setting, is it reasonable, historically, that a 14-year old boy would be chosen to lead a country?

“Welcome, Prince,” said Aslan. “Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?”
“I – I don’t think I do, Sir,” said Caspian. “I’m only a kid.”
“Good,” said Aslan. “If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not.”

~ C. S. Lewis

In my new book, Empire’s Reckoning, Ruar, the heir to Linrathe, the land north of the Wall, is proclaimed its leader when he is fourteen. While I call what I write ‘historical fiction of another world’, most of it is firmly grounded in actual history. Ruar isn’t automatically the leader (Teannasach) of his country; he’s chosen by a council of nobles, a process based on both the Witan of the Anglo-Saxon kings and the methods of choosing a king in early-medieval Scotland.

While Linrathe is based on Scotland, very few reliable records exist about very early Scottish monarchs. More is known of those who ruled in England. So it is reasonable, historically, that Ruar would have been chosen to lead? He has a couple of things going for him: he’s a son of the traditional ruling house, and, he’s fought in battle, so his nobles respect him. If we look at the kings of England (which wasn’t really all of England, but that’s another story) in the 10th C, here’s who we have:

Edmund I (ruled 949 – 946) was 17 or 18 when he was crowned, and like Ruar had fought for his country in a very bloody battle two years earlier. He died young, and was succeeded by his older half-brother, who ruled for nine years. But after his death, Edmund’s oldest son, Eadwig, succeeded: he was somewhere between 14 and 16.   Three or four years later, his brother Edgar succeeded him, also at about 16. Two even younger monarchs followed: Edward the Martyr, who was about 13 when he was crowned, and Aethelred, who was about 10.  They were all related; like Ruar, born into the ruling house. So, based on what we know about early-medieval kingship in Britain, it’s entirely likely Ruar would, indeed, be chosen leader.

Ethelred the Unready.jpg
Æthelred in an early thirteenth-century copy of the Abingdon Chronicle, a 12th C monastic history.

How much these young men ruled without regents or a council is a matter of debate, but then, neither does Ruar. Nor is this limited to pre-conquest Britain: Edward III of England was 14 when he was crowned, although his infamous mother Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer were regents for him until Edward’s successful coup d’etat at 17 – the same year Edward’s first child was born to his slightly younger wife.

Which brings me to another subject – and a thorny one in historical fiction: the ages at which people were considered adult, whether it was for marriage or kingship or the inheritance of land. I’ll address this in another post; it’s a subject of discussion among my characters, too, but what happens in my world reflects what happened in Britain and Rome in the equivalent time period.

But, returning to my original subject, young leaders are not restricted to the far-distant path. Alfonso XIII of Spain, who had been king from birth due to his father’s death, took on all the rights and responsibilities of kingship on his 16th birthday in 1902. So perhaps, in a parallel world 1200 years previously, it’s not that unlikely that 14-year-old Ruar assumes the leadership of his land!

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Author: marianlthorpe

Not content with two careers as a research scientist and an educator, Marian L Thorpe decided to go back to what she’d always wanted to do and be a writer. Author of the alternative world medieval trilogy Empire’s Legacy, Marian also has published short stories and poetry. Her life-long interest in Roman and post-Roman European history informs her novels, while her avocations of landscape archaeology and birding provide background to her settings. As well as writing and editing professionally, Marian oversees Arboretum Press, a small publishing imprint run as a collective. Marian is currently writing Empire's Reprise, the trilogy following Empire's Legacy.

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