January 20th sees the inauguration of Donald Trump, the new president of the US and much of the world is still mystified how that came about. The process in the Dark Ages was often equally mystifying with many different methods of gaining control.
Be the son of a king: This wasn’t a reliable way to be a Dark Ages leader, as mostly the people of the Dark Ages had more sense than to choose a leader just because his father was a king, but being born into a royal family definitely helped. Example: Athelwulf of Wessex. In 839 he was the first Wessex king in generations to succeed from his father. Even then it took a special synod for King Egbert to arrange it and Athelwulf already had leadership experience as King of Kent.
Be the brother of a king: This was quite a common method. The brother of the previous king was more likely than his son to be a grown man with experience in battle and administration. Examples: Alfred the Great and Domnall Mac Alpin (Donald I) both inherited from their older brothers, even though their brothers left sons.
Alfred the Great is not normally considered a wicked uncle figure, but his accession ended any ambitions of his nephews!
Be the widow of a king: The USA may not be ready for a woman leader yet, but places in Europe accepted it over 1000 years ago! Examples: Aethelflaed the Lady of the Mercians, led armies and ruled Mercia after the death of her husband. Adelaide of Italy, regent of the Empire briefly for her son and again for her grandson.
Help the pope: If the Pope was in trouble, helping him was a good way to gain a position of power. You might even get to be emperor! Examples: Charles the Great (Charlemagne) defended the Pope from having his tongue cut out. Otto the Great came to the Pope’s aid when the papal states were under attack.
Elope with or abduct a princess: Probably a risky strategy, but it worked for the first Margrave of Flanders who stole away the daughter of Charles the Bald.
Take advantage of a national disaster, make a few dodgy alliances, murder all your opponents and get everyone drunk!: Yes, that’s the method favoured by Dark Age poster boy Cinaed Mac Alpin.
I can’t help wondering if that last method played a part in some of the political decisions of the last year or maybe it’s just what will get us through the next ones!