Solomon we know as the wise king, his very name indicating ‘peace’, but the opening of his reign was drenched in blood; a warning to those who hope to rise by deposing a ruler and seeking favour with his successor.
It was the same with King David. He became king when Saul was defeated in battle on Mount Gilboa and threw himself on his own sword. The Book of Samuel (2 Samuel 1) tells us that an Amalekite youth ran to Ziklag and told David that he had slain Saul out of mercy: David did not reward the young man for removing of this last step to make him King, but had the youth killed at once for his regicide.
David’s position was secured when Rechab and Banaah slew Saul’s son, Ishbosheth. David had them executed for it, though he must have been relieved also.
Solomon, according to 1 Kings 2, ascended his father’s throne in peace, only to unleash bloodshed to secure his authority. On his first days as King, in revenging wrongs done to his father and potential threats to his position:
- Joab the son of Zeruiah, the mighty general, was dragged from the Altar and slain: David condemned him in his last breaths for the murders of Abner and Amasa in peacetime, and Joab lost any chance of forgiveness from Solomon when he was accused of adhering to Abijah’s claim to the throne.
- Shimei the son of Gera received mercy for a while: David wanted him dead for having cursed David when he fled into temporary exile after Absalom’s treason, but Solomon left him under house-arrest, killing him when three years later he fled Jerusalem.
- Abijah, the king’s own elder half-brother was executed as threat, if proximately for requesting Abishag the Shunammite as his bride
- Abiathar the priest was driven into exile with the threat of death were he to return.
A new ruler is in a difficult position: all the expectation and all the jealousy; a wish to be loved in order to secure the throne now, against the need to assert authority to secure it for the future; the desire to reward ones followers but the knowledge that rewarding past betrayal will encourage new betrayal.
David took the throne from the House of Saul but would not promote those who put him there. His descendants inherited, but only with effort and ruthlessness, exercising wisdom or foolishness in their methods.
It is not just princes but political demarchs who swirl in dangerous intrigue, though their risings and deposings, in our society at least, are generally less sanguineous.
The plotter is in a poor position. Buckingham (in the play at least) helped Richard of Gloucester to depose his nephews and seize the throne, but once Richard III was crowned, he had no need of Buckingham, who could demand no favours: he rebelled and was executed. In politics an intriguer is in the same position: he works to place a friend in Number 10 and that favoured candidate will be a close companion of mutual dependence, until the moment that black door closes. Why would a new PM trust a man proven to be a scoundrel and a betrayer? As candidate he must encourage supporters to turn against their masters, but when he or she is in place, then they must crack down hard on betrayers.
It has been the same since the first tribal chief took his place. The contradictions of political power, responsibility and intrigue have not changed and cannot be reconciled.
- The whirligig of time brings in his revenges
- Blood on the carpet (14 February 2020)
- Supporters come out, but no Kingmaker (3 June 2019)
- Jacobean court farce
- The Borisaurus: The Dictionary of Boris Johnson by Simon Walter
- By Boris Johnson:
- By others:
- The Liberal Delusion by John Marsh
- All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class by Tim Shipman
- Woke: A Guide to Social Justice by Titania McGrath
- By Thomas Hobbes