Karger

Was Elhokar an Actually Bad King?

41 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

It is an interesting question.  Elhokar made a large number of highly public mistakes during his reign.  From the Roshone affair to the paranoia surrounding and the subsequent saddle girth investigation he succeeded in embarrassing himself as well driving away his loyal subjects and supporters.  The question remains however "was he a bad king?" 

A critical problem with monarchy is that no one knows what kind of person the next guy is going to be.  Also since monarch can easily rule for many decades there is no way of telling if the temperament of the person in charge is suited for the current crisis.  Plenty of the worst monarchs were not actually bad people.  They simply attained their thrones at times where their skills and temperaments proved a hindrance rather then a help.  In theory a monarch can step down.  However doing so is generally a highly disruptive move that can result in some really devastating consequences.  Also the abdicated monarch is often assassinated.  As such many monarchs have good cause and incentive to not step down even if they are objectively terrible at their jobs.  With this in mind let us turn our attention to Elhokar.  How bad was he as a king?  What made him that way?  How would we see him if he had inherited a better kingdom?

To start with let us gather what we know about him personally as well as the policies he championed during his reign.  According to Danalan(one of Adolin's numerous exes) Elhokar made a complete mess of the royal codes.  Those who new how to cajole him could get anything passed into law.  He also is known for his role in the Roshone affair where he allowed an unscrupulous man to manipulate him for personal gain and then get off mostly free(what Roshone did was probably treason by exerting an improper influence over the throne for personal gain) and for the girth fiasco which gained Sadeas personal power at the expense of Dalinar positioning matters so that his two most loyal supporters were acting against each other.  He kept the kingdom together by declaring the war of reckoning with mixed results.  He also had a buried humility.  According to his wife "Your father had grand plans, but you... all you ever wanted to do was sit in his shadow."  .  It is also worth noting that he asked the captain of his guard, a darkeyes, how to do a better job.  While he may have claimed to Kaladin that he wanted to be a good king the truth of the matter was that I think he would have been happier as a well off scholar or artist.  He may not have been a great king but the truth is that he was at least a good person. 

To examine what this means a little bit further lets us examine an alternate world were no desolation was coming and Gavilar was not assassinated.  In this case would Elhokar have been a bad king?  Assuming Gavilar had lived he would probably have set up a more successful independent bureaucracy that was loyal to him(like in Azir a nation he studied and admired) the same for military.  Many of the highprines were of age with him and would also have passed on leaving another generation of people who did not have clear memories of what it was like to be truly independent.  Dalinar's legacy(assuming he did eventually pull himself together) would have resulted in a strong Alethi military with many elements loyal to the king rather then any highprince making open revolt difficult.  Additionally Gavilar(with the aid of Navani and Jasnah) could insure that his son was surrounded by competent and loyal advisors who could keep his mistakes to a minimum and minimize the repercussions of those mistakes.  This is an optimistic view but is it an unrealistic one? 

In summary was there anything anyone could have done differently?

Edited by Karger
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There are so conflicting opinions portrayed in the Stormlight Archive, on all sorts of stuff, like religion, justice, morality, pretty much anything - but if there's one thing that every single character, even those that love him, seems to agree on it's that Elhokar was a bad king. :D I agree that in an alternate timeline, he could have become a good king, and also probably still would have if things had gone differently in Kholinar - after all, he showed some signs of redemption. But, well, he sadly didn't. So yes, I think he was a bad king, but, that said, I totally agree that he wasn't a bad person either way.

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Posted (edited)

he was a "bad king" but with good intentions.

he was just never really meant for the throne.

 

the best leaders aren't usually raised as such

they come from normal people who have had to claw their way to the top.

starting off as "nothing" and then working their way up to "something" lets them get to personally see both sides of the coin.

because of that they'll have a deeper understanding of how the Country or Kindom runs. theyll be more sympathetic with the commoners while also being more wary of the "games" that the people of rank play

Edited by Eternal Khol
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Elhokar's biggest flaw as a king was that he was a pushover. Otherwise, by Alethi standards he was a fair king, just too easy to influence. 

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41 minutes ago, Elegy said:

So yes, I think he was a bad king,

But could anyone have done anything differently?  Would abdicating have made things better or worse?

39 minutes ago, Eternal Khol said:

starting off as "nothing" and then working their way up to "something" lets them get to personally see both sides of the coin.

That is certainly true in many cases although not all of them.

9 minutes ago, Harrycrapper said:

Elhokar's biggest flaw as a king was that he was a pushover. Otherwise, by Alethi standards he was a fair king, just too easy to influence. 

Could you elaborate?

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5 minutes ago, Karger said:

Could you elaborate?

I'm guessing you're referring to "by Alethi standards"? He was in favor of pitting the Highprinces against eachother and made things competitive as opposed to trying to make them work together. Talks about vengence for his father a lot but didn't seem inclined to push the Highprinces to finish off the Parshendi and preferred how the war was ran in Way of Kings over how Dalinar wanted to handle it. Didn't seem to mind the human cost of Sadeas's bridge crew strategy. Things like that were positive qualities to the Alethi nobility, but wouldn't be to us.  

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I think the differentiation that needs to be made it's between Elhokar as a person, Elhokar as a king, and Elhokar as king of Alethkar. Elhokar as a person was surprisingly humble for a light eyes (not that he's extremely humble, but relatively). In many ways this was a detriment to him being a king because Alethkar runs on strength and war. As a king he was actually not that bad. Yes he struggled when he first took the throne, but in the end he was able to hold together a very new kingdom. I think if he was in a less aggressive and more thoughtful culture he could've flourished.

Tl:dr Elhokar is not a bad person or king, he's just a bad king for Alethkar

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I always saw him as kind of incompetent but never as an actual bad king, I mean Alethkar didn't self-destruct in the time he was king so you gotta give him points for that.

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1 hour ago, Harrycrapper said:

He was in favor of pitting the Highprinces against eachother and made things competitive as opposed to trying to make them work together.

In some ways that is not a bad thing.  Having subordinates compete for influence insures that they all remain creative and subordinate.  Ideally you want them all to work for you out of loyalty but I don't think that would work particularly well on candidates as ambitious as your average highprince.

1 hour ago, Harrycrapper said:

Talks about vengence for his father a lot but didn't seem inclined to push the Highprinces to finish off the Parshendi and preferred how the war was ran in Way of Kings over how Dalinar wanted to handle it

Not exactly true.  He was certainly respective to Dalinar's approach and beliefs he just(correctly) believed that none of the other highprinces would be on board with it.

10 minutes ago, Knight of Iron said:

I always saw him as kind of incompetent but never as an actual bad king, I mean Alethkar didn't self-destruct in the time he was king so you gotta give him points for that.

Agreed.

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I'd say that he wasn't the greatest king, but he showed so much potential for growth to be a much better one, especially considering how much he wanted to learn how to lead people. Of course, everybody's favorite character, Moash, cut that arc short. 

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A bad person you could argue, but even his supporters & his own family agreed that he was not a good king. Maybe he could've been one day.

 

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I'd say he let an initial bad decision dominate everything else. Yes, he had personal weaknesses in that he cared too much about the approval of lighteyes. But everybody has weaknesses.

When the Alethi made the militarily sensible decision to not fight the Parshendi in a full assault, Elhokar thus made a grave political error. It sucked him away from the capital for over half a decade. It made him look hesitant in defending what is his. And it allowed the High Princes too much initiative. Elhokar was the second king. He could never come close to the glory of the founder. So he needed a swift victory to remind the world and his people, that he is a force to be reckoned with. He gave it away. He should have eliminated the Parshendi quickly, costs and losses be damned.
Second and third sons you can reward with land are a decent power base.

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Elokhar was a bad king, but not just for his decisions.  Everyone makes mistakes,  even the greatest of rulers. What makes a good ruler is in recognition of mistakes so that they can be fixed.  All too often he would be unaware of his foul ups or when he figured out that mistakes were made he'd compound those screwups. He made bad decisions worse.

However in all fairness we don't know how long he was scouted by the Cryptics, how being supernaturally hunted effected his psyche.  We also don't know how Gavilar was as a father,  if he taught kingship in any meaningful way. We are starting to see that at base, Gavilar wasn't really the best of guys. And the kingdom he won is fundamentally different from the one his son had to rule. Then again,  Elkohar wasn't a child when his father died,  he was a fully formed adult.  He should have been better.  I think that he would have been had he lived. 

Personally I think Elkohar would have been much happier as a normal guy. He kinda lacks the temperament to rule. In peacetime he might not have been a disaster but who knows? Maybe he was just dealt a bad hand.

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In history it seems that, no matter whether a monarch was good or bad, it's who preceded them that effects the publics opinion the most. He fulfilled a lot of what alethi society considered upholding the status quo and generally that is the mark of a good king but when compared to the change and power his father wielded? He is so much weaker by comparison and, to be honest, opinion of him isn't likely to change as Queen Jasnah, is likely to be a better ruler and just better for the current scheming political landscape that she finds herself in, worsening elhokars legacy as a bad king to the worst between two great giants of change and power.

Elhokar also let civil disputes and wars ravage his kingdom constantly so land was always in flux. Something that the Gavilar may not have ever let happen because it hurt his idea of unity, to the point where Gavilar probably wouldn't have called his son a good king either even if that war like attitude is key to the alethi's society

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I think you answered your question yourself in your post.  He was a bad king.  Like you said, it's possible that if Gavilar had lived longer he may have been able to establish a strong government and bureaucracy that would have been able to compensate for his son's weaknesses.  But, that doesn't mean he would have been a good king if those things had happened.  It just means others would have covered for his failures.

It's sort of like what might have happened if Augustus Caesar had died young - Rome would have been a much different place.  It may have torn itself apart.

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I think under different circumstances, he would proven to be an average if unremarkable king, but I think he's  average in a family of exceptional people and that caused his self confidence to suffer. 

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I think that Elhokar while not morally bad was still a bad king because he had ABSOLUTELY NO leadership ability. As he says at the end of Words of Radiance, whatever he did would be the wrong decision.

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I think he wasn't the greatest, but could have been better with the proper training (e.g. Gavilar surviving and passing on the throne when he was older along with some sort of 'apprenticeship', Dalinar focusing on teaching him how to lead rather than simply protecting him, or just not having the living pile of turd mixed with crem that is Sadeas as adviser), and had be not been king of the 'prolonged war = good, diplomacy/quick war = bad' Alethi. TBH, it would have been interesting if Alethi competitiveness had extended to areas other than war. People trying to find the most peaceful solution could have its own drama; for example, convincing people that your rival is a warmonger, only you can provide true peace.

I know Moash is a controversial topic, but I feel one of the reasons people hate him so much was because he cut Elhokar's maturation and redemption as a leader short.

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If things went differently, he could of become a good king. If he had the chance to finish his life become a radiant, and realize his truths...which a WoB says his first truth would of been I am a bad king....I think he could of become a great king. 

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8 hours ago, The_Elsecaller said:

I think that Elhokar while not morally bad was still a bad king because he had ABSOLUTELY NO leadership ability. As he says at the end of Words of Radiance, whatever he did would be the wrong decision.

I think this summarizes my own opinion on Elhokar's kingship (even if it may not have been truly his fault and usually not his intention). The poor man had no leadership ability in any form. He was easily manipulated, had little if any self-confidence, and fell to paranoia (in an almost selfish way). He was ill suited to the rigors of leadership in nearly any capacity, bless his soul but even as a father he may have struggled. And no matter what his situation was growing up without his father and surrounded by the Highprinces (manipulative bastards on average), doesn't take away from the fact that. . . yeah, he just wasn't a good king in the sense of leadership. 

From a moral perspective, man, I feel for him. He tried. He really tried sometimes, and he just wasn't good at it. He wasn't a bad person or seeking harm on others deep down, but he was ill-prepared for his situation. As The_Elsecaller said above, he wouldn't have been outstanding in any alternate timeline, but even so, he was not a bad person. He was just the wrong person in the throne at the wrong time. 

And gosh dang it maybe he could have matured and become better like a few other posts have said, but Brandon just had to rip out my heart and stab it (twice!). Who knows what might have been after he swore the First Ideal. But thinking about that just makes my heart grow heavy. Good question and discussion @Karger

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I truly think Gavilar did his son a bad turn.  You could extend this to Navani and to a lesser extent Jasnah,  but only to a certain point.  He wasn't taking advice from mommy and big sister after a certain age no matter how good the advice. Ruling 101 had to come from daddy dearest.  And daddy couldn't have been as present because Elkohar had grown up with the survival instincts of a dodo bird.  I mean you live in a world where backbiting and scheming is almost an Olympic sport and you grow up trusting everybody? Jasnah's knives had to have a great workout to keep him alive. There's good mettle in him, else the Cryptics would not have taken an interest.  And he seems to have gotten regal bearing from somewhere,  though he rarely used it when it counted. I couldn't even call him a coward. But it seems to me that once he started observing Kaladin (and getting browbeaten by a Herdazian mother) he started improving on his kingship performance.  Thing is, he should have had those lessons much sooner and the person he should have learned it from was Gavilar. Gav should have taken a little time our from forging the country to straighten out his legacy. 

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Posted (edited)

Given if the assassin had not killed his father and no desolation, I have a feeling Jasnah would have carried forward with her intrigues and there still would have been bodies...

Edited by XeGnome
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One interesting thing, at least for me, is that Elhokar becoming radiant/ nearly swearing the first idea, might have made it harder for him to fight. The screams. In a 1v1, put both of them in plate with blades Elhokar would stomp Moash into the ground. Elhokar just had so much more training, and fighting well was in his blood. Additionally, you might say he was a bad king, but really, he just had two bad advisors, whom he should have been able to trust. His wife and Sadeas. Imagine if Jasenah had been left as the steward in Kolinar. The city would not have fallen. And they would have still been able to hold Thealan city. Also, Sadeas was supposed to be one of Elhokar's dad's best friends. Imagine if he had acted like it. So bad advisors and a semi-weak will. 

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Posted (edited)

The biggest problem with Elhokar as a king - one who inherited a newly "united" Alethkar, with twelve highprinces bound under a single ruler above them - is that he lacked the necessary qualities of leadership to continue getting the highprinces to pay more than lip service to the throne.

Gavilar had a force of personality which inspired personal devotion, most critically and early from two enormously talented allies in his brother Dalinar (martial ability) and Torol Sadeas (political ruthlessness). Once the other highprinces had submitted to a kingship, it would have been very, very Alethi for there to be a triumvirate power struggle the way it played out multiple times in history: the common goal having been achieved leading to infighting to be the last one standing on top. And in fact, this is more or less what happened once Gavilar died - except that Dalinar stayed firm to his promise to himself never to take the throne, resulting in him defending Elhokar's position on it and making him a proxy for the throne between himself and Sadeas.

The Elhokar we see in TWoK and WoR knows and resents the fact that he's essentially a puppet between the two of them, but the only way he could think of to try to change that was his passive-aggressive "frame Dalinar for an assassination attempt and have Sadeas in charge of investigating it" maneuver in TWoK, and then in WoR (after Dalinar forcefully demonstrated to him that he could kill him and take the throne any time he wanted to... but wasn't going to... Which was nice, but also reinforcing just how much of a puppet he was), by wallowing in self-pity. Dalinar and Kaladin have to constantly save the day while he does little but get in their way by periodically having a "but I'M the KING!" type of fit of pique that makes things temporarily worse.

He's painfully aware of the qualities he needs, but does not possess, to be more like his father: qualities he sees in Kaladin, of heroism, of inspiring others to follow, of being sensitive to the character of other people. When drunk at the end of WoR, he pleads with Kaladin to "teach him", as if it were something that could be learned by imitation or emulation.

What we see of him in Oathbringer is him finally coming to terms with not who he should be, but who he is and who he can be. (This undoubtedly is what attracted Cryptics to him.) He wants to be a good king. He simply had to discover what that meant for him, and not trying to act like someone he wasn't - Gavilar or Kaladin - when at a deep level, he could not emulate them because he wasn't built to work like them.

It began with him finally not focusing all the time on how to gain the respect of others or the mere appearance of it, but instead focusing on the well-being of his country and its people and letting the right people do the things they were best at. Unfortunately, we'll never see his transformation progress.

Edited by robardin
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Very good analysis everyone!  This topic is one of the most interesting to me as I identify with Elhokar more then almost any other character in the SA.  I came across this WoB a while ago and I think it is a good question.

Quote

coltonx9

What would Elhokar's Fifth Truth be?

Brandon Sanderson

...Oh, Elhokar's last Truth? He would have had to have been on a long journey before he could even get to that. It would probably be-- I'm going to RAFO that now, because I think it would tell you too much about the way I'm thinking for the way the Truths work. I could probably tell you that now, but I will choose not to. Let's just say it would involve kind of a journey that starts kind of-- negative is the wrong term. Being more aware of himself and then coming to a deeper awareness of himself that is perhaps not-- that leaves him in a good place.

coltonx9

Could you tell me what his First Truth would have been?

Brandon Sanderson

It would have been to admit the thing that he knows, which is that he's a bad king.

Skyward Seattle signing (Nov. 10, 2018)

I think his last truth was that he never really wanted to be king in the first place.

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