Adolescence, the critical time in the life of any person when they transition to adulthood. The rite of passage in many cultures.
Nowadays, the perception of teens brings images of a spoiled, coddled generation, glued to their screens. Perhaps our society puts little value in giving the youth responsibility, but rather wants to protect these formative years. As a student of history, I have come across many examples of children and teens holding positions of power and responsibility. Among royalty and commoners alike, the responsibility of youth was to be an equal partner in providing for their families. I’m by no means idealizing the past as a utopia of responsibility. History is full of the horrors of child labor. But I would like to take voyages through time to look into several examples of youth being capable of executing complicated tasks.
First, we shall see those who went on to be great. Louis XIV, the Sun King, succeeded his father at five, while France was fighting Habsburg Austria in the Thirty Years’ War. He helped negotiate the Westphalia treaty, but even though France won, this caused bankruptcy. Then, revolution caused collapse and until the end of his reign, Louis would rule the country on his own behalf. To save France, he wisely appointed Jean Colbert as Finance General to improve the economy. Louis increased exports and took power away from the military aristocracy and, cunningly, he supported the Netherlands in a war before defeating them, expanding French territory. In the next decades, he defeated corsairs attacking French shipping, and spread European goods around the world through embassies to Asia. By the times he died, France was a metropolis.
Another powerful child ruler worth mentioning is Shapur of Persia. After coming of age, this young emperor set to work removing the effects of a humiliating treaty.
Shapur then started a campaign against the Arabs and Eastern Romans. He took over part of Armenia and defeated the mighty Romans in battle. Persia then annexed Armenia. He died in 379. Shapur is considered one of Persia’s greatest kings and left a lasting legacy.
On the converse side, there are some ineffective sovereigns who died early, and failed to preserve their nations. One example is Edward the VI. He ascended to the throne at age 10, made several not-so-great decisions, including emptying the English coffers, and caught ill and died at fourteen.
Then there was Puyi, the last Emperor, who came to power at the inept age of four. His rule was marked by the Japanese invasion of Korea and civil unrest, leading to his deposition. He was made Manchurian King, but he had his servants beaten or even killed for his own amusement. After the war, he died a commoner in Beijing. In conclusion, this shows us that while some child rulers have excelled, others have not.
Which path is right for young people, power or a normal life? The more we teens are allowed to do may (or may not) let us become responsible adults. I’ll let you decide.