Who leads the country? The President? Sure, in theory. But who actually makes all the decisions? It might surprise you to know that presidents and the like and mainly just figureheads – charismatic people-pleasers who get told exactly what to do and say by advisors lurking in the background. And how do these figureheads get there? Well, that’s often the work of those same shadowy figures. Welcome to the world of the “Kingmaker” – a political player who manipulates others into positions of power so that they can rule the country by stealth. And it’s not a new phenomenon either – some of the most famous Kingmakers were around thousands of years ago. Find out more in our Top 10 Kingmakers.
10. James Farley
When you think of great Presidents through the ages, Franklin D.Roosevelt’s name often crops up, as despite his womanising and drinking, he was a very popular leader. But less well known is his campaign manager, James Farley. An Irish Catholic with a keen business brain, he orchestrated FDR’s election as New York Governor in 1928, along with his re-election in 1930. When Roosevelt was looking for a presidential nomination a few years later, it was Farley who got him media support through the publisher William Randolph Hearst, as well as the backing of both Catholics and unions. He later fell out with Roosevelt over his own presidential aspirations, but not before returning him for a second term as President in 1936.
One of the earliest known Kingmakers, Chanakya is thought to have lived around 300 BC in what is now India. He was a scholar of politics and economics, who oversaw the formation of the Maurya Empire and its young emperor Chandragupta. As well as establishing Chandragupta on the throne, he also undertook a secret project to make the emperor immune to poisoning by adding small amounts of poison to his food every day. This plan backfired when Chandragupta’s queen accidentally ate some of his food and collapsed while heavily pregnant. In order to save the baby, Chanakya cut the queen open and delivered the baby, who later became Emperor Bindusara. Of course, this all happened so long ago that it may be entirely fictitious but it’s a good story!
A Kingmaker in the most literal sense, Samuel was a prophet and leader of Israel who oversaw the transition from judges to kings, with mixed results. Bowing to pressure from the Israelites, he reluctantly appointed King Saul first of all, but he soon disobeyed God and fell from His favor. So Samuel appointed another king – this time the legendary King David famous for, among other things, defeating the giant Goliath. Again, David fell down quite badly but still managed to stay king until he died. The kings who followed had a somewhat patchy record, as the book of Chronicles oscillates between good kings and bad kings and ultimately the Israelites are captured and taken to Babylon, bringing an end to the era of the kings. It’s possible that prophetic Samuel had an idea of how it would all go, hence his reluctance to appoint a king at all!
7. Sonia Gandhi
One of the most notable Kingmakers of the modern age, Sonia Gandhi is the Italian-born widow of the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who was assassinated in 1991. After her husband’s death, she was asked to take over but refused, preferring to stay in the background. She finally got actively involved in politics in 1997, restoring the fortunes of her husband’s Congress Party as their leader. In 2004 an election victory meant that she was in line once again to become Prime Minister, but chose to appoint Manmohan Singh to the post, after quibbles about her nationality. She is also the power behind her son Rahul’s fledgling political career which may, one day, see him follow his father into the prime position. It’s fair to say that without Sonia Gandhi the Indian political landscape would look very different.
Sonia Gandhi has experienced backlash during her career because she was born in Italy, so it’s likely that the Roman General Ricimer, who was born as a Germanic tribesman, would sympathise with her. Because of his background, Ricimer was never able to assume the throne for himself and therefore had to manage the empire through a series of puppets.
He plotted against Emperor Avitus, with his friend Majorian, and eventually installed Majorian as emperor instead. But Majorian didn’t do as Ricimer wanted, and showed far too much competence and independence. So, Ricimer convinced the Senate to turn against him after a military defeat and have him executed, with his replacement the unremarkable senator Libius Severus. He too got in Ricimer’s way and so was poisoned and replaced with Ricimer’s new father-in-law Anthemius. Before too long, Anthemius was also being deposed by Ricimer, and the new emperor Olybrius was appointed. But all the effort Ricimer put into political manoeuvring had taken its toll and he died of a haemorrhage just six weeks after deposing Anthemius.