Canadian Royal Heritage Trust

A National Educational Charity

Philosophy of Kingship

by Claudia Willetts

In tracing the development of theories of kingship, we look back to the origins of human society. Blood Royal, by Iain Moncrieffe and Don Pottinger, tells us that the “mystique of royalty”, derives from three social needs supplied by kings, those of Father, Priest, and Governor, which fulfill parallel psychological, moral and political ideals.

For a closer look at the ancient role of the King as Father, we turn to Lord of the Four Quarters: Myths of the Royal Father, by Jungian psychoanalyst John Weir Perry. The author discusses the archetype of the father figure in what he calls the archaic period of mankind, when the figure of the sacral king was the sole intermediary between men and their gods. The king embodied in himself the dual principles of life-force and of cosmological order, in a time when the world was the kingdom, and what lay beyond belonged to chaos and darkness. This royal father was exteriorly the bearer of aggressive might, and, as the crux inside the realm, the symbolic shepherd of his people by administering encouragement to obedience and chastisement to disorder.

Similarly, Arthur P. Monahan in Consent, Coercion, and Limit: The Medieval Origins of Parliamentary Democracy, mentions the Aristotelian theory of the “well-tempered monarch” who exercises authority for the common good in accordance with the will of his subjects. Medieval Christian theories of polity, like the Divine Right of Kings, emphasised that authority comes ultimately from God, and entails an obligation of obedience on the part of subjects. The theologian Thomas Aquinas asserted a preference for monarchy as the most perfect model of a state, but later added notions of coercion, and limits to legitimate political authority by laws. Even the poet Dante Alighieri concerned himself among other things in De Monarchia, with the exercise of political authority by a Roman emperor, and its reflecting and expressing the will and consent of the Roman people.

The mediaeval theory of the Divine Right of Kings was explicitly expressed during the seventeenth century, particularly by King James I, and in France by King Louis XIV. Raymond Phineas Stearns in Pageant of Europe: Sources and Selections from the Renaissance to the Present Day, summarises the theory as maintaining that God created the office (not the person) of kingship, and that, deriving their authority from heaven, kings possessed supreme power not subject to constitutions or parliaments. In opposition was the contract theory which held that civil power derived from the consent of the people given in a contract between those governed and rulers or governors.

Leonard Krieger describes the development of the modern state in Kings and Philosophers 1689-178. Most people had no means of participation in the state, and government was made up of numerous authorities carrying out a variety of activities, none of which appeared to add up to a visible system. The only visible part was the incarnation of the state and government in the royal person who symbolised it and led it. Thus came the theory of the body politic represented by the king’s “natural body”, in response to the need for a tangible symbol of the invisible state.

Walter Bagehot defined two elements necessary to governments in The English Constitution, those being the dignified and the efficient roles. He approved of monarchs as amply fulfilling the dignified role, by exciting and preserving the reverence of the people, and so helping make government intelligible. Also monarchs must be aloof from the combat of politics or they would become one combatant among many, and the mystery of royalty would disappear: “We must not let in daylight upon magic.”