Ernst Kantorowicz
and the medieval political concept of
the "King's Two Bodies"

[SOURCE = Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Theology, chapter one]

*1561 or 1562:English crown lawyers argued at court that certain land lease agreements made by King Edward VI were valid even before he came of legal age. The reason was that the King "has two Bodies".

*1571:English jurist issued "Plowden's Reports" which tried to resolve tangled disputes that arose in connection with the notion of two kingly bodies and from the concepts of monarchical authority that were being deduced from the concept of the "King's Two Bodies". Plowden took the central points to be

that by the Common Law no Act which the King does as King, shall be defeated by his Nonage. For the King has in him two Bodies, viz., a Body natural, and a Body politic. His Body natural (if it be considered in itself) is a Body mortal, subject to all Infirmities that come by Nature or Accident, to the Imbecility of Infancy or old Age, and to the like Defects that happen to the natural Bodies of other People. But his Body politic is a Body that cannot be seen or handled, consisting of Policy and Government, and constituted for the Direction of the People, and the Management of the public weal, and this Body is utterly void of Infancy, and old Age, and other natural Defects and Imbecilities, which the Body natural is subject to, and for this Cause, what the King does in his Body politic, cannot be invalidated or frustrated by any Disability in his natural Body.


[T]he King has two Capacities, for he has two Bodies, the one whereof is a Body natural, consisting of natural Members as every other Man has, and in this he is subject to Passions and to Death as other Men are: the other is a Body politic, and the Members thereof are his Subjects, and he and his Subjects together compose the corporation, as Southcote said, and he is incorporated with them, and they with him, and he is the Head, and they are the Members, and he has sole Government of them: and this Body is not subject to Passions as the other is, nor to Death, for as to this Body the King never dies, and his natural Death is not called in our Law (as Harper said) the Death of the King, but the Demise of the King, not signifying by the Word (Demise) that the Body politic of the King is dead, but that there is a Separation of the two Bodies, and that the Body politic is transferred and conveyed over from the Body natural now dead, or now removed from the Dignity royal, to another Body natural.

In the second paragraph above, Plowden emphasized two definitions of "the Body politic" and in doing so, presented the monarch's relationship to "the Body politic" from two distinct perspectives =

(1) The body politic was an immortal metaphysical entity, something that becomes evident as the passage concludes.  Plowden commented on its migration from one monarch to the next on the occasion of each succession. Only when the body politic was defined in this way could the monarch be said to have two bodies.

(2) The body politic was a collective entity that contained all English people. In this respect, the monarch had only one body, which was contained by the political body. He was its head and the subjects were its other members.

The monarch's relationship to the commonwealth was very different in (1) the metaphysical perspective and (2) the collective perspective.

Plowden did not intend to affirm the collective perspective on the political body. He began by commenting on the monarch's possession of a natural and a political body, digressed to consider the body politic on its own, and concluded with a further discussion of the two bodies. The digression with the metaphor of the head simply reexamined the relationship between the King's two bodies and explicated the place of the monarch's natural body within the realm. Plowden's summary allowed the two previously distinct concepts of the King's body to be collapsed into one another. Plowden incorporated two separate but related medieval theories of monarchy into a single doctrine, as expressed in perspective (1) above.