Victoria’s Two Bodies

queen-victoria

A portrait of Queen Victoria painted in 1843 by Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

I am a monarchist.

Not one of those singular people  who join the Monarchist League, or who buy Hello magazine with its cover picture of This week’s Royal. And while I admire our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth II, it’s really not about her personally.

What convinces me to be a monarchist is the political idea that the monarch has two bodies. Not in the way Tatiana Maslaney plays multiple characters in Orphan Black, nor some weird science fiction idea of one person with two actual bodies, but in the way that the monarchy actually works in Canada, the United Kingdom, and other places.

Originally it was a theological idea used to support the rule of princes. The monarch had a physical body, which could be strong or frail and was identified with a particular person who was born, lived, and died. The other body was a spiritual one, which inhered in that particular individual while they reigned, but never died. When that monarch’s physical body died, the spiritual body continued on to the heir to the throne. Thus, the principle is that the throne is never empty, and the king never “dies”.

This theological abstraction became a rather secular principle in British and Canadian law. While the monarch may change, and may even be unknown, contested, a minor, or senile, the authority of the monarch remains the same and is continuous. In practical terms the authority is exercised by the Prime Minister and Premiers who “advise” the monarch or her representatives – advice that is always accepted. As the spiritual body, then, is controlled by elected representatives, the authority of the monarch is democratically controlled (including, as has happened in any number of Commonwealth states, the abolition of the monarchy for that country).

In Canada the physical body of the monarch is quite restricted. Because she is represented by the Governor General and Lieutenant Governor, there is no practical reason for her to be physically present. She (and members of her family) only come when invited by the governments, federal and provincial. She may be on our currency, but she will not set foot in Canada unless specifically requested by the Canadians who run the government. When she does come everything she says and does in public is arranged and vetted by Canadian officials.

It actually works very well. Everybody knows that the governments are ultimately responsible to the people, and every four to five years we electors have the opportunity to kick the bums out. Public land is called “Crown Land” and is in fact a trust held for the benefit of all (subject to the settlement of First Nations claims and the negotiation of treaties). We have all the benefits of the monarchy without too many of the hassles.

Some would advocate for Canada to become  republic. If we must, can we separate the Head of State from the Head of Government, as Germany, Ireland, Israel, and India do, with  figure-head presidents? The union of the Head of State and Head of Government in powerful presidents, as in Russia, the US, and France fills me with distaste. To attack the president would seem to also be an attack on the state and people as well – something that is not so much the case in these other previously mentioned nations.

Canada will probably not become a republic, though, as such a change would require the unanimous consent of the federal government and all ten of the provincial governments. As we have seen from Meech Lake (1987) and the Charlottetown Agreement (1992) unanimous consent is not easy, and many Canadians have a strong emotional attachment to the monarchy. Politicians may feel better at leaving sleeping dogs lie and use their political capital on more important issues.

On this official birthday of the Queen, Victoria Day, may we celebrate the two bodies of the Queen – the one long gone when Victoria herself died in 1901 and the other continuing on in her great-granddaughter, Elizabeth the Second.

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About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Baptised 1962. Anglican priest. Fly-paper brain. Husband & Father. Refugees welcome! I remember when Facebook was on paper.
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