Because of the pattern of historical development, there has been great misunderstanding about monarchy and the King. There is this idea that the King was this great tyrant oppressing the people and such. My observation has shown that, in western Europe, this is not at all accurate (I speak, especially, of the Scandinavian or Scandinavian derived monarachies, like England). This is not to say that that there were King’s that didn’t act this way. There were . . . but it’s not as prevalent as is generally supposed. In fact, it seems more uncommon than common.
This idea that the King is ultimate authority and everyone else is no one seems to be a foreign implant primarily, at least to me. No doubt, Roman Catholocism has its hand in this. The authority of the Pope was the first, probably, to bring this aspect out. This point of view of the Pope as ultimate authority clashed with the general monarchial lifestyle that existed in these regions, which does not have the idea of an ultimate authority. Is it no surprise that the Pope’s authority caused so many problems later on in these regions? Every one of the monarchies I speak of ended up breaking with Rome at one point or another.
But, also, feudalism brought in this idea of an ultimate authority. This seems very prevalent in England and its inception after the Norman conquest has created problems and bad feelings that exist even today. When the Normans came into England they brought with them their feudal-like system which completely upset the English monarchial social system. It has been the source of many conflicts that we’ve seen through the centuries in English society. Its interesting that the general movement of British politics was to undo the idea of the feudal lord, as the Normans tried to create, and to have something more like a father as head of the country who took care of the people as was seen in the original English kings. In that sense, a lot of British political history since the Norman conquest was to get rid of the Norman idea of feudal lord.
Even Harold Hairfair’s setting out and conquering Norway originated from a foreign idea. His future queen said she would not marry him unless he had more land than foreign kings down south. This conquering caused a great exodus of people out of Norway, settling in places like Iceland, Greenland, and other areas. It had a large influence in the creation of the Viking invasions. This shows that the original concept of a King in Norway was not of a conquering King with great power but of something else. Everyone was fleeing this new ‘foreign’ concept.
In Norse society it was critical for the King to demonstrate hospitality, generosity, and open handedness to anyone who came to the court. They’d give away swords, gold, and other precious items as well as feasts and accomodations. They also had to display kindness, courtesy, and an absence of rudeness and coldness to other people. There are quite a few tales of the god Odin coming to the King’s court as a poor traveler to ‘test’ his hospitality. There are also many Skalds (Norse poets) who condemned King’s for not showing hospitality. This need to be hospitible seems like it was so critical that it may of helped create many of the Norse invasions, warfare and Viking attacks, as this supplied the King with items to give away at his court. Hrolf Kraki was often considered one of the greatest kings of Denmark because of his generosity. But he had to go through extensive Viking raids probably to supply him with the means to do it. Here we see the King, not as someone who oppressed and was a burden to the people, but as a representative of a ‘giver’. In that sense, the Norse King is almost like santa claus. In fact, I often felt that the early origins of santa claus may of been the King himself who, interestingly, used to go around the country during midwinter (about Christmastime) and hold feasts and often give things away to the people!
Norse Kings often would help people if they came to the court and asked for it. This was seen in Viking times up into the early 1900’s. Even Czar Nicholas II of Russia used to spend hours each day replying to letters of people complaints! Frederick the Great, in the late 1700’s, used to sit under a tree in San Souci and people would come up and tell him their problems. He also answered their letters. It shows that this concept of the King as ‘caring father’ has lasted even into recent times.
The more I look at history the more I notice that the monarchy and kingship appears to have done great things that are still unrecognized. Many things that they started has actually been given other names or are ascribed to other things, making it appear that they had nothing to do with it. These include things like parliament, congress, voting, democracy, republicanism, socialism, various Christian values (generosity, caring, helping people, and so on), the idea of ‘taking care of your people’, etc. In reality, it seems that they are responsible for many of our current attitudes and systems of our government or, at least, they laid the foundation for it.
One of the important qualities I see with these monarachies is this idea that the country is a family – the ‘country as family’. The King is like the father and the people the children. Everywhere you see examples of this analogy. The country, in a sense, is a family. As such, there is great resemblence, oftentimes, of political relations being similar to family relations. In fact, I’ve often felt that a lot of the ‘hard feelings’ of politics seen in these regions are not just ‘politics’ but more like the harsh feelings felt between family members. Its more than just politics, its a family issue. Often, family problems get into the most deepest of emotions. They can get so deep that they are almost irreparable. Many political problems in these regions have a resemblence to this type of problems, at least it seems so to me.
This family perspective seemed to of created, in these monarchies, this idea that the King must take care of the people, much like a father in a family. As a result, there is a great sense of the people as something important in society. There is also this element that the King, and later the government in general, must do their obligations and responsibilities to the people. Accordingly, there is often values which emulate the responsibility the people have toward the government. What happens is that there is an association between the King and the people, which is very deep typically, and a foundation for the society. The government basically is not for the people only, as is often said in the democratic US, but for the country as a whole. In some sense, the society rests on that association and depends on it. As a result, all parts of this association are usually looked at critically and seriously. A good example of this family perspective is the British idea of the commonwealth which seems to emulate this idea of a ‘country as family’.
Its because of this that I’ve often felt that the idea of the government taking care of the people is a monarchial idea, not an idea created by Christianity or Greek democracy, as is often claimed. The same with a lot of the socialist points of view we see in these countries. Do you really think they come from the socialist points of view that became popular in the past several centuries? They seem to be a continuation of something that was alread there.
Its interesting that these points of views are seen quite heavily in the current existing monarchies which are the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. All tend to have a strong democratic/socialist slant to them. Is it any wonder? In many ways, these are just continuations of the pattern of thought the monarchy already started.
I often think that their trying to use the ideas and theories of democracy/socialism, which has appeared only in recent history, are actually degrading and slowly eating away at these monarchial values. By trying to make them fit the ‘theory’ of these systems they are losing the ‘spirit’ of what the ‘country as family’ means, which the monarchy started.