Brilliant move, Benedict

The decision of the Pope to resign because he recognized his own declining capacities is important on many levels. It establishes that the office of Pope has performance criteria. It is not a role so deeply embodied in the office-holder that the only way to leave it is to die. Future generations will applaud this innovation.

Benedict has, at a stroke, modernized the office of Pope, by saying that the office-holder is subject to criteria of effectiveness, even if the only capable judge of that effectiveness is the office-holder himself.

Our Queen’s position on abdication is robustly medieval. The Queen’s Household  once stated that Elizabeth II believed her office was “not merely personal”, and that, for this reason, it was not in her capacity to abdicate. However admirable, and possibly wise, her view of her office is astonishing, when you think of it. Like that of Christ, or the Buddha, it is a status that cannot in the nature of things be given up.

One would have thought that the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which removed the Stuart Kings and replaced them with King William of Orange, had established that the office of British monarch was a “job” rather more than a sacred office. Yet our Queen entertains notions of her office more in keeping with Divine Right than any more modern   political mythologies.

Last year, the Queen celebrated 60 years on the throne and in the central speech of her jubilee she hammered home the point that kingship (or queenship) is not a matter of picking and choosing, but a spiritual responsibility: she ‘rededicated’ herself to the lifelong service of her people.

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Rhodri Morgannwg

The Queen’s position is not, in fact, medieval. Monarchs frequently abdicated (or were deposed/murdered) during the period. An 80 year-old woman would have been hard-pressed to remain in power during most of the Middle Ages.


The theory of the divine right of kings is not medieval, but was a response to the crisis of legitimacy of kings in early modern Europe, and was emphasized in the 1500 and 1600s, centuries after the so-called middle ages (1000-1300). Royalist absolutism reached its apogee with Louis XIV, and would have taken the same course in England save the Parliamentary forces won the Civil War (1641-45).
Thanks for your attention, though.

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