With the ever-increasing tide of legislation from the European Commission and its overriding effect on English law, with the current debate on our monarchy, and indeed on all our ancient institutions, this is a very timely book.
Based on a series of conversations between an imaginary young prince and an emeritus professor of constitutional law, it echoes the famous dialogue of Sir John Fortescue, In Praise of the Laws of England between an old chancellor and a young prince written in 1468-71, while Sir John was in exile with Prince Edward, Henry VI’s son.
Fortescue draws the prince’s attention to the distinction between the English concept of kingship and that on the Continent, based on their respective legal systems:
- the Common Law, “The king must be under no man but under God and the law, for the law makes the king”
- the Roman law, “What pleases the prince has the force of law.”
The British constitutional monarchy is the product of the first, whereas the absolutist approach on the Continent has largely been founded on Roman ideas of law and government, reinforced by Machiavelli in his book, The Prince. This difference still underlies the approach at Westminster and in Brussels, where, the Professor reminds the Prince, “the directives which the European Commissioners are pleased to issue have the force of law in the United Kingdom.”
Fortescue recognised that “the concern of the monarch is beyond and above politics, looking to the well-being and future of a nation and its peoples.” It is a demanding role, requiring a deep knowledge of law, courage, alertness – the price of liberty is eternal vigilance – and a breadth of view, for “where there is no vision, the people perish.”
The author concludes in his introduction: “Today the medieval institutions of which Fortescue was so proud – and on which our nation rests – the monarchy, parliament, common law and the jury system, all come in for criticism and contempt. Changes there must be; but currently, changes are forced through without any real appreciation of their effect. We seem, as a nation, to be losing our self-respect: and self-respect is sovereignty. Without it, ‘natural liberty is denied”.
L.L. Blake, is a barrister, writer and lecturer on legal and constitutional affairs. His other books include: Young People’s Book of the Constitution, Young People’s Book of Law and Sovereignty: Power beyond Politics.
Keywords: Law, Monarchy