Originality and Continuity in Medieval European Political Thought: The Historicity of John Fortescue’s Understanding of Politics and Administration
John Fortescue was the most important political thinker of
Late Medieval England and his political writings are still the
subject of heated debates among scholars. As a jurist and
statesman, Fortescue wrote his works in a period of political
and social disorder known as the Wars of the Roses, when
Lancastrians and Yorkists were engaged in a civil war for the English Crown. Fortescue made a very authentic contribution to the history of political thought through his distinction between the concept of Royal Rule (dominium regale) and his own conceptualization of Political and Royal Rule (dominium politicum et regale). In Fortescue’s thought, while Royal Rule characterizes the position of a king with absolute authority, Political and Royal Rule describes a system wherein the king looks to secure the support of his subjects in the decision-making process and where his will is limited through English Common Law. Fortescue’s conceptualization has been considered an obvious instance of English Constitutionalism by those arguing that English political thought was distinct from that in Continental Europe. On the other hand, it has been asserted that Fortescue’s political understanding was distinct from traditional theologybased medieval political theory, since he was a secular jurist. Fortescue’s historical context, however, has been neglected. This article offers a reading of Fortescue’s political works within their political and historical contexts. As opposed to the prevailing view, this study argues that Fortescue’s political thought was not an encompassing meta-narrative addressing future generations. Fortescue’s political understanding sought a solution to the political and social crisis of his time, and he never aimed at thinking outside the box of traditional medieval political thought. The essential value of his thought is the perspective it offers on the conditions of the newly emerging body of professional jurists during the period, and that it does so firmly within the bounds of Medieval thought.
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