Editor's Brief

Kings, Presidents and Foreign Subversion

December 9, 2019 12:13 p.m.

After the Stuart Restoration, Charles II sought to loosen his dependence on Parliament by among other things receiving subsidies (large cash payments) from Louis XIV, King of France. The ability to supply tax revenue for impoverished Kings is basically the root of all parliamentary power in what is now the United Kingdom. At the time the King being in the pay of a foreign King wasn’t without controversy. But it didn’t seem absurd on its face, as it would to us today, because in many ways the theory was that the King owned the country.

There were limits on his power – the key one being that he could only properly fund his government with taxes from parliament. And that gave Parliament critical leverage. But the King owned his power. His sovereignty and the bundle of powers he used to enforce it were his. Any sense of what was in the public interest or his personal interest was an irrelevancy or not even entirely comprehensible because again, he was King. He didn’t just have the powers. He owned them. In a sense he owned the whole country.

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