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Examining 1,200 years of history from the foundation of Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire to the beheading of King Charles I in England is in itself a mammoth undertaking. But it is the issues explored by German American historian Ernst H. Kantorowicz in his 1957 study The King’s Two Bodies that have had a profound effect on the way academics think about the study of history.
Early European monarchs were considered to have two bodies: one earthly and private, one almost divine, embodying the State. Examining the image of these two bodies, Kantorowicz goes on to identify the ways in which monarchies used religious imagery and ideas to enhance and extend the ruler’s power and to form states.
Analyzing an impressive array of primary material—from literary and artistic texts to historical and legal works—Kantorowicz compares the ways leaders across the centuries make use of broadly similar symbols to achieve their political ends. Decades after its original publication, The King’s Two Bodies remains a major text in its field.