What Is Meant by the Word 'Crown'?

What Is Meant by the Word 'Crown'?


The term ‘the Crown’ and how it is variously used is misunderstood by many. At the most basic it is the name given to the bejewelled object placed on the head of a monarch at his crowning and in our case also worn by the Sovereign at openings of the UK parliament. It symbolises supreme authority and its use is almost as old as monarchy itself. From fairy tales to modern sporting success, to be crowned is to have reached the top. It is the most easily recognised and most used of all the symbols of monarchy.

It is only when we begin to use the word in relation to its non-material form that misunderstandings abound. At this stage we need to understand the nature of the crown and in particular its legal and political implications. Does it mean ‘the government’ and thus an aggregated corporation of ministers and central government officials or is it the monarch and all subjects together or is it simply the monarch alone, in other words in legal parlance, a ‘corporation sole’? These are matters of legal judgements and argument but can the crown be both ‘sole’ and ‘aggregate’? What do we mean when we say that it is the ‘property of the Crown’? Can we equate this with government which often acts in the Crown’s name and enforces law through its naming or is it something traditionally associated with the monarch such as Windsor Castle?

In law, we generally invoke the idea of the Crown as a symbol of executive authority - the monarch’s cypher or standard or coat of arms or simply a symbol of a crown can and should be seen in government offices and in law courts as they represent ultimate authority. The Sovereign is the People and all law and government is done under the Sovereign’s (our) authority. Most people forget or do not know this. The King-in-Parliament is the ultimate authority because the King is our protector and she exists through and with our democratically elected politicians and thus we have in one person someone who is all of us. Politicians are there to serve the Sovereign (us) and not themselves. Many politicians do not accept this basic aspect of constitutional monarchy and whilst they are theoretically our representatives in practice they expect us to be the instruments of their will.

Many lawyers and constitutionalists refer to the Sovereign’s two bodies: the body natural and the body politic. The Sovereign is a human being who eats and sleeps and will die like the rest of us - this is the body natural but the Sovereign is also Law and Justice and fount of Honour and that is the body politic. In law every breach of the peace is a transgression against the Sovereign/the Crown and less directly, us (and of course the recipient of the wrong doing). When sentence is passed only the Crown can deliver and remit punishment through those deputised to deal with legal matters. Everything is done in the Crown’s name because, and I repeat, the monarch or Sovereign summates us. For as long as the monarch lives (and when one monarch dies the heir assumes the throne immediately) there will always be someone to serve and protect us through the Constitution and by being the Sovereign power.

For a better understanding of the complexities that attend the meaning of the Crown Maurice Sunkin and Sebastian Payne’s edited book, The nature of the crown: a legal and political analysis (OUP,1999) is well written and comprehensive but as the editors might well say themselves, not definitive. There can probably be no definitive summary of such a topic as it so enmeshed into the fabric of our society that to unravel it would be impossible but suffice to say that the word ‘Crown’ can be used in many different contexts as partly shown above and can mean different things in these different contexts.

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