Commentaries On The Laws Of England "The King Never Dies"

"The King Never Dies"

Context: When Sir William Blackstone published his Commentaries on the Laws of England, he did his country and his profession an important service; he also won lasting fame for himself. The work was not only greatly superior to anything of its kind attempted prior to his time; it also became a legal classic and has remained so to the present day. Blackstone is still consulted, still quoted. Educated in law at Oxford, he failed as a lawyer through lack of the elocutionary and other talents which contribute to popular appeal; he therefore returned to Oxford, taking up his fellowship at the university. Since there was no provision for a course in English law at Oxford, Blackstone offered a series of lectures on the subject. These became so popular, and so increased the reputation of the university, that a School of Law was endowed by a benefactor and Blackstone made its first professor. He produced a number of other legal works, but his commentaries are his major contribution to the literature of the profession. In them he discusses and explains the entire body of English law, doing so with admirable clarity. In Book I he undertakes the complex and often confusing problem of royal succession. He discusses the nature of monarchy, and points out that while lands and thrones are not naturally descendible, "the law has thought proper, for the benefit and peace of the public, to establish hereditary succession" in both. He notes the feudal character of the royal succession and describes some of the problems arising from cases wherein rulers have died without issue. If a question arises because of an heir's physical or mental incapacity, any decision rests jointly with Parliament and the king. In any case, the office is the important point, and succession perpetual:

. . . however the crown may be limited or transferred, it still retains its descendible quality, and becomes hereditary in the wearer of it. And hence in our law the king is said never to die, in his political capacity; though, in common with other men, he is subject to mortality in his natural: because immediately upon the natural death of Henry, William, or Edward, the king survives in his successor. For the right of the crown vests, eo instanti (from that instant) upon his heir; either the haeres natus (the heir born), if the course of descent remains unimpeached, or the haeres factus (the heir appointed), if the inheritance be under any particular settlement. So that there can be no interregnum [the space between two reigns]; but, as Sir Matthew Hale observes, the right of sovereignty is fully invested in the successor by the very descent of the crown. And therefore, however acquired, it becomes in him absolutely hereditary, unless by the rules of the limitation it is otherwise ordered and determined. In the same manner as landed estates, to continue our former comparison, are by the law hereditary, or descendible to the heirs of the owner; but still there exists a power, by which the property of those lands may be transferred to another person. If this transfer be made simply and absolutely, the lands will be hereditary in the new owner, and descend to his heir at law: but if the transfer be clogged with any limitations, conditions, or entails, the lands must descend in that channel, so limited and prescribed, and no other.