Le blog d'Archiloque

From sovereign’s household to department of state

I’m currently reading Extraterritorial A Political Geography of Contemporary Fiction by Matthew Hart, and a section about English history hit me as a good metaphor: the change from a sovereign’s household to a civil service is the same as the one who may (or should) occurs in a team or organization when it change from being centered around a single person (often its creator) to something less personal but also more durable.

Robertson’s doctoral thesis in history describes Cromwell’s “Ministerial Household” as “an institution informally bridging the gap between a medieval civil service based ultimately on the king’s own household and a modern bureaucratic civil service centered on the departments of state.” Robertson’s scholarship is, moreover, avowedly influenced by G. R. Elton’s political history, and especially by his book The Tudor Revolution in Government (1953), which she lauds as “magisterial” in the way it argues that there occurred a profound transformation in the nature of the state during Henry’s reign. “The plain fact,” Elton thunders in the first pages of that book, “is that Henry VII ascended the throne of a medievally governed kingdom, while [Queen] Elizabeth [I] handed to her successor a country administered on modern lines.” And so he continues:

In the course of this transformation there was created a revised machinery of government whose principle was bureaucratic organization in the place of the personal control of the king, and national management rather than management of the king’s estate. The reformed state was based on the rejection of the medieval conception of the kingdom as the king’s estate, his private concern, properly administered by his private organization; it conceived its task to be national, its support and scope to be nation-wide, and its administrative needs, therefore, divorced from the king’s household.

(The next paragraph explains that things were not so simple.)