Generally speaking, the word province is essentially a “relative marker,” pointing to a major division of any domain. For example, the earthly realm and a certain area of knowledge can both be said to be provinces. In political discourse, the word has traditionally been used to signify a political territory being relative to a bigger one that includes it as one of its sub-units. A provincia in the Roman sense, which the Oxford English Dictionary refers to as a “civil province,” can be distinguished from what the dictionary calls “a province of a modern country or state.”[i] While this distinction may seem prima facie to refer to the political development between the ancient Roman Empire and modern countries, I argue that the term province refers to two distinct scales or clusters of political territory—a distinction that involves qualitative differences. A “civil province,” or provincia, is otherwise known as a dependency, or occupied kingdom. Therefore, we can say that provincia is normatively or by default on the kingdom scale. I argue most modern countries, or nation-states, that are not themselves composed of modern-country-scale states, correspond to the scale. The vast majority of such states are on the scale of the early-modern consolidated kingdoms such as Great Britain, France, and Italy. These states and kingdoms consist in turn of regions or provinces (which I refer to as “province” below as distinct from provincia). It follows that political territories referred to as provinces are not necessarily comparable. Complicating a definitive description of the two clusters, the extent of territory to which each refers has shifted over time, even with respect to the same territory. For example, many ancient and medieval European kingdoms were consolidated into the early modern kingdoms. The amount of territory generally understood to be sufficient for kingdom status essentially shifted such that what had been a kingdom was only a province (e.g., a duchy) in a larger kingdom.
An analogy can aid in comprehending the nature of the scales’ qualitative differences. The earth is a sub-unit in our solar system—“Our earth is but a province of a wider realm.” [ii] “Province” in this usage stands for a part of a kingdom. The solar system, or “kingdom,” is in turn a part, and thus a provincia, of the Milky Way galaxy. A galaxy can be likened to an empire (imperium), a solar system to a kingdom (realm), and a planet to a “province,” such as a principality, “petty kingdom,” duchy, or county. That the earth and our solar system can both be viewed as sub-units of larger systems does not mean that the two are equivalent qualitatively or quantitatively, and thus comparable. They share the attribute of being “smaller than,” but this does not make them equivalent entities. The earth is a planet whereas a solar system includes a sun and at least one planet. A solar system has a dynamic that a planet does not have (and vice versa). To treat a planet and a solar system as being comparable is to make a category mistake that is bound to result in erroneous prescriptions and predictions, such as “X works on earth so it can be applied to the solar system.” To avoid this pitfall, clear distinctions between the two “scaled types” are vital.
Accordingly, I introduce a methodological device in the form of a multi-level framework based on Althusius’s theory of human associations. His theory is particularly useful for our purpose because he includes levels corresponding to “province,” kingdom/ provinciae, and empire (imperium). However, to fully realize the benefits from such a framework, irregularities in his theory must be removed. In constructing a multi-level framework, I am essentially interposing a medieval-like (i.e., hierarchical, as in Aquinas’ chain of being) alternative to the modern proclivity to treat independent nation-states and unions thereof as equivalent because they are assumed to have the attribute of sovereignty.
I first discuss Althusius’s theory in order to formulate a framework. Next, I concentrate on the term province, first as principality and then as provincia. Lastly, I apply the framework and the two relevant meanings of province to some historical principalities and kingdoms of the British Isles to illustrate the complexities involved.
Althusius’ Political Digest was first published in 1604.[iii] His theory reflects both medieval and early-modern politics. Although involving two epochs of political history enables him to generalize beyond the artifacts of one, his theory is not entirely free of such anomalies. To arrive at a systematic framework that can be applied to any political context, such irregularities must be extracted. In spite of its drawbacks, his theory is particularly useful for our purposes because he distinguishes the “province” and kingdom, or provincia, levels. Indeed, he explicitly states that “provinces” are the members or units of kingdoms.
Althusius defines a province as containing “within its territory many villages, towns, outposts, and cities united under the communion and administration of one (legal) right (jus). It is also called a region, district, diocese, or community.”[iv] A province may have districts, which he defines as “unions of many neighbouring villages, towns, and cities of the same province.”[v] His rendering of province corresponds to principalities because he situates “province” between the local and kingdom, or realm, levels. Moreover, he places these levels within a broader framework, which can serve to ground work in distinguishing “provinces” from kingdoms/provincia (and these in turn from empires) empirically.
In general terms, Althusius’ primary object of study in the Digest is human association, which can be private or public and be on various scales. Such associations have as their members the associations of the next smaller scale (with the exception of the guild and family, whose members are individual human beings). Friedrich writes that “(t)he village was for him a federal union of families, as was the guild; the town a union of guilds; the province a union of towns and villages; the kingdom or state a union of such provinces; and the empire a union of such states and free cities.”[vi] The free-cities anomaly in this otherwise flawless succession of step-wise larger associations of associations means that his theory is not entirely a priori. Therefore, it detracts from the theory’s readiness to serve as the basis for a systemic comparative framework.
The free-city anomaly arises because Althusius did not sufficiently extract vestiges of his immediate context—namely, the Holy Roman Empire (HRE)—from his theory. Members of the HRE included city-states that had been ancient or early-medieval kingdoms whose independence survived in the HRE in spite of being on the scale of localities. They represent the sort of lagging anomaly referred to above. In fact, the HRE contained a mix of city-states, medieval duchies (e.g. Bavaria, Saxony and the Papal States) and medieval kingdoms (e.g. Prussia and Austria). That mayors and princes had no royal intermediary between them and the emperor indicates that a level of political association was generally absent. The free cities and duchies were allowed to remain independent, and thus as members of the empire, when medieval kingdoms existed as the natural imperial unit. In general terms, Althusius’ immediate political context was not the best as a template for a systematic framework.
In addition to violating his own step-wise (i.e., box-within-a-box) theory of human associations with the imperial city-state, Althusius can be less than clear in distinguishing the different levels qualitatively. Because I posit salient qualitative differences between “province” and provincia related to their difference in scale, any framework containing them should be screened of any ambiguities respecting them. Here too, irregularities in the HRE are present in Althusius’ theory. In particular, his theory reflects the ambiguous arrangement of sovereignty in the empire. On the one hand, governmental sovereignty rested with the empire’s political members rather than the emperor by Althusius’ day. According to Bancroft,“(t)he emperor ruled through subordinates who disputed his commands.”[vii] Bancroft owes this balance of power to the fact that, “in the contest between the emperor and the separate princes, the latter held power by inheritance according to fixed law, while the former gained his crown only by an election in which princes took part.”[viii] Magestas resided nonetheless with the emperor. In other words, the honor of supremacy was separate from the princes’ ability to effectively disregard the emperor’s commands. Althusius reflects this ambiguity by failing to distinguish between kingdoms (i.e., provinciae) and empires (imperia) in his notion of a universal association.
In discussing sovereignty, Althusius states that it is the right of a major state or power as contrasted with the right attributed to a city or province.[ix] A “major state or power” is a universal association, is “a polity in the fullest sense, an imperium, realm, commonwealth, and people united in one body by the agreement of many symbiotic associations and particular bodies and brought together under one right.”[x] Carney confirms that Althusius is using imperium here to mean “empire” rather than “rule.”[xi] Therefore, Althusius does not differentiate here between empire (imperium) and kingdom (realm) even as he makes a qualitative distinction between them and the city and province, “(f)or families, cities and provinces existed by nature prior to realms, and gave birth to them.” [xii] “Realms” here presumably refers to kingdoms and empires interchangeably. Even though Althusius views a province as differing from the city in that a prince, duke, count, or other noble receives his provincial office “from above,” which is to say, from the commonwealth or realm rather than from its consocial units, whereas a city office comes from below (e.g., guilds and families),[xiii] he does not distinguish here between the kingdom and empire levels qualitatively. Whereas the empire (imperium), commonwealth (respublica) or realm (regnum) is universal in that its symbiotic body is politically complete and thus can enjoy the jus of sovereignty, the city and province are particular (i.e., partial) rather than universal. Although this distinction can be used to distinguish “province” and provincia qualitatively on the basis of political completeness, the kingdom and empire levels remain indistinct even though kingdoms are an empire’s units according to Althusius.
However, his theory of federalism includes “province” as an association that can have the right of sovereignty. That is, he does not distinguish between the “province” and kingdom levels here. To whit, “diverse provinces or realms” preserve “their separate right of sovereignty” in a non-full federation at the kingdom and empire levels, respectively.[xiv] Althusius wants to maintain that the sovereignty in a federation at any level of human association can reside either with the federative body as a whole (i.e., plena, or full, confederation) or with the members separately (i.e., non-plena confederation). The federal form, in other words, is isomorphic with respect to the scale so provinces of kingdoms must be able to be sovereign. In a non-full province federation, the localities retain their respective sovereign rights, whereas in a full province federation, the rights reside with the province as a whole.
While systematic, Althusius’ federal theory conflicts with his characterization of “province” as politically incomplete. In appropriating Althusius’ theory for a comparative framework that distinguishes qualitatively as well as with respect to size between “province” and kingdom, or provincia, the isomorphic federal aspect must be compromised. Otherwise, that which distinguishes the threshold for the kingdom/provincia scale would be of little substance; a kingdom would simply be a “province” with additional land.
Althusius does distinguish the empire level from the others in his federal theory. In discussing his concept of universal association as a confederation, Althusius distinguishes qualitatively between empire and kingdom on the basis that of the two, only kingdoms can be members. In general, any association at the level of or smaller than the realm or kingdom level can be a member of a confederation. “Association of this [federal] kind is that by which other realms, provinces, cities, villages or towns are received and associated into the unity and society of the one body, by which the body of the universal association is enlarged…”[xv] “Imperium” is notably absent here, whereas Althusius includes it in his definition of a universal association. Here realms are treated like provinces and cities (as federal members), as distinct from imperia.
As the largest public association type, an empire cannot be a member of another in Althusius’ theory; two empires combined would still be an empire, whereas two kingdoms combined would make an empire. His theory would explain why the North American British colonies would be viewed as an emerging rather than extant empire as long as they were part of the British Empire. Mansfield said in Lords in February, 1766, “The colonies must remain dependent upon the jurisdiction of the mother country, or they must be totally dismembered from it, and form a league of union themselves against it.”[xvi] Such a league of union would itself constitute an empire, which Mansfield assumed could not be part of the British empire. An empire within an empire would be tantamount to treating a category as being simultaneously a subset of itself, which is a logical absurdity. Nor can one empire claim a global level putting it on a level above other empires of the same calibration. Hence the claim made by the imperial house of the Holy Roman Empire to “precedence over every royal house,” as though it had no equal, even in the empress of Russia, is according to Bancroft a fiction.[xvii]
We can go beyond Althusius’ “non-member” attribute of the imperium and propose yet another distinguishing attribute. Particular aspects in managing an empire do not necessarily exist (or are not required) at the kingdom (and “province”) level owing to the sui generis nature of an empire. Specifically, heterogeneity is a salient characteristic that is inherent in, and thus must be managed at, the empire level. The kingdom level is two levels from the local political associations (e.g., cities) and is of such a size to be politically complete. A degree of cultural diversity can come with such a scale. However, some common cultural identification can come with being the smallest scale of political completeness. In consisting of kingdom-level associations, an empire has even more territory; the associated heterogeneity of clime and custom over distance spanning kingdom-level associations outweighs any trans-kingdom political identification that goes along with the imperium also being a universal (politically complete) association. In other words, a kingdom can be viewed as a people or nation even if it contains some diversity, whereas an empire is composed of peoples and is thus inherently heterogeneous. Hence, unlike the case of a kingdom, part of an empire’s political completeness is its machinery to govern diversity of rather than within kingdoms.
Of course, the contextual influence on the actual extents of territory corresponding to each level is relevant with respect to diversity too. Specifically, technological advances in communication and transportation have extended the territory still at the kingdom level with respect to diversity (i.e., still being a nation rather than peoples). For example, the Dutch, Germans and Swiss had come to be nationalities in place of each being associated peoples by the end of the twentieth century. Even as these countries were firmly at the kingdom-scale by that time, a European people may have been emerging in line not only with EU citizenship and the related shared political and judicial institutions, but also with the integrative momentum coming with modern advances in communications and transportation. Faster trains and a tunnel under the English Channel, for instance, facilitate European mobility and thus facilitate cultural interaction and integration. Accordingly, another adjustment or shift in the Althusian scales can be expected.
For that matter, the existence of the city-state demonstrates that even the local level can be so even if it is not normative and thus the prototype in a given historical or contemporary context. In Thomas Paine’s time, for instance, small islands were in his view generally presumed incapable of protecting themselves, and thus “the proper objects for kingdoms to take under their care.”[xviii] Whereas an isolated small island might have been presumed a viable kingdom in another context, the geo-political world (and supporting military technology) of Paine’s day had shifted the requisite landmass upward.
Provinciae as Kingdom-level Polities
Provincia in the Roman sense had several meanings. It could mean an official duty or a charge. As a “sphere of duty,” the term was an administrative, not a geographical concept.[xix] Provincia could also mean “a country or territory outside Italy, under Roman dominion, and administered by a governor sent from Rome.”[xx] For example, Aegypt, Achaia, Judea, Italia, and Brittania were among the many Roman provinces. “A country” outside Italy referred to a kingdom-level political territory—hence a king and governor were on the same level. In 1615, George Sandys wrote regarding an ancient king of Judea, “His Ethnarchy reduced into a Romane Prouince, and the gouernment thereof committed unto Pontius Pilote by Tyberius Caesar” (Sandys, 1615, p. 144). In general terms, an ethnarch is a ruler of a tribe, people, or nation.
Generally speaking, a provincia subject to Roman lieutenants was a dependency, meaning that it was an occupied kingdom or considered as if one.[xxi] Hence Bacon and Selden state, “In this provincial way of Government of Britain, under Roman Lieutenants.”[xxii]
I argue that early-modern kings in Europe are equivalent as rulers to governors in an empire. An emperor is of course a rung above both. Territories roughly equivalent to the early-modern European kingdoms of Spain, Italy, and Greece, which are today countries, were known as Hispania, Italia, and Achaia in the Roman empire. Britannia, a provincia that the Romans conquered and subsequently subdivided into Britannia Prima, Britannia Secunda, and Maxima Caesariensis, is itself comparable to the early-modern kingdom of Great Britain with respect to all of its lower part (i.e., England) and the low lands of its upper part (i.e., Scotland). Such an easy equivalence stretching over a millennium is deceiving, however, because the default scales for “kingdom” and “empire” have both differed. Germany, for example, was at one time a kingdom, then an empire of kingdoms, which was equivalent to modern nation-states. Ancient and medieval kingdoms formed confederations known as Netherlands and Switzerland, both of which are equivalent to the early modern kingdoms and modern European nation-states.
The distinction between emperor and king was explicitly made in the Achaemenid Persian Empire, the largest empire of the ancient world, which included what is present-day Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, Isreael, northern Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as parts of Central Asia and the Black Sea coastal area. Darius divided his empire into twenty provinces, each largely autonomous, paying tribute in return for protection. The emperor was called the shahanshah, literally “king of kings.” Rather than being first among equals or a king of an extended territory, an emperor rules over kings, and is therefore on a qualitatively different level. As in Shakespeare’s Henry V, “a subject for a sovereign to reason on, and for a sovereign’s sovereign to ride on,” and “As good a gentleman as the emperor. Then you are a better than the king.”[xxiii]
Moreover, because an empire contains (occupied) kingdoms—indeed, I maintain that the scale commensurate with kingdom at a given time is the default for the main units of empire of the time—an empire is not simply larger than the typical kingdom of the time. Rather, gap or space exists between the two respective clusters. That is to say, the quantitative difference is qualitative, or step-wise.
Logically, a difference in scale must exist between a thing and its units. An entity that consists of units that are clustered at a certain scale cannot itself be on that scale; there must be a “step” rather than a degree of difference involved. Furthermore, the entity and its units differ qualitatively in terms of their attributes. The interactional effects in a general system as well as any related synergies that make the system’s whole more than the sum of its parts are not contained within any one of the units. By analogy, a galaxy contains the dynamic of moving solar systems that the solar systems themselves don’t have. In the present case, if a kingdom contains a people, an empire necessarily contains peoples and is thus inherently diverse or heterogeneous. In contrast, a kingdom may or may not contain some degree of cultural diversity, yet such differences are contained within being a people or nation. It follows that an empire’s governance must needs have diversity-governance mechanisms that the typical kingdom need not have. Relatedly, because their respective tasks are different, emperorship is not simply kingship writ large.
Unfortunately, confusion has plagued the vital difference between an emperor and a king, which in turn reflects a failure to sufficiently distinguish an empire from a kingdom. For example, the Wyclif Bible, which was written in1382, refers to emperor Ahasuerus and “his empire” (1:3) and again to “the empire and thi prouynces, which is ful large” (1:20).[xxiv] This empire is believed to be the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Wyclif also uses language that can be read as referring to a kingdom, as in: “alle the prouynces of thi rewme” (3:8) and “the ring of the king weren sent bi the corouris of the kyng to alle hise prouynces” (3:13).Couriers running around, showing the king’s ring, evokes the image of a royal castle surrounded by countryside—that is to say, a kingdom rather than an empire.
The Oxford English Dictionary reflects the failure to sufficiently distinguish an empire from a kingdom. The dictionary states that a province is “any principal division of a kingdom or empire, especially one that has been historically, linguistically, or dialectically distinct.”[xxv] This definition is followed by seemingly interchangeable examples of provinces in kingdoms and empires. In particular, the dictionary lists Ireland, Spain, Italy, Prussia, and France, as well as Russia and India, as having provinces, and notes that even the shires of England have been referred to as provinces.[xxvi] Even defining the term as “an administrative division of a country or state”[xxvii] does not clarify matters much because both “country” and “state” can refer to kingdoms and empires. The provinciae of Rome were administrative divisions of the Roman state, while provinces such as Burgundy were administrative units in the kingdom of France. In general, characterizations that do not distinguish between a dependency and a principality invite category mistakes and are thus insufficient for the purpose of constructing a comparative framework with qualitatively and quantitatively distinct clusters, or levels. Having described the provincia level, I turn now to clarify the meaning of “province” as a principality—which is to say, as a subunit of a kingdom (rather than an empire). With both senses of province clarified, they can be applied to the dynamic historical contexts of the British isles.
Provinces as Principalities of Kingdoms
“Province” can signify a sub-unit of a kingdom, whether the realm is ancient, medieval early-modern, or modern. By analogy, the focus here is on the planet-solar system distinction—the planets being “provinces” of the sun king. Whereas a kingdom is deemed sufficient in territory to legitimate sovereignty, a “province” is as it were a spoke, or part, ancillary to the capitol hub. Such provinciae are distinct from the “provinces” of the kingdoms. Littré defines la province as “all that is in France outside the capital.”[xxviii] As “province,” the “relative marker” highlights political dependence or incompleteness. In contrast, provincia retains or is imbued with a certain completeness even as it is a member of an empire. Crucially, having the scale recognized as sufficient for a political completeness implying at least the legitimacy of sovereignty is the key differentiating provincia from “province” at a given time. The respective scales are both historically contingent; hence taking now of the shifts of each is necessary to avoid making category mistakes in comparing political territories.
In general, “province” in the sense of being a sub-unit of a modern kingdom (or, more generally, of a non-empire modern nation-state) could refer to anything from a county (e.g., Kent) to a medieval duchy (e.g., Bavaria); no such political territory can be likened to a state or provincia in a modern empire when they are themselves subunits of such a state. “Province” can refer to the historical duchies of Bavaria or Brittany as well as the counties of Kent and Cork. In the fourteenth century, for example, Trevisa referred to Yorkshire county as a province. “The province of Yorke extende the hit oonly now from the arche of the floode of Humbre on to the floode of Teyse”[xxix] He also applies the term to Franconia, one of four duchies of East Francia (roughly modern Germany), which was roughly equivalent to a modern Lander. “Franconia is, as it were, the myddel prouynce of Germania, and hath in the est side Thuryngia, in the west Suevia”[xxx] In the fifteenth century, Fabyan refers to Hengiste’s ancient Kent as a province, and in the seventeenth Camden refers to the British shires such as Cornwall as provinces and countries. “Thenne Hengiste beganne his Lordshyp ouer the Prouynce of Kent”[xxxi] “My perambulation through the Provinces or Shires of Britaine…”[xxxii] Carpenter also refers to the counties of Deuon and Cornwall as provinces. “Our mountainous Provinces of Deuon and Cornwall haue not dserued so ill”[xxxiii] Meanwhile, Shakespeare refers to the counties of Aniou and Maine in France as provinces and Moryson refers to the old provincial Irish kingdom of Mounster as a province. “Aniou and Maine? My selfe did win them both: Those Provinces, these Armies of mine did conquer.”[xxxiv] “Te Lord President…left the Prouince of Mounster to meet the Lord Deputy at Galloway in Connaght.”[xxxv] In addition, Radcliffe writes “On the pleasant banks of the Garonne, in the province of Gascony,”[xxxvi] and Spalding writes that “Corsica…is still a province of that kingdom [France].”[xxxvii]
That the extent of land deemed sufficient to constitute a kingdom has differed historically in Europe means that the generally accepted default for “province” has shifted as well. Accordingly, the typical sizes of empires has varied as well. As examples of empires of one age being equivalent to the kingdom level in another, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland were all originally formed of ancient or medieval duchies or kingdoms, and thus corresponded to the empire or imperium level for a time before coming to be viewed as equivalent to the early-modern kingdoms, all of them being nation-states (and most being members of the EU) by the end of the twentieth century. With their unions being recognized as corresponding to the kingdom (and modern European nation-state) level, the original members of the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland correspond to the “province” category. Already in 1706 Phillips referred to the seven northern provinces of the low-countries as having united themselves at Ulrecht in 1579.[xxxviii]
The element of historical contingency had facilitated the modern-day conflation and related category mistakes of empires and kingdoms. For example, the distinction between an early-modern consolidated kingdom such as Great Britain and its various sub-divisions, which can include principalities or “petty kingdoms” converted into duchies or counties, is obscured because the subdivisions may have themselves been sovereign kingdoms in an earlier era of political association. Particular problematic for our purpose is the historic notion of a “provincial kingdom,” which is a mid-station of sorts that fuses “province” and kingdom.
Although ancient empires could be quite expansive territorially, the ability of kings to control increasing amounts of territory due to developments in military and transportation technology and advances in bureaucracy from the medieval through the early-modern periods in Europe effectively shifted the normative threshold scale for empires as well.
The vast majority of what would be the Kingdom of Great Britain, for example, was essentially already on kingdom-level as the provincia of Britania in the Roman Empire—before the emergence of the little kingdoms that would form the medieval kingdom of England. To be sure, the kingdom of Brytayne is said to have comprised a good part of what had been Roman Britannia. Vortiger, a semi-mythological figure, is said to have been made king of Brytayne in 448.[xxxix] He gave Hengist three provinces— Kent, Eastsaxon or Essex, and Estanglis (Norffolke and Suffolke)—located on the east part of the island at around 455.[xl] Hengist himself is said to have enjoyed lordship over Kent. Here is where the distinction between “province” and kingdom becomes blurry. Fabyan refers to Kent as a “prouynce” and “prynicipate,” and at the same time to Hengiste and the other Saxons ruling the seven “pryncipates of Brytayne” as “small or lytell kynges.”[xli] To be a king implies completeness and sovereignty (unless a provincia), yet Brytayne is itself portrayed as a kingdom—the Roman Empire having had provinciae on Brytayne’s scale.
The petty kingdoms such as Kent combined forces for the purpose of warfare into what is called the heptarchy, which entailed recognizing one of their kings as Bretwalda, or “Lord of Britain”— the title being with the kings of Northumbria in the 7th century, of Mercia in the 8th and to Egbert of Wessex in the 9th. However, the “provinces” did not formally and permanently unify to form the kingdom of England until 927.[xlii] So it is doubtful whether Kent and the other kingdoms would have actually been principally considered provinces or principates of a larger kingdom until 927. More likely, they would have been considered as provinces only in a military sense and then only with respect to joint operations headed by one of the kings who was recognized for that purpose as Bretwalda. That is, the term can be likened to a first of equals for a particular function, rather than as an emperor of an empire.
Certainly by the time of the medieval kingdom of England, the once-kingdoms such as Kent were “provinces” rather than kingdoms. In other words, the scale of that which counted as a kingdom had been downsized after Britania and then upsized (e.g., from Kent to England). Even if the petty kingdom of Kent had had “provinces,” Kent itself was sufficient from the later standpoint of England only as a “province.” Both “province” and kingdom shifted in what they represented, respectively.
As more land became necessary for a political authority to be recognized as a kingdom, that which could constitute a “province” increased as well. In effect, that which had been a kingdom would come to qualify only for a “province,” such as a duchy or county. For example, Yorkshire and Kent were both ancient kingdoms that would become “provinces” labeled as counties in England, which in turn was a medieval kingdom that would be but a “province” in a succession of two still-larger early-modern and modern kingdoms: Great Britain and the UK, respectively. By the time of Trevisa, “The province of Yorke extendethe hit oonly now from the arche of the floode of Humbre on to the floode of Teyse.”[xliii] Yorke was by then no longer a kingdom. After the Norman Conquest, shires were relegated as “provinces.” Thus Camden writes of his “perambulation through the Provinces or Shires of Britaine…”[xliv] These political entities were partial, being as though spokes around a royal hub. The Annals of Agriculture, for instance, remarks concerning Great Britain, “through this kingdom, wherever there is a free communication between the capital and the provinces...”[xlv] Further, the Law Times states, “The full force of the Bench is required to deal effectually with the work in London and the provinces.”[xlvi] The principalities are thus defined in reference to the kingdom; hence it would be difficult for them to be kingdoms themselves concurrently. Ireland is a better case in point concerning this ambiguity.
The ancient little kingdoms on the Irish isle that were later dubbed “provinces” were in a more confusing condition of being provinces of a larger kingdom while still being kingdoms themselves. The inconsistency is evident in: “(t)hey divided the country into four provinces, vis. Ulster, Leinster, Munster, and Connaught, each of which had its king.”[xlvii] Pointing to the kings’ inferior status, Moser observes that “(a)t the head of these four provincial kings was placed a supreme monarch.”[xlviii] The petty kings generally were willing to be tributary to the monarch, who was chosen among them to protect the island as a whole. Hence the island itself was viewed as a kingdom too. As could be predicted from the inherent ambiguity of having kings under a monarch (albeit for the designated purpose of defending the island as a whole), the provincial kings not selected as the monarch did not always recognize the validity of the suzerain. A provincial kingdom that is also a kingdom is an unstable mixture, moreover, if not an outright oxymoron. Having one level (i.e., kingship) split into two even as it is still one is inherently unstable because the lower level of the one level will never completely accept the legitimacy of the higher level because they are of the same level. In other words, the notion of a king of kings is inherently problematic in a political sense.
The alternative of viewing Ireland as an empire, which is to say, having an emperor rather than a king ruling over the kings, was not realized in practical terms because the kings did not convert their respective kingdoms into provincae, or dependencies, of an imperial government. As in the case of Brytayne, the isle of Ireland would have been seen as equivalent to the Roman Empire’s provincae rather than to the empire itself. To view Ireland as an empire would have seemed an anomaly. The provincial kingdoms, in other words, were not of a sufficient scale to combine among themselves an empire. Furthermore, the people on the island did not constitute different peoples, so their combination would not have struck them or others as constituting an empire of nations. Hence the “supreme monarch” could not break out of the kingship category. Meanwhile, the petty kings were pitted between a rock and a hard place in simultaneously playing the contradictory roles of king and inferior. Until the Norman conquest, the island’s provincial kings were likened to the island’s monarch as being royals. They were distinguished, therefore, from the chieftains and lords whom they dubbed as inferiors. At the same time, the provincial kings were like the “inferiors” in having to pay tribute and in not infrequently resisting it. The inferiors governed their respective districts in the same manner as the provincial kings governed. Even so, the chieftains and lords were generally recognized as inferiors rather than kings.[xlix] In fact, some chieftains claimed kingship for themselves. The question of whether the provincial kings’ territories are “provinces” or provinciae in that context is difficult to resolve. In general, one way to determine whether a certain political entity or territory corresponds to provincia or principality is to situate the territory in the wider historical context of the region and trace the shifts the respective scales.
In the case of Ireland, the oldest extant quasi-history tells of Ollam-Fodh, who is said to have established a regular form of government before the Christian era by instituting the Fes. This triennial convention of provincial kings, priests, and poets was established to promulgate laws and regulate government. In this petrarchal “government,” one of the five provincial kings served as the monarch of the island. In this respect, the provincial kings can be said to have ruled principalities of a kingdom. However, Leland points out that the triennial assemblies were not very powerful and, more specifically, that the influence of the monarchs over the provincial kings was weak; instead, the provincial kings lived in “a kind of federal union with each other,” which from the vantage-point of modern federalism instituted in 1786 as a compromise in Philadelphia, is a confederation.[l] Such a political entity is an alliance of sovereign kingdoms, or more generally, sovereign states, which even the chieftains could interrupt.[li] At around 1165 CE, for example, the monarch was little more than titular, and a number of chieftains not only viewed themselves as the monarch’s allies, but also assumed the title rights of royalty.[lii] In Ulster province, for example, a chieftain whom Leland calls “Dunleve prince” disputed the provincial king’s authority and thus affected what Leland calls “an independent state” corresponding to what is now the county Down. [liii] The monarch Roderic “held a numerous and magnificent convention of the states,” which in turn were more than just the four provincial kingdoms.[liv] At the time, the province of Leinster was divided into several inferior principalities or districts of comparable scale to the Dunleve kingdom. Dermod, for example, who was chief of the O’Birnes whose district is the current county Wicklow, went to England, where he was recognized as a “prince” who had been injured by a “confederacy,” of which his district was a “state.”[lv] The chieftains in Ireland typically had territory on the scale of the post-Norman county, hardly a scale to constitute a kingdom when the provincial kingdoms were in existence. Accordingly, the aspiring chieftains were generally not recognized as kings. This can be inferred by Leland’s statement that the Danish septs on the island were governed by chieftains whom the Danes called kings (Leland, 1775, p. lv). To the indigenous population at the time, a chieftain’s office and land were generally considered to be insufficient to constitute kingship and a kingdom, respectively.
In all respects other than being obliged to pay tribute and contribute military forces, the provincial kings had “all regal authority by virtue of a similar election.”[lvi] That is, they had their rights independent of him, which implies having the right (jus) of sovereignty. Leland argues that the “power and government of a provincial king were exactly similar to those of the monarch” aside from the tribute and the troops called into the monarch’s service.[lvii] In fact, a provincial king could even hold the monarch back should he encroach on their authority within the little kingdom. However, the “supreme monarch” could further sub-divide the kingdoms into dynasties and appeal directly to those lords should a provincial king be unwilling to submit to the monarch’s call for tribute or troops. Hugony, for example, parceled the island into twenty-five dynasties.[lviii]
Munster, which today has six counties, was once six regions, each of which was a kingdom. They were then subsumed into three kingdoms: Thomond, Desmond, and Ormond. They in turn were subsumed into earldoms in the Peerage of Ireland. Ulster, which had been a provincial kingdom, was itself made an earldom in 1205. In other words, territories that had been reckoned as kingdoms came to be deserving only as principalities.
In spite of the quasi-historical “High King” figure in medieval and early modern literature, Ireland as a kingdom was not a political reality until the Viking Age—meaning that the island was a medieval rather than an ancient kingdom.[lix] As such, it was equivalent to other medieval kingdoms, such as England and Scotland. In the Charter of Carolina of 1663, for instance, Charles II is identified as “king of England, Scotland, France and Ireland.”[lx] When the island of Ireland itself became recognized as the default scale for kingdom-status, political territories within the island were correspondingly “readjusted” downward to the scale of principalities. The ancient Irish provincial kingdoms correspond, therefore, to the principalities in England. This is not to say that anomalies were prevented from occurring. Leinster, for example, had a king until 1632 and Connacht continued on for some time as a tributary kingdom to the Normans.
The changing calibrations for “province” and kingdom statuses historically and the consequent lagging anomalies such as a medieval kingdom remaining independent in the early modern period alongside the larger consolidated early-modern kingdoms has precipitated category mistakes. The most common is taking a “province” and a kingdom, or provincia, of the same time as equivalent. In Ireland, for example, the five original provincial kingdoms were actually called cuigi when they existed as such; they were dubbed “provinces” only later, after they had been replaced as political entities by the more numerous and smaller counties. The record-keepers applied the label in mistaken imitation of the Roman imperial provinciae even though the island of Ireland is roughly commensurate with Brittania, and Ireland was not itself an empire at the time of the little kingdoms were labeled as provinces.
In general, failing to take into consideration the historical variable can lead to apparent inconsistencies. For instance, referring to Ulster as an Irish “province” and Northern Ireland as a “province” of the United Kingdom (as in “the old Loyalist merry-go-round of…province-wide protests and rallies”[lxi]) can appear to be an inconsistent statement if one does not take into account that one was a province before the other. Whereas both Ulster and Northern Ireland instantiate “province” in its sense of being within a kingdom, neither could be counted in their respective times as constituting provinciae. Treating a “province” as equivalent to a provincia is a much more significant mistake, which the proposed framework based on Althusius’ theory is geared to correct as well as to prevent.
In conclusion, “province” can be characterized by its scale that intimates political dependence, while the kingdom level is that scale associated with political self-sufficiency and a related nationality or homogeneity that outweighs the diversity ensuing from its territory having regions (“provinces”). Althusius’ kingdom scale corresponds to provinciae, which can be defined as members of empires. The imperium level consists of universal associations that unlike kingdoms cannot be members in turn and consist of kingdoms. Hence the empires are inherently diverse. The actual extents of territory satisfying the “province,” kingdom/provincia, and empire scales are subject to the determination of each historical and geographical context. Complicating comparison still more, the extents have all shifted over time. Even within a given context, practical anomalies such as a free-city being a member of the HRE and ambiguities such as provincial kingdoms in ancient Ireland can exist. Residual political entities from one era are typically misconstrued by applying a calibration from a later time without regard to the one that formed and situated them. Therefore, historical analysis that includes and relates all of the relevant calibrations pertaining to the political entities being compared must accompany the use of the framework of this comparative methodology. Otherwise, category mistakes will be perpetuated rather than detected and avoided.
[i] Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, (Oxford: Clarenden Press, 1989), XII, under “provincial” (2a). I refer to this dictionary hereafter as OED.
[ii] J. Martineau, Essays: Philosophical and Theological (London: Truebner & Co., 1869).
[iii] For the original Latin, see C. J. Friedrich, ed. Politica Methodice Digesta of Johannes Althusius (Althaus) (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1932). For an abridged translation into English, see F. S. Carney, The Politics of Johannes Althusius (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964).
[iv] Carney, 46.
[v] Carney, 50.
[vi] C. J. Friedrich, Preface, in Carney, ix-x.
[vii] G. Bancroft, History of the United States (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1866), X, 68.
[viii] Bancroft, X, 67.
[ix] Carney, 64.
[x] Carney, 61.
[xi] Carney, 61.
[xii] Carney, 61.
[xiii] Carney, xxiii.
[xiv] “Non-plena confederatio est, qua diversae provinciae vel regna, salvo singulis suo majestatis jure…” (Caput XVII, 30 in Friedrich, 128). My translation.
[xv] “Consociatio ejusmodi est, qua in communionem & societatem corporis unius recipiuntur & consociantur alia regna, provinciae, civitates, pagi vel oppida, quibus corpus universalis consociationis amplificatur, firmius & tutius redditur” (Althusius, Politica Methodice Digesta( Caput XVII, 25 in Friedrich, 128). My translation.
[xvi] Bancroft, V, 409-10, italics added.
[xvii] Bancroft, X, 53, italics added. On Russia being an empire, see IV, 454.
[xviii] T. Paine, Common Sense (Edinburgh, 1776), 43.
[xix] W. M. Ramsay, in Expositor October, 1904, 243.
[xx] OED, XII, under “province,” pp. 715ff.
[xxi] J. Chamberlayne, Magnae Britanniae Notitia: Or, the Present State of Great Britain (London: D. Midwinter, 1741), part I, bk. I, ch. 1, p. 2.
[xxii] N. Bacon and J. Selden, An Historical and Political Discourse on the Laws and Government of England (London: Daniel Browne and Andrew Millar, 1739), I, iii, p. 4.
[xxiii] W. Shakespeare, The Life of King Henry the Fifth, W. A. Wright, ed., (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1889), Act III, Scene VII, 48; Act IV, Scene I, 54.
[xxiv] OED, XII, under “province,” pp. 715ff.
[xxv] OED, XII, under “province,” pp. 715ff.
[xxvi] OED, XII, under “province,” pp. 715ff.
[xxvii] OED, XII, under “province,” pp. 715ff.
[xxviii] G. de Rohan-Chabot, Définissons; ou, Le Petit Littré du Lettré, (Paris: Plon, 1953).
[xxix] Trevisa, 1387, II, p. 87.
[xxx]Trevisa, 1387, I, p. 259.
[xxxi]Fabyan, 1494. V. XC, p. 67.
[xxxii] Camden, 1637, p. 182
[xxxiii]Carpenter, 1625, II, XV, p. 260.
[xxxiv] Shakespeare (1593, I, p. 120).
[xxxv] Moryson, 1617. II, p. 274
[xxxvi] Radcliffe, 1794. I.
[xxxvii] Spalding, 1841, I, p. 383.
[xxxviii] See OED, XII, 715ff. italics added.
[xxxix] R. Fabyan, The New Chronicles of England and France: the Concordance of Histories, ed. Henry Ellis (London: G. Woodfall, 1811), bk. V, ch. 82, p. 59.
[xl] Fabyan, bk. V, ch. 90, p. 66.
[xli] Fabyan, bk. V, ch. 91, p. 67.
[xlii] Wikipedia, “England.”
[xliii] Trevisa (Higden (Rolls), 1387), II, 87.
[xliv] W. Cmden, Britain (London: George Lathem, 1637), 182.
[xlv] Annals Agricultural, 1789, XI, 293.
[xlvi] Law Times, 1896, 101, p. 573.
[xlvii] J. Moser, “ Francis Plowden’s An Historical Review of the State of Ireland,” European Magazine 45 (January,1804): 34-9, italics added.
[xlviii] Moser, 34-9.
[xlix] See Leland, xxx-xxxi.
[l] Leland, xxxix.
[li] Leland, xxxix.
[lii] Leland, 11.
[liii] Leland, 11.
[lv] Leland, 17.
[lvi] T. Leland, The History of Ireland (Cork: Donnoghue, 1775), xvi.
[lvii] Leland, x, xxxii.
[lviii] Leland, x, xxxii.
[lix] J. T. Koch, Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, CA, ABC-CLIO, 2006); H. Roe and A. Dooley, Tales of the Elders of Ireland (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999).
[lx]Charter of Carolina, March 24, 1663, in Federal and State Constitutions and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories and Colonies Now or Heretofore Forming the United States of America (Washington, DC, Government Printing Office, 1909).
[lxi] Belfast Telegraph, February 22, 1977, 8/8.