Where is sovereignty during an interregnum?
|Above: a depiction of Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694).|
In a monarchy, the monarch holds the sovereignty (ultimate, supreme authority) of the State. An interregnum is what we call the period of time between the reign of one monarch ending and the reign of the next monarch beginning. Interregna have never happened in the United Kingdom (although they did occur a few times in its predecessor, the Kingdom of England) for as soon as a British monarch dies, he or she is immediately succeeded by his or her heir. Hence, there is never a time when there is not a reigning British monarch. Conversely, in other realms, especially elective monarchies, past (e.g. the Holy Roman Empire) and present (e.g. the Vatican City State) there is always an interregnum between the abdication/death of one monarch and the ascension of the next. During this time, a regent (interrex) may temporarily govern in place of a monarch.
Interregna used to confuse me. If the monarch is the Sovereign, then where does sovereignty go during an interregnum? On whose authority does the regent rule? After scouring the internet for answers to these queries I stumbled upon Of the Law of Nature and Nations (originally published in Latin in 1672) by Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694) (then simply Samuel Pufendorf). I read one or two pages; it seems the author believed that in the case of an interregnum sovereignty may return provisionally to the people. In a sense, the State would be a temporary republic; however, as Pufendorf put it, “it is not properly a perfect Democracy; in as much as no Decree hath yet passed to fix the Sovereignty in a Council of the whole People, by perpetual Right; and because the Laws and publick Institutions are still adapted to monarchical Government”.
Pufendorf then says this on federal or confederate bodies, “Tho' it may likewise happen, that when a Kingdom consists of very large integral Parts, as suppose of diverse Nations, Provinces, or great Cities, it shall, in case of an Interregnum, appear like some collective or Systematical Form”. What I take from this is, I suppose, that in the event of an interregnum sovereignty devolves to its nearest rightful holders. In the case of a unitary state with only one monarch, such as the Kingdom of England in its later centuries, sovereignty would have devolved straight back to the people. On the other hand, in the case of a more feudal, federal or confederate structure with sub-national states, such as the Holy Roman Empire, sovereignty would have been devolved to said states and their respective sovereigns in the event of the death or abdication of the ultimate, national Sovereign (the Emperor).
In such a feudal, federal or confederate structure, I assume if one of the sub-national states had an interregnum itself, sovereignty would transfer upwards to the ultimate, national Sovereign, and the subjects of the sub-national state would find themselves under the immediate sovereignty of the national Sovereign for the time being.
However, Pufendorf assumes that sovereignty is ultimately bestowed on a ruler by the people. Those in favour of the divine right of kings or the Mandate of Heaven would argue, on the other hand, that sovereignty is bestowed downwards, from God above to earthly prince below. Therefore, according to these theorists, in the case of an interregnum the realm temporarily returns to the direct sovereignty of God (what we might call Divine immediacy). This would mean that while the interregnum would last, the State would be governed on behalf of God directly (rather than on behalf of the people, as was the opinion of Pufendorf). This raises difficulties when we consider that God is a concept, the literal existence of Whom is unproven. Supposing that the Deity is nonexistent, where would this then leave sovereignty in an interregnum? It's a possibility we must ponder. This is the problem with any theocracy. If God is Sovereign then where is sovereignty actually if God does not exist? I assume in this case, of an interregnum, sovereignty would fall to the people again; where else has it to go?
The above are my musings on the subject of the location of sovereignty in an interregnum, and I've uploaded them here because from my own searches there appeared to be very few resources on this matter on the internet, except for a raggedy three hundred and forty-five year old book. If any political scientists or historians are reading this blog and would like to further explore or refute anything that I have typed above, please feel free to do so in the Comments section below.