The King's Body offers a unique and up-to-date overview of a central theme in European history: the nature and meaning of the sacred rituals of kingship. Informed by the work of recent cultural anthropologists, Sergio Bertelli explores the cult of kingship, which pervaded the lives of hundreds of thousands of subjects, poor and rich, noble and cleric. His analysis takes in a wide spectrum, from the Vandal kings of Spain and the long-haired kings of France, to the beheaded kings of England and France, Charles I and Louis XVI.
Bertelli explores the multiple meanings of the rites related to the king's body, from his birth (with the exhibition of his masculinity) to the crowning (a rebirth) to his death (a triumph and an apotheosis). We see how particular occasions such as entrances, processions, and banquets make sense only as they related directly to the king's body. Bertelli also singles out crowd-participatory aspects of sacred kingship, including the rites of violence connected with the interregnum (perceived as a suspension of the law) and the rites of expulsion for a tyrant's body, emphasizing the inversion of crowning rituals.
First published in Italy in 1990, The King's Body has been revised and updated for English-speaking readers and expertly translated from the Italian by R. Burr Litchfield. Deftly argued and amply illustrated, this book is a perfect introduction to the cult of kingship in the West; at the same time, it illuminates for modern readers how strangely different the medieval and early modern world was from our own.
Sergio Bertelli is Professor of History at the University of Florence. He has published numerous books in Italian, one of which has been translated into English: Italian Courts of the Renaissance(1986). R. Burr Litchfield is Professor of History at Brown University and the author of Emergence of a Bureaucracy: The Florentine Patricians, 1530-1790, for which he received the 1987 Howard R. Marraro Prize of the American Historical Association. He has translated several historical works from Italian.