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The King’s Plunder, The King’s Bodies

Prize Laws, the British Empire and the Modern Legal Order

Rahul Govind

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The King’s Plunder, The King’s Bodies

This book focuses on the King’s rights of conquest, plunder and prize, as well as allegiance and subjecthood, establishing a monarchical form of the British Empire between 1600 and 1900, notwithstanding King-in-Parliament. Special attention is given to its essential role in the East India Company’s government as well as its conquests, as much as its taking the shape of ‘direct’ Crown rule after 1857–58. Such forms of sovereign territorialization, the ‘King’s bodies’ and ‘corporations’, local and personal forms of distinctively royal jurisdiction, raise questions on the nature of subjecthood and ultimately play a crucial role in the development of ‘international law’ in the late nineteenth century. This account of the global metabolism and morphology of King and Empire which absorbs and combines the marine and the terrestrial, from prize jurisdiction to martial law, gives lie to tales of free trade, liberal states and auto-piloting nations. Jurisprudential and philosophical literature from Coke and Hobbes to Austin and Maine, celebrated legal cases in relationship to allegiance and prize, as well as elements from the vast East India Company archive are analysed to make a case for the centrality of King, plunder and war in a critique of modernity when represented as the progressive culmination of nationstate and property, democracy and rule of law, popular sovereignty and representation. Such normative grammars, whatsoever their manipulation in practice, are therefore seen to emerge in politico-institutional forms only at the end of Empire as a dominant grid, close to the middle of the twentieth century, in the wake of devastating wars and popular mobilizations; they are not treasures nested in heritages,
national or civilizational.

This magisterial work should interest all students and scholars of Empire particularly, and history generally, because it destabilizes many a tradition of macro and micro inquiry by demonstrating a deeper layer of ‘sovereignty’ of the power of the King as ‘corporation sole’. … – Upendra Baxi

A brilliantly original argument about the mythical emergence of popular sovereignty and the nation-state in Europe and America. … – Faisal Devji

… this ambitious work combines quite brilliantly several disciplines: conceptual and intellectual history, scholarship on colonialism and empire, philosophy, political thought and theology. … – Prasanta Chakravarty

Rahul Govind

Rahul Govind teaches history at the University of Delhi and has held fellowships at Columbia University (for doctoral studies), the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla and the University of Cambridge. Apart from his book Infinite Double (2015) he has published several articles in academic journals on themes ranging from political economy and philosophy to imperialism and jurisprudence.