Published:  12:22 AM, 12 July 2019

Governance discourse in a comparative historical perspective-Last Part

But the Governance of England possessed in some respects greater historical interest. It was Fortescue's last work, written between 1471and 1476 and embodied observations of a lifetime.

The treatise was essentially a primer for a ruler who could deliver good governance in a country that had been in a sorry state because of the intermittent wars known as the Wars of Roses (1455-1485) between the two dynasties named Lancastrian and Yorkist.

The contents of the treatise may be summarised as:

1.    The introductory discussion of dominium regale and dominium politicum et regale;

2.    The contrast between the condition of the people in France and in England, and the hardships suffered by commons of France;

3.    The need of increasing the revenues of the English King;

4.    The danger of the English King from subjects 'equepolent to himself' --- a serious danger;

5.    The necessity of resuming gifts made inconsiderately;

6.    The reform of the King's Council; and

7.    The right bestowal of offices, corrodies and pensions.

While summing up, it may be noted that the thrust of De Laudibus was mainly legal, and that of the Governance of England mainly constitutional. Fortescue set forth the view that there were two kinds of monarchy, absolute (dominium regale) and limited (dominium politicumet regale). When the legislative and taxative  powers were exclusively in the hands of the monarch, the monarchy was absolute; when they were shared by the subject, the monarchy was limited.

Gopala and the Pala Rule in Bangal, 750-1161

The Pala administration had its headstart under the strong and people - oriented rule of Gopala and continued through to the end of the dynasty. It is, however, to be noted that much of the earlier finesse and rigour got diluted as time wore on. In format, this administration demonstrated features of both inheritance and innovation; and in spirit and orientation, much of it was discernibly Kautilyan.

The circumstances following the death of Sasanka (637) and preceding Gopala's assumption of power (750) were one of complete anarchy historically dubbed matsayanaya - meaning a situation when a big fish gobbles up small fish. The implied meaning was the dominance of the strong over the weak.

In Manjusree-mulkalpa there is a clear reference to the total disruption in Bengal. Bengal was exposed to even foreign invasions. In this intolerable circumstance the leading persons grouped together as prakritipunja (precursor of modern - day civil society) met and by common consent placed one named Gopala on the throne of Bengal.

Gopala thus was understood to have a popular mandate to deliver good governance. As it was, Gopala and his successors proved themselves worthy of such a mandate. It may be noted in passing that by having a king through a unusual popular choice Bengal indeed showed a semblance of democratic practice.

Gopala's first task was the removal of lawlessness and disorder from the country which he did without delay and thereby fulfilled the expectation of the people of Bengal. His efforts were crowned with success and Bengal enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity under him. His successors followed in his footsteps in continuing and revamping a people centric administration.5

The responsibility of administration lay on the king and the officials directly under him. Rajputra, Prime Minister, Mahasandhibigrahika, Rajamatya, Mahakumaramatya, Duta, etc., were such officials. The post of Prime Minister was an innovation by the Pala kings. Rajasthaniyas, i.e., the Viceroy or the Regent used to carry on administration in absence of the king. Angaraksha was the head of the royal bodyguards.

The Adhakshyas referred to in Kautilya's Authasastra were also appointed during the Pala time. The royal elephant and cavalry corps were under their charge.

The revenue administration was in the hands of Vishyapati, Uparika, Dasgramika, Gramapati, etc. Senapati on Mahasenapati was the higest official of the Army. The Army consisted of infantry, cavalry, elephant corps, and carnal corps. The Navy was an important part of the Pala military system.

Bengal, Bihar and Assam were under the direct rule of the Pala Kings. For administrative convenience, following the Guptas, these areas were divided into Bhuktis, Vishayas, Mandalas and Patakas. The Bhuktis were provinces, which were subdivided into Vishayas or districts; and Vishayas into Mandalas or cluster ofvillages; and Mandalas into Patakas -the lowest tier of something like a pyramidal administration.

With extension of the Pala Empire a new type of local administration was innovated. The conquered territories were allowed to be ruled over by their original rulers as Samanta, i.e., feudatories called Rajan, Rajanayak, Ranak, Samanta, Mahasamanta, etc.Thus it may be inferred that the Pala administration had feudalism as an element.

It goes without saying that the Palas developed an efficient administrative system. They inherited an administrative structure from the Guptas. Nevertheless, the administrative system of the Palas was far more efficiently practiced. The administrative system detailed in Arthasastra is also found to have much influence on the Pala administration. The efficiency of the Pala administration reflected itself in the economic prosperity of the people.

Moreover, the cultural progress which is possible under a condition peace, prosperity and contentment had been ensured under the Palas. The Pala rule was, therefore, a perfect demonstration of what governance and/or good governance could be.
Henry VII and The Tudor Rule in England, 1485-1603

 "There is no proof", writes Caroline Skeel, "That Forescue's writings had any direct influence in his own day, but under the Tudors many of his suggestions were put into practice, and in the seventeenth century he was appealed to as a recognised authority on constitutional law."6 She also quotes Dr. Figg's remark that "if we allow little to the theorist in momentary influence, we must admit that his [Fortescue] is the power which shapes the long result of time." But we cannot be sure to what extent the Tudor policy of governance, more specially that of Henry VII, was influenced by Fortescue's views.

Unlike Gopala of Bengal power was not thrust upon Henry VII, who had to win a game of throne at the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485. Again, the Wars of Roses (1450-1485) between the Lancastrians and Yorkists had rendered England lawless and unstable similar to the matsayanaya in Bengal preceding Gopala's rule. Again, in the same way as Gopala, Henry VII, through his 'strong monarchy', brought about something like an 'administrative revolution' in the governance of England.

It is agreed that Henry VII had prediliction for an adherence to constitutional forms, which, may be partly attributed to Archbishop Morton (finance minister), and partly to the teaching of Fortescue. A close scrutiny of Henry VII's reign shows that the king endeavoured to deal with the mischiefs which Fortescue had so ably pointed out. Henry VII's financial policy was closely connected with his efforts to reduce the power of the nobles.

Here again, he acted in accordance with Fortescue's warning that "certainly thermey no grettirperellgrowe to a prince, than to haue a subgettequepolent to hymselff." Moreover, Henry VII's policy of weakening the influence of nobles by not appointing them in the Council was distinctly foreshadowed by Fortescue, who had urged that when the nobles are councillors many disadvantages ensued; their own affairs were considered, and the king's neglected; and corruption were rife, and secrecy could not be ensured.

Yet another matter in which the suggestions made in the Governance of England were carried out, was the resumption of the royal domain.

Thus by economy and 'strong monarchy' of strict enforcement of the law Henry VII did much to remedy the lack of governance which had been the main cause of the Lancastrian downfall. By him were laid the foundations of the strongest monarchy which England had known since the time of the Norman and Angevin.

Fortescue's suggestions as to strengthening of the executive were carried out during the whole of the Tudor period. During the sixteenth century some of Fortescue's ideas had considerable influence. The general trend of Tudor governance shows in a measure the influence of Fortescue's writings.

Historically, it is to be noted that the Tudors, through their ingenuity, redressed migovernance. through adopting measures which subsequently appeared similar to those as had been suggested by Fortescue; and hence the discourse on Fortescue's influence upon the Tudor administration.


Both Gopala along with his successors and Henry VII along with his successors delivered good governance in Bengal and Britain. As this exercise shows, both were certainly influenced by the two theoretical postulators in governance. By following the theorists they acted as empirical agents; only difference being that Gopala was a people - oriented ruler, while Henry VII a royal power oriented. But both shared the common credit of delivering governance.

If history, as I define, is a discipline to understand the present in the context of the past, we squarely face the question : why governance, while having a glorious past, although in some cases, has in the contemporary present turned out to be misgovernance in most cases, especially in South Asia ?

The ineluctable answer is : leadership is salient in governance. In a nutshell, governance is about who governs and how he does or they do. South Asia, therefore, needs governance leaders, not merely political leaders.

And, the governance leaders are expected to be endowed with the three attributes mentioned by Rabindranath in his letter to Sir Patrick Geddes (architect of Viswabharati) in 1921: "I do not have faith in any new institutions but in the people who think properly, feel nobly and act properly."

Notes and References

1.    Kautilya's authorship is debatable;but his claim rests on agenerall acceptance.

2.    See for details Roger Bosche, The First Great Political Realist:Kautilya and his Arthasastra(Lexington Books, 2007); R.K. Sen and R.L. Basu, Economics in Arthasastra (New Delhi : Deep and Deep Publications, 2006); Thomas Trautmann, Arthasaastra : The Science of Wealth (Penguin, 2012); and Patrick Olivelle, King, Governance, and Law in Ancient India: Kautilya'sArthasastra (Oxford : Oxford University Press (2013); and L.N. Rangarajan, Kautilya : The Arthasastra (Penguin Classics, 1972).

3.    Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation (1919), trans. Eric Mathews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), PP.212-25.

4.    See Paul Brians, Reading About the World (Washington State University, 1993); cited in

5.    All information on Fortescue are gathered from Caroline A.J. Skeel, The Influence of the Writings of Sir John Fortescue,Transactions of the Royal HistoricalSociety,vol.10,1916,pp.77-114;and

6.    For factual details of the Pala rule see R.C. Majumdar, The History of Bengal (Dacca University, 1963); and Niharranjan Ray, BangalirItihas (Vernacular) (History of Bangalis) Adi Parva (earlier phase) (Calcutta, 1402 BS), second edition.

7.    op.cit, p.83

The writer is Bangabandhu Chair Professor, Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP). Email:

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