It’s been a while since I discussed words with you and so I thought I’d bring up another regal topic. This time I want to discuss the idea of being Imperial in an Empire.
Imperial & Empire
While these words appear quite different in English they actually come from the same Latin root. They both come from the Latin concept of ‘command’, in the word ‘imperare’. By Middle Latin the word had morphed into ‘imperium’. In Middle English the word had become ‘emperial’. Both of our English words imperial and empire spring from that original Latin root.
Hence it is true that imperial things belong to the empire. What is done by the monarch’s command is that which is deemed imperial and impacts his empire.
Of Kings and Monarchs
Consider these various meanings for the term ‘imperial’.
1. Pertaining to an empire
2. Pertaining to an emperor or empress
3. Characterizing the rule or authority of a sovereign state over its dependencies
4. Of the nature or rank of an emperor or supreme ruler
Both our words Imperial and Empire are intrinsically linked to Kings and Monarchs. Since much of the world has been under some form of monarchical rule – including all former British colonies, much of Europe, Russia, many Asian nations, African countries and South American cultures – the idea of Imperial things and Empires is relevant to most people on the planet.
We have an interesting collection of things designated as ‘imperial’ due to their monarchical origins.
There is a coin called an ‘imperial’. It is a Russian Coin used from 1897 – 1917. It is so called because of the same Latin root as our word imperial, which became ‘imperialis’, meaning a coin, as something authorised by the monarch. A Roman coin bearing the monarch’s image, then, was in imperialis. The coin which was shown to Jesus Christ, with Caesar’s image on it, was an imperialis – an imperial coin.
Imperial Measures are those measures that were used in Britain and British colonies. In most nations the imperial measures have been replaced by metric measures. Imperial measures were ‘imperial’ because they were the ones approved by the monarch. Standardisation enabled the authorities to regulate against false measurements and fraudulent dealings. As the monarchs determined the set weights and measures their officers could then enforce accuracy and punish those who used unjust methods.
Imperial Law is that body of law which comes down to us as law enacted through the centuries by various monarchs. In their imperial capacity monarchs are able to impose law and regulations which all in their empire must follow. What is particularly significant about Imperial Law is that much of the freedom which western societies take for granted have come to us by rulings of various monarchs down through the past 1,000 years.
Not all laws enacted by monarchs were so enacted with the enthusiastic support of the monarch. The Magna Carta, for example, is a law that was forced on King John. Yet, by his action of ratifying that law it comes to us as ‘imperial law’.
In Australia the original national constitution is built upon the pre-existing Imperial Law. Subsequently the various states of the Commonwealth have enacted legislation ratifying that pre-existing Imperial Law as continuing its validity for the benefit of Australian citizens.
So Imperial Law is not as out of date or irrelevant as the idea might suggest to our modern minds. We are indebted to imperial laws for many of the freedoms we have taken for granted all our lives.