Next in the occasional series on depictions on monarchy and government in The Chronicles of Narnia (see entries on The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian), a brief look at The Voyage of the Dawn Treader reveals insight into how Lewis understands the public responsibilities of kingship.
Very simply, the monarch has responsibilities and duties that prevent him or her from behaving like any other private person might. We see this in the conclusion of the book, where King Caspian desires to continue on after the Dawn Treader runs aground in the utter East.
Caspian rises to give a speech on the deck, in which he makes provisions for governance of Narnia after he relinquishes the throne. For, he says, "I am going with Reepicheep to see the World's End."
This is not received well at all. Edmund and Reepicheep in particular voice concern. As Edmund says, suddenly and sternly, "Caspian, you can't do this."
'"Can't?' said Caspian sharply, looking for a moment not unlike his uncle Miraz."
After a bit of quibbling, in which Edmund (for the second time in the book) invokes his prior kingship of Narnia, Reepicheep goes on:
If it please your Majesty, we mean shall not. You are the King of Narnia. You break faith with all your subjects, and especially with Trumpkin, if you do not return. You shall not please yourself with adventures as if you were a private person. And if your Majesty will not hear reason it will be the truest loyalty of every man on board to follow me in disarming and binding you till you come to your senses.
Caspian eventually relents, and does so in humility after a stern private visit from Aslan. The distinction that Reepicheep makes here, between public persons beholden to their subjects, and private persons who are free to pursue courses as they might, is an important one.
The moral responsibilities of the monarch and his subjects do differ in this sense. The king and queen have a higher calling, a larger burden, a greater responsibility.
We'll contrast this with the claims of the self-styled "enlightened" and their "higher" morality in the next post.