Ernst Hartwig Kantorowicz (May 3, 1895 – September 9, 1963) was a German-American historian of medieval political and intellectual history and art, known for his 1927 book Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite on Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, and The King's Two Bodies (1957) on medieval and early modern ideologies of monarchy and the state.[1]


Kantorowicz was born in Posen (then part of Prussia) to a wealthy, assimilated German-Jewish family and as a young man was groomed to take over his family's prosperous liquor distillery business. He served as an officer in the German Army for four years in World War I. He decided not to return to the business world, but went instead to study philosophy at the University of Berlin, at one point also joining a right-wing militia that fought against Polish forces in the Greater Poland Uprising (1918–1919) and helped put down the Spartacist uprising in Berlin.[2] The following year, he moved to the prestigious University of Heidelberg to study history with Karl Hampe and Friedrich Baethgen, two noted medievalists. While in Heidelberg, Kantorowicz became involved with the so-called Georgekreis, a group of artists and intellectuals devoted to the German poet and aesthete Stefan George who shared an interest in art, literature, and Romantic mysticism.

His association with the elitist and culturally conservative Georgekreis inspired Kantorowicz's unorthodox biography of the great Holy Roman emperor Frederick II published in German in 1927 and English in 1931.[3] Instead of offering a more typical treatment of laws, institutions, and important political achievements, the book struck a decidedly panegyrical tone, portraying Frederick as a tragic hero and the idealized embodiment of the German nation. The work elicited a combination of bewilderment and criticism from the mainstream historical academy. Reviewers complained that it was literary mythmaking and not a work of serious historical scholarship. As a result, Kantorowicz published a hefty companion volume (Ergänzungsband) in 1931 which contained detailed historical documentation for the biography.

Despite the furor over the Frederick book, Kantorowicz received an appointment to an academic chair at the University of Frankfurt. In 1933, Kantorowicz had to give up his professorship due to Nazi racial policies, but was nonetheless granted an early retirement in 1935. He remained in Germany until 1938, when it became clear that the situation for even assimilated Jews such as himself was no longer tenable. He accepted a teaching position for a short time at Oxford before moving to the University of California, Berkeley in 1939. In 1950, Kantorowicz famously resigned from Berkeley in protest when the UC Regents demanded that all continuing faculty sign a loyalty oath disavowing affiliation with any politically subversive movements. Kantorowicz insisted he was no leftist and pointed to his role in an anti-communist militia as a young university student, but nonetheless objected on principle to an instrument which he viewed as a blatant infringement on academic freedom and freedom of conscience more generally.[4] He moved to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he remained for the rest of his career. In 1957, Kantorowicz published his masterpiece, The King's Two Bodies, which explored, in the words of the volume's subtitle, "medieval political theology." The book traced the ways in which theologians, historians and canonists in the Middle Ages and early modern period understood the office and person of the king, as well as the idea of the kingdom, in corporeal and organological terms. The figure of the European monarch was a unique product of religious and legal traditions that eventually produced the notion of a "king" as simultaneously a person and an embodiment of the community of the realm. The book remains a classic in the field.

Kantorowicz was the subject of a controversial biographical sketch in the book Inventing the Middle Ages (1991) by the medievalist, Norman F. Cantor. Cantor, who knew Kantorowicz at Princeton, suggested that, but for his Jewish heritage, Kantorowicz (at least as a young scholar in the 1920s and 1930s) could be considered a Nazi in terms of his intellectual temperament and cultural values. Cantor compared Kantorowicz with another contemporary German medievalist, Percy Ernst Schramm, who worked on similar topics and was a member of the Nazi Party. Kantorowicz's defenders (particularly his student Robert L. Benson)[5] responded that although as a younger man Kantorowicz embraced the Romantic ultranationalism of the George-Kreis, he had only disdain for Nazism and was a vocal critic of Hitler's regime.[6]


  • Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite, Georg Bondi, 1927.
  • Das Geheime Deutschland, Vorlesung, 1933.

Works in English translation

  • Frederick II.: 1194-1250 (1931)
  • "A Norman Finale of the Exultet and the Rite of Sarum," The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 34(2), 1941.
  • "Plato in the Middle Ages," The Philosophical Review, Vol. 51(3), 1942.
  • Laudes Regiae: A Study in Liturgical Acclamations and Mediaeval Ruler Worship, University of California Press, 1946.
  • "The Quinity of Winchester," Art Bulletin, Vol. XXIV, 1947.
  • The Fundamental Issue: Documents and Marginal Notes on the University of California Loyalty Oath, Parker Print. Co., 1950.
  • "Dante's 'Two Suns'," in Semitic and Oriental Studies, 1951.
  • "Pro Patria Mori in Medieval Political Thought," The American Historical Review, Vol. 56(3), 1951.
  • "Inalienability: A Note on Canonical Practice and the English Coronation Oath in the Thirteenth Century," Speculum, Vol. XXIX, 1954.
  • "Mysteries of State: An Absolutist Concept and its Late Medieval Origins," Harvard Theological Review, Vol. XLVIII, 1955.
  • The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology, Princeton University Press, 1957.
  • Frederick the Second, 1194–1250, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1957.
  • "The Prologue to Fleta and the School of Petrus de Vinea," Speculum, Vol. XXXII, 1957.
  • "On the Golden Marriage Belt and the Marriage Rings of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection," Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. XIV, 1960.
  • "The Archer in the Ruthwell Cross," The Art Bulletin, Vol. 42(1), 1960.
  • Gods in Uniform, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. CV, 1961.
  • "Puer Exoriens: On the Hypapante in the Mosaics of S. Maria Maggiore," Perennitas, 1963.
  • Selected Studies, J.J. Augustin, 1965.

See also

  • Harold F. Cherniss, historian of ancient philosophy, friend and colleague of Kantorowicz, helped him secure a position at the Institute at Advanced Study after the 'loyalty oath' affair at Berkeley


  1. ^ Norman F. Cantor, Inventing the Middle Ages, (1991) pp 79-117
  2. ^ Saul Friedländer, Den Holocaust beschreiben (2007)
  3. ^ Kantorowicz, Ernst. Frederick the Second, 1194–1250, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1957.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Defending Kantorowicz," Letter to the New York Review of Books, by Robert L. Benson, Ralph E. Giesey and Margaret Sevcenko, Aug. 13, 1992.
  6. ^ Lipkin, Michael (15 June 2016). "When Emperors Are No More". The Paris Review. Retrieved 6 December 2016. 

Further reading

  • Abulafia, David. "Kantorowicz and Frederick II." History 62#205 (1977): 193-210.
  • Boureau, Alain. Kantorowicz: Stories of a Historian, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
  • Cantor, Norman F. Inventing the Middle Ages, 1991. pp 79–117. negative view of Kantorowicz
  • Free, John B. Ernst Kantorowicz. An Accounting, Central European History, Vol. 32(2), 1999.
  • Landauer, Carl. "Ernst Kantorowicz and the Sacralization of the Past," Central European History, Vol. 27(1), 1994.
  • Lerner, Robert. Ernst Kantorowicz: A Life. Princeton University Press, 2016.
    • Medieval Scholarship Biographical Studies on the Formation of a Discipline: History, Vol. I, ed. Helen Damico & Joseph B Zavadil, 1995; biographical essays for "Ernst H. Kantorowicz" by Robert E. Lerner and "Percy Ernst Schramm" by Janos Bak, both of whom respond to allegations in Cantor's book.
  • Peters, Edward. "More Trouble With Henry: The Historiography of Medieval Germany in the Angloliterate World, 1888–1995." Central European History 28#1 (1995): 47-72.
  • Rust, Jennifer R. "Political Theologies of the Corpus Mysticum: Schmitt, Kantorowicz, and de Lubac" (on The King's Two Bodies) in Political Theology and Early Modernity (University of Chicago Press, 2012): 102–123.