Monarchy

Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 10:58 am

The coronation of their Majesties The King and his Queen Consort on 6 May 2023 provides a wonderful opportunity to take a look at the institution of monarchy.  Of course, the United Kingdom has had a brand new squeaky-clean monarch since 8 September 2022, when the late Queen died.  That is the way with the royal succession: the queen (or king) is dead; long live the king (or queen).  The coronation comes later, after the accession and a respectful interval; it is a very public affirmation of the appointment and by tradition a highly ritualistic religious ceremony.

British Monarchs, monarchy


The last time the United Kingdom had a coronation was 70 years previously, on 2 June 1953.  It was another time, another place.  Many of us were not even born and, until last year, most have known no other monarch than Queen Elizabeth II.  She was always there, her image a symbol of an era – seven decades of unprecedented socio-economic and political transformation.  As great events swirled about us and politicians came and went, the Queen was a constant reassuring presence.  Gradual change often goes unnoticed, but sudden change, big events – a loss, a move, a new job, a national crisis – can be upsetting, forcing us to stop, think and question.  I suggest a new monarch is a herald of change and it is entirely appropriate for many of us to have questions about the institution.  What is it, why have we got it, what does it do, how is it funded – and do we want it? Here is an attempt to answer those questions.

This is a long feature – tap/click a heading to see the bits that most interest you.

What is monarchy?

We may as well start at the beginning.  We all know what a king, or queen, is, don’t we?  Or do we?  Traditionally, a king is a male head of state, perhaps the supreme sovereign, because – surprisingly – there are degrees of king.  A queen is his female equivalent.  Sometimes, kings and queens come in pairs but, usually, there is just one sovereign ruler. These days, the spouse is referred to as ‘consort’ – ie ‘prince consort’, or ‘queen consort’.  Reigning kings or queens are also known as monarchs, single rulers.  Of course, a president or emperor is a monarch too, though neither is the same thing as a king.  An emperor could be a king, but would obviously need an empire as well, a political organisation that includes several different, theoretically lesser and possibly dependent, territories – some of which in their turn could be ruled by lesser kings or queens.  Mostly, kings or queens are happy being head of just one state at a time, but there are exceptions – the most obvious in modern times being the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, who at the time of writing is also king of 14 other nations – a legacy of Britain’s former Empire.

Presidents and emperors can come and go, but kings and queens are usually (but not always) hereditary positions; the holders mostly get the job for life and, subject to any accidents along the way, you usually know who the next one will be.  You may not vote for it, but you could argue that there is more certainty with a hereditary monarch.  As members of a royal family, kings and queens have a regal bloodline that can be traced back somewhat beyond the last election, obscenely large political donation, dodgy backroom deal, military coup – or whatever.  The legitimacy of a hereditary king or queen normally depends on lineage – though it has to be the right lineage, of course.  It was not always that way; early kings in Britain were often selected by their peers.  Sometimes, the position was secured by victory in war between rivals.

Lewis chessmen, British Museum


Which begs the obvious question: where do kings (and queens) originally come from?  As it is (probably) the oldest form of government in the world, perhaps it is also the most natural.  If you put a group of people together, one member of that group is likely to emerge as leader.  As anyone in the military will tell you, natural leadership is a rare gift.  It is interesting to mull over the notion that today’s kings and queens are descended from natural leaders, and ponder whether – or how many – relevant skills have been passed down.  The distant ancestors of kings did not come from privileged backgrounds.  Neither were they like so many modern politicians – uninspiring administrators, career baby-kissers following well-trodden paths to the top, populist demagogues, or people with the right connections (though that has always helped).  These early rulers would have had to have been individuals, heads of families or tribes with the ability to inspire, to unify, organise, identify and see off threats; people with vision, ideas, conviction and, sometimes, wisdom too.  They were law givers, judges, protectors and feeders of their people.  Some were bullies.  Some undoubtedly had military prowess – not necessarily as warriors, but as strategists and tacticians.  Of course, they would have needed cunning – or political nous (is that the same thing?) – by the bucketful.  Ultimately, leaders have to be winners if they are to survive. 

Although we think of heads of state as having authority over a chunk of territory – King of Scotland, President of the US, Emperor of Japan, Sheik of Araby, and so on – their primary responsibility is to an identified group of individuals.  In English, the word ‘king’ is derived from the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) cyning from cyn or kin, the people, nation or tribe, with the addition of ‘-ing’ – ie ‘of the’ or ‘son of’.  Early Anglo-Saxon kings were leaders, or guardians, of their people – not the land; the land was where the people just happened to be.  While we’re about it, ‘queen’ also comes from Old English – cwen, which appears to have meant ‘wife’ – eventually ‘wife of the king’.

In some societies, kings and emperors have been revered as gods, or have had supernatural powers attributed to them.  Some societies credited kings with healing powers.  In medieval England and France, it was believed that monarchs had the royal touch, the ability to cure disease by the laying on of hands.  In England, this was particularly thought to cure scrofula, known as ‘the King’s Evil’, a very nasty infection of the lymph nodes in the neck sometimes associated with tuberculosis.  The belief that kings derive their temporal power and authority from God is quite common – known as the Divine Right of Kings.  This form of absolutist monarchy, in which the individual is accountable to no one except a Supreme Being, can cause no end of difficulties.  As with any autocracy, there is little room to accommodate minor inconveniences such as democratically elected parliaments, or the rights of individuals.  However, the sense that kings and queens are destined to rule, that power is invested in them through a deity, set them apart from other human beings.  It elevated them, made them special.  Surrounded by pageantry and the mystery of ceremonial, they came to be addressed as ‘your majesty’, and ‘your highness’.  Formal ritual, ceremonial dress and the avoidance of familiarity, spiced with a little magic and mystery, does wonders for the perception of power.  It helps keep the great unwashed in their place and is a tried and tested technique.  Groups, temporal and spiritual, have been using it for years.  Arguably, variations on the theme can be seen in the cult of celebrity.  People enjoy having idols and you should never underestimate the power of a bit of bunting and bling.

British Monarchs, monarchy


British monarchs have not been considered to be divinely appointed since the seventeenth century, but have continued to be anointed with holy oil in what many still believe to be the most sacred part of the coronation ceremony, the moment when the individual is made a divinely ordained king or queen. 

The oil used in the coronation of King Charles III was made of olives grown on the Mount of Olives at the Monastery of Mary Magdalene and the Monastery of the Ascension in Israel.  The Monastery of Mary Magdalene is the burial place of His Majesty’s grandmother, Princess Alice of Greece.  The olives were pressed near Bethlehem and the oil perfumed with essential oils – sesame, rose, jasmine, cinnamon, neroli, benzoin and amber – as well as orange blossom.  The finished product was then consecrated by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem in a special ceremony at The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

An anointed ruler has always been considered almost untouchable – which explains why, historically, getting rid of one has sometimes been such a big deal.  Elizabeth I may have had issues with her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, but she hesitated to sign the death warrant.  Anointing is an ancient tradition, according to the UK Royal website associated with Solomon being anointed by Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet. In Britain, the act of anointing a monarch, known as ‘unction’, can be traced back to the 7th and 8th centuries.  The coronation ceremony is traced back to that of King Edgar in Bath in 973 AD, a service said to have been devised by the polymath, St Dunstan (also famous for tweaking the Devil’s nose with a pair of red-hot tongs).  But the oldest documented ritual for a king’s coronation is set out in what is known as the Pontifical of Egbert, who was Archbishop of York between c732 and 766AD.  After sacred oil is poured on the king’s head from a horn, a sceptre is placed in the king’s hands, the staff (baculus) is given to him and a warrior’s helmet (galea) is placed on his head.  Crowns came later.

Today, there are still some 40-odd monarchies in the world.  Most of these are forms of constitutional monarchies, in which the powers of the monarch are limited, or where the role is largely ceremonial.  Some monarchs have a little more authority than that, falling short of it being absolute.  However, there still some absolute monarchies, notably Brunei, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Oman and Saudi Arabia.  The Vatican City State is a form of absolutist monarchy, albeit the Pope is elected.

Which kingdoms make up the United Kingdom?

The United Kingdoms in the state styled ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ actually refers to the two kingdoms of England and Wales and the kingdom of Scotland.  Most guides to the kings and queens of Britain begin in the 9th century with Alfred the Great, King of Wessex in southern England, and Kenneth Mac Alpin, King of Alba (later Scotland).  There is a fascinating, complex and often obscure backstory behind these people, but that is for another time.  Popular mainstream accounts of Britain’s monarchs normally fail to mention kings or queens of Ireland or Wales, the main reason being that neither land has a history of surviving native monarchy, because they did not achieve the degree of political unity that England or Scotland did, and both were, ultimately, conquered by English kings.  The monarchs of England were also monarchs in Ireland and Wales.  The crowns of England and Scotland were joined in 1603, when the King of Scotland, James VI, also became King James I of England.  As such, he was sometimes termed King of Great Britain, though in fact the two kingdoms continued to be legally separate until the Act of Union of 1707.  The Kingdom of Ireland was an English political creation in 1542, when Henry VIII of England became its first king, and was effectively a conquered dependency.  The kingdom lasted until 1801, when the Acts of Union passed in the parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  Ireland ceased to be part of the United Kingdom in 1922, when most of it – 26 counties – became the Irish Free State following the Irish War of Independence (1919-21).  However, under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, the six north-eastern counties known as Ulster, or Northern Ireland, remained within the United Kingdom.  So there you go.

A bit about Britain’s monarchy in the 21st century

The role of monarch in Britain has evolved from being a prime mover and shaker to one that is more that of an influencer.  Today’s UK monarchy is a constitutional monarchy, the late Queen Elizabeth II often being held up as the model constitutional monarch.  The cliché is that a constitutional monarch may reign, but not rule.  What does this mean in Britain – especially since the United Kingdom is often said to have no written constitution?  What, exactly, does the King or Queen do?

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, young and old


Certainly, the British monarchy no longer wields supreme authority, a position that has evolved over the centuries.  In the UK, the power to consider and pass legislation rests with parliament.  But neither is the function of the monarchy merely ceremonial, or to act as a living tourist attraction.  There is a degree of subtle, or soft, power.

In fact, it is not quite correct to say there is no written constitution; the constitution of the United Kingdom is largely written, but not in a single document with ‘The British Constitution’ neatly emblazoned on the cover.  Instead, the constitution exists in different statutes and conventions.  Statutes include the Bill of Rights of 1689, the Acts of Union, Parliament Acts and the Human Rights Act.  Conventions include that the monarch is non-partisan, appoints as their Prime Minister the person most likely to command the confidence of the House of Commons (in practice, normally the leader of the political party with the most seats), and acts on ministerial advice.

Having a politically neutral head of state completely distances the position from the divisive, messy, playground of party politics.  It enables the head of state to represent the whole nation, rather than particular factions of it.  It also provides a focal point for national identity that elected politicians would sell their grandmothers’ souls for, and that few are capable of achieving (Churchill being a notable exception).  As the head of the nation, the hereditary monarch is in a position to represent Britain and its identity to the rest of the world in a way that a transient professional politician cannot.  The monarch speaks to and on behalf of the nation in good times and bad.  An important aspect of the political impartiality of the British monarchy is that public servants, crucially including members of the judiciary and armed services, swear oaths of allegiance to the Crown, not to a government of any political persuasion.  The monarch has an entirely different relationship with the people to the one the people have with their elected representatives.  It is also worth mentioning that rewards for public service are awarded by the monarch – even if they may be suggested by the government and others, and even if the awards system sometimes appears to be in urgent need of reform.

A purely practical, benefit of a separate head of state is that they perform ceremonial official duties, including goodwill visits overseas, hosting state visits at home and receiving foreign ambassadors, in theory allowing the head of government – in the case of the United Kingdom the Prime Minister – to focus on day to day governance.  In countries where the roles are combined into, say, the position of a president, the office holder has to undertake elements of the ceremonial alongside everything else, or delegate the task to others.  That said, you often see the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom attend the same state banquets as the visiting head of state, so maybe we occasionally pay for two dinners (four including spouses). The role includes having your photo taken with one or two dodgy characters, without overtly criticising national or personal attributes – such as having appalling civil rights, a tendency to invade other countries, questionable mental stability or simple bigotry.

The King and other members of the Royal Family carry out thousands of public engagements every year.  These include national occasions such as attending the Cenotaph for on Remembrance Day, but the majority are less high profile local commitments, which support public services and voluntary organisations in the UK and overseas. The King and other members of the royal family are patrons of more than 1000 charities and organisations throughout the Commonwealth.

All that aside, as head of state the British monarch is obliged to perform particular government functions, albeit guided by convention and the elected government of the day.  These include the appointment of the Prime Minister (as well as, technically, all other ministers).  The monarch opens new sessions of parliament and has to give royal assent to bills passed by parliament, after which they become law. In theory, royal assent could be withheld – although this could provoke a constitutional crisis.  The prime minister has a weekly audience with the monarch; the discussions are private and no records are kept.  It is at these sessions that the benefits of experience and inherited knowledge may be most felt.  In addition to their own personal experience, a monarch has had years of training and preparation for the role, which will have included advice passed down from predecessors and given by royal advisors.  In King Charles III’s case, for example, his apprenticeship could be said to have lasted some 70 years.  You can almost imagine him saying something like, “Now, I remember Mama saying that when this kind of thing happened before (insert appropriate details), these were the options (insert option) that were considered and this what happened (insert outcome).”  In contrast, a prime minister comes to the job with more limited knowledge and, in most cases, mere ministerial experience.  The monarch is also likely to have more familiarity with other leaders, including some of the prime minister’s predecessors. It is unusual for prime ministers to serve longer than a few years.  In modern times, only two – Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher – were in office for longer than a decade.  In contrast, the late Queen Elizabeth II worked with 15 different Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom; she had also met most of the world’s leaders, including all but one of the 14 Presidents of the USA that occupied the office during her reign.

The British monarch’s working week includes going through red leather boxes of state papers that are delivered on a daily basis.  Some papers are for information, some require a signature.  The late queen reputedly read them all.  The King also chairs monthly meetings of the Privy Council, to approve Orders in Council. The Privy Council agrees items of interdepartmental government business not handled by departments on their own.

As already mentioned, in addition to the United Kingdom, the King is Head of State in 14 other sovereign, independent, nations, in alphabetical order: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.  These are currently constitutional monarchies, where a governor general or lieutenant governor represents the King in daily matters.  These arrangements are of course a legacy of old empire; whether they continue to meet the needs of each nation has been, and will be again, debated and determined in those nations.  Barbados became a republic in November 2021 and no one – except, perhaps Barbadians – batted an eyelid.

In addition, the King is Head of the Commonwealth – full title the Commonwealth of Nations – a further legacy of Britain’s past.  The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent countries, most of which were formerly under British rule, representing a combined population of some 2.5 billion.  The members share historical and linguistic links, as well as common values, and seek to discuss and work together in matters of mutual interest.

You would think that all monarchs everywhere swear to do certain things – protect the people, defend the realm and all that good stuff.  I suppose an absolute monarch could swear to do absolutely as they pleased. In contrast, you might think it a basic requirement for a constitutional monarch to publicly agree the job description.  Apparently not everywhere.  But in the United Kingdom taking a coronation oath has been SOP ever since the Coronation Oath Act of 1689.  In summary, the monarch agrees to:

  • Govern according to the respective laws and customs of the land(s);
  • Uphold law, justice and mercy to the utmost of their power;
  • Maintain the Laws of God, the protestant religion and the Church of England in England.

The last one is a potentially knotty one in what is now far more of a multi-faith society.  Like it or not, it should be remembered that the King is Head of the Church of England – thanks to his cuddly ancestor, Henry VIII.  A separate oath is taken to protect the security of the Church of Scotland.  However, the coronation service of King Charles and Queen Camilla reflected a more diverse nation. The British Library holds a copy of three promises made by 10th and 11th century kings of England at their coronation services, which say:

  • The Church of God and all the people would hold true peace under the king’s rule;
  • The king would forbid acts of robbery and iniquity;
  • The king would uphold justice and mercy in all judgements.

It doesn’t seem too alien, does it?

There are one or two quirky aspects to the British monarchy.  Just in case they come up in a pub quiz, they include (but are not limited to) that one:

  • Claims the right of ownership of any unmarked mute swan swimming in open waters;
  • Claims dominion over all whales, sturgeons and dolphins in the waters around England and Wales;
  • Doesn’t need a passport;
  • Cannot vote;
  • Can drive without a licence;
  • Doesn’t have to pay tax (but does so, voluntarily);
  • Is not subject to freedom of information requests.

So – how is the British monarchy funded?

We tend to think of kings and queens as immensely wealthy – as rich as Croesus, perhaps, the last king of Lydia (Anatolia, modern Turkey), who died in around 546 BC.  Of course, the monarchy is wealthy – but it isn’t that simple.  The official costs of the British monarchy are paid by HM Treasury through the Sovereign Grant – until 2012 known as the Civil List.  Most of this money goes on property costs and staff salaries, but it also includes things like official receptions, investitures, garden parties and travel and subsistence expenses when the King undertakes royal engagements and visits.  Government business, you might say.  It does not cover security, which is paid for separately; arrangements for security are not disclosed.

Who pays for the monarchy

The amount of the Sovereign Grant is equal to a proportion of the profit from the Crown Estate, and this percentage is periodically reviewed.  The Crown Estate is an independent organisation that manages the hereditary property assets of the monarch, which date back to the 11th century and the Norman Conquest, or earlier.  It is an immensely diverse property portfolio, which includes agricultural land, offices, retail – even offshore wind farms – mostly in England and Wales and including high value property in London’s West End.  The Crown Estate belongs to the reigning monarch ‘in right of The Crown’, which means it is owned by the monarch for the duration of their reign: but it is not their private property; they cannot sell it and they do not own the revenues it generates.  The profits from the Crown Estate are passed to the Treasury; the Treasury pays the Sovereign Grant.  It’s an arrangement that dates from 1760.

The Royal Family also has private income from the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall.  This private income, sometimes referred to as the Privy Purse, is used to meet some official expenditure, including expenses incurred by other members of the Royal Family.  It also pays for the upkeep of the Balmoral estate.  The Duchy of Lancaster has been owned by the monarch (who is also the Duke of Lancaster) since 1399 and includes, again, a diverse range of properties, mostly in northern England but also in London.  The assets of the Duchy of Cornwall (the current Duke of Cornwall is the King’s son, William, Prince of Wales) stretch across 20 counties in England and Wales and is mostly farmland, but also includes a few surprises such as the Oval cricket ground and Dartmoor Prison.

Most royal residences, like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, as well as most of the treasures in the Royal Collection, and the Crown Jewels, are not the Sovereign’s personal property. Balmoral in Aberdeenshire and Sandringham in Norfolk, however, are both privately owned residences.  Other personally owned assets include things like racehorses and the Royal stamp collection.  The Guardian newspaper points out that personal assets cannot be assessed because Royal wills are sealed – so no one knows what goodies have been passed down through the years.

Who still wants the monarchy?

Execution of King Charles I
The execution of Charles I in 1649

Hereditary monarchy does not suit everyone.  We lived without it for a few years in the 17th century – but missed it so much we restored it eleven years later and have been busy tweaking it ever since.  The French got rid of theirs in 1792, the Americans inexplicably dispensed with it in 1783, the Russians toppled the Tsar in 1917 and all three have been models of perfectly functioning trouble-free government ever since.  Even if you want a separate head of state, rather than a two for one (BOGOF?) solution combined with head of government, kings and queens can certainly look anachronistic in the 21st century.  The costumes and ritual probably appear to be ridiculous and outdated to some. At a time when deference and knowing your place is, mostly, no longer automatic, and respect has to be earned, the vast inherited wealth and privilege might be regarded as, quite simply, unfair.  In the UK, there is particular sensitivity about links with empire and slavery.  The sad affair of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, a modern fairy-tale gone sour, has done little for institutional credibility.  However, let us be blunt: all manner of tribal dress codes and rituals can look foolish to the outsider;  life is not fair; there will probably always be people much wealthier than most of us; neither empire nor slavery is unique to Britain and abolishing the monarchy will not alter history, any more than the Germans can say sorry and dispense with the Nazis.  Imperfection does not mean an institution is completely useless – otherwise we would have abolished Parliament long ago.

Anyway, just ahead of the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, the BBC current affairs programme Panorama commissioned a YouGov survey to see how popular the monarchy was.  This revealed that, whilst most people (58%) still wanted a monarchy, 38% of 18-24 year olds preferred the idea of an elected head of state.  In contrast, 78% of those aged 65 or over supported the monarchy.  Are these wiser heads, or just stuck in the past?  Do younger minds know something their elders do not? I know I used to.  A small majority – 54% – of adults overall thought that the monarchy gives good value for money.  This is interesting, given that the costs of monarchy are not entirely transparent and that few people could tell you how its ‘value’ is measured.  Oh – and a large minority – 45% – believe King Charles to be ‘out of touch’ – whatever that means (like ‘love’).  Charles may not be particularly ‘in touch’, but I believe he – along with many other royals – is a decent human being that tries harder than many to make a difference.  Your best mate may be ‘in touch’ with you and others that share your beliefs, but perhaps not be an appropriate head of state or political leader.  I suggest it’s more important that our elected politicians are ‘in touch’ and many of them, of all political shades, appear not to be.  It is easy to criticise, of course; history is full of examples of getting rid of something before working out what is going to fill the vacuum it has left.  I do wonder whether some anti-monarchist sentiment is simply that, rather than pro-republican – or whatever alternative people have in mind. Anyway, the King is not a medieval tyrant, exploiting the peasants, or some sort of business tycoon intent on enjoying the high life while his workers live in abject squalor.

As nobody asked me, I think monarchy works in the UK.  Is it perfect? I doubt it.  But I instinctively think we need a foil, a serious focus away from elected government, beyond the swings and roundabouts of party politics where there is some kind of pool of accumulated knowledge.  Something that can objectively ask the government, “Are you sure you want to do this?” If that’s supposed to be the Civil Service, to this layman it doesn’t seem to work.  There is obviously no value in appointing an impotent figurehead, a kind of faux celebrity, to represent the nation; and the idea of an elected partisan head of state fills me with horror.

If the future of the monarchy in Britain is in the balance, and some think it is, it will not be for the first time in its 1,000+-year history.  It is bound to change, in any event; it always has.  Whether Commonwealth countries retain the monarch as head of state is, I would have thought, uncertain.  The institution is a survivor, however, the oldest part of British government.  I would be surprised if a majority wanted to see it go.

See here for a bit about the BBC YouGov survey

Does the coronation of Charles and Camilla signal change?

As said above, coronations are steeped in ritual ceremony and tradition.  The jewelled regalia used in the ceremony at Westminster, where 40 monarchs have been crowned since 1066 and 29 kings and queens of Britain are buried, dates back centuries.  The Coronation Chair is more than 700 years old, ordered by King Edward I of England to encase the Stone of Scone, which he stole from the Scots in 1296.  The Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny, believed to have been used at the coronation of Scottish kings since time out of mind, was returned to Scotland in 1997, but transported to London for the coronation of Charles III.

King Charles III and Queen Camilla, Coronation Portrait
King Charles III and Queen Camilla, Coronation Portrait, credit Chris Jackson

However, shortly before the coronation of Charles and Camilla, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, announced a few innovations in the coronation service, designed to reflect a more modern, diverse, society.  These included female clergy having a prominent role in the ceremony and leaders of other faiths participating too.  Another first is the decision to have a prayer in Welsh and a hymn sung in Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic, acknowledging British languages other than English.

In a move that some reacted negatively to, the Archbishop also invited people around the world to take part in a ‘homage of the people’, wherever they happened to be.  Trumpeted as ‘a chorus of millions’, the appropriate part of the order of service reads, “All who so desire, in the Abbey, and elsewhere, say together: ‘I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.’ “

Republicans believe that the king should be swearing an oath of allegiance to the people.  It should indeed work both ways – though the ‘homage of the people’ is merely an invitation, not obligatory.  However, in his first speech as king, on 9 September 2022, Charles renewed the promise of lifelong service his mother made to the country and people.  She certainly kept her word. The King went on to say, “As the Queen herself did with such unswerving devotion, I too now solemnly pledge myself, throughout the remaining time God grants me, to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation.”  That is clear – and he is in it for as many years as he has.  He also said, “Whatever may be your background or beliefs, I shall endeavour to serve you with loyalty, respect and love.”

Here is the link to the press release from Lambeth Palace, which also explains the liturgy for the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III.

God save the King!

50 thoughts on “Monarchy”

  1. A wonderful post. I find it interesting that the coronation traditions have persisted for thousands of years, with most of the tradition largely retained since the 1000s. I think only papal coronation (or whatever the specific term is) outdates it. I personally like the Monarchy, though I understand why many don’t.

  2. This is an absolutely super post, Mike. You go into such detail and it’s all very interesting to me. I’m looking forward to watching but I think it will be all the more meaningful, having read this. I’ll be bookmarking this one for future reference, too!

  3. This was a very enjoyable read – something I read in it’s entirety – thank you so much for researching the topic and for your time in posting it. Enjoy Saturday, I know I will.

  4. Thank you. Lots of interesting things there. Whilst our system is far from perfect, I find it preferable to most of the other options available, especially in the light of the ‘exemplary’ republics you mentioned.

  5. Thank you, Mike for such a wonderful, informative article. I will most definitely be swearing my allegiance.

  6. Such an interesting and informative post. There’s not much support for a continuation of the monarchy here (Canada). Elizabeth was liked and most people didn’t want to have a republican conversation while she lived, but now that she’s gone, the question arises. The issue is how to replace the head of state; and the complications around that matter leaves us returning to the status quo, at least for now.

    1. Yes – the debate has to be about what’s best for Canada and how that will work, rather than just rejecting the status quo. To be fair, I think if I were in Canada I’d want to have that debate.

  7. A very interesting and informative post. There’s not a lot of support here (Canada) for a continuation of the monarchy – people liked Elizabeth and there were no intentions of having a seriously republican discussion while she lived – but concern around a replacement for head of state leaves us hanging on to what we have, at least for now.

  8. artandarchitecturemainly

    I think most royals understand appropriate behaviours and values, but what would happen of someone did not?

    Edward and his lovely wife lived in Europe, waiting for the Nazis to take over Britain. Then he believed he would be appointed king again and might have even ruled without a Parliament.

    1. Some royals clearly do not – history is full of ’em. Edward VIII seems to have been a foolish, vain, figure in many ways – we did far better with George VI. He certainly admired the Nazis – and was not alone in that during the 1930s – but I find it hard to buy the idea that he was an active traitor who wished harm to come to his country and family. He was governor of the Bahamas from 1940-45, not in Europe, but even ostensibly out of harm’s way, still managed to put his foot in it from time to time, I gather.

  9. Thank you, Mike. It will take me some time to read your post throughly. Please know I will do so, with pleasure.

  10. Terrific post Mike, thank you. As an ardent Royalist, who swore my allegiance to HM Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, in 1964, I can only say Long Live The King!

  11. I’m sorry we won’t be hearing the other Handel coronation anthems…but I suppose I should be thankful that there is no rap item on the order of service with Welby involved.

    Super post, Mike!

    1. Thanks, Helen. Personally, I think he went on a bit – but I’m disappointed he didn’t say, “It’s a wrap” at the end. The speeding archbishop – who’d have thought?

  12. Paul Andrews

    An excellent, easily readable, description of the reality of the monarchy. In laying that out it almost unknowingly presents a very convincing case for retaining the monarchy. Certainly one I can wholeheartedly agree with. Worth a read by everyone.

  13. Hi Mike, This was an informative and interesting piece! Thanks. From afar, I sort of agree with Princess Anne – the monarchy provides a stability through time that one would never get from elected politicians. And for most of the family, it seems they are truly committed to their work and service. A good example and inspiration compared to the politicians. I hope the coronation goes smoothly. Thanks again for this post!

    1. Thank you kindly!I think you’re right about stability and, as far as the key players are concerned, service. The coronation – whatever people thought of it – went off without a hitch. Amazing!

  14. Well thought out piece Mike. I have always been ambivalent about the monarchy, but then I watched The Crown TV series and thought we could do without most of them 😀

    1. Thanks, Fraggle. I enjoyed bits of The Crown, which is beautifully made, and of course our monarchy is far from perfect – but huge chunks of the series struck me as dramatic sensationalist twaddle. We gave up on the last one.

  15. Mike Davies

    As always, an enjoyable read. I am a republican, so I don’t agree with some of your views, but I do agree with your view on an impotent figurehead, what would be the point? Anyway, I still found the article informative, and of interest.

    1. Thanks, Mike – much appreciated! There’s room for civilised, objective, debate. I do think the monarchy needs to adapt – and believe we are already seeing a different style. But the question is about what institution is best, of course.

  16. I’m glad you answer the question – what is a king? I suppose that isn’t so different from the question – how can you tell someone is a king? I think a Michael Palin character had the answer. “He must be a king, he doesn’t have s__t al over him”
    Juvenile comments aside, and admirable piece ol’ chap. Full of fabulous facts and stuff.

    1. Ah, but where there’s muck there’s brass. Thank you, old bean – coincidentally I have been watching a documentary on the Monty Ps and that quote almost made it into the draft!

  17. Henriet Ferguson

    Here in the Netherlands we have just celebrated the King’s Birthday, a popular event with the Royals visiting a different town each year. They walk along an appointed route, lots of security of course, but still very near the countless people who want to shake hands with them. Most people accept it or even love it. This time it was in Rotterdam, and the King wished a little group of demonstrating Republicans a fine day. That just about sums it up. Some say King Willem Alexander is a bit too folksy. Others think he is too expensive. But it has been computed that having any other type of head of state costs a lot more! And it wouldn’t have the aura, would it, even with a folksy king?

    1. Thank you. I think you’re right, but also whatever arrangements are in place have to be right for the country – what works in one place may not work somewhere else. All institutions have to adapt – and we are already seeing a different monarchy in Britain.

  18. This is so informative, thank you, Mike! I can see how our US government is very different. Sometimes I wonder what things would be like if the British troops had won the battle and stopped the US from coming to be…

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