Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism

Long live, King David!

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This article also appears on Republic Blog.

As a kid, I was given a picture chart of English monarchs since William the Conqueror. I’m sure it was given me ‘learn’ me some history, but it subtly brainwashed me into thinking that British monarchy is a long, unbroken chain stretching back almost a thousand years.

Of course, it’s nothing like that. The succession from one crowned head to another has been squabbled over throughout that time, making the line of succession as complicated as a London Tube map. I remember on my childhood chart that even the accession of Charles Stuart jr was back-dated to his father’s execution, completely missing the glaring historical reality that England and Wales, and later Scotland and Ireland, were a de facto republic for just over a decade, and the earliest attempt at a modern, rather than mediaeval, republican state. Monarchists cast this period as the Interregnum, ‘between kings’. However, no one, whatever their political stripe, in the period used such an anachronistic term.

There have been lots of twists, tricks and breaks in the chain of monarchy. One that perhaps needs a little more publicity is the great big fudge in the rules of succession that led to Georg Ludwig von Braunschweig-Lüneburg becoming monarch in 1714. There were around 56 people higher up the list of succession, but Parliament chose him on the basis that he was Protestant, whereas the others were either Catholic or not known to be Protestant. The hereditary principle, which I believe has no place in our society, seems not even to be rock solid when it comes to picking a monarch.

David Carnegie

David Carnegie

Just imagine that when Elizabeth Windsor dies, Parliament declares that neither Charles nor William shall become king, but they had decided to pass the crown to David Carnegie, aged 48, of Brechin, Scotland! As far as I can tell, Mr Carnegie is as far from the throne today as Georg Ludwig was in 1714. The royal gossipists talk about the possibility of skipping the ever unpopular Charles Windsor, for their poster boy ‘Wills’, but there is precedent for a much larger jump — long live, King David!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure David Carnegie is a nice bloke, but I don’t want to be subject to a monarch whoever it is. After all, Mr Carnegie happens to be the son of a duke, and lives with his wife and three sons in a nice little castle. I want to live in a Britain where any common citizen — regardless of class, ethnicity, gender and religion — can rise to the highest office in this land with the consent of the electorate, and then make way for the next First Citizen after a few years.

However, I tell you about King David because it highlights just how flimsy a lot of the monarchy’s ‘tradition’ really is. The image of a long, unbroken chain of hereditary monarchs stretching back through history with nothing but the best intentions for their country is myth, not history. The emphasis on the line of succession and pedigree is not built of some divine order, but is there to stop the toffs squabbling. After all, the fluttering scraps of our constitution define the monarchic succession as to Protestant heirs of a German princess called Sophia. A constitutional arrangement that is clearly absurd, indefensible and incompatible with any reasonable ethical framework one would like to have for this country.

Author: Gareth Hughes

A priest of the Church of England, who is Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford, and doing Syriac research at Oxford University.

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