Skip to content

GOD SAVE THE QUEEN: The Spiritual Dimension of Monarchy – IAN BRADLEY

January 17, 2018

GSTQ2Every day, using the 1662 Daily Office, I pray for the queen but have republican tenancies. As a result of reading this book, I shall be a little less virulent in my anti-monarchism.

There was a BCP rite for healing by monarch.

The author admits to having republican sympathies but also to having reassessed them.

He explains the role of monarchs in the Old Testament and in Europe.

They had to care for the oppressed and to educate – maybe the role of government is this too and it needs constantly to be reminded.

There’s some confusion – we’re told that kings in Ancient Israel dressed lie priests and may have exercised priestly functions but her author omits the rebuke of Saul for doing do.

In older editions to the book he stated he felt that the British Government should remove the oath that forbids Catholics from being monarchs. In this recent edition, he changes his mind and states that the oath should remain. He feels a Catholic would not be able to be a good monarch in British society, and that is plain wrong as Catholics were monarchs until Edward VI (later though adding Queen Mary and King James II)

At a time of renewed interest in the monarchy (stimulated by the marriage of Prince William of Wales and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II), the institution is analyzed and dissected from almost every point of view apart from the sacred — which arguably stands at its heart and is its ultimate raison d’etre. Commentators assess the constitutional and philanthropic aspects of monarchy and its tourist potential; gossip magazines report on the Royal Family as a soap opera. This lack of attention is in marked contrast to the sacred origins of monarchy and the manifest importance of religious belief in the life of the present monarch.

Ian Bradley traces the religious dimension of monarchy and argues for its importance as a spiritual force in British life, as well as exploring what this might mean in a society that is both multi-faith and increasingly secular.

Table of contents

Introduction \ 1 Monarchy in the Old Testament \ 2 Monarchy in the New Testament \ 3 Sacred Kingship in Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Britain \ 4 The Coronation Service \ 5 The Protestant Project \ 6 Duty, Discretion and Dignity — The Victorian Legacy \ 7 The Last 60 Years — the Reign of Queen Elizabeth II \ 8 Current Debates \ 9 The Way Ahead \ Notes

The author: We are witnessing a reinvention of the monarchy to articulate the values of a tolerant society and to provide a focus for multiculturalism and religious pluralism. The first stage was Prince Charles’s declaration on Charles: The Private Man, The Public Role (1994) that he would prefer the monarch to be defender of faith rather than Defender of the Faith, defending “faith itself which is so often under threat in our day where the whole concept of there being anything be yond this existence, beyond life itself is considered almost old-fashioned”.

Since then, the prince has taken on the role of “defender of faith”, reaching out to non-Christian traditions, crusading against the reductionism and scientific materialism of genetic modification, extolling the holistic and spiritual dimension in architecture, medicine and education. His Respect campaign seeks to encourage individuals and communities to give time to those of another faith, to share and learn together and enjoy the company of people of other cultures and experience.

Perhaps even more significant has been the Queen’s journey, first signalled in her 2000 Christmas broadcast. After speaking of the strength and importance of her Christian faith, she commended the spirituality found in the teachings of other great faiths.

She took this theme further in her Christmas broadcast last year, commending “strong and open communities”, and saying: “A sense of belonging to a group, which has in common the same desire for a fair and ordered society, helps to overcome difficulties and misunderstandings by reducing prejudice, ignorance and fear. We all have something to learn from one another, whatever our faith – be it Christian or Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Sikh – whatever our background, whether we be young or old, from town or countryside.”

This espousal of inclusivity and openness also underlay the Queen’s jubilee address to parliament in April when she characterised the British as “a moderate, pragmatic people, outward-looking and open-minded” and identified fairness and tolerance as the two traditions in which the country should take particular pride. She also singled out “the consolidation of our richly multicultural and multi-faith society” as one of the most significant and welcome developments of her reign.

This embrace of multiculturalism and religious diversity puts the monarch ahead of many politicians and pundits, and is not mere rhetoric. It springs in part from her experience of the multicultural, multi-faith Commonwealth, bound together by loyalty to shared ideals and values and to the person of the monarch. As the Queen’s former secretary, Sir Edward Ford, observed, its creation and preservation has perhaps been the most significant personal achievement of her reign.

If we need to learn to live together as a community of communities with a diverse ethnic, cultural and religious mix, then the Commonwealth is not a bad model. The monarchy has identified itself with openness, tolerance and a respect for religious faith and a sense of the spiritual. Intolerance, bigotry and fundamentalism can be heard across the world. The fact that our head of state and her heir have championed inclusivism and liberal pluralism is something to celebrate.

GSTQQuotations:

The idea that kings were superior to bishops was also asserted at a less brutal and more theological level. The anonymous twelfth-century tract quoted above noted that both kings and bishops ‘are in spirit Christus et Deus: and in their offices they act as antitypes and images of Christ and God; the priest of the Priest, the king of the King’. However, it went on to point out, `the priest acts as the antitype of the inferior office and nature, that is, His humanity: the king, as that of the superior office and nature, that is, His divinity.’19 This tract, in fact, asserted that monarchs uniquely imitated Christ in having two natures and being both human and divine: in an archaeological dig there in 197o were offered to both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches but were declined for reinternment as relics. However, the Russian Orthodox Church in exile accepted them and enshrined the remains in 1984 in their chapel at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. A High Court ruling ordered the bones to be returned to the custody of the Midland Bank in Croydon where, as far as I am aware, they remain to this day, a somewhat prosaic resting place for a wonder-working king.

IT IS THE CORONATION SERVICE more than any other institution or event that underlines the essentially spiritual and sacred nature of British monarchy. Packed with religious symbolism and imagery, it exudes mystery and magic, binds together church and state through the person of the monarch, and clearly proclaims the derivation of all power and authority from God and the Christian basis on which government is exercised, justice administered and the state defended. Here, if anywhere, we find the divinity which, as Shakespeare so rightly observed, hedges around the English throne. This has been as true in relatively recent times as in the heyday of ‘divine right’ theory in the seventeenth century. On the day of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 the Archbishop of Canterbury solemnly announced that England had been brought closer to the kingdom of heaven. More recently Clifford Longley has written:

The Coronation of our Queen was an act of God performed by human hands, and the assembly held its breath at the mystery and wonder of it. It was one of the central acts of statehood, the moment whereby all temporal authority in the realm flowing from the king was legitimised and sanctified. This is the doctrine of Christian kingship.’

At their coronations kings and queens are not simply crowned and enthroned but consecrated, set apart and anointed, dedicated to God and invested with sacerdotal garb and symbolic insignia. Often following after the accession of a new monarch by a year or more, coronations are primarily religious services rather than constitutional ceremonies. In several early accounts they are described as benedictions or ordinations, and from the tenth century onwards as consecrations, with the king being described after his anointing as rex ordinatus. The French used the term `sacring’. The actual crowning and enthronement is just one of five distinct elements in the coronation service, the others being recognition by the assembled congregation of their sovereign, administration of the coronation oath, anoin­ting with holy oil and investiture with the royal regalia.

The United Kingdom coronation service has been subtly adapted over the centuries but retained the same basic format used in England for over one thousand years. It is closely modelled on the inauguration ceremonies for the kings of Israel as described in the Old’ Testament. Its most solemn moment, the anointing of the new monarch with holy oil, is directly compared to the anointing of Solomon and accompanied by the singing of the verses from Kings I: `Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king; and all the people rejoiced and said: God save the king, Long live the king, May the king live for ever. Amen. Hallelujah.’ Since 1727 these words have been sung to G. F. Handel’s thrilling setting written for the coronation of George II. Coronation sermons have frequently contained references to Solomon, and also to David and Josiah. The one preached at Charles II’s Scottish coronation at Scone in 1651 also mentioned Saul, Joash, Ahaziah, Asa, Hezekiah and even the wicked queen Athaliah to whom Charles’s mother was compared.

The strong Old Testament influence is also evident in the centrality of the covenant theme in British coronations. Through the solemn oaths sworn near the beginning of the service and the act of homage towards the end, God, monarch and people are bound together in a three-way covenant. Not surprisingly, the psalms have long played a prominent part in coronation services. Settings by Handel of the opening verses of Psalm 21, ‘The king shall rejoice’, and verses from Psalm 89, ‘Let thy hand be strengthened’ were sung as the opening and closing anthems at the coronations of George II and George III. Elizabeth II’s coronation began with the opening verses of Psalm 122, ‘I was glad when they said unto me, we will go to the house of the Lord’, set to the majestic tune written by Hubert Parry for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902.

The development of coronation services based on the Old Testament model played a key role in the transition from primal sacred kingship to Christian monarchy. Crownings and enthronements were a central feature of pre-Christian kingship and they often involved rituals indicating the divinity of the new monarch. With the coming of Christianity, kings were no longer seen as gods. Through being anointed at their coronations, however, they were set apart and given quasi-priestly status. Much reference was made to Melchizedek as the model priest-king in early Christian coronation orders and even as late as 1308 he was explicitly cited as the model for the king of England. The priestly, and even episcopal, attributes of the monarch remained a significant theme in the coronation service, but the emphasis shifted from the Melchizedekian model of the priest-king to the notion of the monarch as one who rules by the grace and through the authority of God. While preserving the concept of popular choice, symbolised by the act of recognition at the beginning of the service, the Christian coronation emphasised the monarch’s crowning by God rather than by people. As such it easily accom­modated and, indeed, facilitated the transition from popular election to hereditary succession which occurred in both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon mon­archy. In Christian coronations, the focus was not on choosing a king, or even crowning and enthroning him, but rather on invoking the divine blessing, setting him apart and reminding him of the derivation of his power from God and of his responsibilities to rule wisely, justly and mercifully. Christian consecration took over from constitutional investiture as the main function of the coronation ceremony, which came to be seen as a religious service for which the monarch prepared with spiritual reflection and prayer and which generally took place in the context of a celebration of Holy Communion.

It is not clear when the first Christian consecration or inauguration of a monarch took place. Gildas, the Welsh monk writing in the sixth century, speaks about the unction or anointing of British kings ruling after the with­drawal of the Romans. Adamnan tells of Columba being three times visited by an angel commanding him to ordain Aeclan to the kingship of Dal Riata according to the rubrics laid down in a glass book. If he is to be believed, the ordination which Columba duly performed on Iona in 574, by laying his hand on Aedan’s head and blessing him, is the first clearly recorded Christian coronation of a king not just in the British Isles but anywhere in Europe. This is certainly how it has been interpreted. A purple passage in the Times special supplement on the Coronation of 1937 noted that ‘our first remote glimpse of the consecration of a king on British soil is by a ray of dim religious light falling upon the sacred isle of Iona.’2 A recent monograph argues, however, that ‘the consecration of Aedin in the Vita Columbae must now be regarded as propaganda and not as history.’3 According to its author, Michael Enright, Adamnan, writing at the end of the seventh century, invented the story of Aedan’s ordination by Columba in order to bolster the concept of Christian kingship in general and more specifically to support the claim of the abbots of Iona in his own time to consecrate the kings of Dal Riata.

Anachronistic as it may be, Adamnan’s reference suggests that by the late seventh century abbots of Iona may have been consecrating the kings of Dail Riata, using Columba’s supposed ordination of Aeclan as a precedent. If this is the case, then it is still a very early example of Christian coronations being carried out in the British Isles. The ceremony probably took place on the summit of the rocky crag of Dunadd in mid-Argyll, the site of pre-Christian inauguration rites, where the king placed his foot in a specially carved indentation in the rock to signal his marriage to the land and the continuity of his succession. A modern artist’s impression of a Christian coronation at Dunadd in Ewan Campbell’s excellent book, Saints and Sea Kings: The First Kingdom of the Scots, shows the abbot of Iona with his crook consecrating the king on the rocky promontory, with nobles and monks looking on. This may well be how successive kings of Dal Riata were inaugurated in the centuries following Columba. The ceremony almost certainly blended Christian and pre-Christian elements, with a priest presiding but the king still placing his foot in the rock-cut footprint. This particular feature of pre-Christian ritual was preserved throughout the Middle Ages in the ceremony of inauguration for the Lord of the Isles which took place at Finlaggan on Islay and was conducted by the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles in the context of the celebration of Mass. The incoming lord, clad in a white habit to symbolise innocence and integrity, received a white rod and sword while standing in a footprint carved into the stone to signify that he would walk in the footsteps of his predecessors.

The coming of Christian consecrations did not mean the ending of other symbolic practices associated with royal inaugurations in pre-Christian times. Many monarchs continued to be crowned sitting on stones, chosen both for their symbolic strength and stability and because their enduring nature enabled succeeding generations to enthrone monarchs on the same seat. The coronation stone at Kingston upon Thames did duty for the crowning of Christian Anglo-Saxon kings, as it had for their pagan predecessors, as that on the rock of Cashel did for the kings of Munster. The stone of Scone was almost certainly used for all Scottish coronations from that of Kenneth Mac Ailpin in the mid-ninth century until its removal by Edward I in 1296. Although the church assumed responsibility for coronations, with its priests taking the druids’ role of crowning the king and presenting him with the symbols of white rod and sword, the ceremonies for long continued in their old pre-Christian outdoor sites, often on a rocky outcrop like Dunadd or Cashel. It was only after the Norman conquest that coronations were moved into church buildings, but even then they continued to retain some of the symbolism and ritual of pre-Christian sacred kingship.

While pre-Christian practices of enthronement and investiture with weapons and regalia were incorporated into the new Christian coronation services, other new elements distinguished them from what had gone before. The replacement of the traditional warrior’s helmet by a corona or crown was an important symbolic step in the Christianisation of royal inauguration rituals. From the time of Constantine, the soldier’s torque, similar to those worn round the neck, was replaced by a crown or diadem for the coronation of emperors. Murals and mosaics depict emperors being crowned by a heavenly hand, perhaps echoing depictions in early Christian art of martyrs being crowned from heaven. The crown preserved the association with sacrifice found in the shamanistic torque but also introduced Christian notions of martyrdom and consecration and drew on imagery found in both the Old and New Testaments. Some scholars suggest that it derives from the rays of glory which played around the head of Moses on his descent from Mount Sinai. The action of Pope Leo III in placing a crown of the head of Charlemagne on 25 December Boo clearly signalled the church’s takeover of the imperial inauguration process.

More important than the substitution of crown for helmet in Christianising royal inauguration rituals was the introduction of the Old Testament practice of anointing the new monarch. If Adamnan’s account of Columba’s ordi­nation of Aedin in 574 is fictitious, the first Christian king in Europe to have been anointed may have been Wamba of Spain in 672. Historians are generally agreed that full-scale Christian inauguration rites for monarchs involving ecclesiastical blessing and anointing in the context of a proper liturgical service were probably developed in the eighth century by the Merovingians, drawing on earlier Byzantine practices in the Eastern Roman Empire. Some maintain that the first well-attested anointing of a European monarch did not take place until 751 when the Frankish king Pippin was crowned and anointed in a ceremony Which Enright suggests might well have been influenced by Adamnan’s account of Columba’s ordination of Aedan. Orders of services which have survived from the archives of Egbert, Archbishop of York from 734 to 766, include what is described as ‘Mass for Kings on the day of their Benediction’, suggesting that the four kings who

acceded to the throne of Northumbria during his time as archbishop may have been anointed by him. However, there is no direct record of their coronations and the earliest clearly documented royal anointing in England is that of Ecgfith, the son of Offa, who was anointed king of Mercia by visiting papal legates in 787. Seven years later Atri of Munster became the first Irish king known to have been anointed.

The practice of anointing kings was largely confined to England, Ireland, France and Sicily. It does not -seem to have been taken up in Scotland until 1331, when David II was crowned and anointed, apparently in response to a request from Robert the Bruce and according to the terms of a Bull from Pope John XXI. Scottish monarchs continued to be anointed through the period of the Reformation, by bishops in the case of James VI and Charles I and Presbyterian ministers in the case of Anne of Denmark, James VI’s consort. However, there was no anointing for Charles II at Scone in 1651, in what was the last coronation to be carried out in Scotland and the only one of a reigning monarch to be celebrated according to Presbyterian practice.

The first English coronation of which both a clear record and a full order survive was that of Edgar in 973, twelve years after he had become king of England. The long delay may be explained by the desire of the church to wait until he was 31, the age at which priesting took place. Certainly his coronation, which was held on Whit Sunday, the traditional day for ordinations to the priesthood, laid considerable emphasis on the theme of consecration and the sacerdotal aspects of kingship. Bedecked with the roses of martyrdom and the lilies of chastity and clad in priestly robes, Edgar was anointed and crowned by Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, at the Roman baths in Bath. His wife, Aelfthryth, was anointed as queen at the same ceremony. Despite its pagan setting, the tenor of the coronation service was strongly Christian, with the king being entrusted with the protection and supervision of the church and graced with the titles rex dei gratia and vicarius dei.

The order drawn up by Dunstan, which seems to have borrowed from Carolingian and Frankish rites as well as indigenous Celtic and Anglo-Saxon practices, contained many of the key elements found in all subsequent English coronations. The oaths which the king was required to swear were similar to those in the orders used by Archbishop Egbert of York more than two hundred years earlier, where the king swore that ‘the Church of God and all Christian people [would] keep true peace at every time’, that ‘he forbids all robberies and all iniquities unto all degrees’ and that ‘he commands righteousness and mercy in all judgments’. Dunstan’s Ordo also included anointing, enthronement, crowning with gold helmet and investiture of the monarch with a short sceptre and a long rod. At the close of the service all those present hailed the king with words taken directly from the Old Testa­ment, Vivat rex’, and the nobles bound themselves to their new ruler by a kiss. Dunstan’s Ordo clearly established clerical control over royal inauguration rites in England, and specifically the key role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in presiding over the ceremony.

A particularly full record survives of a second coronation over which Dunstan presided, that of Ethelred II at Kingston upon Thames in 979. At his baptism, which had also been at the hands of Dunstan, the infant Ethelred had caused some consternation by urinating into the font and it was perhaps partly in atonement for this act of sacrilege that the coronation service began with the king prostrating himself before the altar while the Te Deum was sung. The service was full of Old Testament references. The opening prayer of consecration, at which the crown was held over the king’s head, invoked the coronation of David and asked that Ethelred might have ‘the faithfulness of Abraham, the meekness of Moses, the courage of Joshua, the humility of David and the wisdom of Solomon’.4 The prayer of anointing began ‘0 Christ, anoint this king with the power with which thou hast anointed priests, kings, prophets and martyrs?’ Following promises by the king to preserve the church and govern with justice and equity, his investiture with a sword, sceptre and staff, and the consecration of the queen, Dunstan preached on the duties of a consecrated king, describing him as the shepherd over his people and reminding him that while ruling justly would earn him `worship in this world’ as well as God’s mercy, any departure from his duties would lead to punishment at Doomsday.

The Norman Conquest brought a more settled succession with the heredi­tary principle replacing election and choice by nobles. This confirmed the function of the coronation not as a king-making ceremony but as a religious service in which the monarch whose accession was already secure was conse­crated and given divine blessing. Orders used for the coronation of Norman kings broadly followed Dunstan’s Anglo-Saxon Ordo. The coronation of William I on Christmas Day 1066 was the first to take place in the newly built Westminster Abbey, which became the venue for the coronation of virtually all subsequent English monarchs. William was actually crowned by Aldred, Archbishop of York, but after some wrangling in the twelfth century the principle was established that only the Archbishop of Canterbury was entitled to crown the king and queen.

Since 1307 every English sovereign, with the exception of Mary I and Mary II, has been crowned while seated on the special coronation chair made on the orders of Edward I to house the Stone of Scone which he brought from Scotland in 1296 and dedicated to Edward the Confessor. Before its spiriting away by the ‘Hammer of the Scots’, the stone had played a key role in the coronation of Scottish kings. A potent symbol of Scottish identity, it was stolen from Westminster Abbey in 195o by Scottish nationalists, recovered and finally returned to Scotland in 1996, with the understanding that it will be brought back to London for future coronations. This relatively insignificant piece of red sandstone, weighing about 400 lbs, cracked through the middle and decorated only by a very simple cross, carries a huge weight of religious symbolism, and its legendary history illustrates well the sacred aura sur­rounding the British monarchy. Even Oliver Cromwell had himself installed as Lord Protector seated on the coronation throne and the Stone of Scone.

Legend has it that the Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny as it is sometimes called, started life as the pillow on which Jacob slept when he had his dream of the ladder leading up to heaven as recounted in Genesis 28:12-17. The biblical story recounts that after rising early in the morning, Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, having poured oil on top of it. He called the place where God had delivered his promise to the descendants of Abraham Bethel. Many years later God told Jacob to return to Bethel where he renamed him Israel and said ‘a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you’ (Genesis 35:11). Again Jacob set up a pillar of stone in the place where God had spoken to him and poured oil on it. Some stories identify this with the pillar beside which Abimelech was crowned king of Israel and Josiah made his covenant with the Lord to keep his commandments and statutes.

The next chapter in the legendary history of the coronation stone provides an origin legend for the Scots and forges a link between Old Testament kingship, the pharaohs of Egypt and the kings of Ireland. There are various versions of the story. One recounts that around 58o Bc, when the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar were invading Israel, the prophet Jeremiah and King Zedekiah’s daughter, Tea, the last survivor of the Davidic line, smuggled the sacred stone out of Israel so that it would not fall into the hands of the Babylonian invaders. They went first to Egypt as guests of the Pharaoh and then via Spain to Ireland where Tea married Eochaid, king of Ireland, and took the name Scota. According to another version, the stone remained in Egypt for some time where it became the property of the country’s rulers before being taken to Spain by Scota, Pharaoh’s daughter, and subsequently to Ireland by one of her descendants, Simon Brek. This links up with the wider origin legend for the Celtic peoples of the British Isles as the descend­ants of the lost tribe of Dan, and also with stories of the appearance in early sixth-century Ireland of an elderly prophet who made laws based on the Ten Commandments by which the nations of Ireland were said to be governed for the next thousand years.

In its ‘Irish period’, the stone acquired the name Lia Fail, or stone of destiny, and is said to have been sited at Tara, the holy hill on which Ireland’s high kings were crowned. A piece of it was apparently broken off and taken to the Irish colony of Dal Riata in Argyllshire, possibly even by Columba who, according to some stories, used it as his pillow or his altar. After residing at Iona for a time, and possibly being used at Dunadd for the crowning of Dal Riatan kings, it was taken to Dunstaffnage Castle near Oban, the seat and burial place of later Dal Riatan kings. Then around 84o it was moved to Scone in Perthshire, the capital of the new united kingdom of Picts and Scots established by Kenneth Mac Ailpin. Kings of Scotland were thereafter enthroned sitting on the stone at Scone, the last to do so before Edward’s removal of the stone to London being John Balliol in 1292. Edward seized the stone as part of his bid to annex the Scottish crown to that of England, reckoning that its possession made him the legal king of Scotland and that any subsequently elected Scottish king would be a usurper and not properly crowned. Although they no longer had the stone to sit on, nearly all subsequent kings of Scotland continued to be crowned at Scone.

It is in fact highly dubious whether the stone which currently resides in Edinburgh Castle is the one which Mac Ailpin brought to Scone, let alone whether it originally came from the Holy Land. The sandstone of which it is made is of a type relatively common in the areas around both Scone and Dunstaffnage but unknown in the vicinity of Tara or in the Middle East. This is an area, however, where hard facts are less important than legend and myth. The Stone of Destiny symbolises the sacred character and history of monarchy in the British Isles and illustrates the considerable efforts which have been made to connect it with Old Testament kingship and biblical narratives. For British Israelites, it is an important part of the evidence showing a direct descent of the British royal house from the throne of David. Symbolically and spiritually, the stone links the crowns of Ireland, Scotland and England. In the words of Arthur Stanley, Dean of Westminster from 1863 to 1881, it ‘carries back our thoughts to races and customs now almost extinct, a link which unites the throne of England to the traditions of Tara and Iona, and connects the charm of our complex civilization with the forces of our mother earth — the sticks and stones of savage nature’.

The coronation service has changed very little over the last thousand years.

A beautifully illuminated service book, the Liber Regalis, drawn up for the coronation of Richard II in 1377 and preserved in the library of Westminster

Abbey, has been used as the basis for all subsequent coronations. The major modifications have been in respect of the Coronation Oath, changed to reflect the monarch’s position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England after the Reformation, and the requirement for the sovereign to defend the Protestant religion following the Glorious Revolution of 1689. There have also been small changes in the anointing ritual. The Liber Regalis laid down that there should be two ampullae, as the anointing vessels are known, one containing pure oil and the other a holy chrism made of olive oil and balm. Tudor monarchs received a double anointing, but since Stuart times a mixture of oil and balm in a single ampulla has been used. Early English coronation orders seem simply to have provided for the monarch to be anointed on the crown of the head, but later a fivefold anointing ritual was used, involving the hands, breast, shoulder, elbows and head. The boy king Edward VI was actually laid on the altar so that Archbishop Cranmer could anoint his back. Later anointing was reduced to the hands, breast and crown of the head.

Most of the Stuart monarchs enjoyed a double coronation, with three being crowned separately in Scotland and England. Charles James, the only son of Mary Queen of Scots, and the first British sovereign to bear more than one Christian name, was crowned James VI of Scotland at Stirling in 1590, and James I of England in London in 1603. Charles I was crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1626, and at Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh, in 1633, in the only Scottish coronation to have used the rites of the Church of England. The order was reversed in the case of Charles II, who was crowned at Scone Abbey on New Year’s Day 1651 in a Presbyterian service and at West­minster Abbey on St George’s Day 1661. James II effectively also had two coronations, being crowned and anointed in a private Roman Catholic service in his chapel at Whitehall the day before his coronation at Westminster Abbey at which the celebration of communion was omitted. All subsequent British sovereigns have been crowned in Westminster Abbey in the context of a service of Holy Communion according to the rites of the Church of England.

Not all monarchs have taken their coronations as seriously as they should. Dunstan, abbot of Glastonbury, was appalled by the behaviour of King Eadwy immediately after his anointing in 955. He noted that ‘the lustful man suddenly jumped up and left the happy banquet and the fitting company of his nobles for the caresses of loose women’. Dunstan and another cleric were sent to drag the king back to the ceremony. When they entered his apart­ments, they found the royal crown carelessly thrown down on the floor and the king wallowing between the two ladies ‘in evil fashion, as if in a vile sty’. He was reluctant to leave but Dunstan, ‘after first rebuking the folly of the women, drew him by the hand from his licentious reclining by the women, replaced the crown, and brought him with him to the royal assembly, though dragged from the women by force’.’ King John apparently laughed throughout his coronation and refused to take communion. Richard II fell asleep halfway through the ceremony, although as he was only ten his exhaus­tion is understandable. George IV caused offence by nodding and winking to his mistress, Lady Conyngham, throughout his coronation.

Several coronations have been marred by disasters and mishaps which were not the fault of the monarch. During the crowning of William I the Norman cavalry outside Westminster Abbey mistook the shout of acclamation inside for a riot, and proceeded to massacre a group of Saxons who had the misfortune to be in the vicinity. The oil used to anoint Elizabeth I was rancid and had a foul smell, and during James II’s coronation the royal standard flying over the Tower of London tore in two and the crown would not stay firmly on the king’s head. Victoria’s coronation was a muddled affair in which the officiating clergy demonstrated particular ineptness. The Archbishop of Canterbury made a mess of delivering the orb to the Queen and shoved the ring on to the wrong finger, causing considerable delay and much pain. When the Queen withdrew to St Edward’s Chapel after the anthem she was upset to find the altar covered with sandwiches and bottles of wine. George VI also suffered from episcopal incompetence and clumsiness at his coronation in 1937:

I had two bishops, Durham and Bath and Wells, one on either side to support me, and to hold the form of service for me to follow. When this great moment came, neither Bishop could find the words, so the Archbishop held his book down for me to read, but horror of horrors, his thumb covered the words of the oath . . . The supreme moment came when the Archbishop placed St Edward’s crown on my head. I had taken every precaution as I thought to see that the crown was put on the right way round, but the Dean and the Archbishop had been juggling with it so much, that I never did know whether it was right or wrong . . . As I turned after leaving the Coronation Chair I was brought up all standing, owing to one of the Bishops treading on my robe. I had to tell him to get off it pretty sharply as I nearly fell down.’

In general, however, British coronations have been dignified and spectacular affairs seen by both those taking part and observers as significant and moving occasions which have enhanced both the spiritual significance of the mon­archy and the religious life of the nation. Monarchs have often prepared spiritually as well as physically and emotionally for their coronation days and this moving prayer written by Elizabeth I testifies to a commonly felt sense of the spiritual nature of the occasion: O Lord Almighty and everlasting God, I give Thee most hearty thanks that Thou hast been so merciful unto me as to spare me to behold this joyful day. And I acknowledge that Thou hast dealt wonderfully and mercifully with me, as Thou didst with thy true and faithful servant Daniel, Thy prophet, whom thou deliverest out the den from the cruelty of the greedy and roaring lions. Even so was I overwhelmed, and only by Thee delivered. To Thee, therefore, only, thanks, honour and praise, for ever. Amen.’

Those who have witnessed coronations have often been struck by their spiritual power as well as their colour and spectacle. After attending the English Coronation of Charles II in 1661, Samuel Pepys wrote,

Now after all this, I can say that, besides the pleasure of the sight of these glorious things, I may now shut my. eyes against any other objects, or for the future trouble myself to see things of state and show, as being sure never to see the like again in this world.i°

The evangelical Lord Ashley, later the Earl of Shaftesbury, had no time for those who scoffed at Victoria’s coronation:

An idle pageant, forsooth! As idle as the Coronation of King Solomon, or the dedication of his Temple. The service itself refutes the notion; so solemn, so deeply religious, so humbling, and yet so sublime! Every word of it is invaluable; throughout the Church is everything, secular greatness nothing. She declares, in the name and by the authority of God, and almost enforces, as a condition preliminary to the benediction, all that can make Princes wise to temporal and eternal glory.”

Similar sentiments have characterised newspaper coverage of twentieth-century coronations. The Times leader on the day of George VI’s coronation in 1937 sounded a distinctly religious note:

Nothing is heard nowadays of the ‘divine right’; and not since the last of the Stewarts, Queen Anne, has any sovereign of England been credited with the magical ‘touch’ for the cure of the ‘King’s Evil’. Yet, seeing the king thus exalted at this most solemn moment above common humanity, the mind’s eye may catch, beyond all the pomp, another vision. It is a vision to hush the enthusiasm, but only in order to deepen the feeling of loyalty and turn good will into prayer. The king is on his way to be enthroned, indeed, and acclaimed. The trumpets will sound and the people will cry out ‘God save King George!’. But he is on his way also to be consecrated dedicated. Once that is done, he is no longer an ordinary man. He is a man dedicated.

The leader went on to discuss the pagan idea of the king being sacrificed.

In the modern world, the king is dedicated to a harder sacrifice. Day in and day out, for his people he must live . . . The more closely the burden of kingship is looked at, the more impossible does it seem that any man should bear it unless he were sustained and fortified and inspired by the spiritual power conferred on him in Westminster Abbey today.12

For its leader on Coronation Day 1953 The Times returned to the primal image of the monarch as incarnation of her people:

Today’s sublime ceremonial is in form, and in common view, a dedication of the state to God’s service through the prayers and benedictions of the Church. That is a noble conception, and of itself makes every man and woman in the land a partaker in the mystery of the Queen’s anointing. But also the Queen stands for the soul as well as the body of the Commonwealth. In her is incarnate on her Coronation day the whole of society, of which the state is no more than a political manifestation. She represents the life of her people . . . as men and women, and not in their limited capacity as Lords and Commons and electors. It is the glory of the social monarchy that it sets the human above the institutional.

If this language seems somewhat hyperbolic and overblown now, it is nothing to the claims made by two academics, Edward Shils and Michael Young, in a celebrated article in the Sociological Review in 1953. For them `the coronation was the ceremonial occasion for the affirmation of the moral values by which the society lives. It was an act of national communion.’ Their argument was based in part on their observation of the coronation’s impact on ‘ordinary’ people. They noted that it was frequently spoken of as an ‘inspiration’ and a ‘re-dedication of the nation’. The ceremony had `touched the sense of the sacred’ in people, heightening a sense of solidarity in both families and communities. They pointed to examples of reconciliation between long-feuding neighbours and family members brought about by the shared experience of watching the coronation and noted that the crowds lining the streets of London on Coronation Day were not idle curiosity-seekers but ‘looking for contact with something which is connected with the sacred’

Shils and Young argued that Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation had enabled people to affirm moral values, notably ‘generosity, charity, loyalty, justice in the distribution of opportunities and rewards, reasonable respect for authority, the dignity of the individual and his right to freedom’.15 The sacred properties and charisma of the crown strengthened the moral consensus prevailing in Britain.

The monarchy is the one pervasive institution, standing above all others, which plays a part in a vital way comparable to the function of the medieval church . . . the function of integrating diverse elements into a whole by protecting and defining their autonomy.

What is remarkable about these statements is that they came not from churchmen or monarchists but from two leftwards-leaning academic socio­logists. Shils was Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago and Young a former research secretary Of the Labour Party. Both men were particularly struck by the morally cohesive effect produced by the actual form of the coronation ceremony.

The Coronation Service itself is a series of ritual affirmations of the moral values necessary to a well-governed and good society. The key to the Coronation Service is the Queen’s promise to abide by the moral standards of society.”

In addition to the oath, which they singled out as being especially important in this regard, the act of anointing and the investiture with the bracelets of sincerity and wisdom, the orb and the sword were also identified as being not just symbolic but transformative in bringing Queen and people ‘into a great nation-wide communion’.18 ‘The Coronation’, they concluded, ‘pro­vided at one time and for practically the entire society such an intensive contact with the sacred that we believe we are justified in interpreting it as we have done in this essay, as a great act of national communion.”‘

Perhaps surprisingly, Shils and Young did not make a great deal of the fact that the 1953 Coronation was the first to be televised, and therefore shared in by the nation in a way not possible with any previous ceremony. At a time when ownership of television sets was still relatively limited, this heightened the sense of national communion as those with sets invited friends and neighbours to watch the ceremony with them. There had, in fact, been a considerable debate within royal, ecclesiastical and government circles as to whether the coronation should be televised and in the event neither the anointing nor the communion of the monarch was filmed or shown. Some feared that television would turn the coronation into a piece of entertainment but, given the reverential way that the event was handled by the BBC, the overall effect of letting the cameras into Westminster Abbey was almost certainly to deepen the popular sense of the mystery and religious dimension of monarchy and to produce, in Grace Davie’s words, ‘a ceremony which brought together the Church of England, the monarchy and the nation in an impressive act of sacralisation witnessed by a television audience numbered in millions’.’

Because what actually happened in Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953 was of so much significance and because it is outside the memory and experience of many readers of this book (as it is for the author), I wish to devote the rest of this chapter to an account of the service which, as already stated, broadly followed the form of all coronations in England over the last thousand years.

Queen Elizabeth II entered Westminster Abbey by the west door and processed up the aisle wearing a crimson robe, traditionally worn in remem­brance of Christ’s sacrifice and to signify the monarch’s own willingness to live sacrificially. Since the coronation of Charles I, the entrance into the Abbey has been accompanied by the singing of the opening verses of Psalm 122. Having reached the theatre, as the special raised platform erected for coronations is known, the Queen knelt before the high altar on which were placed the Bible, paten, chalice and royal regalia with which she was to be invested.

The first stage of the coronation service, the recognition, is a survival from the days of elective monarchy when part at least of the function of a coron­ation was to confirm the choice of monarch. In 1953 it took the form of the Archbishop of Canterbury formally presenting the Queen to the people, represented by those gathered in the Abbey. As she turned to face those standing at each corner of the theatre, the archbishop asked if they were willing to do her homage and service. The order of service then states: ‘The people signify their willingness and joy by loud and repeated acclamations, all with one voice crying out “God save Queen Elizabeth”. Then the trumpets shall sound?”

Elizabeth then returned to her chair to take the coronation oath. This was in three parts, the first a solemn promise to govern the peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and other direct dependencies and nations of the Commonwealth ‘according to their laws and customs’, the second an undertaking to ’cause law and justice, in mercy, to be executed in all your judgements’ and the third a commitment to maintain `the laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel, maintain the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law and maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline and government thereof, as by law established in England’.” The actual oath was taken by the Queen kneeling at the altar, with her right hand on the Holy Gospel in the Bible which she kissed before signing the oath.

After returning again to her chair, the Queen was presented with the Holy Bible by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland who said:

Our gracious Queen: to keep your majesty ever mindful of the Law and Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole of life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.

In previous coronations, the presentation of the Bible, which was first introduced into the coronation service in 1689, had been made by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The involvement of the leader of the other established church in the United Kingdom, with which the monarch has a close relationship, was a welcome innovation and introduced an ecumenical dimension which is likely to be greatly extended in future coronations.

The singing of verses 9 and to of Psalm 84 heralded the beginning of the Communion service which in recent coronations has come to frame the anointing, enthronement and investiture. The Collect for Purity and Kyrie Eleison were followed by a special prayer asking God to grant Elizabeth `the spirit of wisdom and government, that being devoted unto thee with her whole heart, she may so wisely govern, that in her time thy Church may be in safety, and Christian devotion may continue in peace; that so persevering in good works unto the end, she may by thy mercy come to thine everlasting kingdom’.24 Next came the Epistle (I Peter 2:13-17), the second verse of Psalm 141 sung as a gradual, the Gospel (Matthew 22:15-22) and the recitation of the Nicene Creed.

In previous coronations there was often a sermon at this point, but the 1953 service moved straight into its most solemn and holy stage, the anointing, preceded, as it has been in every coronation of which a record survives, by the singing of the great ninth-century Latin hymn, Veni, Creator Spiritus to its original plainsong tune. Since James II’s coronation it has been sung in John Cousin’s English translation which begins ‘Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire’. This hymn, which is regularly used at the election of popes, the consecration of bishops in both the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches and the ordination of priests and ministers in a large number of different denominations, specifically refers to the anointing work of the Spirit with its `blessed unction from above’. It was followed by this prayer said by the Archbishop of Canterbury:

0 Lord and Heavenly Father, the exalter of the humble and the strength of thy chosen, who by anointing with Oil didst of old make and consecrate kings, priests and prophets, to teach and govern thy people Israel: Bless and sanctify thy chosen servant Elizabeth who by our office and ministry is now to be anointed with this Oil, and consecrated Queen: Strengthen her, 0 Lord, with the Holy Ghost the Comforter; Confirm and stablish her with thy free and princely Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and government, the Spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the Spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and fill her, 0 Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear, now and for ever; through Jesus Christ our Lord.25

The ampulla which held the oil for Queen Elizabeth II’s anointing is one of the very few items of the coronation regalia which survived the period of the Commonwealth and Protectorate. Most of the other items are replicas made for the coronation of Charles II. The actual anointing took place behind a canopy with the Queen hidden from view and seated on King Edward’s chair while the choir sang the anthem `Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet’, vividly recalling Solomon’s consecration. The Archbishop also made direct reference to Solomon’s anointing as he spooned oil from the ampulla. For the anointing the Queen was stripped of her crimson robe and uncovered, symbolising the setting apart and consecration. After pouring a small quantity of oil on to the palms of both hands, her breast and her head, with the sign of the cross being made_ at each stage, the Archbishop said a second prayer which alluded to the anointing of Jesus and picked up the quotation of Psalm 45 in Hebrews 1:9: Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who by his Father was anointed with the Oil of gladness above his fellows, by his holy Anointing pour down upon your Head and Heart the blessing of the Holy Ghost, and prosper the works of your Hands: that by the assistance of his heavenly grace you may govern and preserve the Peoples committed to your charge in wealth, peace and godliness; and after a long and glorious course of ruling a temporal kingdom wisely, justly and religiously, you may at last be made partaker of an eternal kingdom, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

The anointing over, the canopy was borne away by the Knights of the Garter and the Queen vested in the colobium sindonis and the supertunica or close pall of cloth of gold together with a girdle. These garments are based on priests’ vestments and are designed to emphasise the sacerdotal character of monarchy. The colobium sindonis is to all intents and purposes an alb made of white linen with a lace border, while the supertunica which is put on over it and fashioned in rich silk ornamented with a pattern of green palm leaves interspersed with red roses, green shamrocks and purple thistles, corresponds to a tunicle or dalmatic. The striking similarity with episcopal consecration was not lost on a witness to Henry VI’s coronation who noted that ‘they rayed him lyke as a bysshop should say masse with a dalmatyk and a stole about his necke, and also with hosen and shoon and copys and gloves like a busshop’.27

Next came the presentation of the spurs and sword, the former a sign of knightly virtue, and the latter a symbol of justice and truth, defence of widows and orphans, protection of the church and punishment of wickedness and iniquity. The Queen herself then offered the sword as an oblation on the altar, and a peer redeemed it by paying the price of one hundred shillings, drew it out of its scabbard, and carried it naked before her during the remainder of the service. Following usual practice, the Queen was then invested with the bracelets, or armills, which were put on her wrists by the Archbishop with the words: Receive the bracelets of sincerity and wisdom, both for tokens of the Lord’s protection embracing you on every side; and also for symbols and pledges of that bond which unites you with your Peoples: to the end that you may be strengthened in all your works and defended against your enemies both bodily and ghostly.”

The investiture continued with the Queen being vested in the stole royal and the royal robe of cloth of gold, the Archbishop saying, ‘The Lord clothe you with the robe of righteousness, and with the garments of salvation.’29 Again, there are clear similarities here with the ordination of priests and episcopal consecration. The stole, a band of cloth of gold about three inches wide with a square panel at either end worked with the red cross of St George on a silver background, which is placed around the sovereign’s neck, is similar to that worn by priests, while the robe, sometimes referred to as the imperial mantle or gallium regale, is essentially a cope embroidered with the national emblems of rose, shamrock and thistle as well as golden eagles, silver coronets and fleurs-de-lis. Next the Archbishop put into the Queen’s right hand the orb or globe, a ball of gold surmounted by a large cross thickly studded with diamonds, a symbol of sovereignty under the cross and a reminder ‘that the whole world is subject to the Power and Empire of Christ’.”‘ He then placed on the fourth finger of her right hand a ring inlaid with a ruby and engraved with St George’s cross. Particularly associated with Edward the Confessor and known as ‘the wedding ring of England’, this ring also has obvious episcopal connotations and is presented to symbolise the marriage of monarch and country and as ‘the ring of kingly dignity and the seal of Catholic faith’.3′

The final and perhaps most important symbols with which Elizabeth was invested were the two sceptres, known in Latin as the sceptres and baculus. These may well represent the rod and the staff of Psalm 23. One is surmounted by a cross and stands for kingly power and justice, the other longer one is surmounted by a dove, signifying equity and mercy. They also provide a link to pre-Christian inauguration rites when monarchs were invested with a rod which was white, to represent truth and purity, and straight, to symbolise justice and uprightness.

It was only at this comparatively late stage of the ceremony that Elizabeth was actually crowned. The crown used in recent coronations is known as St Edward’s crown but is in fact a copy made for Charles II’s coronation of the diadem that was broken up on the orders of the Long Parliament. The Queen was crowned sitting on King Edward’s Chair, the Archbishop having first placed the crown on the altar and blessed it. As he ‘reverently put it upon the Queen’s head’ all present made loud and repeated shouts of ‘God save the Queen’, trumpets sounded, and a signal was given for the firing of guns at the Tower of London. The acclamation having ceased, the Archbishop said:

God crown you with a crown of glory and righteousness, that having a right faith and manifold fruit of good works, you may obtain the crown of an everlasting kingdom by the gift of him whose kingdom endureth for ever.32

The choir sang ‘Be strong and of a good courage: keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways’, after which the Archbishop gave the Queen a solemn blessing, ending with the words, ‘May wisdom and knowledge be the stability of your times, and the fear of the Lord your treasure.” A second benediction was then delivered to the people assembled.

For the enthroning the Queen moved from King Edward’s Chair to the throne set up in the theatre to which she was, according to the order of service, to be ‘lifted up by the archbishops, bishops and other peers of the kingdom’, thus recalling the old custom whereby a new king was lifted on to a shield by his followers and exhibited to the people. In reality, the supporters surrounded her as she made her own way to the throne. The Archbishop, after delivering an exhortation, led the assembled bishops and peers in making their homage to the queen, which they did by kneeling

before the throne and declaring that they would be faithful and true. This pledge of fealty, which was also made by Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was

accompanied by the singing of the anthems ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ by John

Redford, ‘0 clap your hands’ by Orlando Gibbons, ‘I will not leave you comfortless’ by William Byrd, ‘0 Lord our Governor’ by Healey Willan and

`Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace’ by Samuel Sebastian Wesley, and ended with the beating of drums, sounding of trumpets and shouts of acclamation from the people.

The last part of the coronation service continued with the communion, celebrated according to the Book of Common Prayer, and preceded with the singing of ‘All people that on earth do dwell’. The Queen left her throne to kneel before the altar where she offered to the Archbishop first bread and wine and then her oblation of a pall or altar-cloth and an ingot of gold weighing a pound. This oblation is described in the Liber Regalis as being made in direct imitation of the actions of the priest-king Melchizedek. At this point special prayers were offered for Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who then joined the Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dean of Westminster in receiving communion. At the end of the service the choir sang the Te Deum Laudamus and, in a final change of garment, the Queen was divested of the robe royal and arrayed in a robe of purple velvet which she wore during the procession out of the abbey and on her return journey to Buckingham Palace. Purple was, of course, the colour associated with Roman emperors and had by the fourth century come to have sacramental and mystical significance.

I have outlined the form of the 1953 coronation in some detail both because it shows the clear sacramental view of monarchy which prevailed when our present Queen was crowned and also because it may very well be the last of its kind. The pressures from various quarters to change the shape of the next coronation have grown to the point where they are probably irresistible. The nature of those pressures, and their likely effect, are discussed later in this book. At the conclusion of this chapter, I wish just to make a plea that we ensure that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater and lose something very special and very sacred by stripping out of our national life what may strike many now as simply medieval mumbo-jumbo.

There is a danger that coronations, certainly on the scale and of the splendour that we have had in recent centuries, encourage monarcholatry and turn sovereigns into gods. It is certainly true that they load significance on to the person of the monarch in a way that derives as much from primal concepts of sacred kingship as from the Christian understanding of monarchy. This tendency perhaps reached its apogee at the coronation of Charles II in 1651 where, for perhaps understandable reasons, the new monarch was vari­ously compared to Jove crowned, Saul crowned, the sun on Easter Sunday, Apollo, Christ as king, priest and prophet, and St Paul finishing the race and gaining his crown. But it has also been a feature of more recent coronations as Kingsley Martin has observed:

Extravagant views of monarchy are usually expressed at coronations. So notably rational a prelate as Archbishop Temple, for instance, declared that at his coronation George V became the ‘incarnation of his people’, a phrase which might at first suggest that the king was a scapegoat who bore in his royal person the sins of the people and whose ritual death would be a condition of their posterity . . . Another cleric declared that the coronation was ‘a miracle that might save civilisation’.

Yet in a sense these statements are justified. Coronations do symbolise sacrifice. The monarch is offered to the people, and to God, and dedicated to a life of selfless service and duty. They also involve a hallowing and consecration, a dedication to God of an individual and a nation, a setting apart and an invocation of divine blessing. They express particularly vividly the difficult and unfashionable Christian themes of vocation, discipleship and obedience. In the absence of a written constitution in the United Kingdom, coronations have also proclaimed the basis on which -our government rests and our laws are cast.

Coronations are occasions for reflecting on and affirming the spiritual dimension of monarchy. If we lose them, or if we strip away too much of their symbolism and mystery, we take away much of the sacred significance of the Crown and we also lose a key moment of reconsecration and re­dedication in the religious life of the nation. Symbolism and metaphor are rightly much in vogue in contemporary postmodern culture and theology. It would be both ironic and tragic if we were to strip out of our national life one of its most transcendent and metaphysical moments.

The General Assembly of the reformed Church of Scotland held that the title of supreme head or governor belonged to Jesus Christ alone. In 1568 it ordered the pulping of all copies of a recently published book on the downfall of the Roman Church because it referred to the recently crowned James VI as ‘supreme head of the primitive kirk’. When a Scottish Oath of Supremacy was drawn up in 1572 it avoided the English formula that the monarch was supreme governor in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes as in all things temporal’ and spoke rather of him as ‘the only supreme governor of this realm, as well in things temporal as in the conservation and purgation of religion’.6 The position of the monarch was cut more decisively down to size by Andrew Melville, the real architect of Scottish Presbyterianism. In a celebrated encounter with James VI at Falkland Palace in 1596, he took hold of the king’s gown, called him ‘God silly vassal’ and expounded in the clearest possible terms what became known as the ‘two kingdoms theory’:

I must tell you, there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is King James the head of this Commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus the King of the Church, whose subject James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member.

We will yield to you your place, and give you all due obedience; but again I say, you are not the head of the church: you cannot give us that eternal life which we seek for even in this world, and you cannot deprive us of it. When you were in your-swaddling clothes, Christ Jesus reigned freely in this land in spite of all his enemies./

This Presbyterian put-down had little effect on its recipient. James I and VI, the first sovereign to be crowned in both Scotland and England, took a high view of the sacred dimension and authority of kingship and his writings set out the theory of the divine right of monarchy with which the Stuart dynasty that he inaugurated was to be particularly associated. In his treatise The Trew Law of Free Monarchies (1598) he noted that ‘kings are called Gods by the prophetical David because they sit upon God his throne in the earth and have the count of their administration to give unto him.’8 This sentiment was versified in his next work, Basilikon Doron (1599).

The Glorious Revolution, as it came to be known, replaced the iconography and mystery of Stuart sacred kingship with a monarchy more prosaic, popular and Protestant. Significantly, William of Orange had little time for the ritual of touching for the king’s evil, telling one sufferer who approached him for a cure, ‘God give you better health, and more sense.’2’ W B. Yeats’s comment that in Ireland the events of 1688-90 ‘over­whelmed a civilisation full of religion and myth and brought in its place intelligible laws planned out upon a great blackboard’ well describes the new spirit that applied throughout the United Kingdom.

The constitutional settlement that followed the Glorious Revolution rested on a concept of limited monarchy where sovereignty lay with the Crown in Parliament. It was based on an essentially secular Whig concept of social and civil contract, as propounded in the writings of John Locke. After 1689 there were far fewer appeals by either monarchs or churchmen to Old Testament texts and the model of Israelite kingship. Contract rather than covenant became the guiding constitutional principle. In the words of Oliver O’Donovan:

In the course of the seventeenth century, under the influence of contract-theory, an important shift of emphasis occurred in radical political thought: the ruler’s primary responsibility ceased to be thought of as being to divine law, but rather to the people whose supposed act constituted him. This act of popular will came to be thought of as the source of all law and constitutional order.

The Glorious Revolution did not, however, entirely sweep away the notion of the godly prince ruling the godly commonwealth and the close connections between Crown and Christianity. In two respects, indeed, it strengthened them. The link between the monarch and the established churches of England and Scotland was confirmed. One of the conditions on which William had been offered the throne was that he would outlaw episcopacy in Scotland and maintain the Presbyterian government of the Church of Scotland. In England he retained the position of Supreme Governor of the established church. The Crown and the Church of England had been brought closer together in the mid-seventeenth century through their banishment, along with other institutions like the House of Lords and the Book of Common Prayer, during the period of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, and their joint restoration in 1660. Their close relationship was confirmed in the settlement that followed William’s accession to the throne and was, indeed, exemplified in the reign of his successor, Anne, the last of the Stuarts, who was devoted to the Church of England and personally established funds to augment the stipends of poor clergy and to build new parish churches in London.

The second respect in which the Glorious Revolution strengthened the religious character of the monarchy was in its emphatic Protestantism. More even than the constitutional arrangements which came out of the Henrician and Elizabethan reformations, the post-1689 settlement affirmed and secured the abiding Protestant character of the British monarchy. This was achieved through both ceremonial and legislative means. A new element was intro­duced into the coronation service whereby the English Bible was carried with the regalia into Westminster Abbey and presented to the new monarch during the service. An act of 1689 recast the coronation oath so that the sovereign now promised to maintain not just the laws of God, and the true profession of the Gospel, but also ‘the Protestant Reformed Religion estab­lished by law’. An article in the 1707 Treaty of Union between England and Scotland added to the coronation oath a promise to ‘maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof’ and also required that each new monarch should swear at the Accession Council to maintain the Protestant religion and Presbyterian government of the Church of Scotland.

The Revolution Settlement did not just harness the Crown positively to the Protestant cause. It also identified it with militant anti-Catholicism. The Act of Settlement of 1701 laid down in the clearest possible terms:

That all and every person and persons that then were, or afterwards should be reconciled to, or should hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome, or should profess the Popish Religion, or marry a Papist, should be excluded, and are by that Act made for ever incapable to inherit, possess or enjoy the Crown and Government of this Realm.

In their determination to prevent a Roman Catholic from succeeding to the throne those responsible for framing this Act passed over more than fifty close blood relations of Anne in order to arrive at the acceptably Protestant figure of Sophia, Electress of Hanover and her heirs. Similar concerns underlay the Treaty of Union with Scotland in 1707. The Scottish Parliament had not been consulted about the Act of Settlement and had passed an Act of Security in 1703 reserving Scotland’s right to make its own choice with regard to the succession. There were fears on the English side that on Anne’s death, the Scots might favour the accession of her exiled Roman Catholic half-brother, James Edward Stuart, if they were not locked into a parliamen­tary union.

The 1689 Coronation Oaths Act, the 17o1 Act of Settlement and the 1707 Act of Union remain in force to this day although there is now considerable pressure for their repeal (see pp. 164-9). They have by no means been dead letters. George III forced the resignation of his Prime Minister in i8o1 because he regarded William Pitt’s proposals for Roman Catholic emanci­pation in Ireland as contravening his coronation oath, and both he and George IV opposed Catholic emancipation in the rest of the United Kingdom on the same grounds. The only part of the Revolution Settlement that has been modified is the declaration required of a new sovereign at the first state opening of Parliament following his or her accession. As made by William III, this ran:

I do solemnly, in the presence of God, profess, testify, and declare, that I do believe that in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, there is not any transubstantiation of the elements of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatso­ever. 2ndly, That the invocation or adoration of the Virgin Mary, or any other saint, and the sacrifice of the mass, as they are now used in the church of Rome, are superstitious and idolatrous.”

This vehemently anti-Catholic statement of personal belief was made by every British monarch throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries without demur. At his accession in 1901, however, Edward VII protested at its ‘crude language’ which he considered an insult to his Roman Catholic subjects. With the approval of the Cabinet, he asked for it to be changed but nothing was done, much to his annoyance. His successor George V refused to open Parliament until a less insulting form of words had been substituted. The Accession Declaration Act of 1910 substituted a considerably modified declaration which has been used ever since:

I do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess, testify and declare that I am a faithful Protestant and that I will according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the Throne of my Realm, uphold and maintain the said enactment to the best of my powers according to the law.25

It is hardly too much to say that during the eighteenth century the Protestant succession replaced divine right as the great bulwark and spiritual talisman of the British monarchy.

The reign of George III in particular saw a new reverence for monarchy based on respect for the king’s earnestness, conscientious exer­cise of his duties and absolute propriety. To some these might seem dull if worthy characteristics to find in the occupant of the throne, but for those influenced by the Evangelical Revival which had brought a new mood of seriousness across the country, there was something both reassuring and even endearing about the fact that the monarch prayed regularly, was loyal to his wife and had no mistresses, and went about his business in a sober and solid way. Many would have agreed with John Wesley’s verdict on George III: ‘He believes the Bible . . . he fears God . . he loves the Queen:” George III and Queen Charlotte established a paradigm of happy and fruitful royal marriage which was to be enormously important in maintaining public respect and affection for the British monarchy after it ceased to have any major political role or influence. As a clergyman commented in a sermon after the queen’s death, their life together provided a ‘lofty example of conjugal affec­tion, domestic religion, economy and virtue’.” He also suggested that it was the existence and display of these qualities in the British monarchy which principally explained its survival through a period which had seen the over­throw of most of the other royal houses in Europe.

George III and Queen Charlotte pioneered another important aspect of the modern British monarchy in their patronage and direct support of voluntary, philanthropic and charitable endeavours. Frank Prochaska traces the origins of what he calls Britain’s ‘welfare monarchy’ to their activities, and notes that they both distributed proportionately more of their own wealth to charitable purposes than any other British sovereign.30 They especially favoured the Christian-inspired charitable societies established in the wake of the Evan­gelical Revival to promote missionary endeavour, education, poor relief, moral reform and the abolition of slavery. In their turn, leading figures in the revival like Hannah More extolled the Crown as the focus of national morality and also commended its Christ-like assumption of sacrificial dedication and service:

A Crown! What is it?

It is to bear the miseries of a people!

To hear their murmurs, feel their discontents, And sink beneath a load of splendid care!31

If George III was instrumental in establishing an association between the Crown and the virtues of domestic respectability, philanthropy, private morality and public duty, he also endeared himself to his subjects by his simplicity and vulnerability. His very ordinariness appealed, while his frequent bouts of insanity drew considerable popular sympathy and concern. As well as associating the Crown with domestic virtue and propriety, he also consciously promoted its more splendid and majestic elements. He rebuilt Buckingham Palace as a spectacular royal residence and centre for court ceremonial in London, and went on frequent royal visits around the country, displaying the public face of monarchy to the people in a way that has been followed by all subsequent monarchs. Several of his public appearances involved religious ceremonies and church services, as when he led the nation in thanking God for the victorious outcome of the Napoleonic wars. For their part, the Church of England and other denominations regarded significant events in the personal life of the sovereign, such as the onset of or recovery from illness, as suitable occasions for special services. On the day that George III entered the fiftieth anniversary of his reign, a correspondent to The Times expressed the hope that ‘my fellow citizens will throng into the sanctuaries of Divine Worship, there to present the offerings of their best praises, for the blessings of the long reign of one of the best of Kings’. Reporting on the jubilee celebrations the following day, the paper noted that the forenoon was dedicated to public worship and the acknowledgement of the Divine Providence (exemplified in the protection of His Majesty’s person, and of the many national blessings almost exclusively enjoyed by the inhabitants of the United Kingdom) in every parish church and chapel.

It was not just the established churches which showed this enthusiasm for the royal jubilee. The Times noted with particular pleasure that among the various classes of Dissenters of all persuasions, we have heard of no exception to the general loyalty and piety of the day. The cathedral, the abbey, the parochial church, the meeting house of the dissenter, the chapel of the Methodist and the Catholic and the synagogue were alike opened.

Another newspaper noted that ‘the whole nation was like one great family . . . in solemn prayer and thanksgiving for . . . the Father of his People.’

This reverence for the person of the sovereign has, perhaps, been one of the most long-lasting consequences of the Protestant character of the British monarchy since the Reformation. In the view of its critics, it has made the monarch what the Pope is for Roman Catholics, or perhaps even more, and come close to idolatry.

the sociologist Werner Stark concludes a discussion of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century divine right _theory by noting that ‘this particular brand of loyalism and royalism has survived all the vicissitudes of history and is still profoundly characteristic of the English nation? He presents it, indeed, as the reason why the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, which in other respects is more Catholic than the Roman Catholic Church, has not broken from Protestantism. ‘It remains Anglican because it cannot break loose from its deep anchor in a world-view which makes the king of England at least God’s viceregent on earth, if not indeed even more.’ Stark believes that this tendency to worship the monarch also explains the vein of virulent anti-Catholicism which has run through English life over the last 450 years: `To accept a sovereign in the Vatican beside the sovereign in Buckingham Palace — what unthinkable treason and impiety!’

The royal supremacy over the established Church of England which is perhaps the other major legacy of the Reformation in terms of the spiritual dimension of monarchy also has its critics who see it smacking of Anglican imperialism and privilege. Colin Buchanan, the Bishop of Woolwich, is particularly uneasy about what he describes as the ‘sentiment of romanticised affection towards the Crown’ and has written that: Anglicans have felt both privileged and possessive in respect of their chances to indulge their romanticism. From one standpoint, this is witnessed at, for example, royal weddings at St Paul’s, the Maundy Money rite somewhere in the country every Maundy Thursday, and the Royal Family’s attendance at Sandringham parish church, and similar places. ‘We’ — the Church of England — host these events, and we walk tall when they are on.”

Seen in this light, the continuing existence of the so-called ‘royal peculiars’, Westminster Abbey, St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and the chapels at St James’s Palace, Hampton Court and the Tower of London, which come under the direct jurisdiction of the sovereign, seem to some unjustifiable. So does the procedure whereby all new bishops in the Church of England kneel and make homage to the sovereign after their consecration.

Archaic as these customs may seem, however, they speak eloquently and movingly of the spiritual heart of the state and its embodiment in the person of the monarch.

WHILE THE POLITICAL POWER OF THE British monarchy has steadily diminished over the last hundred and fifty years, its moral and spiritual influence has if anything increased. Its role has been essentially symbolic and exemplary. Thanks largely to the firm personal faith and practical Christianity of successive sovereigns from Victoria to Elizabeth II rather than to any conscious attempt to re-brand the monarchy so as to increase its popularity in a more democratic society, the Crown has maintained and strengthened its links with the Church, philanthropic and charitable activity and public service. The monarchy has embodied and personified the values of duty, service, self-sacrifice, stability, dignity and moral principle. This has been combined with a certain distance and reserve, a tendency to understatement and a commitment to discretion.

The emphasis on example in this role has put a spotlight on the personality of the monarch and indeed of all members of the royal family, since it is very much the family rather than just the sovereign alone who have been held up and taken as a model. With relatively few exceptions over the last century and a half, members of the royal family, and sovereigns and their consorts in particular, have proved exemplary in their devotion to duty, unstinting public service and personal faith and morality. They have played a significant role in promoting both social cohesion and Christian values.

This modern style of monarchy derives in large part from the Protestant project outlined in the last chapter. It is not about divine right or the assertion of national sovereignty over and against Rome but it does conform to a recognisably Protestant ideal of the serious-minded, philanthropically inclined, churchgoing and God-fearing sovereign. Its first clear exemplar, as we have already noted, was George III, well described by his biographer Brooke as ‘the first of the Victorians’) It was during the reign of his daughter, however, that the key principles of modern British monarchy consolidated in terms of its strong family emphasis, its high moral tone had its embodiment of Christian principle. The move away from the martial style which characterised earlier sovereigns to a more domestic and spiritual emphasis is often portrayed as a feminisation of the monarchy and it is perhaps Not without significance that for more than a hundred of the last one hundred and fifty years the United Kingdom has been blessed with a female sovereign.

Queen Victoria epitomised this new face of Christian monarchy. Hating ostentation and show, she was far more at home opening a hospital than opening Parliament. In place of the medieval ideal of the Christian king as the valiant knight fighting for the right, or the Stuart model of the Lord’s anointed, she established the role of the Christian queen as ‘Bible lady’ and district visitor. For several years while resident in Buckingham Palace, she personally conducted a Bible class for children of the staff. She frequently forsook Windsor Castle and Balmoral to undertake errands of mercy among sick or anxious tenants. A typical such visit was prompted by a report from one of her daughters, who had stopped to admire the flowers outside a cottage in Windsor Great Park, that the woman living there was ill and depressed. Victoria paid a visit to the cottage the following day, responding to the panic that greeted her arrival with the remark ‘Don’t be put about. I come not as a Queen, but as a Christian lady.’ She then asked for a Bible and read the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel before kneeling in prayer with the sick woman and saying Put your trust in Jesus and you will soon be in a land where there is no pain. You are a widow, so am I; we shall soon meet our beloved ones?’ This was not just a one-off visit. The woman’s daughter reported that thereafter when in Windsor the queen regularly visited the cottage once or twice a week.

Victoria’s natural charitable impulses were much encouraged by her husband Albert, who once declared that he believed the purpose of royalty to be ‘the headship of philanthropy, a guidance and encouragement of the manifold efforts which our age is making towards a higher and purer life’.3 Albert, whose strong and simple Lutheran faith brought an important element into the new Protestant monarchical project, himself lived out this ideal and spent himself sacrificially in tirelessly promoting schemes of social and scientific reform. Together husband and wife devoted themselves to the welfare of their subjects, while at the same time seeking to transmit their own exalted sense of duty and service to their children expressed in the letters columns of the Church Times and the Daily Telegraph: Rather than creating some kind of hideous ceremony that mixes various faiths in a melting-pot of political correctness, it is vital that once and for all the completely outdated and irrelevant idea of mixing spiritual and national leadership is done away with, and a secular coronation ceremony introduced . . .

Some church leaders have proposed the exclusion from the next coronation ceremony of any specifically Christian worship, and especially of a celebra­tion of holy communion, in their weak, low-profile’ approach. Are we so ashamed of our love and devotion to Jesus, who has transformed our otherwise worthless lives? . . .

Perhaps those behind this new proposal believe that the injunction `Do this in remembrance of me’ is governed by a hitherto unknown subordinate clause: ‘as long as nobody objects’ . . .

The replacement of our a 1,000 year-old coronation service with a Blairite multi-cultural, multi-faith pantomime deserves to be vigorously resisted. The prospect of Charles III arriving at Westminster Abbey, being greeted by the Islamic leaders who wanted to burn Salman Rushdie’s books, and then declared ‘Defender of Faiths’ by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, is enough to send a shiver down the spine of anyone who believes that Britain should remain a basically Anglo-European nation, mindful of its traditional Christian heritage.

Return to the home page

Advertisements

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: