‘Is there a place for Monarchy in the 21st Century?’ A Personal View

Oliver Cromwell, by Robert Walker (died 1658)....

image via Wikipedia

At first sight, perhaps this is a ludicrous question. The fact that there are still monarchies around the world indicates that there are many millions who feel the institution is still relevant.

To begin with, I’d like to state my own stance on this matter. I am a pro-monarchist as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, although I would definitely not describe myself as an ‘enthusiast’. I am more of a pragmatist. I look at other countries without monarchies and try to imagine what it would be like to live there, with a president or some other head of state. Then I look at my own country (England/UK) and those other constitutional monarchies, largely in northern Europe. Generally speaking, I feel that these latter countries, including my own, have a strong sense of stability and a certain amount of tradition, a continuity which has brought many great benefits despite problems and inequalities. There are also strong links between most of these countries. Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and England have a strong tie to one another culturally going back over a thousand years. This may disguise a monarchy’s actual ability to bring political and cultural stability to any country. In other words, there are family ties between the monarchies of the above mentioned european countries. This sense of history and tradition and the governmental and judicial institutions created over centuries to balance the power of the monarchy, may be the real reason for any perceived stability and not as a result the monarchy itself. So we might say, from the time of Magna Carta in 1016, England has forged a kind of constitutional power balance, by and large, a fire fighting exercise with basically positive results which has served as a model for other countries.

Yet, despite this, if we are talking about monarchy as a world institution, as opposed to say merely a north european ‘club’ of countries, then it is difficult to give the idea of monarchy the thumbs up. How would the United States feel about having a monarchy? I would suggest that there are some who would say they would like one, perhaps some would even entertain the idea of the United Kingdom’s queen! But seriously – the very founding of countries like the USA required a proper cleavage from the colonial past, a move into something new and free. That the people of the USA would ‘sign up’ to the idea of an unelected head of state does not seem credible, despite the experience of their neighbours in Canada, whose constitution allows for Queen Elizabeth to be head of state.

The experience of France, too, is worth looking at. We often look at the French Revolution and forget to study the ensuing eighty years or so from 1789, when the country went through many painful changes; to being an empire, a republic, a monarchy again, an empire, before finally settling on being a republic after the wars with Prussia (proto Germany) after 1870. Even then, France has re-invented itself within its republican guise several times since, the last being with President de Gaul. In contrast, what is now the United Kingdom, has seen slow constitutional evolution as opposed to lasting drastic revolution. One could argue that the history of France since its first revolution shows that stripping the monarchy only brought more change, more instability. However, the French, it must be said, may well be comfortable with this situation, being able to ‘renew’ themselves when required.

Of course, the English too toyed with the idea of doing without a king from 1649 to 1660. That England was the first major north european country to attempt to permanently abolish the monarchy is in retrospect no real surprise. We have to remember that from the 11th to the 14th century England was in effect in almost continual occupation by a foreign force. The kings and the nobility spoke French, usually thinking more about fighting foreign wars and lining their own pockets with gold and glory than caring for the almost silent, long-suffering and anonymous English people of the period. The One Hundred Years War with France brought no lasting benefit to the people, quite the reverse in fact, despite the famous victories like Sluys, Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt. And the subsequent English occupation of France in the first half of the 15th century had totally collapsed by 1453, and England was plunged into another civil war, The Wars of the Roses.

When Charles I later fully extended what he saw as his divine right to rule as he wished, the English fell out among themselves about what to do. Some supported the King totally, while others pressed for political change. Many families were divided about the issue, with tragic consequences. However, despite the fact that the Parliamentarians were ultimately victorious, even the likes of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of the English Commonwealth, had to fight off suggestions that he should be crowned king himself! This shows how ingrained the idea of kingship was within the English nation at the time, despite the huge disaffection felt during the civil wars against the then king. I would suggest that even now England, and to some degree the whole United Kingdom, would not wish to make any significant constitutional changes in regard to the monarchy. Even an independent Scotland, a very real possibility within the next few years, would probably wish to retain the Queen as head of state.

However, there are significant  differences in the ‘european club’ of monarchies. It is true that the Scandinavian monarchies (and Spain) are more ‘stripped down’ than the United Kingdom’s and the royal families of those lands are less removed from the populace, more accessible, they lead what would be considered more normal lives. There have been discussions about stripping down the British monarchy in similar fashion, but it is difficult to see this happening in the short term.

So while accepting that on one level, the very idea of monarchy in this ever changing century is an anachronism, we also have to accept that continuity is also important. What works for one country does not work for another. We may be witnessing the painful birth of planetary culture, but that does not mean that everywhere has to be the same. Perhaps, for our own well-being, our sanity even, we should listen to the lessons of history, which are telling us it is best to preserve our diversity. That diversity will almost certainly include countries with monarchies well into this century and beyond.

© copyright dfbarker 2012

This is a vast issue so forgive me for digressing here and there. I could have gone on for a long time.

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34 thoughts on “‘Is there a place for Monarchy in the 21st Century?’ A Personal View

  1. Hi David,

    Interesting posting 🙂 I agree with monarchies having benefits over republics, even though the latter is probably more democratic. The European countries that do have a monarch (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg (a duke), UK, Monaco and Spain) are doing well economically, except for Spain, that still has issues with its Franco past I think. The more or less stable continuance a monarchy provides, is good for a country so it seems.

    The monarchs of our days have lost a lot of their power, yet they have some say in what goes on in the government (in the Netherlands anyway) and it is very much depending on the personality of the ruling monarch whether or not it works well.

    In my country: The party that wants Queen Beatrix (74) to step down and get rid of royalty alltogether, is that of mister WIlders. He was very angry when the Queen wore a scarf when she entered a mosque recently in an Arab country. He lost a lot of voters by this move. 🙂 It only proves we are not ready for Wilders. And are we ready for a president, to be elected ever 4 years? I don’t think so either.

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  2. Hi,
    A very interesting post. We still have the Queen as head of state in Australia as well, as far as I know she as never interfered in any of our politics, so really for us it’s just a title I suppose. We did have a vote a few years ago now on whether or not we would like to became a Republic, but the people voted no. It would of cost the tax payer Millions for no extra benefit.

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  3. An interesting read, thank you.
    As to the US – I always wonder whether they would like to have a figure to admire that brings cohesion to the country. I am thinking, of course, of the created “princes and princesses” as seen in the entertainment world: the upper echelons in California who do not have the grace and finesse of those born into the monarchy and those who surround it.

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  4. Thank you, Ina. Yes, I agree, as much as I can at times see the ‘logic’ of republicanism in my country, I think we have to be ‘careful what we wish for’. I am still open to ideas, though! I appreciate your comments.

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  5. Thank you! Yes, I take your point about the cost of Australia being a republic (Happy Australia Day!), but if I was an Australian, I think I would favour being a republic, but keep the strong ties with GB.

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  6. Hi, thank you for your comments! Yes, I’ve heard that said about people in the entertainment industry, too. Of course, another option might be to have a ‘life’ president and then have a prime minister below him, but I guess this would just be an elective monarchy. Thank you!

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  7. David, An interesting article! Another leadership “type” to reflect upon is the Doge role in the former Republic of Venice. Not a king or prince, but a leader elected from the ruling elite – primarily hereditary merchant families, intended to serve for life and eventually not to be succeeded by a son or other close relative (exceptions applied, of course). The system worked for 1,500 years, for better or worse depending upon the man and the circumstances. Thank you for your writing.

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  8. Hi! Yes, thank you! I have read your articles with interest, too, and I see that you like Venice as well. I’ve been several times, stayed in the Dorsoduro area, and we both love the place but haven’t been for a few years. And yes, the Doge (Duke) system did work well for Venice, didn’t it? I will look out for your future writing with interest. Many thanks.

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  9. An interesting piece David, I see you waver so I will try, over time, to convince you otherwise 🙂

    My views you know. Our Saxon Kings were actually quite good models, humble men, kept in check by a fairly free society. They held the role in the knowledge that The Fyrd and not the “professional” housecarl would defend the homeland.
    Alfred was a fine man, attempting to translate The Bible into English for people to read themselves, as opposed to later Rome’s rule by Latin diktat, a practice ensured by the collusion of royalty. We had to execute a Catholic autocrat to be free to worship in our chosen way, we lost the opportunity to be truly free by Parliaments squabbling over crumbs, a legacy of the very royalty they had deposed. Of course our English freedoms ended when William The Bastard invaded, were reestablished by Cromwell, to be ended again when Monke showed his true loyalty had been to the crown all along.

    Is royalty relevant? Well, a few facts to ponder. 41% of English land is still owned by families granted it by William. That is land stolen from Saxons.
    Royalty from all European houses has colluded with, or actively being involved with fascism. Juan Carlos rules Spain because he was chosen by Franco.
    The House of Orange were founding lights of the Bilderberg meetings, this attended to this day by royals from Holland, Spain, Norway and Denmark.
    Our own House of Windsor are in fact German, members including a former king openly cavorted with Hitler and supported his cause.

    Is royalty relevant in this day? No, emphatically not. I would point those interested toward John Locke and his writing, Jefferson used this as a base for the Founders to establish The Constitution.
    I would urge folk to read The English Bill of Rights as well as Magna Carta.
    You see, my point is that true freedom does not arrive by allegiance to a king or queen. Many are attracted to royalty, witness the British “nobility”, the German and French who hang on to titles like a life belt, rather sad I feel. Why be afraid?

    True freedoms are given by God. Kings and their support mechanisms, minor royalty and “blue bloods”, grant privileges. These are removed at a whim, are fleeting and have to be constantly asked for.
    I have a dear friend in Carolina, she states “better to live a dangerous freedom than as a slave”.

    Maybe, with a little self examination, a man can see that he is controlled by this apparatus. Central banking, controlling churches and royalty. All collude to control, all are enemies of freemen.

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  10. What a wonderful comment! I am indebted to you. Maybe I’ve had the stuffing knocked out of me too easily.
    I see that you too are a scholar of the Old English period (and doubtless a much better one than me). It was such a fascinating era, where the concept of England was first forged. Unlike some biased commentators, I don’t think Englishness is a negative thing at all but wholly about individual freedom. I have always been fascinated by Alfred, Athelstan, Edgar, Edward the Martyr and Harold II. This period should be taught thoroughly in English schools – what could be more correct than to teach children about the origins of the country in which they live? This is logic, surely?
    And even though history is written by the winners, Harold still (for me at least) emerges as hero. On the Bayeux ’embroidery’ he is depicted as a strong man, rescuing those Norman knights during his ‘captivity’ with William. I don’t suppose we will ever know the full truth of what happened then, the events of 1066. Should Harold have waited before facing William? He very nearly won anyway.
    I do also feel that many of our freedoms went ‘the conquest’. And I do have an affection for Cromwell, the Diggers etc, although I do believe Cromwell had an aversion to these?
    Thank you again, I am very grateful to you.

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  11. I agree with your analysis of the monarchy in Great Britain and other countries. I agree that they provide a sense of continuity and stability to your country. On the other hand, they do perpetuate a class system that seems anachronistic. Why should somebody be the Duke of Whatever just because he’s 10 generations back the son of some King (or Queen)? This person owns vast tracts of land and has millions in the bank because of this silly title. I think that the U.K. without its monarch would be a country lost. It so closely represents the British character and sense of being. Thank you for a thoughtful analysis.

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  12. Thank you for taking the time to read this and make comments. I am very appreciative. And I agree, titles do seem very anachronistic now. Kindest regards.

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  13. Hi David,

    This is really interesting but I always shy away from commenting on anything like this, politics etc on the grounds that I don’t know enough, haven’t informed myself enough, haven’t been interested enough, in fact, to have strong, valuable opinions.

    This, then, takes me away from the subject in question to myself and my lack of self confidence to voice opinions about anything! There is a saying “To thine own self be true” and I don’t think I am in case people won’t like me!! I digress!!!! I could go on about this for ever!

    Coming back to the subject in question, on a very simplistic level, I can’t see the sense in the huge wealth that comes with royalty; it annoys me. Why do they have to have such huge incomes? I don’t know but perhaps I am missing something.

    On an even more simplistic level, I do love a good Royal wedding!!! LOL Sorry!!! 🙂

    Christine

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  14. David, I do think much of the blame lies with how history is taught. I class myself as a revisionist, this is difficult with our Saxon forbears as our only real reference is to The Chronicles and legend. However, I agree, for Harald to have gone to Stamford Bridge, fought and won, then to go back to Hastings and lost was one of histories ironies. The English held all tactical advantage, a sign of The Fyrds indiscipline in breaking away from the shield wall? Yes, without a doubt. The day was won and lost by hot headedness.

    Cromwell seems to have been indifferent, in my opinion to the other movements. Elements of the army were involved. We must never forget the turmoil and upheaval at these times, family against family. To have tolerated Ranter and Digger and all of the other fledgling movements at this time would have been a true test of freedom. People it seems, as today, fear the unknown and different. For myself, I long to return to this period, “the fight” really moved to Virginia and The Carolinas. I hand on heart know I for one would have been one of the first to leave England.
    Ironic is it not, that the hope of the western world now lies with the American people? I fear our European neighbours are too willing to accept the collectivist jackboot of Brussels.
    Maybe, as throughout history, we English can contribute to the downfall of an evil empire.

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  15. I must say that as an American I am typically on the opposite page from my friends when I express my support for at least the British monarchy. I have a decent understanding of the roles played and believe a Constitutional monarch can provide a backdrop of context that remains constant in an ever shifting and often unstable political climate. Just my opinion…interesting, to say the least! Debra

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  16. interesting thoughts… i was never a big fan of monarchy…though it’s fascinating to know that there is a german woman queen in sweden.. and i think the family ties make a difference…. enjoyed your thoughts, helped me look at it from a different point of view

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  17. I have never lived with a Monarchy here in the US. Although, we Americans do seem to admire the Romantism and Tradition of it. 😀
    After our Revolution when the Founding Fathers were putting a government together they did ask General George Washington if he would be King. He turned that down. Which makes me wonder what it would be like here if he had accepted.
    Great post and I learned from it 🙂

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  18. DF, I complete reading this very well-crafted essay in awe of your scholarship, your wisdom, and your patience with the doings of mankind! It would seem that the United Kingdom may need to begin carefully staging down the pomp and circumstance of your Monarchy’s lifestyle. I realize there have been some voluntary expense reductions and paying of taxes. But, gee, there is only ONE England, which will always BE “England”. I just think our psyches require it, and your monarchy, to be so. In addition, it seems to me that bringing the monarchy back to Spain has been a very positive step. And the French? Well, they will always desire to be just difficult enough to keep themselves fully awake, right?

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  19. You’ve opened a fine can of worms here! It has stimulated wonderful discussion, just what the blogosphere is all about, in my opinion.

    Being a decidely confused American, all I can say is that most of us look across the pond and love to admire (or snicker at) England’s royalty. The system does seem wildly anachronistic and expensive. But tradition is a powerful glue that can hold a relationship or a country together when it might otherwise fly to pieces.

    I shudder to think what American royalty would look like. I fear it would resemble some “Idol” or “Kardashian” (whatever that is) and would come under fire every few years with threats of IMPEACH the bastards!

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  20. As always, an interesting post, David. One advantage of the monarchy, at least in England, is the sense of prestige that having royalty affords the nation. Here in the U.S., the president is (theoretically) one of the people, and subject to philosophical and character attacks that would never be aimed at a king or queen. It might be nice to have someone “above the fray,” to serve as our image.

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  21. Joe, thank you so much for your comments! You know, sometimes I like the idea of the Roman Republic model, where they had two Consuls elected per year and each served six months. At least the electorate wouldn’t get fed up with them and there would be more accountability. But then, the Roman model was hardly true democracy…. but are ours?
    Thank you!

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  22. You English people are blessed with history! And your history was my favorite part of the school lessons once upon a time! The first time I went to London was because of Hampton court and Henri VIII. If I could go back in time and choose who to be- Anne Boleyn has my vote. Yes, she didn’t have a very good end, but tell me, today, have you heard of someone who has created a whole new church institution just because of his love for a woman? Of course I am a “die-hard” romantic and I see first the sentimental side of each story, and yes, Henri VIII is known as a tyrant, but in my opinion, if we had for a president/ prime-minister/ one like him, I’m pretty sure we won’t be in this miserable state all over the world! So yes, I am a monarchy lover, even if in my country there isn’t a king or queen.

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  23. Hi, I’m grateful for your comments. Yes, English history is an extraordinarily rich affair, brought about by the greed of those that ruled us! Henry VIII isn’t my favourite kind but you are right – he ‘helped’ to make England (and to a large extent the world) what it is today. And Anne Boleyn does seem to have been an extraordinary women whose only sin was not give Henry a male heir. Even so, I believe a lot of her characteristics were passed on to her daughter, Elizabeth I, who was probably one of the best monarchs we’ve ever had.
    Thank you so much for your comments!

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  24. Well stated. I’m firmly convinced that there is no perfect or even potentially perfect form of government. People are imperfect. We might devise a pretty Utopian or Shangri-la sort of *concept*, but we’ll never be able to enact anything like it. So I suspect that some blend of approaches is necessary–royalist/parliamentary, social democracy, whatever–and one can only hope that the current batches of leaders grow wiser and more willing and the general populace a little less combative and self-centered! A fanciful dream, but if we quit dreaming, then what? 🙂

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  25. Yes, you’re right, this world will never be perfect and it’s all about balance and acceptance to a large degree. Evolution is preferable to revolution, unless circumstance deems otherwise. Even then, we have to be careful what we wish for. In an ideal world, I would prefer a republic on the lines of the Roman republic after they abolished the monarchy. This wasn’t perfect either, of course, and not a democracy. That said, I like the idea of two consuls who rule six months each. Elections every year?
    Kathryn, thank you so much for your comments.

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  26. While there are good reasons for keeping with a monarchy, in the case of Australia it seems a bit over the top. The majority of outsiders are somewhat puzzled that we are a monarchy and don’t easily understand the historical reasons for it. We are so far from England and so many are from different countries. It seems a bit irrelevant. None the less, we enjoy stable government.
    I try and steer the subject to Holland where I was born. I don’t think the Queen of Holland is as popular as she was in the past. Most shrug their shoulders, take all of it with a pinch of salt. The streets are not lined six deep anymore if she happens to be in a parade or so. I believe some of the royal family go around on the push-bike and shop locally. They have always been a pragmatic race.
    Thank you for your article.

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  27. Pingback: Norma Bartol: Wars of the English language « My Spanish Translator

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