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Don’t start tinkering with the monarchy, Mr Cameron!

For the sake of political posturing and ending ‘discrimination’ against women and Catholics, David Cameron is opening the monarchy up to secularisation. It is political vanity for which future generations will pay a high price

By on Friday, 28 October 2011

The rightful James III/VIII. But England has an Anglican monarchy and we are better off leaving it well alone

The rightful James III/VIII. But England has an Anglican monarchy and we are better off leaving it well alone

The British constitution is, in the famous phrase used by Andrew Marvell in his Horatian Ode on Cromwell’s Return from Ireland,
“the great work of time”, something that “restless” Cromwell “ruins”. Marvell actually admired Cromwell, and supported his Commonwealth, but his poem betrays a sympathy with the past and a suppressed shudder at the thought of violent and rapid change.

Now let us be clear that David Cameron, in wishing to make constitutional changes which will affect the succession and indeed the monarchy itself, is no Oliver Cromwell. Not in the least. Cromwell was a man of principle, deep faith, and immense vision. Cameron is more like Tony Blair, a Prime Minister addicted to constitutional tinkering. We still do not know what the effects of the devolution legislation will mean for the United Kingdom – it is far too early to tell – but there is little solid evidence that Blair undertook these potentially profound moves for anything other than short term political gain.

What about Cameron’s proposed changes to the Act of Succession, and the other pieces of legislation that underpin our enduring constitutional settlement? Why is he doing this? The Daily Telegraph reports:

Speaking before the meeting in Perth, the Prime Minister said the rules are “outdated and need to change”.

He said: “The idea that a younger son should become Monarch instead of an elder daughter, simply because he is a man just isn’t acceptable any more. Nor does it make any sense that a potential Monarch can marry someone of any faith other than Catholic.

“The thinking behind these rules is wrong. That’s why people have been talking about changing them for some time. We need to get on and do it.”

But at no point does the Prime Minister advance any reason for what he asserts. Male primogeniture is outdated, is it? If that is the case, why has David Cameron given his surname to his children? Why don’t they bear their mother’s surname? Is that settled practice going to change too? And if the eldest child is to inherit regardless of sex, will the rules for all inherited titles change as well? And while on the topic, will the law abolish all remaining disqualifications that go with illegitimacy? Once you start to unpick the knitting, where do you stop? In fact why have a hereditary monarchy at all? Why not have a rotating monarchy, as they have in the Kingdom of Calabar, or an elective one, as they once had in Poland?

Again, on the religious question: at present the monarchy is a professedly Anglican institution, as it has been since the time of William and Mary and Queen Anne. That settlement was arrived at with great difficulty, to put it mildly. The sadly unsuccessful risings of 1715 and 1745 would have changed that settlement, but they failed. But what they failed to achieve David Cameron now intends to do by means of parliamentary legislation. But I do not think the consequences of this action have been considered. Had the patriots of 1715 or 1745 been successful, we would have had a Catholic monarchy, perhaps. Cameron’s reforms will give us a monarchy that is Anglican purely by default, but which might in future generations be Catholic, Hindu or Baptist; but which will most likely be none of the above. In other words, by removing the religious qualification, Cameron is effectively opening the monarchy up to secularisation. And why? Because he wants to abolish the last legal disqualification under which Catholic suffer? There is no evidence of that. Rather it seems to be a largely meaningless piece of political posturing, a desire to look ‘modern’. But this is one piece of political vanity for which future generations may pay a high price.

The British constitution is the great work of time: an organic whole that has grown slowly over the centuries, and as such susceptible to be damaged by ill-thought out changes that are not in continuity with the past. Mr Cameron, please leave it alone!

  • AidanCoyle

    ‘Cameron’s reforms will give us a monarchy that is Anglican purely by default, but which might in future generations be Catholic, Hindu or Baptist; but which will most likely be none of the above. In other words, by removing the religious qualification, Cameron is effectively opening the monarchy up to secularisation.’ Now students, in this class on logical thinking, I want you to see how many non-sequiturs you can spot in this text…

  • Anonymous

    Firstly, notwithstanding the welcome removal of the bar on Catholics being married into the royal house, the bar on the monarch being Catholic does remain. Given that, in actual fact, fewer Anglicans than Catholics actually attend church it is hardly true to say that the monarch must be Anglican so as to be of the same religion as their people.

    In reality, also, the Anglican “bishops” are not appointed by the monarch, but by the PM, yet there is (thankfully) no longer any bar to a Catholic PM. It would just be the case that any PM who was Catholic would cede that particular responsibility to someone else, and I’m sure the same arrangement could be made with regard to the rubberstamping by the monarch.

    So, what happens if the person who is to be monarch feels drawn to the Catholic faith? Not their spouse, but they themselves, a la Lord Nicholas Windsor? Are they to be prevented from being monarch, like Edward VIII when his marriage fell foul of convention? How is it just to insist that the person who just happens to have been born for the throne should not be able to become Catholic?

    Secondly, I don’t at all approve of the removal of the rule of primogeniture. It just doesn’t feel right. They aren’t changing the rules with relation to peerages, so why do so with relation the monarchy? Cameron has just demonstrated once again that he is anything but a conservative, as he appears to be unable to actually “conserve” anything, from marriage to unborn life in the womb to monarchical succession via primogeniture.

  • Lee Der Heerskinderen Lovelock

    It is a dangerous plan to undermine the last of many Christian institutions which have succumbed to Modernity and the sick children of The Enlightenment. Once we touch the  Monarchy which should be above the ‘party politics’ of the feeble minded weasels in Parliament, The UK and many of the former colonies (mainly the White ones) will start their descent into an image of how Sweden and Norway look today which is not a pretty sight for the native Swede and Norwegian but most of all has made the Monarchs in these two countries largely irrelevant to the point they are like waxworks on show in Madame Tussauds’ (Sweden more so !). I’m sorry but we need to bring back a degree of monarchical power to literally save us from the wolves, snakes and serpents in this supposed ‘representative deomcracy’ which is as far from that description than Islam is from the truth !

  • Scout UK


  • Katrina

    Bravo, bravo, bravo.

  • Honeybadger

    Dangerous, dangerous, dangerous! This is nothing more than a useless play to the nodding dogs gallery by Cameron.

  • Pasha Mien To

    These reforms don’t go nearly far enough – the monarchy should be abolished completely. Sadly it probably won’t happen any time soon, but I hope that my grandchildren will be able to grow up in a society based on true equality, where anyone can aspire to be our head of state, and where they aren’t expected to show deference to someone based purely on the family they happen to be born into.

  • Anonymous

    So unpick the knitting.

  • Anonymous

    The ban on a Catholic monarch is not fundamental but arose in a particular historical context as a matter of expediency. As such, its removal is not tinkering so much as a restoration of a right the sovereign has which had been suspended under a doctrine of necessity.

  • David Lindsay

    The floundering David Cameron has put the Act of Settlement and male primogeniture back on the agenda. Which Realm or Territory is considering leave the family defined by our shared monarch unless these changes were given effect, though not otherwise? Even if any were, then it would still be wrong.

    There is a certain Spot The Deliberate Mistake quality to proposals to make the monarchy more egalitarian or, heaven help us all, “meritocratic”. The Act of Settlement reminds us that we are different, and it does us the courtesy of taking our beliefs seriously by identifying them as a real challenge. I question the viability of a Catholic community which devotes any great energy to the question of ascending the throne while the born sleep in cardboard boxes on the streets and the pre-born are ripped from their mothers’ wombs to be discarded as surgical waste. The rubbish passed as RE in this country’s Catholic schools would not be permitted, even now, in any other discipline. We need people in Parliament who will put down an amendment that all RE textbooks, resources and inspectors in State-funded Catholic schools must be approved directly by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Most people probably assume that this is already the case. Would that it were. These should be our priorities.

    Far from being a term of abuse, the word “Papist” is in fact the name under which the English Martyrs gave their lives, and expresses the cause for which they did so, making it a badge of honour, to be worn with pride. The Protestant tradition is a fact of this country’s history and culture. No good purpose would be served by denying it its constitutional recognition. We must never countenance alliance with those who wish to remove Christianity as the basis of our State. Parties, such as the Lib Dems or the SNP, that wish to abolish Catholic schools need not imagine that noisily seeking to repeal the Act of Settlement somehow makes their position any better. On matters such as this, we should listen to the voice of Recusancy, currently in the Commons the voice of the gloriously anti-war Edward Leigh more than anyone. He has no time for this proposal, and rightly sees the whole thing as an excuse to bring the question of the monarchy to the floor of other Parliaments, particularly in Australia.

    Turning to male primogeniture, it sends an important signal: that the male line matters means that fathers matter, and that they have to face up to their responsibilities, with every assistance, including censure where necessary, from the wider society, including when it acts politically as the State. So, a legal presumption of equal parenting. Restoration of the tax allowance for fathers for so long as Child Benefit is being paid to mothers. Restoration of the requirement that providers of fertility treatment take account of the child’s need for a father. Repeal of the ludicrous provision for two women to be listed as a child’s parents on a birth certificate, although even that is excelled by the provision for two men to be so listed. Paternity leave to be made available at any time until the child was 18 or left school.

    That last, in particular, would reassert paternal authority, and thus require paternal responsibility, at key points in childhood and adolescence. That authority and responsibility require an economic basis such as only the State can ever guarantee, and such as only the State can very often deliver. And that basis is high-wage, high-skilled, high-status employment. All aspects of public policy must take account of this urgent social and cultural need. Not least, that includes energy policy: the energy sources to be preferred by the State are those providing the high-wage, high-skilled, high-status jobs that secure the economic basis of paternal authority in the family and in the wider community. So, nuclear power. And coal, not dole.

    But no more fathers’ wars, not least since those sent to war tend to come from working-class backgrounds, where starting to have children often still happens earlier than has lately become the norm. Think of those very young men whom we see going off or coming home, hugging and kissing their tiny children. Paternal authority cannot be affirmed while fathers are torn away from their children and harvested in wars. You can believe in fatherhood, or you can support wars under certainly most and possibly all circumstances, the latter especially in practice today even if not necessarily in the past or in principle. You cannot do both.

    Similarly, to argue for this by word and by sheer presence is a role for living icons of God the Father, addressed as “Fathers in God”, and not for persons who, being addressed as “Mothers in God”, would be the icons of some or other mother-goddess. No one who does not accept in full the claims of Rome can submit to Her; no one who does can fail to do so. In its own terms, if a new network of Conservative Evangelical congregations would better serve the proclamation of the Gospel, then it must be created anyway. In neither case does any other consideration arise. Certainly, the prospect of either need not concern Parliament as a body. Parliament must do its duty and reassert the importance of fatherhood by rejecting any proposal for women bishops. No matter what.

    A positive decision to retain declared “Fathers in God” within our parliamentary system and wider national life would emphasise the importance of fatherhood. As would a positive Declaratory Act reaffirming male primogeniture in the terms set out above. Alongside both of which, nothing would better serve to keep Catholicism salty in Britain, and reverse the losses of her savour in recent decades, than a categorical decision that the Act of Settlement was going to be retained because we are different, and because our beliefs are a serious challenge, so that we ought to be teaching them properly in our schools.

  • Anonymous

    Who knew that Catholics would turn to Whiggery LOL ? Joking apart, one can only agree with the objections to tinkering with the Act of 1701. We have been here before, in the days of El Gordy:

    There are so many objections to what is now happening, that it’s hard to know where to begin. All the really burdensome disabilities enacted into law to prevent Catholics causing trouble have been removed – why can’t this one, for which there were and are good reasons, be let alone ?

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Fine. Glad you see it that way. So – please can we have King Francis?

  • windwheel

    Mine was a more modest plea- viz. that the monarch has a natural right to be Catholic- in the past there were Catholic monarchs- but that right was suspended under a doctrine of necessity because of a perceived existential threat to the country as a whole. Clearly no similar existential threat obtains at the present time. The monarch has a natural right to choose to be Catholic rather than Anglican (the only two ‘menu  options’ which have indisputable precedents- notwithstanding my fond belief that, while Prince of Wales, King Edward VII converted to Hinduism as part of his campaign to persuade the widow or Windsor to commit suttee). However, one option was withdrawn for a specific reason which no longer exists. Thus a right which ‘belongs’ to the monarch, on the basis of precedents, should be restored since no great interest of State is served by pretending that Catholicism endangers the Commonwealth.
    This is quite a different matter from the question ‘who has just title to the monarchy itself?’ Since the present monarch, clearly, committed no felonious act to acquire the crown, she has just title.Her successors ought to have a right- viz. to choose Catholicism- because it is a right for which historical precedent exists, which was only suspended (since Parliament can’t bind itself, we can’t say the right was abrogated in perpetuity) because of exigent circumstances.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    A very sensible comment. I agree.

  • Anonymous

    Indeed – my view of “female royals being given equality” as the Telegraph puts it (for heaven’s sake) is that it will only make an illegitimate monarchy (as they have no genealogical right to the throne anyway, or rather a very weak claim) even more illegitimate, as on top of the dispossessed Stuart heirs there will probably also be in the future lines descended from those who would have been the male heirs under the old dispensation.

  • Anonymous

    “These reforms don’t go nearly far enough – the monarchy should be abolished completely.”

    Two words: President Blair.

  • Anonymous

    A president would be voted for by the British electorate.  Knowing what we do about the chicanery of Mr Blair, there is a better chance of you winning a lottery than of our Tone becoming the first president of the UR.
    All the foregoing article by Fr Lucie-Smith is an irrelevance.  The big question should be: can a Catholic be electable as the president of a British republic?

  • windwheel

    Sir, I completely agree, though have neither the erudition nor ethos to express, the central point you are making- viz. the danger of secular tinkering. 
    The truth is, in my dark night of the soul, the still small voice I hear always turns out to be that of the leader writer for the Daily Mail. And what the Tabloids are about is tinkering. 
    One needs guidance. Cameron’s proposal proceeds from no guidance received but Secular power’s funktionslust for chipping away at the branch upon which it sits.

  • chiaramonti

    Since the reign of Henry VIII Parliment has had the final word on who should be monarch. The “blood royal” has never held sway. Elizabeth I was illegitimate from both the Catholic and Protestant viewpoint. From the Catholic perspective Henry was not married to her mother and before her mother’s execution, Cramner (urged on by Henry and Thomas Cromwell, declared their marriage null and void. She nevertheless became Queen both under Henry’s Will and by the will of parliament. Nevertheless, it is probably a mistake to tinker now. Once logic comes in to it, as opposed to historical accident/fudge, the inevitable conclusion will be  a republic. There is no logic at all in promoting the first born female over the first born male and then continuing to discriminate against younger siblings.  Why the first born? One of the younger siblings may be better suited. George VI was a much better king than his elder brother (was) would have been.

  • Arthur leek

    Could a Catholic Monarch sign into law a Bill making same sex marriage lawful.

  • Anonymous

    History has highlighted the existence of many “feeble minded weasels” within royal families in all of the monarchies in the world…this affliction is not strictly limited to politicians, civil servants, or we common folk.

  • David Lindsay

    He did in Spain, didn’t he?

  • David Lindsay

    Longer than that. 1399 at the latest in England, and the principle was always in place even if it was never used. Likewise in Scotland: as in England, the succession was determined by what we would now call parliamentary institutions, the ancestors of the ones that we have today. The Salic Law has never had anything to do with these Islands, any more than the reaction against it and its world in the form of the French Revolution.

  • Lee Der Heerskinderen Lovelock

    But in this case, the weasels clearly reside in the upper echelons of government and what compounds it is the emasculation of the Monarch to act independently of the toxic garbage called ‘HM Government’ feed her  in the realms of ‘constitutional fallout if she said no’. Just sickens me that we live in such a decadent age but then it was thoroughly foretold by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical DIUTURNUM

  • Arthur leek

    Please explain how  Catholic Monarch could legalise same sex marriage

  • Anonymous

    I do not quite understand the argument here.  Our constitution has been changed many times occasionally in revolutionary ways as after 1688, often by small steps.  This proposed change is a small step.  Male primogeniture is probably considered by many inapproropriate today.  The queen is head of the Anglican church, not in a personal capacity but on the advice of her ministers and on the advice of the synod.  It is several centuries too late for the monarch to take personal decisions in this behalf.  Similarly let’s at least pay some tribute to the present constitution that only the queen-in-parliament can tinker with our constitution.  We do not yet officially have a presidential system.

  • Anonymous

    Here is King Francis, at 1.14, singing the Bavarian National Anthem along with the Holy Father. God bless our Pope and God save the King!

  • Cjkeeffe

    Whilst the British monarch is head of the Church of England they must by logic remain protestant. Whilst the Act of Settlement expressly prohibits Catholics from sitting on the Throne. The bar applies to Church or sect that cannot lawfully join in Communion with the Church of England, thus it catches Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Hindus and secularists and atheists. I am not so vexed by not being allowed to marry the heir to the throne it makes no odds to me. The law could easily be changed to take out the specific reference to Catholics and say that only those in communion with the CoE can marry the heir to the Throne – quite simple really. Of course a statement in Australia is all well and good but it must pass the Parliament test. It would be wholly amusing after all this if the Commonwealth Realms enacted the change in law only for Westminster Parliament to block it.

  • Jabezpound

    It isn’t a question of hereditary privilege being unfair, it is down right undemocratic.

  • Jabezpound

    I agree, it is absurd in the twenty first century for the tax-payer to maintain such a profligate and unelected dynasty as the Battenbergs. And yes, before  criticism comes hurling in, although the royals are incredibly wealthy in their own right – the Monarchy which they represent and seek to sustain,  is still and will forever more remain reliant on State Benefits, until they have exited the back doors of their numerous costly palaces.Nevertheless, there are plenty of highly gifted people who could do the job of Head-of-State admirably, or better, just look at the successful democratic Republics for example.Unfortunately dyed in the wool royalists always come up with the President or Head-of-State being a politician – not so.Indeed, let us have a short list of future Presidents for the public to choose from. If Prince Charles puts himself forward as a candidate,that is all right by me. A proviso being that  the newly elected President or Head-of-State may only occupy that  office for a designated term.

  • Jabezpound

    But surely, all the suggestions you have put forward, could be interpreted as discrimination?