David Holloway makes a modest proposal about the future of the monarchy.
IN HER 1992 City of London speech, the Queen spoke of the questioning that needs to go on regarding the monarchy, as indeed questioning is needed in any institution. She seemed to be encouraging a public debate. Certainly she was expecting it.
The issues, however, for the Church of England are relatively simple.
The Crown and the Church of England whether we like it or not play, or should play, a key role in maintaining the spiritual tradition in Britain. This is part of our British Constitution and enshrined in law. And that tradition, as a matter of fact, is not humanist or multi-faith but Christian. The most recent survey from the religious broadcasting department of the ITC (the Independent Television Commission), published under the title Seeing is Believing, found that 71 percent of our population still identify as Christian. Only 22 percent claim to be nothing, while a tiny 3 percent are of other faiths – some of course don’t know. The dominant tradition is, therefore, Christian. We are not a “pluralist” multi-faith society (as is frequently claimed).
And that is why the Church of England has got to take seriously the issue of Prince Charles – the current heir to the throne. Personally (and I mean this) I feel very sad and sorry for both Prince Charles and Princess Diana. They need our prayers. But surely Prince Charles cannot, unless he has a radical conversion be the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
The problem is the coronation oath. Among other things Prince Charles would have to swear to: maintain and preserve the laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel (and then) the doctrine, worship, discipline and Government (of the Church of England).
At the moment, if immediately he was called upon to be king, I do not believe he can swear that in such a way that the oath would remain credible.
On the one hand he clearly supports a pluralistic multi-faith position and wants to be defender of “faith” not “the faith” – that is the Christian faith. But Article XVIII (of the Thirty-nine) makes it clear that the Church of England is not multi-faith. It says:
holy Scripture doth set out to us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.
Of course, being fully committed to the Christian faith does not mean that the monarch has no duty to be concerned for the rights and liberties of those of other faiths or none. In a tolerant society there are rights and liberties for those holding beliefs that the dominant culture will consider wrong. (Toleration is not indifferentism – you can only tolerate what you believe is wrong.) The monarch has to ensure, therefore, the rights and liberties of those with beliefs with which he or she will disagree. But there is no requirement for the monarch to exhibit a multi-faith indifferentism as a condition of upholding these rights and liberties.
Then, on the other hand, sadly, there is the Prince’s adulterous relationship with Mrs. Parker Bowles which seems to be continuing. That is quite incompatible with maintaining the true profession of the Gospel and the discipline of the Church of England to which he has to swear.
It is as simple as that. Nor is this just a matter for the Royal Family. Ever since 1689 we have had a constitutional monarchy. That is to say, it is a conferred monarchy – conferred by Parliament. Key decisions about the monarchy must be Parliament’s in the first instance.
The Queen rules not by simple hereditary right, as did James II, but because of the agreement of William and Mary to accept the Declaration of Rights set out in an Act of 1689 and the constitutional arrangements that have followed, not least the Act of Settlement of 1701.
There is normally primogeniture. But a failure to live by Christian moral principles, which he would have had to swear to in the coronation oath, led to the abdication of Edward VIII, as we all know, and his younger brother George VI succeeding to the throne.
In addition to Parliament there are a range of other people who have a direct interest and involvement in the constitutional questions relating to Prince Charles. There are judges and magistrates, for example, and also the clergy of the Church of England.
The clergy have to swear an oath of allegiance on taking up any new office or on being licensed. They have to swear as follows:
I, AB, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law: So help me God.
But if Prince Charles continues to hold new age, multi-faith beliefs and also continues to have an illicit relationship with Mrs. Parker Bowles, he forfeits the right to that allegiance. His doctrine and immorality call into question his succession “according to law”. Were he to swear his oath without a clear change of mind, heart and relationships, many clergy would find it difficult to swear their oath of allegiance to a “King Charles III”, who they knew was not “maintaining the true profession of the Gospel.” As Vernon Bogdanor of Oxford puts it: “Allegiance to the sovereign is not unconditional but dependent upon the sovereign’s keeping to the terms of the oath. ”
With regard to immorality, it may be objected that there have been many monarchs who have misbehaved before. That is true, but it had consequences. The monarchy was often barely tolerated before Queen Victoria. Her predecessors had been little respected for the very reason that their private lives were scandalous.
Sir Robert Peel declared that the monarchy had become so unpopular that only a miracle could save it. Had mass communication, universal education and the full franchise been available in his day, that miracle might not have happened. It is no good quoting immoral former monarchs to justify immoral contemporary royalty. Our goal today is to repair the moral fabric of the nation and that must be at every level from pauper to Prince.
The Way Ahead
What, therefore, is to be done? The Church must continue to pray. But in addition plans must be made in, and for, the immediate future.
It is clear that Prince Charles, unless he renounces Mrs. Parker Bowles and lives a celibate life, cannot be the supreme governor of the Church of England and secure the support necessary for his own good, the good of the Church of England or the good of the nation. There would be major conflict, right at the start of his reign. This could only damage the institution of the monarchy.
A proposal from the Royal “Way Ahead Group”, that the Press reported meets in Balmoral, has already suggested a separation of the monarch from the Church of England.
But it is hard to see how that could be done without at the same time separating the monarchy from the Christian faith completely. To do that would mean that many, to a considerable degree, would lose respect for the monarchy. They would never want the Crown, the symbol of our national identity and unity, to be associated with persons whose claim to position would be seen as wealth and birth. At present it is the moral dimension, secured through the monarch’s attachment to the Christian faith, that warrants respect. The abdication crisis did great good to the monarchy. The Crown was then seen to be morally serious and worthy of allegiance. A separation of the Crown from the Church would have huge consequences, possibly leading to the monarchy’s demise. For many, that would be tragic. There does not seem to be a general desire, for a range of reasons, for a republic.
But why is it so important that the Crown and the Church do not part company? It is because we have no written constitution in Britain. Parliament is supreme – frighteningly so. The courts are also becoming loose canons. The Cabinet has more power than ever. Public accountability is not good in our society. The Queen, however, acts with little power and mostly by influence, as a restraint (or at least she has done until these last few sad years). Swearing to uphold at one and the same time the laws of God and the laws of Parliament, in her person she acts as a reminder that Parliament, the Cabinet, the courts, and the British nation must realise that there is a higher authority and that is God’s. His law is over all. He is on the ultimate throne.
It was King George V who summarised the value of the monarch as follows:
a) It makes government intelligible to the masses, b) It makes government interesting to the masses, and c) It strengthens government with the religious tradition connected with the Crown.
That last point is still vital. That is why to eliminate it would, in the words of the Chief Rabbi in his 1991 Reith Lectures, mean:
a further dissociation between religion and public culture and would intensify the dangers of a collapse in our moral ecology.
If, therefore, it is important that the monarch remains the supreme governor of the Church of England, and if Prince Charles is unable to be the supreme governor, with great regret and, indeed deep sadness, we have to say that Prince Charles cannot become our King. This clearly is a difficult decision. But a clean break now would allow time for careful discussion and consultation over the way forward, with the Queen able to conduct any negotiations in a wise and statesman-like way on behalf of the Royal family.
There are really only three options:
One, we become a republic. For a host of reasons that surely would be unacceptable to the majority and, therefore, politically a non-starter.
Two, Parliament agrees to ignore primogeniture on this occasion and appoints another member of the Royal family – some have mentioned Prince William, others the Duke of Gloucester.
Three, Parliament decides to change the dynasty and establish a new royal line after the present Queen ends her reign.
A Succession Committee, under the Prime Minister, surely needs to meet soon to discuss the options and the way ahead. We pray and hope for long life for the Queen. But wisdom dictates that provisional plans should be made at the earliest opportunity. It is inevitable that if the situation drifts on, there will be further revelations, further scandals and further loss of respect, such that even ardent loyalists will begin to think of the republican option.
The Succession Committee could consist of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of London, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, three members of Parliament (elected by single transferable vote), and one (elected) peer.
If another member of the House of Windsor could easily be agreed upon to succeed, and Parliament accepted the recommendation of the Succession Committee, any necessary legal action could be taken without wider consultation. But if any dynastic change was required, that obviously would require a referendum. Such a possibility at this point seems remote. Whatever happens, something must happen very soon. Perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury should play a leading role. It is worth remembering a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Lang. On Sunday 13 December 1936, the Archbishop broadcast to the nation. Stanley Baldwin described what he said as “the voice of Christian England. ” He said that it was strange and sad that the King…
should have sought his happiness in a manner inconsistent with the Christian principles of marriage and within a social circle whose standards and ways of life are alien to all the best instincts and traditions of his people.
Could not those words be repeated verbatim to Prince Charles? We must pray for repentance and reconciliation. But without an orthodox Christian faith and real repentance, which for him as supreme governor of the Church of England, will mean either a life of sexual abstinence (a life which many fine single people lead, with loneliness, yes, but also with new fulfilments) or reconciliation with Princess Diana, surely he must forfeit the Crown and stand down – if the monarchy is to survive. This is nothing less than tragic. But the focus of the Crown in our public culture is so important. Britain must be true to the Christian tradition, if there is to be a repairing of our moral fabric.
Whoever the next monarch will be, he or she must take seriously the symbolism of the orb. At one point in the Coronation the Archbishop presents the orb to the monarch with these words, and with this I close:
Receive this orb set under the Cross and remember that the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our Redeemer.
David Holloway is the Vicar of Jesmond in the diocese of Newcastle