Elected Monarchs Won't Do
Some people really stick their necks out. The latest is a certain Canon Eric
James, one of the Queen's chaplains. He recently gave a couple of lectures in
which he suggested that British monarchs should in future be elected, rather
than born to the task. Among his reasons is the idea that if the heir to the
throne isn?t quite up to scratch, then you choose one who is.
The idea of electing a king or queen isn't strange in itself. Before 1066,
when the Norman William I became king and changed the rules of succession to
primogeniture, the right of an eldest son to succeed, his Saxon predecessors
had often chosen their kings, usually from among the sons of the deceased
monarch. In those far-off days, of course, kings in England had to be
warriors, fighting off both home-grown and foreign rivals and winning battles,
and the best monarch was one who could handle this responsibility, even if he
wasn?t the eldest. In more modern times in the 19th cenury, when countries
like Greece, Romania, Belgium, Norway and Sweden gained their independence or
otherwise had vacant thrones, choosing a monarch was the only way to get one.
Unlike today, when monarchies are greatly outnumbered by republics, there was
plenty of choice. A lot of mostly German princes were running around with
little to do This is how two of them became the kings of Romania and Belgium.
One Danish prince became King of Greece, another King of Norway. The Swedes
elected a Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte who was one of Emperor
Napoleon's generals, as heir to the throne, and in time, he, too, later became
But this sort of thing simply doesn't apply now. In the first place, where
would Britain find a monarch to elect? Princes and princesses are few and far
between these days, and most of those who are around are Catholics and, by
law, wouldn't be able to take up the Protestant throne of England. Besides,
as the last few years have so painfully proved, it's difficult enough for our
own home-grown princes to find suitable future Queens to marry. How much more
problematic it would be to find a suitable sovereign to elect.
We'd probably have to resort to electing a commoner, as the Swedes did in the
1810. This is where Canon James? suggestion falls down. If the eldest son may
not be suitable, how do we know that an elected monarch would be any better?
After all, think of those presidents who've come to power on a wave of
popularity, then either blotted their copybook or otherwise fallen short of
expectations by the time their period in office was up. Think of Margaret
Thatcher who won a record three elections and was at one time hugely
popular. She ended up being booted out by her own, Conservative party,
because they didn't think she could win for a fourth time.
This doesn't mean that all British monarchs have been great guys or gals or
deserved all the goodies their position brought them. Some were so hated that
they were murdered, others were deposed and one. King Charles I (1600-1649)
was executed in public. Some were forever chasing skirt, some were
spendthrifts and at least two were mad. Yet, at one time or another, they were
all recognised as proper monarchs and due all the honour and deference that
meant , simply because people had a respect for their inherited right to the
throne. In other words, the position was more important than the man or woman
who happened to occupy it at any one time. Some British monarchs retained
their crowns despite their unpopularity because while it might have been a
good idea to get rid of the man, no one wanted to unseat the king.
It doesn't take much to see that Canon James? comments are a lightly coded
dig at Prince Charles who, not so long ago, was being called unsuitable to
become king because he was an adulterer. This was a drum churchmen banged
away at for years. But if moral purity were a criterion, half the one-time
kings of England would have had to pack their bags.
Admittedly, though, there's one thing that gives Canon James? argument some
justification. Britain is lucky to have a truly exemplary Queen, Elizabeth
II, who's everything a Queen should be - dutiful, devoted, hardworking, and,
of course, morally irreproachable. Queen Elizabeth has set a very high
standard, but in fact it's a bonus, not a requirement for a monarch. There's
nothing to say that Charles, who's taken so much stick over his affair with
Camilla Parker-Bowles, doesn?t have the qualities to become a good king
simply because he put himself where he had no right to be.
One day Charles will make a truly caring monarch, certainly as dedicated as
his mother, genuinely concerned about the welfare of his subjects and about
the things that matter to them, like unemployment poverty or the environment.
Charles has been proving all that over and over again for decades. And if he
still has Camilla when he becomes king, so what? It won't cancel out his other
good qualities which aren't like a coat he puts on and takes off, but are part
of his character. Besides, Charles has been preparing to become king since he
was born. You couldn't say that about someone elected to the throne. In any
case, that would be the end of continuity which is so important to British
monarchy. The very idea is a non-starter.