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The coronation of King Charles III took place in Westminster Abbey on the 6/5/23, in the presence of politicians and dignitaries from across the globe. The widely televised event, saw him crowned in an ornate and ancient ceremony.
The UK’s constitutional monarchy are largely popular, though some view the monarchy as anachronistic, limiting the autonomy of the people.
However, within the pomp and the circumstance, there were aspects of the ceremony which emphasised the responsibility and servitude of the monarch and were frankly quite humbling; with the king disrobing out of slight to be anointed by the archbishop. Before King Charles was crowned, he swore several oaths, pledging themself to the people, to the church and the law. The pomp and grandiosity of the ceremony emphasises the power of the institution and that it is the ceremony with its key players and not the birth right that confers power and authority to the monarch. The crown is heavy indeed and the ceremony is overwhelming to any individual. Whilst, this ceremony only had symbolic significance, in a constitutional monarchy, there was a time before the UK became a democracy, that the ceremony carried greater meaning.
Historically speaking, monarchy is one of the most common and successful forms of government. Today monarchies are regarded as outdated form of government but several countries including the UK have sought to retain constitutional monarchies, for ceremonial and diplomatic reasons.
It could be argued by retaining the ‘soft power’ of constitutional monarchy, provides greater stability to the country and prevents any elected individual from grabbing absolute power. The armed forces after all swear their allegiance to the Crown and there is a long history of friendship and service between the Armed Forces and the British Royal Family which extends to the current generation. For the armed forces to swear allegiance to a benign leader with no executive power, prevents the military from being subverted to a freewheeling authoritarian regime.
The French and Russian revolutionaries knew the power of the monarchy and unfortunately those revolutions involved removal of the monarchy by way of wholesale executions.
Removal of the monarchy has sometimes led to more autocratic or military expansive regimes, for example, the rise Napoleon after the French Revolution, or the rise of the Nazi party after the abdication of Emperor Wilhelm, though in reality theses were complex multi-faceted events. Historically, political unions between Royal Families in different nations may have contributed in part to enhanced international relations and peace between nations.
Though the history that we know today may have been largely written by chroniclers who were employed by the monarch, thereby presenting them in a rosy light, and off course there are numerous exceptions, but many monarch seem not to have been tyrants. In many societies, cultural norms and expectations promote accountability and responsible behaviour on the part of the monarch. The monarch may also rely on the support of various social and political institutions, such as the military, the judiciary and the church, to maintain their legitimacy and authority. The traditions of the monarchy and the Royal Family provide a power base which is not completely vested in one individual and an unquestioned means of transferring power when the individual dies. The strength is in the institution more than the individual. There has always been an aspect of monarchy which means needing to appeal to people if they want the institution to survive through their progeny.
By and large, the UK monarchy have been exemplary leaders and despite the expansionist and colonial nature of the British Empire, many countries have sought to maintain their ties with the UK through participation in the commonwealth and retain the UK monarch as their head of state.
The UK constitutional monarchy can be traced in its origins to the Anglo-Saxon era and the multiple kingdoms that existed prior to the formation of England as a single political entity towards the end of the first millennium. Compared to their contemporaries, ancient rulers had vast powers. But there were limits on their power when compared to a dictatorship. There was a long-established concept of monarchs consulting with their subjects, a principle from which Parliament began to develop in the thirteenth century. Documents such as Magna Carta sought to constraint the actions of the monarch.
The Magna Carta, also known as the Great Charter, is a document that was signed by King John of England in 1215. It is considered one of the most important legal documents in history and is seen as a foundational document for modern constitutionalism and the rule of law.
The Magna Carta was a result of a political crisis in England; a group of rebellious barons were unhappy with the king's absolute power and demanded greater rights and freedoms for themselves and their subjects. It was drafted as a means of reconciling the king’s power with the rights of the people, providing them with some protection and preventing further rebellion.
The Magna Carta established the principle that the king is subject to the law, and that the rights of individuals are protected by law. These provisions included protection against arbitrary imprisonment, the right to a fair trial, and limitations on the king's ability to levy taxes without the consent of the people. The Magna Carta was initially a document of limited scope. It was subsequently reissued and expanded many times. Its principles were used as a basis for legal and constitutional developments in England and other countries, and even today, is seen as an important symbol of the rule of law and the protection of individual rights and freedoms.
These initial restrictions on the monarchy from the Magna Carta, were not as extensive as they later became. The Magna Carta was only the beginning. In 1603, following the death of Elizabeth I, James VI of Scotland also became King of England, combining the two crowns. There ensued the pursuit of increased monarchical power. The reaction against this led to the establishment of greater constitutional restraints, and the development of Parliament as the supreme governing institution. During 1649-1660, the British Isles had no monarchy, following the civil wars and execution of Charles I. After the revolution of 1688, Mary and William ruled together, and were subject to a newly agreed ‘Bill of Rights.’
In the years that followed, political power was increasingly transferred away from the head of state and parliamentary power was expanded through successive reforms. Governments gained their legitimacy from the public vote, a legitimacy that the monarchy lacked. But though it came to be restrained, in the UK and several other nations, the monarchy persisted.
In a monarchy today, power and authority are usually limited by constitutional and legal frameworks. These may include a written constitution, laws, and parliamentary or judicial oversight. In many modern monarchies, the monarch serves as a figurehead with little or no political power, while actual governance is carried out by an elected government.
Advantages of a Constitutional Monarchy:
A constitutional monarchy provides stability and continuity. The monarch serves as a symbol of national unity and tradition and can help to maintain social cohesion and promote national pride, that represents all citizens, regardless of political affiliation, religion, or ethnicity.
Experience: A constitutional monarch typically has decades of experience in representing their country, diplomacy and international affairs and can provide guidance and a longer-term perspective to elected officials who may have limited experience.
Limited political power: The monarch's political power is usually limited by constitutional and legal frameworks, which can help to prevent abuses of power and promote democracy and human rights.
International appeal: A monarch may promote the international profile of a nation and boost tourism and the economy indirectly.
Disadvantages of a Constitutional Monarchy:
Cost: The cost of maintaining a royal family can be expensive. The costs associated with funding their residences, security, and ceremonial duties, may come under scrutiny.
Lack of accountability: Some argue that a constitutional monarchy lacks accountability, as the monarch may be immune from criticism or prosecution due to their position.
Political influence: Even though the monarch's political power is greatly limited, they still have influence and may try to interfere with political decision-making, which may be regarded as undemocratic.
Inherited position: The monarch's position is inherited rather than earned through merit and can be seen as outdated and promotes a sense of privilege rather than egalitarianism.
Ultimately, the advantages and disadvantages of a constitutional monarchy depend on many factors, including the specific constitutional and legal frameworks, the role of the monarch in the political system, and their cultural and historical context.
King Charles has all our good wishes.
King Charles has all our good wishes.