On Saturday May 6th 2023 in Westminster Abbey, Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family was anointed King behind a newly created screen of fine embroidery, held by poles hewn from an ancient Windsor oak and mounted with eagles cast in bronze and gilded with gold.
Meanwhile, Camilla Parker-Bowles was anointed Queen in full public view, her anointment considered of less personal significance than that of Charles.
Though Charles became King at the moment of his mother’s death, the coronation of the 74-year-old formalises his role as the head of the Church of England and ‘protector’ of the Scottish Church.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, once known as ‘Monsieur Africa’ for his involvement in Elf’s sequestering of Nigerian oil fields, said, “King of kings and Lord of lords, bless, we beseech thee, this Crown, and so sanctify thy servant Charles upon whose head this day thou dost place it.”
The crown, made of gold, rubies, amethysts, sapphires, garnet, topazes and tourmaline, was placed on Charles Mountbatten-Windsor’s head. A less sanctified crown was placed on Camilla Parker-Bowles’ head, made of silver, gold and 2,200 diamonds.
The anointed Queen and King returned to Buckingham Palace in a Gold State Coach layered in gold leaf and upholstered in velvet and satin, pulled by eight Windsor Grey horses.
If you are now developing a touch of cognitive dissonance, in the midst of a cost of living crisis, you are not alone.
The coronation is, of course, a confection of myth, ego, status and the encouragement of subservience. How could it be otherwise?
Monarchism asks us to believe in the appropriateness and moral acceptability of absurd wealth and inherited privilege.
King Charles is the largest landowner in Britain, with roughly 700,000 acres of various types of land with an estimated value of £5bn. Has he worked hard to acquire this wealth? Do we live in a meritocracy? Or is there something profoundly distasteful about this discrepancy of wealth?
Monarchism symbolises biological supremacy, privilege by bloodline, inherited entitlement, elitism and snobbery. It affirms our nation’s commitment to inequality and degrades our intelligence.
And all of this is rooted in a history of extortion, violence, war and the lingering threat of force.
As a cover for the morally flawed nature of monarchy, its proponents claim the UK’s royal family provides a range of pragmatic benefits, as follows:
👑 An independent Head of State (Would you want a Trump?)
👑 Stability and continuity
👑 National identity
👑 Role models and the ideal of voluntary service
👑 Cheaper than a President/costs just 1p a day!
👑 Immense revenues from tourism
👑 An international, business-enhancing brand
👑 An underpinning of the Commonwealth
But do these attempts to justify the royals stack up? Let’s take a look.
An independent Head of State
King Charles’ supporters tell us that our constitutional monarchy delivers an independent Head of State.
- The UK monarch is not in fact independent and operates under the instruction of the government of the day. As University College London states, ‘In all political matters the monarch acts on the advice of the Prime Minister.’
- Further, to the limited extent that our monarch is independent, what benefits are supposed to accrue from this? Have they held parliament or prime ministers to account for their mishandling of the economic and political crises of the last few years? Have they called out Truss’s economic incompetence, Johnson’s lying or mishandling of Covid, the Tories’ infringement of international treaties and law? If not, what is monarchic ‘independence’ meant to achieve?
- Lastly, why would you want an unelected, unaccountable, unsackable and potentially unsuitable Head of State in any case? What if a Prince Andrew or someone involved in shady UK citizenship deals were about to be crowned? How can this be better than someone the UK public can elect and remove?
Objectors might ask, “But surely all of this is better than the risk of people electing a President Boris Johnson or a President Trump?”
a) That’s a pretty anti-democratic line to take. You could use the same wording to justify a dictatorship; and
b) Does our constitutional monarchy stop dangerous populists getting into power in any case? Johnson, anyone? Truss?
I would also add that a more rational and deliberative population, not encouraged to join the personality cult of monarchism but encouraged instead to use their critical faculties, would be less likely to vote a self-serving, deceitful populist into power.
Creates stability/provides continuity
This claim on behalf of monarchism obviously begs the questions:
- Continuity of what?
- Stability of what?
Continuity of snobbery and elitism? The stability of spiralling inequality and personal debt? The stability of a fire-sale of state assets over the last 40 years? The stability of a system which endangers the biosphere?
Surely the continuity and stability of an unfair and harmful system is the last thing our nation needs?
And, were we to concede that stability is a positive, we might ask if the UK has been any more stable over the past six decades than republics such as Germany, Austria or Ireland?
Our objector might say, “Ah, but, yes, but, no but we’ve never had a revolution! That’s the stability monarchy gives you!”
Unfortunately that logic doesn’t quite work. Isn’t it more reasonable to claim that nations such as France and Russia had revolutions precisely because they had monarchies?
It also discounts the English Civil War, a revolution of sorts, which delivered the significant benefit of suppressing monarchic power.
The monarchy is part of our national identity
There is some justice to the claim that the monarchy forms part of our national identity – but it’s only a small part… and a part which wouldn’t cease to exist even if the monarchy’s main assets were nationalised, the individuals privatised and an elected Head of State put in the King’s place.
No one’s suggesting we should guillotine the lot of them, bulldoze their palaces or remove every reference to royalty from our tour guides or history books!
The royal family provide role models and support the ideal of voluntary service
This claim hardly deserves debunking.
If the monarchy’s service to our nation is voluntary, why can’t I volunteer to take their place?
If they offer role models to us all, why do so many people despise Prince Andrew and hate Prince Harry?
And ‘a service’ which is involuntarily imposed on a nation isn’t exactly a service, is it? It’s an imposition.
Cheaper than a President/costs just 1p a day!
The first of these claims is obviously false. Republic.org estimate that the monarchy costs the UK taxpayer between £300m and £500m p.a. This is in contrast to the Irish presidential elections which cost £20m to £30m every seven years, with the Irish president’s budget of £4m p.a.
If we take www.republic.org.uk’s estimated cost of the monarchy for the UK taxpayer of £345m p.a. this gives us 1.4 pence per day paid by every inhabitant of the UK or 2.9 pence per day per taxpayer.
“So what?” our objector might ask. “What’s 1.4 or 2.9 pence to me?”
Well, it’s roughly the cost of building a new hospital every eighteen months.
All that tourism cash!
It turns out the value of this is exaggerated.
In fact, even the claimed (but difficult to prove) £550m p.a. income from ‘monarchy-related’ tourism comprises less than a potential rounding error in assessing the UK’s GDP and only a tiny proportion of the UK’s £127b tourism income. Meanwhile, Versailles, in republican France, attracts almost sixteen times more tourists per annum than Buckingham Palace.
A business-enhancing brand of UK PLC
Brand Finance claim that the monarchy brand gives an uplift to British business of £1.76 b p.a. Despite also being difficult to prove, some element of this may be true. Nevertheless, it becomes irrelevant if the question is whether the state should subsidise the monarchy, pay for its policing, provide it with a Sovereign Grant and retain a monarchic Head of State. A monarchy of private individuals could still lease out their brand, charge for their attendance and proffer their stamp of approval, just as other celebrities do.
Underpins the Commonwealth
The claim that the monarchy is essential to the Commonwealth is easily challenged. Would the Commonwealth disintegrate if the monarchy were privatised? Would the trade agreements between Commonwealth countries miraculously dissolve?
If we are talking about something more than just economics, then is an imperial, monarchic, slave-trading, asset-stripping past really the basis on which we wish to perpetuate our relationships with other countries? Wouldn’t equality, respect and cooperation be a more suitable basis?
Those are a few of the rationalisations and justifications for modern day UK monarchism put to rest… The older myths (chosen by god, divine right of kings, rightful heir, knowing our place, being dutiful etc) no longer have much traction, so I’ll leave them aside. But what about the other negative aspects of monarchy? In the main, they come down to what the monarchy represents and sustains, for example:
- Unearned and disproportionate wealth through inheritance
- Privilege by birthright (the opposite of meritocracy)
- A validation of war, conquest, internecine bloodshed and the use of terror and force to attain power and position
- Snobbishness and elitism
- A hierarchy of human worth (i.e. the class system)
- British exceptionalism
While also encouraging
- Forelock tugging
- The cult of personality
- The ‘extraordinary individual’ interpretation of history (which trivialises the contributions of ordinary people)
Our monarchy also represents imperialism, rapaciousness, international asset-stripping and slavery.
None of these are good things, and it would be better not to give them validation through celebrating, financing or giving a political role to the modern royal family.
There is much in our history we should celebrate and carry forward into the future – but a state-subsided, hierarchy-reinforcing constitutional monarchy is something we should consign to the past.
Luke Andreski is a founding member of the @EthicalRenewal and Ethical Intelligence collectives. His books include Intelligent Ethics (2019), Ethical Intelligence (2019), Short Conversations: During The Plague (2020) and Short Conversations: During the Storm (2021).
Luke is a founding member of the @EthicalRenewal collective and author of Short Conversations: During the Plague (2020), Intelligent Ethics (2019) and Ethical Intelligence (2019).