Send Him Victorious

May 6, 2023



Rt Hon Lord Soames

Tomorrow’s Coronation will set the seal on a new Carolean age in our nation’s history. By common consent, King Charles III is the best prepared Sovereign we have ever had. So, what are the essential attributes of our new King?
One key attribute – so often overlooked – of our new King is his exceptional stamina. The King remains as he was when a young man, a keen sportsman and even today he is one of the fittest 74 year olds I know: he climbs the side of the steep Scottish hill always carrying his own kit, with annoyingly enviable ease.

King Charles’s life has been an exercise in endurance, perseverance diligence and thoughtfulness, and it has required an abundance of mental and physical toughness. His ascent to the Throne has always seemed to me to be more akin to a very long walk across the Highlands, rather than a simple sprint down the Mall. Happiness in marriage, which defines his very being today arrived with patience, and not without difficulty. All the while, our King has carried out his public duties most diligently, conscientiously, and with great dignity.

With these qualities comes also his personal courage. This is a man who unflinchingly dived onto the wreckage of the Mary Rose in the 1980s in appalling conditions. Who in his first parachute jump as a twenty-three-year-old found himself entangled in his rigging lines in the channel. And this is also a man who has consistently had the bravery and moral courage to stand up for what he believes is right, particularly when it comes to environmental conservation and the attention we pay to the built environment and many other aspects.

Indeed, it is the combination of these qualities – endurance and courage – which explain why the new Sovereign has so frequently been ahead of the curve on issues of national and international importance. He has always taken the long view, and has been prepared to defy fashionable attitudes, and thus the King has approached the many and varied important causes he has championed. Criticised by some as too traditionalist and by others as too radical, it is indeed curious and encouraging how public opinion has shifted towards views that our King held decades before they became orthodoxy.

That this Sovereign is so often ahead of the curve might also be the result of a paradox at the heart of the institution of which he is now the Head. Each individual Monarch’s perspective on the country and the challenges it faces is conceived in timeframes that most other public servants seldom access. As a result, it appears that he has a remarkable capacity to see things coming down the line well before the rest of us. It might also be why our Monarchs in general are generally in tune with the people of Britain – the people, as G K Chesterton wrote, “that never have spoken yet”.

In the middle of this wonderful and solemn Coronation service this weekend, those who wish will have an opportunity to pledge their loyalty to the new Sovereign. I, for my own part, will take a moment to reflect on how loyal and steadfast a person the King himself is. A patriotic loyalty to his people is evidenced in everything that he does of course. Last September, following the death of our Queen, the King pledged to serve the Nation with loyalty, respect and love. He is of course, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces. He remains the deeply knowledgeable Colonel-in-Chief of nine regiments of the British Army, Commodore-in-Chief of three Royal Navy units and the Honorary Air Commodore of Royal Air Force Valley in Wales. Many of these military associations are decades old, and build upon his time as a serving Officer in the Royal Navy and the Royal Airforce.

What the public rarely gets a chance to glimpse is the abiding loyalty, kindness and generosity he shows to his family and friends. It is a loyalty of which I have been a humble and privileged beneficiary all my adult life.

This is the same person that I have known and revered since we first met sixty-three years ago by a river in Scotland. But our King has long been aware and prepared for the transformation that he would undergo when he eventually ascended the Throne. That as King, he would no longer be merely a corporeal individual but the very personification of the body politic, and with this would come obligations to his people and to his country that fall on his shoulders alone. That there is a vast chasm between his former existence as the Prince of Wales and the life he now leads as Monarch, King Charles recognises with the utmost seriousness and dedication. He will be as constitutionally scrupulous a King as his mother was as Queen.

Yet we should not be surprised to see many of those personal qualities I mention shine through during our new Sovereign’s reign: his stamina in meeting the requirements of a punishing diary of public engagements: his courage, not only in knowing when to put his obligations as Head of State before his perspectives as an individual, but also in giving that private counsel which Prime Ministers throughout our history have depended upon and valued from their Monarch: and indeed his loyalty, not just to his people in these islands, but throughout the Commonwealth.

No Monarch has ever never been better prepared for the office that King Charles III now occupies. We are beyond measure lucky to have him.

The Crown: The Light Above Politics

William Shawcross,
Official Biographer of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother

The Coronation of King Charles II and Queen Camilla on Saturday is one of the most important days in our modern history. It confirms our fortunate adherence to what many have termed “the genius of constitutional monarchy”.

That genius expresses itself in terms which are not always fashionable today. They include “The love of God” and the love of this country and its people which sovereign after sovereign has inherited and displayed.

Hereditary Monarchy is obviously a gamble – but so are Presidential elections.

We have been incredibly lucky in the royal stakes. Since the Coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837, this country has been blessed with a succession of excellent Monarchs, whose interests were above all for the nation not for politics.

The outpouring of grief and gratitude on the death of the late Queen, Elizabeth II, showed how widely her extraordinary 70 years of service to this country was recognised. In his heartfelt and moving tribute to his mother after her death, King Charles III pointed out that in the 70 years since she had come to the Throne in 1953, the changes had been phenomenal. “We have seen our society become one of many cultures and many faiths…But through all changes and challenges … our values have remained and must remain constant”.

He spoke of the Queen’s devotion to the teachings of Jesus, by which she tried to live her life. Her view that “God is love” was translated into his inherited love for this country. He said that his faith, like hers, was rooted in the Church of England, and out of the values of that faith he cherished “a sense of duty to others” and he promised to serve all the peoples of the United Kingdom and its realms “with loyalty, respect and love, as I have throughout my life”.

One of the most important characteristics of the new King is that he has an abiding sense of the sacred. That is precious and rare today.

He is also a seasoned and practical man, and there is every reason to believe he will carry out his promises.

The former Bishop of London, Richard Chartres has said that “the Queen’s great success was to become an icon of the discipline, devotion and duty on which any stable and creative public life depends.”

The Queen did more than merely occupy the lofty position of Sovereign. Her personality suited her well to the role as it has evolved in the twentieth century and made her probably the most successful monarch in our history. As Governments came and went, her calm steadiness and unremitting attention to the interests of the country first reinforced the Sovereign’s role as a focus for national identity, unity and pride.

The first few weeks of the King’s reign suggests he understands all that and moreover realises that his own success will be to continue to occupy a space beyond partisan politics where he is able “to embody the common values of the community”.

The King has taken many partisan positions during the decades before he came to Throne. But he has promised to forswear those now.  He clearly understands the words of the late Roger Scruton, that constitutional monarchy is “the light above politics, which shines down on the human bustle from a calmer and more exalted sphere”. He is already King for all, and he will continue to be.

The King as Prince of Wales made the controversial remark that he wanted to be defender of faith rather than Defender of (the Protestant) Faith, the established faith of the Church of England. That cannot be changed without legislation.

But in 2012 the Queen herself moved towards her son’s position when she stated that the C of E “s role “is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country”.

In her Christmas broadcasts in which she spoke often and movingly of her love of the teachings of Jesus, to which she aspired, she often referred to this role of the Church of England as protecting other worshippers.

Together the Church of England and the monarch have already done an enormous amount to protect the freedom of worship in this country. There is no doubt that the King will wish to continue and enhance that protective duty towards all faiths.

Religious belief and historical consciousness are both intrinsic to our Monarchy. They have the practical effect of reinforcing our national cohesion in a way a republic would not. Monarchy offers enchantment and since Victoria came to the throne our kings and queens have also offered kindness and passed on love of the people of this country to their successors.

As Bishop Chartres has pointed out, “the role of the modern monarch is to cherish particular communities, to hallmark the importance of special occasions and to recognise outstanding achievements on behalf of society as a whole…..”. In the work of the modern monarch, he thinks, “people are put in touch in a very personal way with the narrative of the nation, its past as well as its future”.

Impatience with the past is dangerous. A sense of history and a sense of destiny should go together. “A person with a sense of destiny and no sense of history is undeniably a very dangerous fellow”.

Of course, not all societies are well adapted to Monarchy; and Monarchy is not adapted to every society. Democratic republics are the best system in other societies with different history, culture and political circumstances.

 But Monarchy is at the core of our history.

We have been lucky to have today a Monarchy which has preserved tranquillity and harmony, serving as a constitutional safeguard and defence against tyrants and extremists.

Our Monarchy has greatly contributed to preserving freedom and reducing the appeal of extreme political parties, both on the left and the right. Authoritarian parties often rely on a political personality cult. A constitutional Monarchy impedes such malign developments. Our kings and queens have seen themselves as servants of our country, not as its rulers.

This role as a bulwark of freedom has been remarked on by many new arrivals with experience, personal or family, of oppression from totalitarians from both the left and the right.

The French philosopher Simone Weil highlighted the effectiveness of a British monarch with limited power in protecting against political extremism by benignly offsetting the power of politicians. She argued in The Need for Roots (written in 1943) that Britain was exceptional among European powers in maintaining ‘a centuries-long tradition of liberty’, guaranteed by the seemingly least powerful part of the constitution, the monarch.

Our Head of State has not been the focus of anger, as he (always a He so far) has so often been in France. There, President Macron is under almost perpetual siege. And why not in Britain?  Because, Weil explained, the most important person in the British constitution has the least formal power.

That is a hugely important insight.

It reveals a principle which is often considered heretical today. It is this: a healthy democratic constitution should not be entirely democratic. The political scientist and philosopher Nigel Biggar has pointed out that alongside the elected House of Commons, we benefit from a House of Lords that contains a wide range of experts and leaders of civil society (including the Church of England and other faiths) who are appointed not elected. The fact that this patronage is often abused by Prime Ministers does not mean it is totally invalid.

As Biggar reminds us, moral legitimacy does not lie only in popular consent. It cannot, since the will of the people can be corrupt. Remember the popular election of Hitler in the 1930s. Popular consent is vital but “moral legitimacy lies in the conformity of law and policy to the given principles of justice and prudence”. King Charles is clearly determined to abide those principles and to preside over as happy a home as our increasingly disparate nation allows.

The Monarchy provides a unifying umbrella under which many people can shelter.


Sir Vernon Bogdanor
Professor at the Centre for British Politics and Government, Kings College London

Britain is unique amongst European monarchies in having a coronation at which the King is acknowledged as the rightful Sovereign and homage is paid to him. But the Coronation, as well as being a constitutional ceremony is also an Anglican one, the King being the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and required to be in communion with it.

The Anglican Church is established in England but not in the other parts of the United Kingdom nor in the 14 realms of which he is head of state. In Scotland, the presbyterian Church of Scotland, of which the King becomes a member when north of the border, is the established church. The Monarch is under a statutory duty to protect both churches, although it is a duty he has no power to enforce. There is no established church in Wales or Northern Ireland nor in the realms. Amongst other European monarchies, only Denmark, Norway and Sweden stipulate that the monarch must be of a particular faith.

The link with religion may seem anomalous in today’s multi-faith Britain in which, according to the 2021 census, Christians are in the minority. Anglicans apparently constitute 15% of the population while just 4% of Scots belong to the Church of Scotland. But important steps have been taken to ensure that all major faiths are represented at the Coronation. And in any case neither the religious affiliation of the King, who seeks to be a defender of all faiths, nor the existence of an established church, in any way limit freedom of religion. The wider issues of the right relationship between church and state and disestablishment are of course matters for Parliament and government, not the King.

In the past, Monarchs ruled. Today, the Coronation affirms a Constitution in which the King reigns but does not rule. Shorn of political power, he can represent the Nation to itself. Politicians symbolise what divides us, the king what holds us together – our shared culture and history. In Graham Greene’s novel, The End of the Affair, the heroine goes to St James Park on VE day. The Royal Family come out onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace. ‘They weren’t leaders like Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt; they were just a family who hadn’t done any harm to anybody’.

Devolution has increased the significance of the Monarchy. Only the King belongs to every part of the United Kingdom and to none. He is English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish as well as British. In Belgium, it is said that the king is the only real Belgian. Everyone else is either a Fleming or a Walloon! A presidential head of state by contrast would come from one part of the Nation, probably England, by far the largest nation in the United Kingdom.

Contrary to what is sometimes thought, the Monarchy is not based solely on hereditary succession. It is a parliamentary Monarchy. Parliament can at any time alter the line of succession, as it did in 1936 when Edward VIII abdicated. So, although unelected, the monarchy paradoxically depends on parliamentary and popular consent. In October 1994, the late Duke of Edinburgh told the Daily Telegraph that the monarchy could survive only as long as people wanted it. At her Golden Wedding celebrations in 1997, Elizabeth II pointed out that governments had a sure way of determining whether they enjoyed consent through periodic elections. It was more difficult for the Monarchy to determine whether it enjoyed public support, but equally essential. 

The British Monarchy differs from its Continental counterparts in having an international dimension, a consequence of empire, a relationship based on domination. Empire, however, has been transformed into Commonwealth, a relationship based on the sovereign equality of states. The Commonwealth currently contains 56 members, one third of the countries of the world, and includes all those once ruled by Britain except Ireland and Myanmar, formerly Burma. It also includes four states which were not part of the empire – Gabon, Mozambique, Rwanda and Togo. 14 Commonwealth members including, for example, Australia, Canada and Jamaica are monarchies. But most are republics, recognising the king as head of the Commonwealth, a purely symbolic title since republics would not have accepted the British monarch as part of their constitutions. The king’s Commonwealth Day and Christmas Day messages are delivered as head of the Commonwealth, not as King of Britain. So they are not delivered on advice. For, since the role of Head of the Commonwealth is not a constitutional one, there is no one with the capacity to advise the King when acting in this role. But the role must not be seen as a mere extension of the role of King of Britain, since that would appear to replicate the imperial relationship. Elizabeth II, the first Monarch whose whole reign co-existed with that of Head of the Commonwealth, was skilful in ensuring that the roles were kept distinct. 

In the past the Monarchy was seen as a magical, even a mystical institution. But during the latter part of the twentieth century, there developed a more practical and utilitarian conception. The Monarchy is now judged in terms of its contribution to public service As Prince of Wales, the King reached out to disadvantaged groups who may have felt disfranchised – the young unemployed, ex-prisoners and members of ethnic minorities. This was a striking use of soft power. The growth of the public service Monarchy is the most important development in its recent history.

The alternative to Monarchy is a presidential system. A President may either be directly elected, as in the US or France, or chosen by the legislature as in Germany and Italy. 

A directly elected president represents just a section of the nation, but must combine constitutional duties as head of state with political duties as head of government, an uneasy combination. It is difficult to represent the whole nation while making political decisions which alienate part of that nation. Most of us are happy singing God save the King. Many Americans would not be happy singing God save President Biden, and many French people would not be happy singing God Save President Macron! Where a presidential system is combined with a parliamentary executive as in France, there is always the danger of a clash of legitimacies between an elected President and the Prime Minister responsible to the legislature.

Where the president is chosen by parliament, there is a separation between Head of State and Head of Government and the President is normally confined to constitutional and ceremonial duties. But a president in such systems will probably have a political history. In theory, no doubt, a president could be a politically impartial member of the Great and the Good. But even if such a sainted individual can be found, how could he or she secure election in a system dominated by political parties? Often the president is a retired politician put out to grass as a reward for faithful service or a nonentity who can be relied upon not to interfere with the prime minister. Votez pour le plus stupide, Clemenceau apparently instructed the French legislature in the early 20th century. Presidents in parliamentary systems are often far from striking or memorable figures. Which of us can name the presidents of Germany or Italy?

In 2022, Britain was reminded of the great advantage of constitutional monarchy – the transition from one head of state to another was automatic and seamless. 2022 was the year of three prime ministers, but the monarchy appeared as a rock of stability.

In a few favoured countries, primarily Britain and the smaller states of north western Europe, constitutional monarchy serves to sustain democracy rather than frustrate it. And if it seems contradictory to regard a hereditary institution as a bulwark of democracy, it is worth remembering Freud’s aphorism that it is only in logic that contradictions cannot exist.

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