Thursday, September 6, 2012
When Britain Went Wrong
I am sure many people would give the answer as being 1688 and what is known in Great Britain as the “Glorious Revolution” and that would be a pretty good answer. It is not mine, but many do date the current form of the British constitutional monarchy as being born at that time. The problem is that something like the “Glorious Revolution” cannot just happen right out of the blue. It is not every day that a reigning monarch, to whom everyone had sworn their loyalty, is overthrown, a foreign invading army welcomed in unopposed and there be very little bloodshed in the process. It is all the more unusual in that, despite what his detractors may say, King James II had not done anything all that outrageous. Of course, there were those who believed that reunion with Rome was right around the corner and the Catholic Church was about to supplant the established Protestant church, however, when we take a step back, the dispassionate observer will not see anything all that “radical” going on. King James II never took any steps to actually disestablishing the Church of England, he never claimed unprecedented, far-reaching powers and he did not start burning Protestants at the stake.
Some might think that this should not be too consequential. After all, eventually, the regime of Cromwell came to an end and the monarchy was restored in the person of King Charles II; right? True, but things were not quite the same, and I submit never would be again. The problem was that the republicans (the Parliamentarians who possessed the republican mentality) had won the war. King Charles II was finally restored to his rightful throne but that was due to the failure of the Cromwell regime and was a result of political alliances and negotiations. The republicans had not actually been crushed on the field of battle and so never felt themselves to be truly defeated. Even as King Charles II was invited to resume the throne, there were efforts to place conditions on his return. It was a tense and uneasy political situation he inherited, underneath all the celebrations and frivolity, that ultimately culminated in the events of 1688.
King Charles II was adamant that it was God by whose grace the King reigned and not the pleasure of Parliament and thus he was equally adamant that God alone would determine the succession and not a Parliamentary vote. So, he sent Parliament packing and ruled in his own right for the rest of his (thankfully uneventful) reign, something which was made possible in part by his being supported financially by King Louis XIV of France. He had called the bluff of the republicans but they had not really blinked. If some disaster had arisen which would have forced some government action the King would have had to recall Parliament or risk going down the same path as his father and there might well have been another civil war. As it was, the stalemate simply continued until the reign of King James II. In that fateful year of 1688, when King James II was shown the door and his daughter and son-in-law were enthroned in his place as King William III and Queen Mary II, Parliament (including those with the republican mentality) made it abundantly clear that from that time on there would be strict limitations to what a monarch could and could not do and that, while “by the grace of God” might remain on the coins, it was by the grace of Parliamentary support that the monarchy continued.
For the time being, the monarchy in the United Kingdom is quite safe, quite popular and in no immediate danger. However, monarchists can never become complacent and it is the republican mentality that has created this situation that monarchists must work to eradicate. That may not necessarily mean that the monarch is given more power or takes on a political role and it certainly does not mean a return to absolutism (which never really existed as much as some think) but it does mean a change in attitude and a change in how people view the monarchy, the centrality of the institution and the true recognition that politicians are the servants rather than the masters.