8th March 2021
A recent post at this blog averred that while the Netflix show The Crown gets a lot of the historical detail wrong it probably gets one wider point right – that there is a constant sense of precariousness felt by the Queen in respect of the monarchy of the United Kingdom.
By ‘precarious’ I do not mean a fear that the whole shabang will suddenly crash down – but instead that there is an ongoing sense of insecurity and instability which may or may not lead to wider insecurities and instabilities, and that this needs management and vigilance.
One suspects that the Queen is highly conscious of the institution’s fundamental changeability – she was ten when her uncle was forced to abdicate by a bunch of politicians; when she was twelve Ireland elected their own president and when she was twenty-two Ireland was explicitly a republic; and as she grew up generally the British empire was converting into a commonwealth, as elsewhere other monarchies declined and fell.
Only with hindsight do we see the period after 1952 as one of continuity and durability in our constitutional history – it probably did not seem that it would necessarily go that way seventy years ago.
Of course: the monarchy of the United Kingdom is to a certain extent a special case.
Indeed – the very term ‘United Kingdom’ indicates that it is the monarchy that defines the current combined political identity of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Few other countries make the very political form of their constitutional arrangements the term by which they are generally known – the obvious other example is the United States.
And as that previous post on this blog also averred, the crown is so deeply embedded in our constitutional arrangements – it is, for example, the conceptual basis of power for each of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – that to change everything over to a republic scarcely seems worth the time and effort.
(Though, of course, once upon a time, the United Kingdom leaving the European Union also scarcely seemed worth the time and effort – but it happened anyway.)
The crown also has its loud and intimidating defenders in the media – though that very loud intimidation may in turn be seen as an indication of insecurity.
Because of all these things, the institution of the monarchy is not likely to disappear in a political instance.
The institution of the monarchy is also not bound to stay in its present form either.
In the lifetime of the Queen herself, the monarchy has gone through profound changes – while projecting the comforting image of things staying much the same.
From king of Great Britain and Ireland and emperor of India, and elsewhere, to what we have now – via a forced abdication comparable in constitutional significance to the ejection of James II in 1688-9.
The monarchy has, since the year of the Queen’s birth in 1926, perhaps gone thorough more changes than in any ninety-five year period since 1701.
So to project the last ninety-five years of royal history forward is not to see more stability, but to expect more fundamental change – including maybe the departure of Northern Ireland and Scotland from the United Kingdom.
(Though no doubt the ‘United Kingdom’ will keep calling itself that, just as some gongs are still named the order of the British empire.)
In essence: the present – and, for us, familiar – arrangements of the monarchy of the United Kingdom are not fixed and eternal.
They have profoundly changed in the lifetime of the current monarch – and they can profoundly change further.
Thank you for reading this post.
Each post on this blog takes time, effort, and opportunity cost.
If you value this free-to-read post, and the independent legal and policy commentary this blog provides for both you and others – please do support through the Paypal box above, or become a Patreon subscriber.
You can also subscribe for each post to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).
This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.
Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.
Comments will not be published if irksome.