The subject of the Coronation is one that is close to the heart of any patriot. It is no accident that those who want revolutionary change focus on wanting an end to the Monarchy. It is the Monarch who represents this kindgom in a long traditon, broken only once, which goes back to the very creation of the English realm. The Coronation is a sacred occasion. If there was any question of it not being an Anglican ceremony then I should be one of the first to give vent to a protest. Change is a difficult topic for anyone of conservative leanings.
Back in the early 1830s the Conservative Party was formed by the events which surrounded the Emancipation of Catholics in 1829, and those which led to the Reform Act of 1832. The Duke of Wellington, Prime Minister from 1828 to 1830, pressed the King into passing the Catholic Emancipation Bill because of the danger of war in Ireland. He disliked the whole idea of admitting Catholics to the franchise, but did so as the lesser of two evils. It made him, and his deputy, Sir Robert Peel, take a hard line on further reforms to the political system, which eventually led to the return of a Whig Government under Earl Grey which passed a reform act more far-reaching than any Tory had wanted. Wellington, and other “diehards” had, indeed, in parliamentary terms, died. Sir Robert Peel drew a lesson from this, which was that change was constant and that the job of a Conservative was to ensure that it should not be directed by liberals, and that it should be moderate, and in line with the best interests of the country – as viewed from a Conservative point of view.
That tension dominated the “Conservatives” as Peel’s party became known, for the rest of the century. Disraeli even went so far as to pass a quite radical (for the times) Reform Act on 1867 rather than let Gladstone and the Liberals control the process. Controversial at the time, it was later seen as a masterstroke. His successor, Salisbury, took that view that as it was not in the interests of his own class that reform should happen, there should be as little of it as possible. Other Conservative leaders have seen it differently. But all of them took the view that the cornerstone of the arch of the Nation was the monarch.
The Monarchy itself is a study in how conservative institutions can survive. Where, in countries such as Germany and Russia change was resisted, it came in revolutionary fashion; no British monarch has made that mistake. Those who say that a Monarchy is an outdated relic in a democracy miss an important point. This nation is not a democracy, it is a Constitutional Monarchy with a government, elected by the people, acting on delegated powers from the monarch. The ability of the Monarchy to adapt, to move from feudalism towards parliamentary participation, and though to full universal franchise, is a sign of its success. And that success was not accidental, neither was it achieved by digging last ditches. As someone ought to have commented, last ditches are foul places, people die in them – so do ideas and nations.
In seeking to reach out to other faiths, King Charles is doing his part to adapt the institution he heads to the times in which we live. One may, or may not, regret it, but this nation is not identical with the one that witnessed the last Coronation. In making moves which recognise that, King Charles is both strengthening the Monarchy, and bearing witness to the importance of faith. Our Christian faith is under attack, we have enemies enough, without adding to them men and women of other faiths who recognise that the Coronation is a Christian occasion which can invite them to attend. It is not as though Pachamama is being invited, after all.
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