At first glance, this weekend’s royal wedding in Westminster Abbey may seem to have little connection with Faith and Science. However it is faith that the couple have promised each other, faith that we have that they will be good partners, bringing grace and justice to the “common weal”; it is political science, together with psychology, anthropology, and ethics that we will call upon to comment on this exciting and symbolic event.
I have edited the following essay from its original form in my 1996 memoir. The memoir was Entitled to One Mistake (in case you wonder, according to one of my parishioners I was my mother’s mistake. She was much amused at this flattery).
When King George VI died in 1952, and Queen Elizabeth II succeeded him, the government of Ontario decided that the provincial highways would continue to be designated “The King’s Highway”. I suppose that was partly based on expediency, but I hope that there was some person counselling that the chief of state is the King, even if the person occupying that position happens to be a woman.
The derivation of “king” is “cyning,” Anglo-Saxon for “the one who draws the kin together.” The word “queen” comes from the generic root for a woman, as in “gwen”. The Queen is a woman who exercises the power of the Cyning, to draw together the Kin.
“The King’s Highway” has also a religious connotation, one which is deeply located also in the idea of a kingdom. In worldly terms, land is granted to a “subject” by the king, who in theory has super-rule (“sovereignty”) over all the land. Aboriginals may well claim that the land was theirs before the white king over the water made treaties or took possession; the aboriginal claim will be based on a sense that the land was given to First Nations in trust or stewardship - by whom? by God, however God may be designated. On Canadian coins the monarch is still described as Regina D.G., which means “Queen, by the Grace of God.” It is by that same grace that aboriginals claim the mandate of their stewardship.
A religious assumption is implicit in the idea of kingship, especially as it has been developed in constitutional monarchy. So the King, in right of Canada, or in right of Ontario, sums up, personifies, and embodies the ownership of the land by the people; king and people together hold the land in trusteeship from the Creator, and in trust for the people and creatures of the future. This is a theological explanation of constitutional monarchy, which has implications for property rights, among other things. There is no absolute private right to own property, as some teach.
There is a great gulf fixed between the polity of a country where the roads can bear the name “ The King’s Highway,” and one where the State, an impersonal legal power, replaces the “one who draws together the Kin.” Our abstract name for the function of Chief of State, namely “The Crown,” points to a more presentable part of the human anatomy, the head, than the name for the Chief of State in a republic, namely “president,” which refers to the “sit-upon,” as my mother used to call it.
I first saw royalty through a telescope, from my grandfather’s veranda in Jamaica. My grandfather held me up to the glass, and through it I saw about eight miles away, a crowd of people gathered around some front steps. Somewhere in that crowd were my parents, and also the Duke and Duchess of York, later to be King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
Of course, to my young eye, they were not quite King and Queen, because I knew all about Kings and Queens from careful reading of Christopher Robin stories: King John was not a good man, - he had his little ways. Or, King Hilary and the Beggarman; Buckingham Palace; The King’s Breakfast; If I were King. So began an education which was to fit me to write on constitutional matters!
Next, there was the Prince of Wales, later the Duke of Windsor. My mother assured me that if I wanted to grow up correctly, I was to follow his example, and carefully fold my clothes and put them decently and in order on a chair when I was going to bed. Then in 1935-36, the time of the abdication of King Edward VIII, who preferred natty clothes to responsible behaviour, when I was ten years old, my mother would laugh at her own inappropriate choice of model.
I remember the Abdication speech very well. The headmaster at my boarding school in Jamaica called the senior boys over to his house, where we sat with his family and listened to the speech over the radio. And his old mother-in-law, Mrs Stillwell, wept sadly among us,.
My father was disgusted with Edward. He said that the Prince had behaved scandalously and rudely on his visit to Jamaica. The impression my father gave was that the Prince and his brother roistered around Jamaica, openly being rude to the Governor, who was always several miles behind them. They would pull up at some crossroads, and tell the people what fun they were having eluding His Excellency. But His Excellency was the true and legal representative of the King.
One incident my father described in fine detail. The Royal visitors arrived at a polo game, where the notables were assembled. The Prince chattered away in an excited manner, ordered a drink, and when the drink was brought to him, rudely brushed it aside, saying that that was not what he had ordered. The glass was passed through the bewildered plantocracy until it came to my father, who drank it.
My own encounters were at a remove. When the King and Queen visited Canada in 1939, I paraded with the St Andrew’s College cadet corps when they stood guard for the King and Queen on Hart House Circle, University of Toronto. It was fun doing that and seeing them,and our special triumph was that the Upper Canada College Cadets (our rivals) gave a Royal Salute to the wife of the mayor of Toronto as she came through in the side car of a motor cycle; our commanding officer, happily, had more sense.
As I followed my monarchist bent in thought and imagination, I joined my father in his anger. I found a concrete example of what was wrong with the contemporary monarchy, as compared with the ideal monarchy as sometimes portrayed by Shakespeare. The story of the imprisonment of Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s Henry IV is regarded by scholars as invented, and based on a genuine political quarrel between Henry the Fourth and his son Prince Hal. But the principle as enunciated by the Lord Chief Justice, who had arrested the Prince in the play, is a sound contribution to thought about constitutional monarchy.
The following dialogue occurs after the Prince has succeeded on his father’s death:
Lord Chief Justice:
I am assured, if I be measured rightly,
Your majesty hath no just cause to hate me.
King Henry the Fifth: No!
How might a prince of my great hopes forget
So great indignities you laid upon me?
What! rate, rebuke, and roughly send to prison
Th’immediate heir of England? Was this easy?
May this be washed in Lethe and be forgotten?
Lord Chief Justice:
I then did use the person of your father;
The image of his power lay then in me:
And in th’administration of his law,
Whiles I was busy for the commonwealth,
Your highness pleased to forget my place.
The majesty and power of law and justice,
The image of the king whom I presented,
And struck me in my very seat of judgment;
Whereon, as an offender to your father,
I gave bold way to my authority,
And did commit you.
So, indeed, in Jamaica in the 1930s, the Prince of Wales “pleased to forget [the] place, The majesty and power of law and justice, The image of the king,” represented by the Governor of Jamaica. Was this reported to King George V by the Governor? I doubt it, for the servants of the Crown were encouraged by the lawless hearts of the age to pay more attention to the personal prerogatives of the King’s family than to the basis of His Majesty’s claim to loyalty, a basis in “the majesty and power of law and justice.”
It was not the monarchy alone that was then, or is now, awry, but the times; the hearts and thoughts of a society that has lost the sense of the vocation of all persons to serve the underlying majesty of divine law and justice.
I have often wondered what would have happened if the Governor had taken the Prince into custody and sent him home in disgrace. What would most likely have happened would be that the Colonial Office would have sacked the Governor and deprived him of his pension, the kind of fate which still befalls whistle-blowers in a spineless and time-serving culture. But what should have happened would have been that the Governor should have been rewarded for such action, and the Prince put on some kind of probation within the Royal Family. Inherited right does not supersede right by reason of law and justice, as the story of the succession of the British monarchy shows plainly. Instead, Edward was allowed to continue as in effect a “scofflaw” - and so many troubles followed.
I write this when I have recently watched Edward on Edward on television. This is a documentary written, designed and narrated by Prince Edward, the Queen’s youngest son, on the subject of his great-uncle, the Duke of Windsor. Now this kind of sensible self-awareness on behalf of the royal family by an intelligent and articulate member is what I like to witness. Of course, we have witnessed it before, as we have watched the Queen herself engage our minds on important issues over the years.
In the United Kingdom a new relation of the Crown with the Church may be of some keen concern, considering, the ultimate “kingship” of God. I used to think, right back when Prince Charles and his bride were married - “who prepared them for marriage? They could have attended a course like the ones we gave the Diocese of Toronto, in which we sometimes succeeded in helping a couple not marry.”
The Church of England, supposedly the “mother” of our Anglican Church in Canada, was hopelessly paralyzed in its dealing with issues of marriage and divorce. Such was the background of Prince Charles’ marriage mistake, made for him by church and family disregard of the real needs of those being married. His second marriage is much more appropriate for all concerned; the shame is that Diana suffered what she did.
The present Prince of Wales, whose sensitivity to values and issues is better judged by his good works, and his sensible “green” ideas: he indeed for his age represents counter-culture over against the farcical British - and North American - culture of pomp, waste and excess. He had the good sense to be on close terms with such a lay seer as Sir Laurens Van Der Post, Prince William’s godfather. No one could read Van Der Post seriously without thinking deeply about the issues of faith and “kinship”, not to mention simple justice, and the need to be “busy for the common-wealth.”
Here is a prayer and a greeting I offer:
May the Queen and her family, and her families of nations, look to the reality of the sacred, which emerges from the human need to be crowned with a glory beyond the glory of history and tradition, and may we join her and our posterity in knowing that glory more clearly, in following it more nearly, in loving it more dearly.