Oliver Cromwell: statue put in place in 1899 after a bitter political struggle

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This Saturday, says Eddie Ford, should remind us that the role of the monarchy is not only about pomp, circumstance and providing popular entertainment

In the spirit of the Morning Star, which in the past has restricted its coverage of events regarding the monarchy in this way, I will start by reminding readers that this weekend will see ‘major traffic disruption’ in central London due to a lot of fuss about a 74-year-old man.

Yes, it is the coronation of Charles Windsor - the oldest person ever to accede to the throne, after having been the longest-serving heir apparent and Prince of Wales in British history. It seems that this particular coronation of King Charles III and his consort, Camilla, is going to be different. The “new tradition”, as The Guardian put it, replaces the homage of peers that has been used for centuries and will involve those watching the coronation on television or online - in pubs and parks - being urged to say out loud their loyalty to the monarch in a “chorus of millions of voices”. Therefore we will be invited to chant the words: “I swear that I will pay true allegiance to your majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me, God.”

Quite rightly, this innovation has attracted widespread derision - as if it was deliberately designed to alienate the maximum number of people possible. Are people in pubs expected to stand to attention too, while reciting this crap? At least it would be a comic spectacle. If this is the new king’s idea of a monarchy “more befitting” of the 21st century, it has got off to a bad start. Those defending it say MPs already pledge allegiance to the monarch on taking their seats, so what is the problem with extending the practice? Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, said it was intended to be a moment of “joy and celebration” - both in the abbey and in homes across the country and beyond. It will bring the world together, apparently. By contrast, the liberal anti-monarchist Republic group said the new oath was “offensive” and “holds the people in contempt” - which may well be true. But Republic wants to replace the monarchy with a presidential system, meaning we would end up with an elected monarch instead.


The coronation will include some other innovations. True, Charles himself will not be altering his oath, despite causing controversy in 1994 by suggesting he would prefer to be regarded as defender of all faiths - not just the Protestant one. But that was obviously too much for elements within the establishment, so Charles will stick to the old formulae of declaring himself a “faithful Protestant” (though he probably is not) and pledging to “uphold and maintain” the Protestant succession to the throne. On the other hand, it is true that the archbishop, Justin Welby, will preface the coronation oath by saying the established church, which the king swears to maintain, “will seek to foster an environment in which people of all faiths may live freely”. Alongside him will be representatives from the Jewish, Sunni and Shia Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Baha’i and Zoroastrian communities, who will form the first procession inside the abbey - anyone missed out? Female Anglican bishops will feature prominently as well. Rishi Sunak (a practising Hindu!) will give a reading from the Bible in his capacity as prime minister.

Approximately 2,000 guests have been invited, whilst the number of political attendees has been reduced significantly. Indeed, Buckingham Palace initially considered inviting as few as 20 MPs and 20 peers, but after an outcry those numbers were more than doubled. As a state occasion, of course, the coronation is paid for by the British government - that is, the long-suffering taxpayer. This is despite the fact that Charles was recently estimated to have a personal fortune of £1.8 billion by using numerous tricks and wheezes, mainly not having to pay inheritance tax.1

As for Sir Keir Starmer, leader of His Majesty’s extremely loyal opposition, we hear that he is having trouble deciding on what to wear at the coronation - a “posh” morning coat, his trusty “Sunday best” or “uniform”? Last June, of course, he insisted that it was your “patriotic duty” to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Now, sycophantic again, he has said that the coronation is a chance for the country to come together and “renew what it means to be headed by a monarchy” - which for him can only be a good thing, as it had saved the country from “extremism”.

Anyhow, what do the general public think of all this? A YouGov poll published in April revealed that 64% do not care very much - or at all - about the event, while only 9% care “a great deal”.2 A survey by the National Centre for Social Research found that 45% of respondents said of the monarchy either that it should be abolished or was not very important. By averaging out all the various polls, you can guesstimate that around 15% are positively republican - especially amongst the young - which is a relatively sizeable minority.

This stuff matters, as we have not had a revolution in Britain for a very long time. You can certainly imagine that, if you did have a revolutionary situation, with the army moving against a potential or actual anti-establishment government of one sort or another, then the role of the monarchy would be crucial in that respect. The monarchy is a key block against democracy - along with the army and the mandarin civil service (not to mention the trade union, as well as the Labour Party, bureaucracy).

As far as Charles Windsor is concerned - as he argued when still ‘HRH Prince of Wales’ in 2010, in Harmony: a new way of looking at our world, which he co-authored - the enlightenment was a terrible thing, and the French Revolution was even worse. His ideal is some sort of imaginary state, where you have - in the words of the Anglican 1848 hymn - “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate; God made them, high or lowly, and ordered their estate.” This encapsulates neatly the vision of Britain that this individual has. He is instinctively anti-democratic to his very core - as, of course, is the monarchical institution he heads.


In reality the break with feudalism came through two revolutions. The second, the Glorious Revolution, which brought William of Orange over from the Netherlands, completed what the first began. To this day if you go to parliament - where the monarch passes by on their way to many state occasions - there is the impressive bronze statue of Oliver Cromwell designed by Hamo Thornycroft and cast by Singer of Frome.

Cromwell, of course, presided over the military defeat of the royalist army, established a republican Commonwealth and ensured that the tyrant, Charles Stuart, was executed.

Ironically over the road from Cromwell’s statue there is a little noticed bust of the beheaded king Understandably the statue caused considerable controversy when it was first proposed in the second half of the 19th century. Irish nationalists indignantly protested, their members of parliament voting against - Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland was bloody, brutal and left bitter memories. Naturally the Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionists opposed the statue too - but for other reasons. Revolution, republic and regicide were outrages against God’s natural order. Nonetheless, the Liberal government got its way and the statue was erected in 1899.

Then as now, though, the statue acts as a reminder to monarchs about who is supreme. The monarch is sovereign, but only in parliament. He has no executive powers. Once, the monarch had constituted a separate authority alongside the House of Lords and the House of Commons. No longer.

True, the monarch has all manner of other powers, hovering between reality and disuse, which would cause heated legal argument if Charles III tried to exercise them. Constitutionally this is undoubtedly a defect. Every power ought to be known. But precisely in the ambiguity lies not the charm, the mystery, the magic of monarchy, but powers that would be used in an extreme emergency to counter, circumvent and undermine democracy. That is why the ambiguities of the constitution, which were hated by the reform-minded statesmen of the 19th century, are now loved and venerated, not only by Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir, but the whole political class.

  1. . theguardian.com/uk-news/ng-interactive/2023/apr/20/revealed-king-charless-private-fortune-estimated-at-almost-2bn.↩︎

  2. . yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/survey-results/daily/2023/04/13/b7aff/1.↩︎