Unionists and Monarchy

The recent discussions about possible changes to the act of settlement interested me. There has been some mention below about them and of course Jeffrey Donaldson was wheeled out to support the status quo this week though I see not everyone is convinced by his remarks. Rather than discuss the issue directly, I thought it might be an opportunity to think about the attitudes of unionists to the monarchy. The usual assumption is that practically all unionists have unswerving loyalty to the monarchy. I would submit that like most assumptions this is a simplification and that although like the rest of the UK the majority are pro monarchy, there are groups opposed to, or ambivalent about it.
One of the major problems in looking at unionist attitudes to the monarchy is that many unionists and nationalists perceive loyalty to the British state as synonymous with loyalty to the crown. Although the monarchy is very important to many people in NI and GB’s sense of Britishness, it is not actually essential. One can be loyal to the UK state yet not loyal to the monarch; though the very fact that it is the Untied Kingdom shows the difficulties with such a position.

Whilst there is little doubt that the vast majority of unionists are pro monarchy, there are varying degrees of support for it. Clearly the Orange Order champions the monarchy (and a Protestant one at that). However, some of its members may have been less than enchanted by the prospect of the next monarch being “Defender of Faith” rather than “Defender of the Faith.” Although orangemen may at times be a little suspicious of the most likely next monarch they seem almost universally loyal to the current Queen. Indeed even when they have been extremely hostile to the political positions adopted by Her Majesty’s Government they have always contrasted that opposition to HMG with their support for Her Majesty herself. I would also suspect that when Charles does finally become King, orangemen will find it relatively easy to transfer their loyalty to him; especially as I suspect King Charles may make many fewer controversial comments than Prince Charles ever did.

Significant numbers of unionists have also of course served in the armed forces where most members swear an oath to “Her Majesty, Her Heirs and Successors.” Even outside orangemen and the military, however, I would suggest that significant criticism of, let alone hostility to the monarchy is rare. These facts also undoubtedly explain the complete absence of criticism of the monarchy from unionist politicians, no one would be so stupid as to throw votes away in such a fashion.

There are of course exceptions to this general support (and sometimes near adulation) for the monarchy. I have known a number of unionist republicans: most would be fairly liberal, though still clearly unionists. However, there are also unionists, albeit it fewer, from a more hardline view point who support what has recently been suggested as the United Republic rather than the United Kingdom.

Others who hold sometimes surprisingly ambivalent views on the monarchy include some fundamentalists. As I have suggested on a number of previous occasions fundamentalists are actually quite a diverse group and of course the concept of the priesthood of all believers allows different people to come to very different positions. Some fundamentalists are very pro monarchy either as an extension of their political position or because of great affection for the concept of a Christian monarchy. However, none of the royals, even though many of them do seem to be very genuinely religious, hold to usual fundamentalist positions. The Queen takes part as an owner in horse racing and appears to drink alcohol. Whilst some fundamentalists will not object to drink few will have much truck with horse racing, tied as closely as it is, with gambling. The Queen Mother was a complex figure for many older fundies as she was deeply religious, was the Queen during the war and yet was quite clearly very fond of drink and horses. Her husband again a deeply religious man was also a mason which raises issues for some.

Open republicanism amongst fundies is, however, extremely rare; people routinely ignore the royal family or criticise things which its members do, but I have never heard open support for the abolition of the monarchy. However, enthusiastic support for the monarchy is actually less common than one might expect considering the public positions of leading fundamentalist politicians. It must be remembered that the idea of monarchy was not considered the ideal in The Bible (1 Samuel 8:7). In addition across Oliver Cromwell’s tomb it is said the inscription read “Christ, not man, is king.” Many fundamentalists may well owe significant allegiance to the UK and indeed its head of state; there is, however, another country to which they vow true fealty, as indeed is clear in the third verse of that hymn. (Best tune ever to my mind).

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