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).

  • Oiliféar

    I’m curious whether you would object to the monarch changing his/her style to “Defender of Faith”? After all, “the” faith they mean was originally the Roman one and never yours.

    Also, you don’t mention the swings-and-round-abouts of monarchism in Irish history (despite even mentioning Cromwell by name): there have been times when Irish Protestants (even as “unionists”) were republicans and Irish Catholics (even as “nationalists”) were monarchists (and when Irish Protestants were nationalists and monarchists).

  • Turgon

    I am fairly indifferent to how King Charles will style himself. Not being a member of the CoE, it does not really excite me. I do feel that the idea of “defender of faith” is a bit silly when the faiths he suggests he would be defending often directly oppose one another. However, such rather poorly thought out sound bites frequently characterise Charles’s contributions.

    As to the historical issues, to be honest I had decided to try to keep the blog a bit shorter than usual and so did not mention them.

  • Very interesting piece Turgon.

    Perhaps the reason why many fundamentalists might be ambivalent about the concept of monarchy is that it has historically been associated with the High Church wing of the Established Church, often accompanied with support for episcopal polity and a more Catholic ecclesiology. Queen Elizabeth and James I believed that abolishing bishops would undermine the rule of monarch. Presbyterianism, by promoting a vertical ecclesiology seemed to negate the very concept of monarchy. Indeed I remember a certain Ian Paisley lauding the Scottish Covenanters in their battles against King Charles I.

    Paradoxically the most ardent monarchists I have ever encountered was among some Traditionalist Catholics. This was especially the case in France, where virtually all Traditionalists I met were monarchists, usually supporting the Legitimist pretender, Louis XX. Monarchism, with its belief in a hierarchial social structure, was deemed to more consonant with a Catholic social order than republicanism, perhaps informed by the fact that republicanism in France was historically very anti-Catholic.

    There was once a rather bitter dispute a few years back in an SSPX church in Edinburgh where after High Mass the French priest went on chanting the prescribed Prayers for the Sovereign. Some members of the congregation walked out in anger and later informed the priest that those prayers were not traditionally said in Scotland. But the priest refused to back down, and insisted they be said. However this later changed and it is presently the case that these Royal prayers are said in High Masses in Glasgow (where the Catholics are mostly of Irish descent) whereas they are not in Edinburgh (where the Catholics are mostly ‘natives’).

  • Turgon,

    That is such a beautiful hymn and I am a fan of Katherine Jenkins. It does affect the tear gland a wee bit.

    You used the word “unionist republican.” This is a hard one to get one’s head around. There is very little out there, culturally, which links the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom other than the Monarchy. I accept that you have not delved very much into history and that you could write a book just to cover the background to this blog.

    The Union Jack is named after the first King which tried to bind England with Scotland. It is fair to say that King James I was the first true Unionist.

  • Oiliféar

    Turgon, fair points on “Defender of Faith”. IMHO “Defender of the Faith” became silly in 1530 and self-styling oneself “Defender of Faith” now (on who’s invitation?) would be a step into the ludicrous.

    I think that by not mentioning (even in the briefest of ways) the swings-and-round-abouts of Irish protestantism, Irish unionism and Irish monarchism you turn your eyes away from important and core issues – whether you do it consciously or not.

  • Turgon, Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant (jpg) would seem to lean more towards God than monarch.

  • dub


    Turgon’s complete and utter non self identification with anything as unclean as Ireland or Irishenss would perhaps provide an explanation for what seems to you to be a major lacuna in his analysis but which would doubtless not seem so to his self defined settler self…

  • danielmoran

    turgon…. i can only assume that donaldson was allowed to go on the media on the undersdtanding that he was on his own, and certainly the fact that no dup or free p.’s came out in support. his suggestion that catholics would be giving allegiance to the state that encloses the vatican, seems bizarre because, i thought the dup line was that catholics were in allegiance to the state to our south.
    mind you this ill thought out rambling is of a piece with jd’s assertion on a spotlight programme that the reason that dup unionists from the 70’s to the 90’s refused powersharing with sdlp was that ‘republicans needed to be brought into the political process at the time’ well, this must have raised a few eyebrows among the surviving stormont clique. like john taylor for instance. mark carruthers looked as if he couldn’t believe his ears. jd is clearly out of his depth in this arena. sorry this is not more concise.

  • Turgon

    Another rather pathetic attack on myself. I have already explained why I did not give a history lesson on this occassion. However, once again you attack me on what you claim I think rather than what I have said. You seem to specalise in crystal ball gazing when it comes to my motivations.

    Incidentally I have never said anything Irish was unclean: that is a pretty pathetic attack to be honest but I might as well point out that it is untrue.

    Your continual allegations that I have a “settler mindset” (whatever that is) etc. seem to come from your own assessment of myself and your own (highly biased and indeed perverted) analysis of my comments.

    To be honest I am a little bemused as to why you are so interested in my own motivations and how my mind works: it is actually absolutely none of your business.

    Your latest comments are slightly less ludicrous than the ones which Mick has already censured but maybe, just majbe you could try addressing the topic of the blog? Alternatively maybe you have nothing useful to say and find creating a straw man of my views and shooting it down the closest to intellectual analysis of which you are capable? Go on prove me wrong by an on topic attempt at a comment: it would be a first.

    I am inclined to agree re this being a Jeffrey solo run. There are people in the DUP like Nelson McCausland or Nigel Dodds who could analyse the act of settlement proposals from an historical or legal perspective (respectively). Jeffrey, however, rather likes the limelight even when it seems he does not really understand the complexities or what he is talking about. I do not wish to play the man but Jeffrey is hardly an intellectual heavyweight.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    I am a unionist who is anbivalent about the monarchy. It has worked for many centuries and doesn’t seem to do much harm.

    I can see the rationale of having a small number of the royal family being part of the system say the Monarch and their direct children as a ceremonial and tourist attraction.

    The rest should be sent to do jobs and not on any public pay role and the whole monarchy should pay the same taxes as everyone else on their incomes and direct assets.

  • dub


    If the cap fits…

  • Turgon

    Exactly; that seems to be what passes for intellectual argument with you. It is a pity you might have something useful to say, then again you have had plently of opportunities and have never taken any of them, so maybe not.

  • Oiliféar

    Turgon, ignore the name calling. But can I ask what you take form the history of Irish Protestantism/unionism and Irish monarchism/royalism/republicanism/revolution/rebellion – particularly Ulster Presbyterians (i.e. directly *your* ancestors).

    (I’ve asked a similar question of Tuargáin, your Roman Catholic doppelgänger from a parallel universe.)