Sunday, June 2, 2013

What the Coronation symbolises for me

. Sunday, June 2, 2013

As dazzling, glittering and medievalistically splendid as the coronation was sixty years ago today, what I most admire about this time, about the phrase "Be proud of Britain on this day, Coronation day," was what they meant when they said "Britain". For Britain in those days included not just the close-knit countries of England, Scotland and Wales but also the intimately associated settler societies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Indeed, Britain was not really an island nation at all, but rather a global conglomeration of nations that spanned the British world. The central concept underlying this shared Britishness was not national identity, but supranational allegiance.

And I'm not talking about the hoary British Empire here either, but something far more enlightening. With the successful transmutation from imperialism to free association, for one brief shining moment in the early 1950s we seemed to be progressing into a worldwide family of co-equal nations, a kind of post-imperial united kingdoms. How else to explain the jubilant news that when New Zealand’s Edmund Hillary and Nepal’s Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Everest, the first men in recorded history to do so, that Churchill hailed their pinnacle triumph as a “memorable British achievement.” How else to explain the reaction of New Zealand’s prime minister, Sidney Holland, who declared how proud he was that an “Englishman” had been the first to climb the world’s highest mountain. It was the high watermark of a common spirit embracing many nations - one based not on subordination but fraternal free will.

When introducing the Royal Titles Bill to the Australian House of Representatives in 1953 prior to the coronation, Prime Minister Robert Menzies spoke of the British monarch as passing on “a Crown that will always be the sign and proof that, wherever we may be in the world, we are one people.” And, by one people, he meant the British people.

The classically brilliant Enoch Powell made a similar avowal when speaking on the Royal Titles Bill in the UK Parliament in March 1953. He still asserted that the Commonwealth of Nations remained a single British kingdom, whose far-flung subjects still roamed freely under the all-inclusive unity and sovereignty of the Royal Crown: “Within this unity of the realm achieved by the Acts of Union there grew up the British Empire; and the unity of that Empire was equivalent to the unity of that realm. It was a unit because it had one Sovereign. There was one Sovereign; one realm. In the course of constitutional development, indeed, the Sovereign began to govern different parts of that realm upon the advice of different Ministers; but that in itself did not constitute a division of the realm. On the contrary, despite the fact that he or she ruled his or her Dominions on the advice of different Ministers, the unity of the whole was essentially preserved by the unity of the Crown and the one Kingdom.”

Interestingly, this emphatic view of unity under the Crown continued to be shared at the highest levels in Canada, even by a French-Canadian prime minister. Speaking on the Royal Titles Bill in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent was at pains to downplay the innovation of a nationally distinctive Crown by emphasising its absolute indivisibility with that of Great Britain: “Her Majesty is now Queen of Canada, but she is the Queen of Canada because she is Queen of the United Kingdom and because the people of Canada are happy to recognize as their Sovereign the person who is Sovereign of the United Kingdom. It is not a separate office … it is the Sovereign who is recognised as the Sovereign of the United Kingdom who is our Sovereign.”

Indeed, although the Crown’s divisibility came to be expressly recognised at this time through passage of separate Royal Style and Title Acts by each of the parliaments of the former dominions, it was widely assumed that the old Commonwealth would continue to flourish as a single community linked by mutual allegiance to the British sovereign. Politically independent but fraternally united, the Crown Commonwealth had evolved to retain a harmonious, even idealised state of existence, insofar as its globally scattered members could freely pursue and advance their national interests, yet loosely cohere as a like-minded geopolitical power.

Of course, all this hope and optimism of a united and nationally-trascendent monarchy and Crown Commonwealth came crashing down with the disastrously bungled Suez Crisis that divided the Commonwealth and sent each on their separate ways. But if you ask me what do I admire most about the euphoria and spirit of the "New Elizabethan Age," this would be it. Happy 60th Coronation.


Npinkpanther said...

This makes me wonder what it would have been like if the Commonwealth Realms had remained as closely associated as we were in 1953. Probably the republican movement in Australia, Canada, New Zealand would be a joke, and Britain would not be in the EU.

P said...

Dear Monarchist,

Thank you for sharing these thoughts in this very thought-provoking piece.

For me the great attraction of this blog is that it reports issues of monarchy very much within the spirt you describe.

My very best wishes,


Anonymous said...

Last Thursday I attended a screening of the 1953 film documentary "The Conquest of Everest" about the New Zealand Film Archive, here in Wellington (

The film opens with the glorius technicolour pagentry of the coronation, accompanied by the Royal Anthem. As the firt bars of the anthem sounded, every person in the theatre stood up from their seats as one.

Given that the audience ranged from 20-something hipsters to rather more venerable persons - I don't know this reaction was down to either sly irony or simple reflex, but juding by the subsequent looks and quiet whispers between the patrons, it did a great job of creating a feeling of solidarity between the audience.

Neil Welton (Leader, Monarchy Wales) said...

A superb definition of Britishness. A superb understanding of the understated spiritual signifiance of The Coronation too. Indeed, I couldn't put it better myself, old Beavers.

"The central concept underlying this shared Britishness was not national identity, but supranational allegiance."

When we sing The Royal Anthem and stand up from our seats as one - we simply give public expression and voice to our instinctive and shared allegiance. An allegiance, not only to The Queen, but to God and the wider Commonwealth Family too. Expressing our sense of loyalty and Britishness in a natural reflex of praise to Almighty God. A God and also a Queen who unite us. In a shared and unspoken understanding. The joy and delight we do feel in knowing that we are one.

The Monarchist said...

Many thanks gents for all your comments.

Anonymous said...

But then, how do you explain Robert Menzies throwing a fit and demanding that countries like India should not be allowed in the Commonwealth because that would "pollute the inner club of white dominions"?

The Monarchist said...

Menzies' antipathy to India was in reaction to their separation from the Crown fraternity, what he called "the dreadful stain of republicanism" and the loss of Commonwealth intimacy that such republican independence created. From that moment on, according to Menzies, they were out of the intimate club.

Others, of course, celebrated this anomaly as the boundless British genius for political governance and compromise, whose "incorrigible disposition to escape from a logical dilemma" succeeded in preventing India’s leaving the fraternity, while paradoxically preserving the independent republic’s symbolic association with the more intimate aspect of the Crown, namely the person of the monarch as "Head of the Commonwealth."

So the question for historians is, did India kill the fraternity, or was it dead in the long run anyways, given the divergences, upheavals and realignments of the 1960s and beyond?

Anonymous said...

Would you do me a favor and tell me what color the sky is in your world, kind sir? What "intimate club" are you talking about? Menzies seems to be pretty clear in his view: "WHITE club". India wasn't white, so he hated it. Its that simple.

Excuse me for laughing, but I find the idea of Menzies wishing for the fraternal love of his Indian "brothers" difficult to believe.

P said...

Dear Anonymous,

Regarding your first comment, The Monarchist is explaining his own view in the piece. He does not have to explain his view on someone else's opinion, but has very graciously done so!

While such statements as you put down in quotation wouldn't exist today in any country (every one of the Commonwealth Realms has a "multiracial" population...) in 1950, the year India became a republic, the situation was not so obvious.

Britain didn't have any "race laws" restricting non-whites. Australia had a white Australia policy and South Africa had just elected the national party. The view at the time held by Britain was that these countries were independent, but family, and that the situation on that level was a local matter. Menzies was supporting the position of his own government at the time and trying to defend what he thought was the national interest of Australia. It didn't work out that way in any case, which I guess you are pleased about.

The whole point is that this period was the extended transition of the Empire towards dominions and then towards Commonwealth membership. British India was split up into dominions because independence needed to be sorted quickly and this was a legal avenue that had been used before.

At the same time was the example of Ireland. On a technicality, Ireland was in some way related to the British crown throughout the war, but opted against joining in. Ireland became formally and unambiguously a republic in the late 40s and did not join the commonwealth (for whatever reason). However, Britain concluded an equivalence-of-citizenship treaty with Ireland that is still in force today. Was it feasible to give war-neutral Ireland special treatment while completely walking away from India, which had so recently raised the largest volonteer army of all time to defend the Raj?

I do not recognise that the situation was at all "simple". The Monarchist poses an intelligent question here for us to consider.


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Confessions of a Republican Leftie: "The Queen charmed the pants off me"
The King's Own Calgary Regiment: Cpl. Nathan Hornburg is laid to rest
The Royal Gurkha Rifles: Prince William grieves the death of Major Roberts
Queensland Mounted Rifles: Trooper David Pearce, 41, killed in Afghanistan
The Order of Canada: 100 investitures later, Canada's highest honour turns 40
Prince Edward on Prince Edward Island: Troop's link to monarchy important
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN: Unveils the UK Armed Forces Memorial
Great Britain: "A rotten borough with a banana monarchy" - by Europhile
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Remembering 'Smithy': An obituary tour de force by Andrew Cusack here, here and here.
NOT AMUSED: Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Quebec not invited to Quebec's tercentenary