Bizarre and Uninformed American Views on Monarchy


This is what Americans like Conor Friedersdorf have in mind when they write erroneous opinion pieces on the Royal House of Windsor

In general, I really wish that Americans would stop commenting altogether on the Royal House of Windsor, especially after the demise of Crown and the death of Her Late Majesty Elizabeth II of happy memory. Americans lost their standing and legitimacy to opine on any of these matters when they rebelled in the 1770s and should stop clumsily grafting their particular American narratives onto a system which they neither appreciate nor understand and which their ancestors expressly rejected. Americans obsess over the Royal House of Windsor – but only in a superficial, banal, and vulgar way. Our Royal Family satisfies their worship of celebrity and their gargantuan appetite for Disney-like kitsch. They see the Windsors as mere celebrities for their amusement and as objects of condescending comments about how “quaint” England looks.

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic added his ignora nce to the chorus a few days ago with “Britain’s new monarch should retire at 75”. This absurd tract depends upon this false analogy of grafting a uniquely American problem with gerontocratic political leaders onto the United Kingdom – and all the Commonwealths Realms like Canada, which of course didn’t figure into his ravings here – even though they do not apply to us. Once more, an American commentator treats America’s particularisms as if they applied to the whole world universally.

“But a more consequential use of Charles’s reign would be to rule briefly and abdicate at 75––the age when British judges are compelled to retire from the bench––while touting the importance of passing the throne to Prince William in his son’s prime rather than his dotage.

King Charles III ought to issue a royal proclamation underscoring that this approach is a royal rebuke to the international trend toward gerontocracy, whereby leaders delay handing off power to the next generation long past what serves the public good.”

First, Charles III is not merely “Britain’s” new monarch but the new King of a personal union of 15 Crowns and thus the head of state of 15 independent countries.

Second, our Sovereigns generally serve for life and do not abdicate lightly, unlike the plethora of Continental European Kings and Queens who abdicated in the 2010s, such as Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 2013, Albert II, King of the Belgians in July 2013, and Juan Carlos of Spain in June 2014. Continental European monarchs like the King of the Belgians also only go through a mere “investiture” before Parliament, which gives the succession to the throne legal force. But our Commonwealth Sovereign ascend to the throne automatically upon a demise of the Crown, and the coronation affirms the succession as a sacrament or rite of the Church. The last and only time that Commonwealth King caused a demise of the Crown without dying in 1936 caused what we call the “Abdication Crisis.”

The only precedent of Edward VIII’s abdication from 1936 suggests that the “royal proclamation” that Friedersdorf advocates would not suffice to effect a demise of the Crown and ensure the ascension of the Prince of Wales to the throne of 15 Realms. Edward VIII’s Instrument of Abdication also acknowledges parliament’s authority, stating “I […] declare […] My desire that effect be given to this Instrument of Abdication immediately.” The Imperial Parliament had to enact His Majesty’s Declaration of Abdication Act to give legal force to Edward VIII’s Instrument of Abdication, contained in the schedule of this statute, and to cause the Crown to demise to the Duke of York, who ascended to the throne of 6 Commonwealth Realms – the United Kingdom, the Irish Free State, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa – as George VI. This imperial statute applied not only to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but also to the laws of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The 14 other Commonwealth Realms of which Charles III is King (Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St. Christopher and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu) would need to coordinate their own legislation or constitutional amendments to give effect to an abdication of their own Crowns and keep the personal union intact.

His Majesty made a solemn vow in his first speech as King Charles III last week that he would continue for as long as God grants him, not for two years so that he could implement Conor Friedersdorf’s daft opinion. Abdication would amount to dishonour and would make a liar out of His Majesty.

Third, the Sovereign of the Commonwealth Realms usually undergoes the sacrament of coronation 12 to 18 months after his automatic accession to the throne upon the demise of the Crown, which would mean in this case that Charles III would abdicate under the Friedersdorf Plan about one year after going through with an expensive ceremony and that William V would likewise undergo his coronation a year or so later, wasting more time and money still, and making a mockery of the whole thing. Friedersdorf also pays no mind to the new Prince and Princess of Wales, who are still bringing up their three young children; Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis would be much better off if they finish growing up under the reign of their grandfather.

Fourth and finally, Friedersdorf foolishly treats the gerontocracy that runs the House of Representatives, Senate, and the White House as a universal problem equally afflicting all other countries. This is false. And even if it were true, the direct and legitimate comparison between old American congressmen and old American presidents would be to the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, and MPs of the Commonwealth Realms – not to Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, nor to His Majesty Charles III. If Friedersdorf had bothered to devote even cursory research to this question before desperately making his filing deadline on this cursory column, he would have found that British politicians are by and large Gen Xers 30 younger than America’s geriatric political leadership. The same goes for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and probably most of the other Realms. In fact, Elizabeth II in one of her last constitutional duties as Queen of the United Kingdom appointed Liz Truss as her 15th Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on 6 September 2022. Truss is only 47 years old. Here are the ages of other prominent ministers whom Truss nominated earlier this month:

  • Kwasi Kwarteng, Chancellor: 47
  • James Cleverly, Foreign Secretary: 53
  • Suella Braverman, Home Secretary, 42
  • Brandon Lewis, Lord Chancellor, 51
  • Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary, 52

Canada’s 29th Ministry under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also consists primarily of Gen Xers and even some old Millennials:

  • Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister: 50
  • Chrystia Freeland, Finance Minister: 54
  • Melanie Joly, Foreign Minister: 43
  • David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General: 60
  • Anita Anand, Defence Minister: 55

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, is only 42 and was in her 30s when the Governor General of New Zealand first appointed her to the office. Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is 59. None of these ministers comes close to the octogenarians Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Mitch McConnell. Frankly, what the bloody hell is Friedersdorf going on about? He strikes me as the sort of chap who clung more tightly to his boxed set of The West Wing in November 2016 and who didn’t bat an eye when Aaron Sorkin deployed erroneous non-existent forms of reference like “Her Royal Majesty Elizabeth Windsor.”

Friedersdorf makes the name mistake as most half-educated Americans in his class of presuming that the United States of America serves as the norm or default for the rest of the world and that therefore all other countries must suffer similar problems as America suffers. But on this question of elderly political leaders, the data prove him wrong. (I went into great detail on this subject in Gerontocracy in the United States vs the Rise of Generation X in Canada last year, if you want to read about it in depth). A gerontocratic political establishment is a very peculiar American problem, not a universal trend across the countries in the OECD. Constitutional monarchies like ours and parliamentary republics like Germany and Ireland by definition do not suffer from prime ministers and cabinet ministers who cling to office into their 70s and 80s.

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About J.W.J. Bowden

My area of academic expertise lies in Canadian political institutions, especially the Crown, political executive, and conventions of Responsible Government; since 2011, I have made a valuable contribution to the scholarship by having been published and cited extensively. I’m also a contributing editor to the Dorchester Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law.
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4 Responses to Bizarre and Uninformed American Views on Monarchy

  1. Andrew Morgan says:

    At his accession, Charles III had to swear the following oath”I [monarch’s name] do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess, testify and declare that I am a faithful Protestant, and that I will, according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the Throne of my Realm, uphold and maintain the said enactments to the best of my powers according to law.”

    How in the world is that acceptable? The King of Canada, a country with no established religion and that recognizes freedom of religion, and a country in which more than 30% of the population is Catholic?

    How, moreover, is it acceptable to have as part of our constitutional arrangement rules of succession that explicitly discriminate against Catholics?

    A Canadian monarchist may dismiss this as a lie and argue those rules only apply to the sovereign of the UK and that Canada has no such restrictions. That of course would be nonsense, not only because the preamble of the Constitution Act 1867, as well as more recent court rulings recognizing the “symmetry” between our crown and the British crown, explicitly mean that the determinant of who occupies the Canadian throne is simply who is the occupant of the British throne (and in the O’Donohue case, the court found that the Act of Settlement is a part of the Canadian constitution).

    So how can the King or Queen be an embodiment of Canada and Canadian values when he can only become King by passing a religious test and when the rules governing the succession are explicitly discriminatory on the basis of religion? Yet, we are powerless to change this until and unless the British decide it is time to separate the crown from the Church of England. You may see no problem with this but frankly, the situation is abominable.

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  2. Ronald A. McCallum says:

    James,

    I am a little surprised that you didn’t mention in your paragraph about the abdication crisis that the Parliament of Canada had enacted the Succession to the Throne Act 1937 when it first met in 1937. Especially, that you have it filed on your own website:

    Click to access succession-to-the-throne-act-1937.pdf

    Also, a discussion on the Perth Agreement 2011 and the various Acts of Parliament might have been included on the discussion of the modern day Personal Union of fifteen Crowns of the Commonwealth Realms.

    Ronald A. McCallum

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  3. John G says:

    “Friedersdorf makes the name mistake as most half-educated Americans in his class of presuming that the United States of America serves as the norm or default for the rest of the world and that therefore all other countries must suffer similar problems as America suffers.” 🔥🔥🔥

    Like

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