I believe that Charles, who is a keen student of royal history, could learn lessons from his predecessor Charles II in particular and I will show how. I am also certain that his reign will not be peaceable.
It’s hard to be certain how exactly he will reign, but already, and without trying, King Charles III could be involved in a real constitutional crisis in which his place as head of the Church of England might be called into question.
A Rangers-supporting Protestant friend of mine was amazed and not a little aghast at the Order of Service for the coronation – “why so many references to Protestants, and isn’t he supposed to be defender of all the faiths, because that’s what he said himself?” was the gist of her remarks.
It’s worth remembering what was said during the service. The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England and Metropolitan, administered the oaths: “Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline and government thereof, as by law established in England?
“And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?”
The King replied: “All this I promise to do.”
There followed the statutory Accession Declaration oath: “I, Charles, 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, uphold and maintain the said enactments to the best of my powers according to law.”
Charles thus became king and head of the Church of England but only three days later Archbishop Welby got to his feet in the House of Lords and slated the Tory government’s highly controversial Illegal Migration Bill.
He described the proposed law as isolationist and added: “It is morally unacceptable and politically impractical to let the poorest countries deal with it alone and cut our international aid.
“This is an attempt at a short-term fix. It risks great damage to the UK’s interests and reputation at home and abroad, let alone the interests of those in need of protection or the nations who together face this challenge.”
Morally unacceptable – wow. I heard the voice of history resonate in the archbishop’s words, all the way back to his most famous predecessor, Thomas à Becket, who challenged King Henry II and paid for it with his life. I don’t think the Tories are planning to scramble Welby’s brains as Henry’s knights did to Becket, but the vicious backlash against him for daring to stand up for morality just shows how depraved the Tory right has become.
His stance presents the new king with a real challenge. Presuming the legislation makes it through Parliament without changes – and that’s the Tory intention – Charles III will then have to sign it into law as a bill only becomes an act with the king’s signature. Yet as head of the Church of England, he knows that the clerical leader of his church has decreed the legislation to be “morally unacceptable”.
What does the king then do? Make a law that is “morally unacceptable” or refuse to sign and provoke a constitutional crisis as bad as the abdication of his great uncle, Edward VIII, in 1936 which was partly brought about by Cosmo Lang, the Aberdeenshire-born Archbishop of Canterbury?
I expect there will be amendments to the bill, enough to allow the king and the archbishop to save face. But if not, then there will be a crisis.
King Charles III would do well to heed the actions of King Charles II when he tangled with issues of religion and morality. Forget that he was a womaniser and adulterer of prodigious stature and lived a debauched lifestyle that earned him the nickname the Merry Monarch and look at Charles Stuart’s extraordinary ability to steer a meandering course throughout his reign that enabled him to preserve his kingship at the same time as siring 14 illegitimate children.
We know that Charles II was raised as an Anglican and that he did deals with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland to preserve its version of Protestantism as the state faith of Scotland but he promised England that there would be greater toleration of non-conformism and Catholicism. He also promised to extend Presbyterianism and Puritanism if he became king, but as head of the Church of England from 1660 onwards, he promoted Anglicanism above all and was very careful in everything he said about religious matters.
Yet all the time from his exile on the continent in the 1650s, right through to his death in 1685, Charles was playing a dangerous double game. For he continued to have Catholic friends and married a Catholic, the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. He at first allowed his brother James, Duke of York, to practise his Catholic faith after he converted, but later had to send him abroad.
Charles was very pragmatic and was happy to go along with what Parliament said as long as they voted him money, but anti-Catholic feeling as shown in such events as the Titus Oates plot proved devastating to him and his family.
The last king to be crowned in Scotland beat all his Protestant opponents, however, converting to Catholicism on his death bed.