On May 6, 2023, Charles Philip Arthur George Windsor will be crowned king of the United Kingdom. The coronation of Charles, a much more controversial figure than his widely admired mother, Elizabeth II, has reinvigorated the public debate in Britain over the continued existence of the monarchy.
Britain has been a monarchy for almost its entire history. Aside from the 1649–1660 Commonwealth, dictatorially ruled by “Lord Protector” Oliver Cromwell, all various nations that have existed on the island of Britain since the end of Roman rule in 410 have been monarchies.
Many of Britain’s monarchs were unabashed tyrants and readily squandered the lives of ordinary Brits in pursuit of power. More than one hundred thousand people died in the War of the Roses, a battle for the English throne between Richard of York and Henry of Lancaster. Henry’s son Henry VIII seized control of Britain’s Catholic churches and appointed himself “Supreme Head of the Church of England,” which he created. Five hundred years after his reign, British monarchs still serve as head of that church. Although Elizabeth I oversaw a period of growth and stability following Henry VIII’s turbulent reign, she is remembered for her penchant for executing her opponents, including 750 Catholic rebels who opposed her rule. George III is justly reviled in the United States for his efforts to control and extract wealth from the American colonies, and he’s remembered in Britain for his descent into outright madness.
Despite (or perhaps thanks to) this bloody legacy of despotism at the hands of hereditary ruling families, Britain was also the birthplace of the modern ideas of liberty, limited government, and inalienable individual rights. The Magna Carta, forced on King John by noblemen who were fed up with his abuse of power, established the principle of legal limits on the monarch’s power and pioneered constitutional government in the modern world. The British Bill of Rights established the first legal protections for citizens’ rights in Britain and was a major influence on the American Bill of Rights that followed a century later. Some of the greatest minds that inspired the American Revolution, such as John Locke and Thomas Paine, came from Britain—and British colonies, on rebelling, decided to found the world’s first (and, to date, only) nation based on the principle of inalienable individual rights. This principle is essential to defending freedom. Without it, kings, governments, and every form of despot imaginable can trample anyone’s life and liberty. . . .
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1. “A Lifetime of Service to the Nation,” The Telegraph, September 8, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2022/09/08/lifetime-service-nation.
2. Sorcha Bradley, “Pros and Cons of the Monarchy,” The Week, February 7, 2023, https://www.theweek.co.uk/royal-family/957673/pros-and-cons-of-the-monarchy.
3. “The Prince’s Charities,” Prince of Wales, September 26, 2010, https://web.archive.org/web/20100926171824/http://princeofwales.gov.uk/personalprofiles/theprinceofwales/atwork/theprincescharities (archived by WebArchive);
“Poundbury,” Duchy of Cornwall, https://poundbury.co.uk (accessed April 30, 2023);
Tom Ward, “What Charles the ‘Activist King’ Means for the Climate,” Wired, September 14, 2022, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/king-charles-iii-climate-environmental-activist.
4. Ayn Rand, “Man’s Rights,” The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1964), 113.
5. Eir Nolsoe, “Young Britons Are Turning Their Backs on the Monarchy,” YouGov, May 21, 2021, https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2021/05/21/young-britons-are-turning-their-backs-monarchy;
Amelia Hill, “British Public Support for Monarchy at Historic Low, Poll Reveals,” The Guardian, April 28, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/apr/28/public-support-monarchy-historic-low-poll-reveals.