Will the Duke of Cambridge ever be crowned King?
There is a certain irony that as the Government prepares to abolish hereditary peers of the realm, the Queen bestows a dukedom – the highest rank in the British peerage – upon Prince William. Such honorifics are, of course, the traditional gift of the Monarch to his or her direct descendents, especially on the occasion of their wedding. Prince Charles, the Queen’s firstborn and immediate Heir to the Throne, was gifted the Principality of Wales (which is quite a sizeable chunk of the UK); Prince Andrew got York (a pretty city with lots of history); Prince Edward got Wessex (a fairytale place most recently made popular by Thomas Hardy); Princess Anne simply became the Princess Royal (no territorial title at all). There’s probably a discrimination and equality issue there for Nick Clegg to sort out when he’s managed to get a first-born female Roman Catholic on the Throne.
Prince William of Wales is now also Duke of Cambridge, the Earl of Strathearn and Baron Carrickfergus. It is a truly United Kingdom conferral, combining his Welsh princedom with an English Dukedom, a Scottish earldom and an Irish Viscountcy. King William V (DV) will be a truly Unionist monarch.
The title is an interesting choice at the present time, not least because of its Stuart inception. Having rejected all proposals to reform the Act of Settlement 1701, Her Majesty appears to be engaged in a little bridge-building with those of her Roman Catholic subjects who are irritated or outraged by this bigotry (which is closer to about 34 than the oft-quoted five million, and 15 of those probably work at The Daily Telegraph).
The Dukedom of Cambridge is not a peerage with a happy heritage: it was first conferred in 1664 when the Roman Catholic James Stuart was granted the title (as distinct from the Earldom). He died at the age of four. The title was then conferred upon Edgar Stuart, but he died at the age of three in 1671. Charles Stuart was styled Duke of Cambridge at his birth in 1677, but he died at just a month old.
The Dukedom then passed to the Protestant Hanovers. In 1714 George I became the first monarch to accede to the British throne as a direct consequence of the Act of Settlement: some 56 Roman Catholics bore closer blood ties to the deceased Queen Anne, but the Act demanded the nearest blood-related Protestant descendent of Sophia. This was long before the days when royalty changed their religion in order keep their place in the royal line of succession. Tory-minded Jacobites famously attempted to depose King George I and replace him with the Catholic James Stuart, but Whig ascendancy ensured their failure. This Duke of Cambridge spoke little English and was considered ‘dull and awkward’.
When George II ascended the throne in 1727, he was already Duke of Cambridge. He had numerous family problems and contended all his life with domestic tensions and foreign conflict. The title was next given to Prince Adolphus, the seventh son of George III, in 1801. His son was the last Duke and (like Prince William) married a commoner for love. However, the union was never recognised by the Sovereign. The title became extinct in 1904 owing to the lack of an heir. Cambridge reappeared as a Marquessate 1917 and then became extinct in 1981, again owing to no issue.
As the country now has a new Duke of Cambridge (with a most appreciable Duchess), one has to wonder if this one will fare any happier than his predecessors. With every political party now committed to the establishment of a ‘modern democracy’, it is evident, as David Cameron has said, that ‘those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom those laws apply’. He would doubtless say of the Monarchy, as he said of the House of Lords, that the institution has ‘served the country with distinction’ and ‘performs its work well but lacks sufficient democratic authority’. It is hard to see the argument for an hereditary head of state if the principle upon which it is founded is antithetical to that which is important in a ‘modern democracy’. The present Queen has been exemplary, and her personal popularity has sustained the Monarchy through an era of considerable social revolution. But Charles, as King George VII with Queen Camilla at his side, is likely to diminish respect for the institution, especially if he persists with his demand to be ‘Defender of Faith’ and continues to meddle in political contentions.
Regicide is, of course, nothing new to the English, though doubtless in the 21st century it would be done with a little more compassion than it was in 1649. Whether the Duke of Cambridge is King in 2149 remains to be seen. But it is not likely if even the Conservative Party is no longer prepared to make the case for the principle of heredity. Like the Israelites, the British people may ask for a king, but the reverential era of the ‘great and the good’ is fading; a spirit of political revolution is stirring. As Charles I was executed, Milton wrote The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, in which he observed that a Christian king is the servant of the people: ‘But a king will either be no Christian at all, or will be the slave of all. If he clearly wants to be master, he cannot at the same time be Christian.’ King and governors are appointed by God to punish wrong-doers and praise those who act well, which is the will of God. Since monarchy and government are human institutions, both are corruptible, and if they should become destructive it is for ‘free men’ (1Pet 2:16) to remove what is bad and appoint what is good and advantageous for society.
Disraeli said: ‘I am a Conservative to preserve all that is good in our constitution, a Radical to remove all that is bad. I seek to preserve property and to respect order, and I equally decry the appeal to the passions of the many or the prejudices of the few.’
If hereditary peers have really ‘served the country with distinction’ and the House of Lords has truly ‘performed its work well’, is it not the task and constitutional raison d’être of the Conservative Party to contend for the hereditary principle because it is seen to be good? If they will not, it is not likely, come the 500th anniversary of the execution of Charles I in 2049, that we will still possess an hereditary Monarchy with constitutional power and political authority. And Prince William will be but another unhappy Duke of Cambridge in a long line of ill-fated royals to have held that title.