The meaning of Christian monarchy

This week sees the sixtieth anniversary of the coronation of the Queen, in Westminster Abbey on June 2nd 1953. No-one who watched the archival footage this week can have missed the craggy figure of Michael Ramsey at her right hand side throughout the ceremony. My forthcoming book on Ramsey examines his view that there should be a greater distance between the state and the Church of England; a distance he helped to open up. However, this desire for greater independence for the Church could and did co-exist in Ramsey’s mind with a very positive view of the Christian nature of the monarchy.

banlon1964 Flickr CC by-nc-nd 2 0
Ramsey at the Queen’s right hand. CC image from Flickr, by banlon1964

According to ancient privilege, Ramsey was entitled to attend the new Queen at her coronation as Bishop of Durham, along with the Bishop of Bath and Wells. Ramsey preached two days before, an address reproduced in his Durham Essays and Addresses, now rather rare. He spoke of a ‘happy nation’, united despite differences of class and wealth, with the ‘happiness of a people who know we have a great treasure; and the treasure is the Monarch whose subjects we are.’ On the occasion of the birth of Prince Edward in 1964 Ramsey spoke in similar and wholly conventional terms of the exemplary royal family which was ‘around the throne a Christian family united, happy and setting to all an example of what the words “home and family” most truly meant.’

But the authority of monarchy had its own obligations. In Christ’s washing of the disciples’ feet, he had shown the meaning of a ‘royalty of selfless service’; a Christian monarchy should derive its tone from ‘Christ’s own union of the ruler of all and the servant of all.’ The monarch not only had a duty to her people, but also to God. The coronation service was to feature the newly crowned queen, in all the regalia of sovereignty, kneeling to receive communion ‘just where any Christian man or woman or child might kneel […] She knows that to the Crucified King Jesus all monarchies are subject, and by him they all are judged.’ Anglican loyalty to the Church of England’s Supreme Governor was based on mutual obligation between monarch, nation and subject.

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