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A good death

Our ancestors, wiser than we, were not shocked by the idea of praying for a good death for oneself or others. Queen Elizabeth II’s health is clearly failing. I pray that she will have a good death, whenever it comes.

Nobody, least of all a libertarian, would invent the idea of monarchy if designing the world from scratch. But we do not design the world, we inherit it. Constitutional monarchy is like one of those very old houses which started to fall down centuries ago but somehow settled into an unexpectedly beautiful state of wonky stability. Elizabeth has been a very good constitutional monarch.

Update: She has died. May she rest in peace.

55 comments to A good death

  • Fraser Orr

    I am an atheist and a republican, however I have a deep affection for the queen. She is the epitome of dedication to duty, and the distillation of “British”. When I think of her I think of my parents, ardent royalists, and somehow they occupy the same space in my mind: a throwback to a greater generation than today’s ridiculous narcissists, including all three of her sons, plonkers to the last man.

    And so this atheist republican says with all sincerity “God save the Queen”, and with equal passion “God save us from King Charles III”.

  • Deep Lurker

    Looking upon this from a safe distance:

    The trouble with wishing for a good death is in keeping it clear of the temptation to hasten or arrange that good death. I’ve heard… stories about the death of your King George V.

    Monarchies seem oddly popular when speculative fiction authors do world-building, and not just for medievaloid fanatsy, either. Maybe it should be “Nobody would invent the idea of monarchy if they then had to live in one as a commoner.”

    And as a half-baked idea, (launched, I emphasize, from a safe distance) maybe the UK needs a “reverse Salic” law limiting the monarchy to women.

  • I think you put it nicely. HM QEII has done well a job that shouldn’t exist and which she didn’t choose. I am instinctively anti-monarchy, for all the reasons my namesake wrote about plus one. It’s the very opposite of “the American Dream”. Your first political thought as an infant Brit is likely to be that you have the wrong parents to be head of state. That’s not empowering or engaging. It’s a point I rarely bother to make though. It’s a popular institution and very unlikely to change in my lifetime so really not worth wasting time on. I did once decline an invitation to the Queen’s Birthday celebration at our Embassy in the country where I then lived, saying I was a republican. I subsequently found out that had been misunderstood by the embassy’s spooks (republican being such a rare concept in England) as meaning I was an IRA supporter! I hope that Charles makes so thorough a mess of it that the institution is finally abolished, though I fear what expensive farrago will replace it. As for Her Majesty herself, however, my respect for her is total and as far as I am concerned she can pass with a clear conscience and a nation’s thanks when her time comes.

  • Alex

    And as a half-baked idea, (launched, I emphasize, from a safe distance) maybe the UK needs a “reverse Salic” law limiting the monarchy to women.

    I think we’re not quite ready for a 7 year old queen (Princess Charlotte would be first in succession if your “half-baked idea” was implemented immediately). The UK’s queens have been pretty generally solid: Elizabeth I, Anne, Victoria and Elizabeth II all spring to mind as good queens, but I think it is a bit premature to conclude that all female monarchs are naturally good. Mary Tudor is a troubling counterpoint, I think.

    I subsequently found out that had been misunderstood by the embassy’s spooks (republican being such a rare concept in England) as meaning I was an IRA supporter!

    Astonishing. I would have thought they would have understood the term as it properly means, the spook in question evidently had a one track mind. Republicanism (in the original sense) is not that rare in the UK.

  • I like the Queen. I do not like the Prince of Wales. I do not like the President of the United States and like the Vice President and the Speaker of the House even less.

    It doesn’t matter what kind of government you have. Sometimes succession can be a bastard. (Literally, in the case of Harold Godwinsson!)

  • Patrick Crozier

    The Good Death. Not too much pain. Long enough to say goodbye. Short enough not to be a burden.

  • William H. Stoddard

    I don’t think that monarchy is inherently any less libertarian than democracy. Good government is government that exercises its powers as a trust on behalf of the people, in a way that safeguards their liberties. Monarchs of course can abuse that trust. But democracies are just as capable of doing so. A majority can vote to abuse black people, or Jews, or homosexuals, or atheists, or the rich, or any other unpopular group. The divine right of kings and vox populi vox dei are obverse and reverse of the same coin.

  • Jim

    I don’t think anyone could look at the governance of the West over the last 100 years and conclude that what we need is ‘more democracy’.

    Personally I’d be quite happy with a hereditary House of Lords and Monarch to rule me, they couldn’t be any worse than the shower we get via voting.

  • Fraser Orr

    Personally I’d be quite happy with a hereditary House of Lords and Monarch to rule me, they couldn’t be any worse than the shower we get via voting.

    Would you be happy if that monarch was King Charles III? Monarchy today is benign because it is impotent. History does not favor your approach. The history of British kings is focused on four things: going to war, raising taxes to pay for their wars, killing and torturing people for being the wrong religion and raising massive armies to fight over who gets to succeed to the throne. It is also filled with the gradual concession of civil rights by a reluctant king, at the point of a sword. (I say king, but in truth the ladies were often worse than the men.)

  • Martin

    Would you be happy if that monarch was King Charles III?

    Yes. Because it would be better than the fiasco of a presidential system that would be set up under a republic. Given the British media and political class’ obsession with the USA, if we were to have a president it would most likely be on the US (or French) model. And I think it’s pretty likely the left-wing oriented elite will rig the model to favour leftist/centrist candidates.

    , killing and torturing people for being the wrong religion and raising massive armies to fight over who gets to succeed to the throne. It is also filled with the gradual concession of civil rights by a reluctant king, at the point of a sword.

    Plenty of republics, democratic or otherwise, have done the same and much worse.Even looking just at Britain, our sole republican ruler was one of the cruellest, wicked and tyrannical individuals in our history.

  • Like her husband, she had courage and a sense pf humour and the courage to time her humour.

    “But you’re expendable!

    Said by her majesty to ex-Prime Minister Heath at the start of the 1990s while he was pompously lecturing the US Secretary of State that he should have gone to Iraq and sweet-talked (crawled to) Saddam to release the hostages as he (Heath) had done. You’d have to see it to see how perfectly-timed it was. It was said with a very merry smile and tone that gentled the sting – but not for a man as vain as Heath.

  • William H. Stoddard

    She had a good run, and she seems to have had a mercifully brief final illness. And we can say of her what was said of Joshua Norton, that few in her occupation have done so little harm. I don’t think her descendants will live up to her.

  • Steven R

    I think the idea is a hereditary House of Lords would evaluate the issues at hand and act as a brake on the House of Commons which represents that passions of the people, not terribly unlike how the Senate represented the states’ voices and would act as a brake given that the states would be expected to do the heavy lifting in the absence of a overmighty Federal government, while the passions of the people were voiced in the House of Representatives (why taxes are required to be introduced first in the House so the people can’t complain that they were just dumped on us).

    Naturally, having a brake on the demands of the people was not popular in the 20th century, on either side of the Pond, and had to go.

  • DP

    The Queen is dead.

    Long live the King.

  • Steven R

    It’s funny to think if only Edward VIII hadn’t cast his gaze on an American divorcee’, Elizabeth would be nothing more than a distaff member of the royal family.

    If only Edward VI had lived past 16.

    If only Pope Clement VII had said “sure, get a divorce, what do I care?”

    If only William had said, “I’m not going to England, I have enough on my plate here in Normandy as it is.”

    If only…

  • Johnathan Pearce

    May the good lady rest in peace. And she was a very good woman indeed. As NS said, if I were designing a country from scratch, I would not have a monarchy, but our constitutional monarchy is, with all its flaws, no worse than the plausible alternatives, and in a way is apolitical and well suited, ironically, to these volatile times.

    I am sure that once her husband, Prince Philip died, that she was terribly alone and it would not be long before she joined him. I am not a religious person, but I like to think that they are reunited somewhere on some nice hilly place with lots of horses, and he is making her giggle with his wonderfully naughty jokes.


  • Fraser Orr

    I thought it was interesting to compare our prime ministers and how they announce the death of a monarch:

    Churchill: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xMK7LEAG4I
    Truss: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4PNcM6KyS8&t=27s

    I think the comparison speaks about a lot more than the two people. It speaks a great deal to how different Britain is, what it values, what it respects. Comparing Churchill’s passionate and heartfelt “prayer and anthem: God save the Queen” with Truss’s rather perfunctory, hesitant and apologetic “God save the King” says a great deal. Both about the fact that Elizabeth was unknown, cherished new and fresh, and Charles well known, disliked, old and old news. And I suppose it is relevant to point out that Truss, being a woman, speaks greatly to the opening up of society.

    And surely the comparison between our last Queen, Victoria, and her recalcitrant son Edward VII, with the present transition, makes us think that Charles III will be as little remembered by history as Edward VII was. And that hope rests in his successor, much as the great George V, we must rather look to William V.

  • It’s funny to think if only … (Steven R, September 8, 2022 at 6:55 pm)

    As regards George VI and Queen Eizabeth the Queen Mother (Buffy), not Edward VIII and Wallis, being king in the run-up-to and during WWII, it could be suggested that God was on the job as regards appointing the right monarch and dodging the wrong one.

    As regards some of Steven’s earlier examples, it could be suggested that God moved in a mysterious way, His constitutional wonders to (in time) perform. Of course, libertarians are apt to think humans better at seeing what works in retrospect than at planning it beforehand; maybe the almighty agrees.

    Monarchy is very much the kind of constitutional government a polity may start with. It is easy to understand, natural as regards the feelings of the monarch about succession, and in history, from Imperial Rome to the Napoleonic Wars, monarchy has held the loyalty of soldiers better than “the rule of pleaders” (Burke). England, and then the UK, grew a system of balanced powers and mild government out of monarchy by much history, some of it funny to think back on. 🙂

  • Steven R

    Fraser pointed out just how different the world of 1952 was with the world of 2022. It was only a few years removed from when Britons were expected to keep a stiff upper lip while the Blitz rained bombs on them, when poetry and oratory were still admired as art forms, when death from war, disease, accident were simply accepted as part of life. Now, our hearts are worn on our sleeves and anything that offends our sensibilities is to be cancelled, where Cardi B sings paeans to her WAP, and where death is hidden away as much as possible. The world when Elizabeth became queen still saw the last vestiges of the Edwardian Age, and when she died a world that had to be as alien to her as it is to so may of us.

    Society has coarsened in so many ways.

  • Lee Moore

    Since I am in the Antipodes at present, Queenie died during the night, and so I heard the news when I woke up. And lying in bed waiting for the carcass to fire up for the day’s action, I mentally compiled the list of British Prime Ministers up with whom she had to put, and arranged them in pairs – first and last, second and second last etc. Coming up with some interesting pairings :

    1. Churchill and Truss
    2. Eden and Johnson
    3. McMillan and May
    4. Douglas-Home and Cameron
    5. Heath and Brown
    6. Wilson and Blair
    7. Callaghan and Major
    8. Thatcher

    Since Wilson came in two parts I had to decide whether to put him before or after Heath, and so obviously I cheated and went with Wilson Part II, pairing him with Blair, which is very apt – both very successful at politics, good salesmen and effective advancers of the programme to abolish traditional Britain.

    Heath and Brown make a delightful pair of misanthropic sulkers who failed miserably, despite having plenty of brains. And Eden and Johnson fit well as men of obvious ability who never lived up to it.

    The most obvious misses are 3 and 4, where McMillan is really a natural fit with Cameron, successful pols not rooted in any kind of convictions, who both departed early for no apparent reason, and were happy to preside over decline. And May and Douglas-Home would also fit together well, for their brief tenures and general haplessness.

    Thatcher standing alone fits well too, though we will, er, have to see if Liz Truss can live up to her pairing ☺

  • Bobby b

    There is something appealing about a ruler, a monarch, who did not claw her way to rule through ambition and scheming. It’s the anti politician.

  • Skeptical Antagonist

    We have had Elizabethan, Victorian, Georgian and Edwardian; can someone help reduce my ignorance and tell me what the adjective/noun is for a reign of a Charles?

  • Alex

    For Skeptical Antagonist: amusingly it’s “Caroline”, although “Carolean” was used for the regnal era of Charles II. This will either be the second Caroline or second Carolean.

  • Skeptical Antagonist

    Thanks, guys – not something I would have guessed myself.

  • Alex

    It isn’t, that form is malformed and only used for the dynasty that included Charlemagne. Come on guys, you’re all public schoolboys aren’t you, where’s your Latin? The “ing” in Carolingian is a Germanic patronymic, not Latin, and was used for the descendants of Charles Martel (Karolings).

  • Kevin Jaeger

    As Her Majesty was also the Queen of Canada, allow me to pass on the deepest respect and condolences from the colonies. It is hard to imagine we will ever have a more dignified monarch than we have enjoyed these last decades. May she Rest In Peace.

  • Steven R

    Jacobean Era, Caroline Era, Commonwealth (or Interregnum) Era, Second Caroline Era, Second Jacobean Era was how I was taught in a Tudor and Stuart England class a million years ago.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    Caroline? Sweet!
    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  • Mr Ed

    I like to think that the Queen kept death at bay by willing herself to live for a special event, I have read claims that oldies sometimes peg out just after, say, a grandchild’s wedding: so here, she held on just long enough to see Johnson’s fat arse go out the door for the last time.

  • I beg to doubt that, Mr Ed. (BTW, it is worth recalling that Her Majesty, it was generally believed, was pro-Brexit, so she may have had a range of opinions as wide as ours towards Boris’ various involvements in politics.) I note that Boris’ commemoration of her was very well-phrased indeed.

    The Queen’s mother lived to be 102, in part because she could take the last few years of her life fairly easy. That the Queen never stopped working is sufficient explanation of why she died six years earlier.

  • Comparing Churchill’s passionate and heartfelt “prayer and anthem: God save the Queen” with Truss’s rather perfunctory, hesitant and apologetic “God save the King” says a great deal. (Fraser Orr, September 8, 2022 at 7:30 pm)

    Actually, I think – especially when you also consider Boris well-phrased contribution – it only means that, while none of Queen Elizabeth’s later PM’s compares with Churchill, her second-last prime minister had at least a trace of Churchill’s speaking skills (and plenty of time to reflect that Queen Eizabeth’s death could happen on his watch) whereas her very last, as had already been remarked, does not shine at speaking so any trace of Churchill in her must be hoped for in deeds, not words.

    Much has indeed happened since 1952 but I’m dubious that Truss being stilted speaks much to the times.

    as little remembered by history as Edward VII was

    Just for the record, his visit to France to prepare the ground for the entente cordiale was a diplomatic triumph. None of his officials wanted him to go and the French crowd that met him were chanting ‘Vive les Boers’ and Vive fashoda’ – yet by the end the crowd was chanting ‘Vive Notre Roi’. His turning round of public opinion was quite something, and it had its role in directing 20th century history. The key to his achievement was that (partly in quiet rebellion to his germanic mother and father), Edward liked the French, and had the ability to convey that to the crowd. This is indeed utterly forgotten in ‘1066 and all that’ history, but little forgotten things can sometimes point us towards big remembered things.

  • It isn’t, that form is malformed and only used for the dynasty that included Charlemagne. Come on guys, you’re all public schoolboys aren’t you, where’s your Latin?

    Why do I need to address a table?

  • NickM

    Wasn’t Edward VII fluent in French and spoke to the French in French? I suspect that went down well.

  • Fraser Orr

    Niall Kilmartin
    Much has indeed happened since 1952 but I’m dubious that Truss being stilted speaks much to the times.

    My concern wasn’t really the rhetorical excellence but rather it was this: EVERYONE rejoiced that Elizabeth was to be queen, nobody rejoices that Charles will be king. Certainly most accept that it is inevitable, but who relishes the third Carolingian age the way they relished the second Elizabethan age?

  • Paul Marks

    Thomas Paine (not to be confused with the Tom Paine above) said “hereditary legislators are as absurd as hereditary mathematicians” – like many things Mr Paine said, this sounds clever but is really stupid.

    It is doubly stupid – firstly because the law should not be “made by legislators” – that is legislation (not the law) and legislation is a menace – in the 150 years or so we have choked on legislation. As Kings and Queens have sworn since Henry the 1st of England (and since Charles the Bald of France long before him) it is the duty of a monarch to uphold the law – NOT to make the law. Even the Statute of Westminster of 1102 outlawing slavery in England did NOT “make a law” it declared what the law rightly was – against the unlawful act of buying and selling human beings. The principle of natural law, natural justice, to not aggress against the body or goods of other moral agents.

    But Mr Thomas Paine was also being stupid in assuming that ELECTEF mathematicians would be better than mathematicians who were carrying on a family tradition of the study of mathematics. What evidence or experience is there that elected mathematicians would be better rather than worse?

    As for the British system – we no longer have a monarchy that has a political role, I know of no time when the late Queen intervened to oppose bad legislation – unlike, for example, the Prince of Lichtenstein who has done so (and successfully). But we no longer have a “mixed constitution” a “constitutional monarchy” where the monarch still has a political role.

    It is a mistake to say that the United Kingdom has a “constitutional monarchy” – because that would mean the monarch still had a political role as part of the checks and balances of constitutional life, the United Kingdom has a CEREMONIAL (ceremonial) monarchy – not a Constitutional one. The monarch has symbolic, ceremonial, role.

    Queen Elizabeth carried out her ceremonial duties for over 70 years – and performed remarkably well.

    People who point at the collapse of British society (of the cultural institutions – even the family) over this period tell the truth – but they draw a false conclusion (the false conclusion that the Queen failed), the Queen could not have prevented the collapse of British society, for the monarch had no POWER.

    Not a Constitutional Monarchy (where the monarch has some power in a system of checks and balances) a Ceremonial Monarchy – the two are quite distinct.

  • Alex

    EVERYONE rejoiced that Elizabeth was to be queen, nobody rejoices that Charles will be king. Certainly most accept that it is inevitable, but who relishes [it]?

    I wasn’t around when Elizabeth was crowned, so I may be way off here but I’d say the situations were hugely different. Post-war Britain had just endured the most harrowing and extraordinary world wars, fresh in the memory (rationing was still in effect) and there was some justifiable optimism that the future would be better (spoiler: it was). Also Elizabeth’s accession had been carefully stage managed, she carried a draft accession statement for a couple of years before her father died, and had stood in for him in public engagements as his health failed. The Royal Family had had some scandals like the abdication but generally the public liked them still. Elizabeth was a young woman when she became queen, which probably greatly helped her appeal.

    Charles, on the other hand, has been heir apparent for so long it was starting to look like he might not actually accede, it had been possible he might predecease his mother. He has had the misfortune of living under public scrutiny for more than 6 decades. The rise of a certain kind of periodical has made millions of people think they know the Royal Family personally, everyone has opinions about their conduct. He has behaved foolishly at times, of course. Then there’s the general negativity in the world today, this is not an optimistic time. We are faced with massive decline and irrelevance, experiencing serious problems and the future doesn’t look brighter than the present, quite the contrary.

  • Paul Marks

    Even when Louis the Tenth of France outlawed slavery and broke the back of serfdom (badly written history textbooks give the latter achievement to the French Revolution – centuries later) he was not “making law” – he was declaring what the law had always rightly been, applying the principle of justice to these particular matters. Upholding the liberty of subjects (free will agents – souls created by God).

    Conversely when Henry IV of France made guilds compulsory for trades all over France he was “making law” (legislating) and this is quite wrong – for it violates the principle of justice, it violates the liberty of the subjects. Legislating, making law rather than upholding the principle of law, is quite wrong.

    This was understood even in 977 AD – when Charles the Bald accepted that he was a Christian King, not an Oriental Despot, he could not “make law” for example changing the doctrines of the Church or taking land from one family and give it to another family. But the King could and should uphold the law – removing unjust abuses, even (indeed especially) long standing abuses.

    I was briefly in All Hollows Church today in the neighbouring town of Wellingborough – I did not go to the town to go to the church, I went to the town for another purpose and just happened to be passing.

    I was reminded of the old Vicar in the 17th century – Thomas Jones, for 40 years he was Vicar in that church, but torture and death came to him because he would renounce his loyalty to King Charles – indeed many people in the town suffered (robbed and abused) by the forces of the military dictatorship (“Parliament” could not govern, it is a body of hundreds of people, it was inevitable that if the king lost the ARMY, or rather its Generals would rule) and the people who supported it. What the supporters of military dictatorship did not steal they destroyed – leaving the people of the town destitute (but those who survived knew they had kept their oaths of loyalty).

    They never pretended that King Charles was perfect (everyone knew he made many mistakes) – but he remembered his oath as he died, “liberty is those laws by which the lives and goods of the subjects are most their own”, he said – and he spoke the truth.

    What transgressions he was guilty of (and yes King Charles was guilty of transgressions) were vastly less than the transgressions of the Major Generals who took his place, who recognised no private liberty, or security of property (essentially the same thing).

    Both monarch and subjects take oaths – it is a two-way (not a one way) thing. And oath breaking is no minor matter. A vow should be something one keeps – to-the-death.

    “But the people wished to kill him” – “not half, not a quarter of the people” (as a voice of a woman cried out in defiance from the crowd when sentence of death was passed by the Kangaroo Court) – Thomas Jones, and many others, kept their oaths of loyalty – and paid the ultimate price for doing so.

    I certainly do NOT support an absolute monarchy (some species of Oriental Despotism), but some role in the Constitution for the monarchy (a Constitutional rather than just Ceremonial monarchy) is no bad thing, as it gives an element of family continuity to a system of government – rather than everything being a matter of politicians and officials.

  • Paul Marks

    Would NOT renounce his loyalty to the King – would not break his oath (his vow), and so suffered great abuse and finally the release of death.

    To whom is the FBI loyal? To whom in the United States military loyal?

    Some say “they are loyal to the Constitution-as-written – they swear an oath to uphold it” – but such oath keepers are being put on trial in the courts of the regime, or they are being forced out of the Unted States military as “extremists” or even “terrorists” (“terrorists” like the parents who do not want their children sexually mutilated by the forces of the “Woke” regime).

    It turns out that the FBI (and the other agencies) and even the military are loyal-to-the-regime, because there is no human being in authority outside the regime (neither a politician, nor an official).

  • Zerren Yeoville

    In one of the ‘Hitchhiker’ books the late Douglas Adams posed the following conundrum:

    “The major problem — one of the major problems, for there are several — one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them. To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. (…) Who can possibly rule if no-one who wants to can be allowed to?”

    The solution Adams described in the book was to place the ultimate power of being Ruler of the Universe into the hands of a semi-autistic recluse who lived, with only a cat for company, in a ramshackle beach hut on an otherwise deserted planet.

    He had no idea of the power he held, would not have known what to do with it if he did, and would not have been able to do anything about it if he had. That’s why he was the perfect person to hold power, purely in order that the power be thereby denied to potentially less harmless tyrants-in-waiting.

    We mourn the loss of the person who has served faithfully as Britain’s ‘Man In The Shack’ for the last seven decades.

  • Captain Obvious

    Willie, Willie, Harry, Ste,
    Harry, Dick, John, Harry 3;
    1, 2, 3 Neds, Richard 2,
    Harries 4, 5, 6 — then who?
    Edwards 4, 5, Dick the Bad,
    Harries twain, and then the lad;
    Mary, Bessie, James the Vain,
    Charlie, Charlie, James again;
    William and Mary, Anne, and gloria!
    4 Georges, Wliiam and Victoria;
    Ned and George; repeat again;
    And then Elizabeth comes to reign.

  • Stephen Houghton

    Here is my memorial to Her Majesty.


  • Paul Marks

    Zerren – the Queen had no power, and was very much in the public eye as a Ceremonial Monarch.

    Almost the exact opposite of the “man in the shack”.

    However, it is true that by being Head of State the Queen denied that position to a politician who would have abused it.

    Parliament during the Civil War had no answer to the question “who should govern?” – a body of hundreds of people cannot govern, any group that is larger than about 5 people is ineffective. So they inevitably lost power to a military dicatorship.

    Today we say that the Prime Minister should govern – but not be Head of State, so the Prime Minister does not have the sort of control of the armed forces that a Head of State might have (can not order them to shoot the opposition – or raid their homes, unlike the thugs of the FBI).

    However, Sir Robert Peel was probably the last Prime Minister who had total control over the government – the growth of a Civil Service since then has undermined control of the government to a great extent.

    A Prime Minister still has some power – but not nearly as much power as they do in theory, thanks to the bureaucracy and its political agenda.

    Much like President Trump who, due to the power of the bureaucracy, often found himself issuing orders that were ignored – and pulling leavers that were not connected to anything.

    Senator Roscoe Conklin was correct – about the Civil Service and just about everything else.

  • Zerren Yeoville (September 9, 2022 at 6:03 pm), an interesting question to ask – that is hard to answer in detail – is what effect it has had on the UK (for longer than just the last 70 years) that the monarchy, in its ordinary everyday operation, obliges prime ministers to keep informed, and listen respectfully to advice from, someone with (typically) more experience than them and less of a politician’s outlook.

    Another question is what difference is made by that sense of real separation of head of state from head of government that the monarchy gives to the public. A president is usually elected from the political class, so even when there is also a prime minister, I think that neither politicos nor ordinary citizens have any real sense of their head of state being outside their ordinary politics.

  • lucklucky

    Luck of the draw?

    In Republic of Venice https://www.theballotboy.com/electing-the-doge

    “Whenever the time came to elect a new doge of Venice, an official went to pray in St. Mark’s Basilica, grabbed the first boy he could find in the piazza, and took him back to the ducal palace. The boy’s job was to draw lots to choose an electoral college from the members of Venice’s grand families, which was the first step in a performance that has been called tortuous, ridiculous, and profound. Here is how it went, more or less unchanged, for five hundred years, from 1268 until the end of the Venetian Republic.

    Thirty electors were chosen by lot, and then a second lottery reduced them to nine, who nominated forty candidates in all, each of whom had to be approved by at least seven electors in order to pass to the next stage. The forty were pruned by lot to twelve, who nominated a total of twenty-five, who needed at least nine nominations each. The twenty-five were culled to nine, who picked an electoral college of forty-five, each with at least seven nominations. The forty-five became eleven, who chose a final college of forty-one. Each member proposed one candidate, all of whom were discussed and, if necessary, examined in person, whereupon each elector cast a vote for every candidate of whom he approved. The candidate with the most approvals was the winner, provided he had been endorsed by at least twenty-five of the forty-one.”

    Scrutiny was used in Florence for over a century starting in 1328.[13] Nominations and voting together created a pool of candidates from different sectors of the city. The names of these men were deposited into a sack, and a lottery draw determined who would get to be a magistrate. The scrutiny was gradually opened up to minor guilds, reaching the greatest level of Renaissance citizen participation in 1378–1382.


  • Fraser Orr

    William and Mary, Anne, and gloria!–
    4 Georges, Wliiam and Victoria;
    Ned and George; repeat again;
    And then Elizabeth comes to reign.
    Now Charlie who is green as grass,
    And then to Bill the throne will pass.

  • Alan Peakall

    @luckylucky: …and even that system was apparently still gamed successfully by the partisans of Francesco Foscari despite the deathbed warning issued by his predecessor Tommaso Mocenigo.

  • Paul Marks


    The Dodge had a political role in the checks and balances of the Constitution of Venice. A Constitutional figure – someone with a real role in policy (in governance).

    The Queen was, for better or worse, not a Constitutional Monarch (not someone with a role in policy – in Governance), the Queen was a Ceremonial Monarch – someone without power in the system of governance of the United Kingdom.

    King Charles the III also has no political, no Governance, role – he is also a Ceremonial Monarch.

    Constitutional Monarchies still exist where the monarch still has some political role in policy – but the United Kingdom is not one of them.

    For better or worse, under our present system if King Charles III suggested a particular policy (I am certainly NOT suggesting that he would – as the King pointed out yesterday, his time in politics is now OVER), the Prime Minister of the day should tactfully pretend that the Gracious Monarch has not made such a suggestion and change the subject.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I have been too sad for words. All what i can say is RIP.

    But i have some general remarks about “monarchy”.

    * It is good to have a head of State distinct from the head of government.

    * The advantage of having a hereditary head of State is that nobody voted against her. By contrast, a directly-elected head of State can usually rely on little more than 50% of the vote.

    * There is a process of natural selection at work: royal families that made foolish choices in the last century, are no longer royal.
    Examples include the Habsburg, Hohenzollern, Romanov, and Savoia.

    * The Dutch, the Danes, and the Norwegians have not forgotten what their monarchs did for them during ww2.

    * The Spaniards have not forgotten what King Juan Carlos I did for them in February 1981; in fact, they voted him Greatest Spaniard. (And that event did a lot in turning me into a monarchist, although i have backtracked a bit.)

    * I don’t understand Thai politics, but i was quite impressed in 1992 when i saw the military dictator of Thailand on his knees in front of King Bhumibol, repeatedly bowing low.

  • Zerren Yeoville

    Paul Marks – September 9, 2022 at 8:35 pm:
    “Zerren – the Queen had no power, and was very much in the public eye as a Ceremonial Monarch. Almost the exact opposite of the “man in the shack”. However, it is true that by being Head of State the Queen denied that position to a politician who would have abused it.”

    Paul, your third sentence encompasses the point I was making. Not the power they hold or exercise, but the power thereby denied to others. But as to the comparison with Adams’ “Man In The Shack” I would suggest that both the Queen’s power and the “Man In The Shack’s” power was more theoretical than actual – purposely so, to neutralise the possibility of actual power being grabbed by a malicious actor or simply an ambitious chancer on the make. And yes, the Queen was very much in the public eye, but she constructed a sort of outer-shell persona to present to the world; her actual personality, her thoughts and opinions on anything remotely controversial, were not on public display.

    Niall Kilmartin – September 9, 2022 at 8:43 pm
    Due to not feeling sufficiently qualified to do so, I shall have to duck out of offering any in-detail response to your first question except to offer the observation that most ex-Prime Ministers have offered appreciative comments about having had access to the Queen’s experience and guidance gained over her long reign, in line with Bagehot’s ‘right to be consulted / to encourage / to warn.’

    As to your second question about the importance of a non-political head of state, we need simply look across the Atlantic to the USA, where it seems increasingly that, no matter who is elected to the Presidency, half the country immediately goes ‘Waaaah! Not My President.’

  • Mr Ed

    The death of the Queen is of course very sad. As a devout Christian, doubtless she had no fear of death, but we are all human, and death has its sting. I fail to see why Islamists mourn their martyrs if martyrdom leads to Paradise, the human reaction of mourning suggests a nagging uncertainty is built into us.

    I simply cannot see that royalty is anything other than a voluntaristic concept, it exists if you believe in it, more real than faeries, but there is no scientific basis for believing that there is any such thing as ‘royalty’ other than privileges granted by the State or by social convention. No scientist can show that a ‘royal’ person differs from anyone else.

    The difficulty that I have with the monarchy is the difference it has made, none is discernible, but we cannot know how much difference the Queen made. She said nothing about the Covid terror, still less its early precursor the Foot and Mouth terror, which looks more and more like a dress rehearsal for the coming tyranny. When she ascended the throne, one troy ounce of gold bought, judging by a rough search and approximate estimate, around 15 Pounds Sterling. At her passing, one troy ounce was around £1,475. So the Pound has lost around 97% of its value in her reign. If that is continuity, give me chaos! Looking at the state of the UK:

    If she could have done nothing about it as a ceremonial monarch, her reign was pointless.

    If she could have done something about it even as a ceremonial monarch, her reign was wasted.

    It comes down to the difference that she made. Perhaps she was more of a bulwark against tyranny than Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, who eventually got rid of Mussolini once the US Army started rolling up the peninsula along with my grandad and some Tommys.

    Politically, I am inclined to think of the Queen as a bit like President Kaliningrad of the Soviet Union, who was said to have wept with grief and powerlessness as he signed the papers Stalin gave him to send his own wife to the GULAG. I cannot see why anyone would take a deal where the evil of the State is done, in the main, in your name.

    My problem is that the situation of the United Kingdom is so dire that it (or rather the population) needs to stop dreaming and address the situation that it is in.

  • Mr Ed, in a comment well above (Niall Kilmartin, September 9, 2022 at 8:43 pm), I discussed the possibility that the Queen’s normative powers had made a difference. In your comment immediately above (Mr Ed, September 12, 2022 at 7:41 pm) the question, IIUC, is whether her prerogative powers could (and/or should) have been used to make a difference.

    In C.S.Lewis book ‘Prince Caspian’, the prince in question, facing a crisis, discusses with his advisors whether to “blow Queen Susan’s horn”, a magical artefact that might bring aid albeit of a very uncertain kind. Someone suggests that, though the present looks grave, some future need might be even greater. “By that argument”, one advisor responds, “his highness will never blow the horn until it is too late.”

    Unlike President Kaliningrad, and contrary to the rubbish spouted by Bagehot (about Queen Victoria in his case), if a bill to cut off the Queen’s head were to pass parliament, the Queen would very much not have to sign it but could instead pull the levers of her many prerogative powers and see what happened. But this is a one-shot weapon that reloads itself only if it hits its target. So, like Queen Susan’s horn, in every crisis there will always be a very very strong temptation not to invoke it till some yet graver crisis appears – certainly much graver than would trigger us on this blog. Nor would we wish King Charles to waste it on something he thought a crisis but we did not – global warming, for example. So there are excellent reasons for waiting until the danger be very clear and very present, even though this also guarantees a clear and present danger of blowing the horn only when it is too late.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Mr Ed: When one of my cousins died, I attended her funeral, which was held in an Episcopalian church. I’m not a connoisseur of churches, but it seemed fairly traditionalist. But I thought that the priest was quite wrong when he said that my cousin was now in heaven, and happier than we could imagine, and if we had faith we should not feel sad. Of course, I don’t have faith (in the Christian sense, at any rate). But even stipulating that she was still living after her bodily death, and in heaven—if someone I was close to were to travel to Paris or Tokyo, and be out of touch (this was before the days of cheap international telephoning and videoconferencing), I might believe that they were happy to be there, but still sorrow at being parted from them. Such sorrow is part of being human, and of existing in time, a condition which the Christian theology I’ve read says we cannot escape from, not even in Heaven.

    It is the blight man was born for,
    It is Margaret you mourn for.

  • Paul Marks

    Zerren – I see what you mean.

    Mr Ed – Ceremony is not pointless, it is part of what makes life bearable.

    To say the Queen was about ceremony (and did not engage in practical matters such as denouncing the Covid lockdowns) is true – but it is like saying Constable was just a painter.

    Her late Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second was about ceremonial life – and on those rare occasions when the noble Queen is alleged (alleged) to have made a political comment, such as that the world leaders had “done nothing” in relation to the C02 is harmful theory (ignoring the vast costs of the things these governments had done), and that refusing the Covid injections was “selfish” – it was regrettable, very regrettable.