Monarchy, Religion and the State: Civil Religion in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the Commonwealth

By Buckner, Phillip | British Journal of Canadian Studies, July 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Monarchy, Religion and the State: Civil Religion in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the Commonwealth


Buckner, Phillip, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Norman Bonney, Monarchy, Religion and the State: Civil Religion in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the Commonwealth (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 240 pp. Cased. £75. ISBN 978-0-7190-8987-9.

Philip Murphy, Monarchy and the End of Empire: The House of Windsor, the British Government, and the Postwar Commonwealth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 256 pp. 2 maps. 16-page plate section. Cased. £45. ISBN 978-0-19-921423-5.

Stated crudely, Norman Bonney's argument is that although there is no evidence that there will be any substantial changes 'in the inherited procedures for the selection, accession and coronation of the next monarch', it is imperative to have a full and democratic debate about these issues because the oaths of the accession and the coronation of the monarch are 'the central affirmative acts' which legitimate the system of government of the United Kingdom and his majesty's overseas realms' (pp. 20-1). Bonney examines the evolution of the oaths that were taken by Queen Elizabeth II in 1952 and 1953 and explains why these oaths require substantial revision to reflect the social and religious changes that have taken place in Britain and the overseas dominions over the last 60 years. As Bonney himself admits, this involves exploring 'some remote and dusty corners of the constitution' (p. 50), but he insists that it is essential to deal with these issues to avoid a potential constitutional crisis if the next monarch should refuse to take the oaths unless modified. Putting aside the fact that it seems pretty unlikely that Charles will risk a confrontation with Parliament over the issue of whether he should be described as 'Defender of Faith' rather than 'Defender of the Faith', Bonney does makes a strong case that the oaths are outdated and that the coronation service of 1953 should be changed to reflect Britain as it is now, a society 'increasingly religiously diverse and secular in belief and behaviour' (p. 96). In other words it is time that the monarch is no longer required to be a member and the supreme governor of the Church of England and to swear 'oaths in support of Protestantism and church establishment in Scotland and the UK' (p. 143). Bonney also wishes to make the coronation service reflect the fact that the new monarch will be monarch not just of the United Kingdom but of 15 other realms by distributing the allocation of seating in Westminster Abbey on the basis of the population of the monarch's domains. He also suggests that the United Kingdom should reduce the number of seats given to hereditary and life peers since Britain is now a democratic and not a feudal society. In his final chapter Bonney argues that each overseas realm of the Crown should also begin to debate whether 'to retain the prevailing arrangements for the succession to the throne, amend them or institute alternative arrangements for the selection and installation of its head of state' (p. 171). He discusses the Canadian situation at some length, pointing out the 'disjunction between the official multicultural secular character of the Canadian state' and the 'proclaimed protective Christian character of the monarchy' (p. …

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