This week has seen the spectacularly uninspiring inauguration of King Willem of the Netherlands, a reminder of just how empty of meaning monarchy has become in Europe. It has also seen the Church of Scotland publish a paper on the possibility of a separate coronation for future Kings and Queens of Scots. The Netherlands are, admittedly, a peculiar case of a historic oligarchical republic that decided to adopt monarchy after the Congress of Vienna – but we see the same oaths to the constitution, display-piece brass crowns and feeble attempts at ceremonial in other European monarchies such as Spain and Belgium. The Netherlands are not unique in their meagre conception of the grandeur of monarchy.
Although I am reluctant to say it, I would be opposed to a separate coronation for a future King or Queen of Scots, primarily for pragmatic reasons. The Church of Scotland is not the established church in Scotland, and it has no more right to crown the monarch than the Catholic Church or the Episcopal Church. Charles II allowed himself to be crowned in a Presbyterian ceremony (the only one of its kind that has ever taken place) because he desperately needed the support of the Scots; Charles II was no Presbyterian and supported his father’s policy of imposing episcopacy on the Scots. The first coronation of a Scottish monarch after the Reformation, that of the infant James VI in 1567, was essentially Catholic and just omitted the mass; Charles I’s coronation at Edinburgh in 1633 was Episcopalian. There was a school of thought in the seventeenth century according to which no-one could be King of Scots without having taken the Scottish Coronation Oath, but James VII, who was accepted as King of Scotland, did not take this oath and never received a Scottish coronation.
I am astonished that the Church of Scotland is suggesting that the Kirk be enshrined as Scotland’s national church in a future written constitution; this is obviously inappropriate in a nation with a large Catholic minority that dominates its most populous city (Glasgow), where sectarian troubles still erupt from time to time. I strongly suspect that, if the idea of a separate coronation takes root, it will end up being a secular ceremony like the inauguration of the King of the Netherlands, because no-one will be able to agree on the role that the churches should play. A secular coronation is a nonsense, so it will end up as an inauguration ceremony much like those on the Continent. Of course, in an ideal world I should like to see the rightful King crowned at Scone by the Catholic Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh – but that prospect seems a remote one!
The overall strategy being employed by Unionists is to frighten the people of Scotland by emphasizing the alien and different nature of an independent Scotland; the best reply to this entirely negative tactic is to downplay the significance of independence. One part of this would be to downplay the difference between the monarchy of Scotland and that of England; the Crown of Scotland has already been displayed at the opening of the Scottish Parliament. Better than a separate Scottish coronation, and a better sign of the unity of a truly free family of kingdoms, would be the inclusion of a Scottish coronation oath, or an oath of fealty by Scottish peers, in a future English coronation ceremony. After all, ever since the Kings of England claimed the throne of France the coronation has not been a national event but rather the consecration of the monarch to serve as head of state in more than one nation. The oath could be based on the original Scottish coronation oath, thus acknowledging the slightly different concepts of sovereignty that the English and Scottish oaths embody.