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Britain Is Lucky to Have a Monarch

Britain Is Lucky to Have a Monarch

The Coronation of Charles III was an occasion in history when the nation came together to celebrate the accession of a new monarch and to acknowledge the traditions and continuities which have defined the United Kingdom and its people. But monarchs can be deposed and national traditions dispensed with. In this article, Zewditu Gebreyohanes, an editor of History Reclaimed and the director of Restore Trust (the grassroots member-led campaign to return the National Trust to its founding aims), reflects on the sad history of the end of monarchy in her father’s homeland of Ethiopia to remind us of the crucial role that monarchy can play in underpinning social stability and national cohesion.

Society, posited Burke, is “a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born”. No British institution better symbolises this Burkean continuum than the monarchy, which has existed for over a thousand years and which we can only hope will exist—proudly and defiantly, even in the face of ongoing societal flux—for millennia to come.

To those who contend that the monarchy is an outdated and obsolete institution which can only survive if it adapts to becomes “relevant” to the modern era, I would argue that it is the very fact that the monarchy is largely static and impervious to passing fads that has allowed it to remain alive and strong to this day.

The monarchy provides a gateway to the past, and events such as the coronation—characterised by unrivalled pomp and ceremony, pageantry and antiquated rituals—are where history comes alive. Stripped of its idiosyncrasies, the monarchy would lose its novelty and its charm and become sterile, spiritless and meaningless. It must, therefore, cling on to all that which makes it unique in a world that has come to be defined by mere efficiency and utilitarianism.

A coronation is one of those rare unifying moments where the nation is brought together and differences set aside; it is something which by its very nature is accessible to all. It goes without saying that those who were lucky enough to be invited to attend the coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla now have memories they will treasure for the rest of their lives. But so too will those of us who watched the coronation with our families at home; celebrated with a coronation picnic with friends in the park; lined the streets to cheer the new King and Queen, flag in hand; or attended a bunting-decorated street party.

Humans need constants in their lives. In a society transforming at an exponential rate, the monarchy is one of the only constants we have left as a nation. Until recently, one might also have said the same about the National Trust, the BBC and many other once great institutions that have, under current and recent management, sadly been drifting away from their original spirit and duties.

Indeed, the fact that these institutions have become inconstant makes the constancy of the monarchy all the more important. It is our duty to rally round it and make sure we do not lose it, either because it loses sight of its purpose or because it is brought down by anarchist elements. After all, there are so many nations around the world that have suffered from this fate, and one of the many factors that has set Britain apart is that it has managed to cling on to this cornerstone historical institution unaffected by the passage of time.

At dinner with a few young ‘habesha’ (Ethiopian and Eritrean) cousins and close friends, we lamented the fact that we may never experience a coronation in Ethiopia, where the last Emperor, Haile Selassie, was deposed by a Marxist junta in 1974.

My cousins and I do, admittedly, have a vested interest. The Ethiopian side of my family comes from the Tigrayan nobility (the Royal House of Agamè, from which Emperor Yohannes IV hailed), many of whom were dispossessed of their lands and titles when Mengistu Hailemariam came to power. And they were the lucky ones; 62 of the Emperor’s closest advisers, officials and even his grandson, Rear Admiral Iskinder Desta, were butchered in a mass execution on a single day that year. The Emperor himself was snuffed out—quite literally, as it is said he was suffocated by a pillow—by the regime not long after.

This is far more than a mere personal grievance, however. Monarchy both represents and encourages national stability and unity. In the few decades since the fall of its monarchy, Ethiopia has seen Marxist dictatorship, been split in two, warred on and off with its newly-created neighbour Eritrea (cousins fighting against cousins) and experienced internal civil wars. Would all this have happened under the watchful eye of a benevolent monarch? It seems to me that the absence of such a figure exposes a nation to greater risk, both from within and without.

Britain is indescribably lucky to have a monarch. And long may it continue. God save the King!

An earlier version of this article was published in the Sunday Telegraph on 7 May 2023.”

About the author

Zewditu Gebreyohanes

Zewditu Gebreyohanes

Zewditu Gebreyohanes is a Senior Researcher at the Legatum Institute and a trustee of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and was formerly Head of History Matters at the think tank Policy Exchange. She served on the government commission for housing and architecture ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’ as an assistant to its Chair, the late Sir Roger Scruton. She graduated in PPE from King’s College London in 2020.