It’s the Queen’s birthday this week, and it’s brought up an old argument here in the UK. Do we need to have a monarchy? Would we be better as a republic, with all the leaders chosen democratically?
The powers of the monarch are based on an idea called ‘The Divine Right of Kings’, which means that they should be in charge because God gave them power. This idea is quite controversial: in the Bible, the people ask God if they can have a king, and He says that they don’t actually need to have a king, because He should be their only ruler (and then there is then a very, very, very long list of kings, and only two or three of them were good – the rest are described as being terrible kings).
England did try getting rid of the monarchy once, about 360 years ago. During the English Civil War, there were battles between ‘cavaliers’ who believed the King should remain in control, and the ‘roundheads’, who wanted to get rid of the king and put the government in charge.
The cavaliers lost, and King Charles was executed. The new leader was Oliver Cromwell, a member of parliament. He became ‘Lord Protector’, which really just means he was the new king. Nothing really changed for the common people. A group called ‘the levellers’ had hoped that revolution would make society equal, but the country was just as unequal without the king – the wealthy still ruled.
When Oliver Cromwell died his son took over, but the people didn’t like him, so they brought back the son of the old king, King Charles II. The ‘Interregnum’ (the time between kings) was just eleven years. It’s a slightly embarrassing period in our history, because there was a lot of war and death, and in the end nothing really changed.
These days the Queen doesn’t really have any political power. The law has changed, over the years, so she no longer has the power to dissolve parliament and make her own laws or take control of the army. So, does it really matter whether or not we have a monarch?
It’s generally considered that Queen Elizabeth II is actually a very good queen. The real test of the monarchy will be when she dies or ‘abdicates’ (meaning when she retires – something that is possible, but very uncommon). Our next king will be another Charles – Charles III. If he is less popular than his mother, perhaps he will be our last king – at least until the country changes its mind again.