Famously controversial when on the bench, Lord Denning began his life reading maths at Oxford before becoming a lawyer. Oxbridge Application’s own legal eagle, Jonathan Lafferty, read English at Oxford and after completing postgraduate legal studies is now training as a commercial solicitor in London. All opinions expressed are his own.
As the Duchess of Cambridge attempts to retain her dignity in spite of prying paparazzi in the Caribbean, I got thinking about the heir to the throne she’s carrying. It was Walter Bagehot who called the monarchy the ‘dignified part’ of government’. The Prime Minister (or the ‘efficient’ part of government according to Walter Bagehot) now plans to reform the rules of succession so that Will’s and Kate’s children will be able to marry Catholics.
Why, you might ask, are Catholics banned from marrying the monarch in the first place?
1688 is a key date in British constitutional history. James II, just as his grandfather Charles I, had quarrelled with Parliament. The ensuing civil war was brief but resulted in the monarchy, only recently restored to power after Cromwell’s rule, having its powers curtailed. Although Britain is often said to have an unwritten constitution, the Bill of Rights is perhaps the closest thing we have to one. Indeed, many of its provisions inspired the US Constitution. At its heart, the relationship between Parliament, law and Crown is set out. Have a look at the Bill alongside the first few Amendments to the US Constitution to see the similarities. How do these documents inform modern British and American values?
Along with the 1701 Act of Settlement, the Bill of Rights is preoccupied with who is allowed to be monarch. Both acts explicitly say that no Catholic or person married to one may succeed to the Crown. Succession to the Crown is automatic upon the death of the previous monarch – you may have heard the phrase ‘the King is dead; long live the King’. In the late 17th century, Protestant England was afraid of treacherous Catholics, especially since James II had started to tolerate them. The Act of Settlement was their way of stopping Catholics from subversively usurping the Crown.
What is Cameron saying?
Despite the proposed reforms, David Cameron has said this ban on Catholics becoming King or Queen should remain. This is because the monarch is still the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and needs to be an Anglican to fulfil this role. Many, including the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, have questioned the fairness of such a ban in an age of human rights which prevent discrimination based on personal belief. Perhaps, then, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have unwittingly set in motion a wider debate about the role of Monarchy in government? What do you think?
Have a look at this fascinating paper from the House of Commons on the issue.