Sir Arthur Bryant: The Value of the Monarchy

by The Editor

Sir Arthur Bryant was one of the most popular Conservative historians of the Twentieth century. His book The Spirit of Conservatism (1929) summarised the party's philosophy and its defence of the Monarchy.

Sir Arthur Wynne Morgan Bryant, CH, CBE (18 February 1899 – 22 January 1985)

The King offers something to which the loyalty of a nation, its noblest attribute, may attach. In his person he appeals to the imagination of his subjects; he represents for them all they mean by the sacred word of country, the land of their fathers, their homes, their laws, their liberties. A Parliament, a Council, a Committee, however sensibly and well constituted, can never raise the same passionate and unthinking sentiment of love and devotion as can a King. If a nation is to live, its citizens must be ready to sacrifice all in its service. But for every ten men who would die for their County Council, there are ten thousand who would offer their lives for their King. ‘I cannot contain myself within my door,# wrote Sir Bevil Grenville, ‘when the King of England’s standard waves in the field upon so just occasion—the cause being such as must make all those who die in it little inferior to martyrs. And, for my own, I desire to acquire an honest name or an honourable grave.’ It is this spirit which the State must desire to see in all its citizens; the throne, the sceptre and the crown, can alone inspire it.

The King stands for that continuity in human affairs which men, in the pathetic transience of their own lives, so earnestly desire. For, though the life of the King as an individual is as fugitive as any man’s, the life of the King as an institution is enduring. The holder of the title dies: a new King is that very instant of time takes his place. ‘The King is dead,’ the herald cries, ‘God save the King’. The prayer that God may save the King—‘Long may he reign’—is not for the living King alone, but for all the Kings of England, for that long line which for over a thousand years has given to all things English unbroken continuity, has preserved our laws and liberties and given to loyalty a watchword and a rallying point—an English institution, as old and undying as the nation itself. Death comes alike to the bearer of the Crown as to the subject:

This is a sleep
That from this golden rigol hath divorced
So many English kings:--

But in the monarchy itself, the wisdom of our forefathers has left us something ‘which is not for time’s throwing’, and which, in a world of things transient, perpetuates its benefits from generation to generation.

Even in the brief limits of human life, each King affords to his subjects some measure of continuity. The King to-day does not direct the State, but he is the permanent mentor of those who do. They change from Parliament to Parliament, almost from year to year. He alone, during life, does not change. A sovereign, like Queen Victoria, during sixty-four years on the throne, in active and daily touch with every great affair of State and every great man, acquired an unrivalled knowledge of public business. At the end of her reign she was giving to her Ministers the benefit of her vast knowledge and shrewd judgement, gained from her association wit the great men of a previous day who had ruled England before the former were born. In a democratic country where the human agents of Government change so frequently, it is something to have ever at their shoulder the wise and experienced advice of a permanent sovereign.

That the crown is hereditary is sometimes held a disadvantage. But since the crown is necessary as a permanent pivot for the forces of government, much would be lost and nothing gained by an elective throne. As it is the King is selected on the same principle as each one of us is selected for his part and place in life—that of birth. He does not have to struggle and push to attain his position and, therefore, does not sustain that loss of natural dignity and generosity, which is too often the price of struggling for place. His position raises no envy and consequently no rift in the Commonwealth, for no one is envious of what can never by any conceivable chance be his. He is avoce faction and above class; and ambition, ‘that last infirmity of noble mind’, cannot touch him, for, though he has much to lose, he has no worldly rank or honour to gain. Through lack of any other, his main interest and ambition must lie in the well-being of his subjects and his position in their eyes. From infancy he is trained, as one set apart for a high calling, for the unusual and exacting duties of his great position.

‘The wisdom of your forefathers,’ wrote Disraeli, ‘placed the prize of supreme power without the sphere of human passions. Whatever the struggle of parties, whatever the strife of factions…there has always been something in this country round which all classes and parties could rally, representing the majesty of the law, and administration of justice, and involving…the security of every man’s right and the fountain of honour.’

    The King is the representative of the whole nation. By birth he represents his countrymen as Adam represents the human race. He belongs to no class and no Party, and the preferment of any one section of his subjects can avail him nothing. His interest is bound up with that of the nation as a whole; he is greatest when all his people are contented, free and noble. He represents the patriot in us all, that part which responds to the claims of common soil, common blood and common laws. With our self-seeking aims, struggling for the preferment of ourselves, our class, our faction, he has no part or interest, for he is placed by his birth and position beyond the need for pettiness. He, the patriot King, is the true democrat—the representative, not of the majority of the people, but of the people themselves. 

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