Written by Vladimir Moss



     Monarchism simply refuses to die. That must be the main conclusion we draw from the extraordinary pomp and circumstance surrounding the reburial of the bones of the notorious English King Richard III in the last few days. It was a great success, and yet many commentators thought the whole thing preposterous. “Surely I can’t be the only person to think the world [more exactly: England] had gone stark staring bonkers,” as the “grotesque” spectacle of the cortège making its way to Leicester Cathedral for Richard’s reburial was screened on national TV, said Michael Thornton in The Daily Mail. Crowds ten deep lined the streets to welcome this “evil, detestable tyrant”, and threw white Yorkshire roses at the coffin. In his “preposterous” eulogy, Cardinal Vincent Nichols described Richard as a legal reformer and “a man of prayer, a man of anxious devotion”. Does the cardinal know nothing about his bloody reign? He usurped his 12-year-old nephew Edward V’s throne, and almost certainly ordered the killing of his brother, the Princes in the Tower. Among others, he had Lord Hastings, Earl Rivers, Lord Grey and Sir Thomas Vaughan beheaded without trial. Where was his interest in legal reform then?”[1]

     And yet, as one of those attending the ceremonies said, “It’s not often you see the burial of a king”…

     Although it goes completely counter to the whole democratic ethos of our civilization, we simply cannot exorcise the ghost of monarchism. The burial of a king, even a very bad king who died over five hundred years ago, is something that thrills even our cynical, hard-bitten hearts. No democratically elected leader (with the possible exception of Churchill) has ever elicited the same kind of emotion as our kings. The famous words of Queen Elizabeth I still work their magic: “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too…” Even the relatives of kings are somehow tinged with their charisma: hence the hysteria (there is no other word for it) surrounding the death of Princess Diana in 1997…

     The mysterious fact is that kingship retains a sacramental mystique even in our most godless age. Our sovereigns are no longer Orthodox, and no longer anointed with the true anointing, and do not even really rule the country they reign over. And yet even Hollywood royalty curtseys to the Queen! Today, in accordance with the ideology of democracy, hereditary privilege is despised, “authoritarianism” and “hierarchy” are dirty words, and the source of all legitimacy is seen to come from below, not above. And yet the English love their kings… And while we often see that no abuse is too vile for our democratically elected leaders, we do not tolerate any such thing in relation to the Queen: “She has never put a foot wrong” is a commonly expressed opinion… It is as if the English people subconsciously feel that in becoming democrats they have lost something vitally important, and cling to the holy corpse of monarchy with despairing tenacity, refusing to believe that the soul has finally departed.

     Nor are the English the only ones. The Russians, too, appear to have an inordinate fondness for Tsar Ivan the Terrible. However, you can at least make a case for Ivan: he convened Councils, defeated the Tatars and did many good things before he went mad… But Richard III!… It appears that monarchism must be something deeply rooted in the human psyche which we attempt to destroy at our peril…



     In searching for an answer to this mystery, let us begin with the writings of two Anglican democrats… 

     C.S. Lewis wrote that the monarchy was “the channel through which all the vital elements of citizenship - loyalty, the consecration of secular life, the hierarchical principle, splendour, ceremony, continuity - still trickle down to irrigate the dustbowl of modern economic Statecraft".[2] 

     Again, Roger Scruton has spoken of the English monarchy as “the light above politics, which shines down on the human bustle from a calmer and more exalted sphere. Not being elected by popular vote, the monarch cannot be understood as representing the views only of the present generation. He or she is born into the position, and also passes it on to a legally defined successor. The monarch is in a real sense the voice of history, and the very accidental [sic] way in which the office is acquired emphasises the grounds of the monarch’s legitimacy, in the history of a place and a culture. This is not to say that kings and queens cannot be mad, irrational, self-interested or unwise. It is to say, rather, that they owe their authority and their influence precisely to the fact that they speak for something other than the present desires of present voters, something vital to the continuity and community which the act of voting assumes. Hence, if they are heard at all, they are head as limiting the democratic process, in just the way that it must be limited if it is to issue in reasonable legislation. It was in such a way that the English conceived their Queen, in the sunset days of Queen Victoria. The sovereign was an ordinary person, transfigured by a peculiar enchantment which represented not political power but the mysterious authority of an ancient ‘law of the land’. When the monarch betrays that law – as, in the opinion of many, the Stuarts betrayed it – a great social and spiritual unrest seizes the common conscience, unrest of a kind that could never attend the misdemeanours of an elected president, or even the betrayal of trust by a political party.” [3]

     All this is true, but the question remains: why can an elected president not receive the same veneration as a hereditary monarch?

    The deeper explanation of the mystique of monarchism lies in the creation of man in the image of God. The idea is simple: when man is defined in Genesis as being in the image of God, he is told to have dominion over the whole earth and everything in it. In other words, he is to be a king in the image of God’s Kingship. And if man as a species is king of the earth, every father is king of his family, and every political leader is king of his tribe or nation. Hereditary kingship and hierarchy are part of the nature of things, reflecting the nature of God in His relationship with created nature…

     The idea that kingship is in the image of God was current from the early fourth century (we find it in Eusebius’ Life of Constantine). It was also current at the time of the English revolution. Within a week of the execution of King CharlesI in 1649, Eikon Basilike (“The Royal Icon”) was published by the royalists, being supposedly the work of Charles himself. This enormously popular defence of the monarchy was countered by the revolutionaries with the argument that if the king was an icon or likeness of God, it was right to kill him because icon-veneration is idolatry. “Every King is an image of God,” wrote N.O. Brown. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Revolutionary republicanism seeks to abolish effigy and show.”[4]

     The poet John Milton also came out against Eikon Basilike with his Eikonklastes, in which the destruction of the icon of the king was seen as the logical consequence of the earlier iconoclasm of the English Reformation. For, as Christopher Hill explains: “An ikon was an image. Images of saints and martyrs had been cleared out of English churches at the Reformation, on the ground that the common people had worshipped them. Protestantism, and especially Calvinism, was austerely monotheistic, and encouraged lay believers to reject any form of idolatry. This ‘desacralisation of the universe’ in the long run was its main contribution to the rise of modern science.”[5] 

     The best known defence of the Divine Right of Kings was Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarchia or The Natural Power of Kings, which was written under Cromwell and published in 1680, during the reign of Charles II. His thinking was based on the idea that Adam was the first father and king of the whole human race. “He believed,” writes J.R. Western, “that God had given the sovereignty of the world to Adam and that it had passed by hereditary descent, through the sons of Noah and the heads of the nations into which mankind was divided at the Confusion of Tongues, to all the modern rulers of the world. Adam was the father of all mankind and so all other men were bound to obey him: this plenary power has passed to his successors.”[6]

     The problem with this view, according to John Locke in his First Treatise of Civil Government (1681), as interpreted by Ian McClelland, is that “the book of Genesis does not actually say that God gave the world to Adam to rule; Adam is never referred to as king.” However, this is not a powerful objection, because, even if the word “king” is not used, God does say to Adam that he is to have “dominion over… every living thing that moves upon the earth”. But “Locke then goes on to say: suppose we concede, for which there is no biblical evidence, that Adam really was king by God’s appointment. That still leaves the awkward fact that Genesis makes no mention of the kingly rights of the sons of Adam; there is simply no reference to the right of hereditary succession. Locke then goes on to say: suppose we concede both Adam’s title to kingship and the title of the sons of Adam, for neither of which there is biblical evidence, how does that help kings now to establish their titles by Divine Right? Despite the biblical concern with genealogy, the line of Adam’s posterity has become hopelessly scrambled. How can any king at the present time seriously claim that he is in the line of direct descent from Adam?… Because the genealogy since Adam is scrambled, it is perfectly possible that all the present kings are usurpers, or all the kings except one. Perhaps somewhere the real, direct descendant of Adam is alive and living in obscurity, cheated of his birthright to universal monarchy by those pretending to call themselves kings in the present world.”[7]

     However, shorn of its dependence on the idea of Adam as the first king, Filmer’s teaching that kingship, like fatherhood, is natural and therefore Divine in origin, is not so easily refuted. “That which is natural to man exists by Divine right,” he writes. “Kingship is natural to man. Therefore kingship exists by Divine right.”

     Another important idea of Filmer’s that went directly against the liberal tradition that was just coming into being was that man is not born free. The people “are not born free by nature” and “there never was any such thing as an independent multitude, who at first had a natural right to a community [of goods]”. As Harold Nicolson writes: “‘This conceit of original freedom’, as he said, was ‘the only ground’ on which thinkers from ‘the heathen philosophers’ down to Hobbes had built the idea that governments were created by the deliberate choice of free men. He [Filmer] believed on the contrary, as an early opponent put it, that ‘the rise and right of government’ was natural and native, not voluntary and conventional’. Subjects therefore could not have a right to overturn a government because the original bargain had not been kept. There were absurdities and dangers in the opposing view. ‘Was a general meeting of a whole kingdom ever known for the election of a Prince? Was there any example of it ever found in the world?’ Some sort of majority decision, or the assumption that a few men are allowed to decide for the rest, are in fact the only ways in which government by the people can be supposed to have been either initiated or carried on. But both are as inconsistent as monarchy with the idea that men are naturally free. ‘If it be true that men are by nature free-born and not to be governed without their own consents and that self-preservation is to be regarded in the first place, it is not lawful for any government but self-government to be in the world… To pretend that a major part, or the silent consent of any part, may be interpreted to bind the whole people, is both unreasonable and unnatural; it is against all reason for men to bind others, where it is against nature for men to bind themselves. Men that boast so much of natural freedom are not willing to consider how contradictory and destructive the power of a major part is to the natural liberty of the whole people.’ The claims of representative assemblies to embody the will of the people are attacked on these lines, in a manner recalling Rousseau. Filmer also points out that large assemblies cannot really do business and so assemblies delegate power to a few of their number: ‘hereby it comes to pass that public debates which are imagined to be referred to a general assembly of a kingdom, are contracted into a particular or private assembly’. In short ‘Those governments that seem to be popular are kinds of petty monarchies’ and ‘It is a false and improper speech to say that a whole multitude, senate, council, or any multitude whatsoever doth govern where the major part only rules; because many of the multitude that are so assembled… are governed against and contrary to their wills.’”[8]

     And so government by the “multimutinous will” of the people (Ivan the Terrible’s phrase) is a contradiction in terms. Always and everywhere there is a small group who really makes the decisions – and usually there is one person in or behind this group whose voice is decisive. Thus the most democratically convened of assemblies turns out to be a “petty monarchy”…

     And is this not the reason why we so often despise them? For is there not something despicable in a man or party claiming to represent the will of the people when we know that he actually represents only himself or some narrow vested interest, and is only pretending to represent the people in order to get their vote? Ambition is despicable, and no man ever came to power in a democracy without being ambitious. A hereditary monarch, on the other hand, does not have to pretend to be what he is not – he is what he is by virtue of his birth, which we may ascribe to the will of God or chance depending on our faith of lack of it, but which in any case gives him a certain right – the right that comes from being born “in the purple”… Of course, tyrants and usurpers are also ambitious. But theirs is a naked ambition, and human nature is such that it respects naked ambition more than the veiled variety; it involves less lying… And if he really acts like a king rather than a servile man-pleaser, all the better – at any rate he is a real man…



     But why a hereditary monarchy? Why not simply elect the best man and then give him the power of a monarch – as happened once in the time of the Judges (11.11)? Why leave such an important matter to chance?

     We have already examined one answer to this question: because the ruler is the father of the nation as God is the father of the universe, and hereditary succession from father to son expresses this truth. It was in Russia that this was particularly strongly felt. As Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov writes, “In blessed Russia, according to the spirit of the pious people, the Tsar and the fatherland constitute one whole, as in a family the parents and their children constitute one whole.”[9]

      In any case, from an Orthodox point of view there is no such thing as chance. For, as Bishop Ignaty writes: “There is no blind chance! God rules the world, and everything that takes place in heaven and beneath the heavens takes place according to the judgement of the All-wise and All-powerful God.”[10] And so, even if the birth of a hereditary king looks like chance from a human point of view, from the Divine point of view it is election, God’s election of that man, and no other, to the throne of his fathers…

     Ivan Solonevich writes: “The human individual, born by chance as heir to the throne, is placed in circumstances which guarantee him the best possible professional preparation from a technical point of view. His Majesty Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich was probably one of the most educated people of his time. The best professors of Russia taught him both law and strategy and history and literature. He spoke with complete freedom in three foreign languages. His knowledge was not one-sided… and was, if one can so express it, living knowledge…

     “The Russian tsar was in charge of everything and was obliged to know everything - it goes without saying, as far as humanly possible. He was a ‘specialist’ in that sphere which excludes all specialization. This was a specialism standing above all the specialisms of the world and embracing them all. That is, the general volume of erudition of the Russian monarch had in mind that which every philosophy has in mind: the concentration in one point of the whole sum of human knowledge. However, with this colossal qualification, that ‘the sum of knowledge’ of the Russian tsars grew in a seamless manner from the living practice of the past and was checked against the living practice of the present. True, that is how almost all philosophy is checked – for example, with Robespierre, Lenin and Hitler – but, fortunately for humanity, such checking takes place comparatively rarely….

     “The heir to the Throne, later the possessor of the Throne, is placed in such conditions under which temptations are reduced… to a minimum. He is given everything he needs beforehand. At his birth he receives an order, which he, of course, did not manage to earn, and the temptation of vainglory is liquidated in embryo. He is absolutely provided for materially – the temptation of avarice is liquidated in embryo. He is the only one having the Right – and so competition falls away, together with everything linked with it. Everything is organised in such a way that the personal destiny of the individual should be welded together into one whole with the destiny of the nation. Everything that a person would want to have for himself is already given him. And the person automatically merges with the general good.

     “One could say that all this is possessed also by a dictator of the type of Napoleon, Stalin or Hitler. But this would be less than half true: everything that the dictator has he conquered, and all this he must constantly defend – both against competitors and against the nation. The dictator is forced to prove every day that it is precisely he who is the most brilliant, great, greatest and inimitable, for if not he, but someone else, is not the most brilliant, then it is obvious that that other person has the right to power…

      “We can, of course, quarrel over the very principle of ‘chance’. A banally rationalist, pitifully scientific point of view is usually formulated thus: the chance of birth may produce a defective man. But we, we will elect the best… Of course, ‘the chance of birth’ can produce a defective man. We have examples of this: Tsar Theodore Ivanovich. Nothing terrible happened. For the monarchy ‘is not the arbitrariness of a single man’, but ‘a system of institutions’, - a system can operate temporarily even without a ‘man’. But simple statistics show that the chances of such ‘chance’ events occurring are very small. And the chance of ‘a genius on the throne’ appearing is still smaller.

     “I proceed from the axiom that a genius in politics is worse than the plague. For a genius is a person who thinks up something that is new in principle. In thinking up something that is new in principle, he invades the organic life of the country and cripples it, as it was crippled by Napoleon, Stalin and Hitler…

     “The power of the tsar is the power of the average, averagely clever man over two hundred million average, averagely clever people… V. Klyuchevsky said with some perplexity that the first Muscovite princes, the first gatherers of the Russian land, were completely average people: - and yet, look, they gathered the Russian land. This is quite simple: average people have acted in the interests of average people and the line of the nation has coincided with the line of power. So the average people of the Novgorodian army went over to the side of the average people of Moscow, while the average people of the USSR are running away in all directions from the genius of Stalin.”[11]  

     Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow expressed the superiority of the hereditary over the elective principle as follows: “What conflict does election for public posts produce in other peoples! With what conflict, and sometimes also with what alarm do they attain the legalisation of the right of public election! Then there begins the struggle, sometimes dying down and sometimes rising up again, sometimes for the extension and sometimes for the restriction of this right. The incorrect extension of the right of social election is followed by its incorrect use. It would be difficult to believe it if we did not read in foreign newspapers that elective votes are sold; that sympathy or lack of sympathy for those seeking election is expressed not only by votes for and votes against, but also by sticks and stones, as if a man can be born from a beast, and rational business out of the fury of the passions; that ignorant people make the choice between those in whom wisdom of state is envisaged, lawless people participate in the election of future lawgivers, peasants and craftsmen discuss and vote, not about who could best keep order in the village or the society of craftsmen, but about who is capable of administering the State.


     “Thanks be to God! It is not so in our fatherland. Autocratic power, established on the age-old law of heredity, which once, at a time of impoverished heredity, was renewed and strengthened on its former basis by a pure and rational election, stands in inviolable firmness and acts with calm majesty. Its subjects do not think of striving for the right of election to public posts in the assurance that the authorities care for the common good and know through whom and how to construct it.”[12]

     “God, in accordance with the image of His heavenly single rule, has established a tsar on earth; in accordance with the image of His almighty power, He has established an autocratic tsar; in accordance with the image of His everlasting Kingdom, which continues from age to age, He has established a hereditary tsar.”[13]



     So now we know why even a bad king like Richard III elicits deep emotions even in a democratic people. It is partly because the hereditary king is felt to have a certain right by being born into his position, which right has been strengthened by the sacrament of royal anointing. For, as Shakespeare put it in Richard II (III, ii, 54-7):

Not all the water in the rough rude sea

Can wash the balm off from an anointed king;

The breath of worldly men cannot depose

The deputy elected by the Lord.

And in Hamlet (IV, v, 123-4):

There’s such a divinity doth hedge a king

That treason can but peep to what it would…

      But it goes still deeper than that. Man is born to rule and have dominion in the image of God’s dominion. And just as a man wishes to be the master in his own family, so he wishes that the larger family of his nation should have its master and father, and not be the prey of every fair-sounding adventurer and charlatan that puts himself up for election. For in his heart of hearts, he wants God, not man, to elect for him a ruler, knowing that God will choose what is best for him, even if that is not pleasant and not what he would choose for himself. He may feel this subconsciously even if with his conscious mind he is an out-and-out democrat, who regards himself as free and equal to any man on earth, and so can call his rulers to account at any time…

     The problem is: how does a nation return from choosing its own rulers to letting God decide its rulers for it? There is no easy answer to that question. But a good beginning would be to repent of our self-will, our rebellion from the true King of kings, remembering the words of the Prophet Hosea: “We have no king, because we feared not the Lord(Hosea 10.3).


March 15/28, 2015.

Holy Apostle Aristobulus, First Bishop of Britain.











[1]“The Return of a King”, The Week, 28 March, 2015, p. 6.

[2] Lewis, "Myth became Fact", God in the Dock: Essays on Theology, London: Fount, 1979, p. 64.

[3] Scruton, England: An Elegy, London: Chatto & Windus, 2000, p. 188.

[4]Brown, Love’s Body, New York, 1966, p. 114; quoted in Hill, “Social and Economic Consequences of the Henrician Revolution”, in Puritanism and Revolution, London: Penguin books, 1958, p. 171.

[5]Hill, op. cit., pp. 173-174.

[6]J.R. Western, Monarchy and Revolution, London: Blandford Press, 1972, p. 8.

[7]McClelland, A History of Western Political Thought, London and New York: Routledge, 1996, p. 232. Rousseau also pointed out, in The Social Contract, that since every man is equally a descendant of Adam, it was not clear which descendants of Adam were to exercise lordship over others.

[8]Nicolson, Nicolson, Monarchy, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962, pp. 9-10.

[9]Brianchaninov, Pis’ma (Letters),Moscow, 2000, p. 781.

[10]Brianchaninov, “Sud’by Bozhii” (The Judgements of God), Polnoe Sobranie Tvorenij (Complete Collection of Works), volume II, Moscow, 2001, p. 72.

[11] Solonevich, Narodnaia Monarkhia (Popular Monarchy), Minsk, 1998, pp. 87-88, 89-90, 91-92.

[12]Metropolitan Philaret, Sochinenia (Works), 1861, vol. 3, pp. 322-323; Pravoslavnaia Zhizn’ (Orthodox Life), 49, N 9 (573), September, 1997, p. 9.

[13]Metropolitan Philaret, Sochinenia (Works), 1877, vol. 3, p. 442; Pravoslavnaia Zhizn’ (Orthodox Life), 49, N 9 (573), September, 1997, p. 5.

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