Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A Welsh Monarchy

If this were your job for 60 years, you've
probably earned a "service of thanksgiving".
(Pic: Huffington Post)

Betty's Big Bash – A reflection on 60 years of Elizabeth II

I loath the institution: the funny hats, the state religion, the toadying, the hangers-on, the expanded aristocracy, the indentured labour, the opulent trinkets and baubles, the pomp, the enforced red, white and blue. But Betty was born into that goldfish bowl, and that's not her fault. I can't bring myself to have anything but begrudging respect for the woman who's had to combine raising a family with the formality, duties and pleasantries that being monarch demands of her.

Yeah, I'm sure it's a pretty comfortable life, but can you imagine what it's like listening to blustering Prime Ministers and various dignitaries drone on and on, with dull food and even duller conversation, and actually looking like you give a toss? For sixty years. That sounds like my idea of Hell. The Jubilee itself – the partying, the concert, the fireworks, the jumping up and down and waving flags, is - in essence - a "celebration" of her father's death. Perhaps that's why she's had a face like thunder for most of the last four days, only ever seeming to be happy with the "proper" ceremonial stuff earlier today.

Monarchy manages to bring out some of the worst aspects of the public and our politicians. I'm not against anyone having fun because I might not agree with what they're celebrating, but I've got the impression some of the hardcore royalists use the Windsors to fill a hole in their lives.

We all probably know about the shameful story in today's Guardian about the use of "workfare" people to steward the Jubilee pageant. We're all expected to bow low and become as sycophantic as possible to make sure everything is "perfect" for Betty, when in practice she probably can't see - or wouldn't even know - about every blade of grass out of place. Margaret Thatcher once described Elizabeth Windsor as "the kind of woman who would vote SDP". I'm sure - if she's even told about this - she'll be horrified in private.

If it's one thing that would sum up Betty's 60 years, it would be that (misplaced) sense of duty. She probably always considers herself as there for us rather than the other way around. She's had to do everything in public with a robotic, near-emotionless detachment because that's what we - or should that be traditionalists and royalists amongst us - expect of her.

In this day and age, I think that's cruel, and just one of the many reasons why I'm a republican.

Hereditary privilege existing in the 21st century isn't a cause for celebration. However, even I can begrudge a nod of - not necessarily appreciation, but acknowledgement – towards Elizabeth Windsor the person, who's doing the job well into her 80s, when - if she were any other woman - she would have her feet up by now. Elizabeth Windsor who, like it or not, has become part of the furniture. Elizabeth Windsor and can put a smile on kids faces before they even know what a republic is. And who can bring a bit of cheer to a old biddies in a retirement home who've waited for a glimpse of the trademark brightly coloured dresses. The Liz Windsor who can make somebody really special feel special by handing over an award, or giving them a moment of time and recognition.

We should reflect on that because when she's gone – and not wanting to tempt fate but we should steel ourselves for a Platinum Jubilee - only then will most of us realise the person we've lost.

I can't think of any better person for monarchy to make a dignified exit after - saving one of the best till last. She's one of the best because she's kept herself (and her private life) in the background, maintained that distance between herself and the rest of us by not getting caught up in celebrity culture, whilst remaining familiar and firmly committed to her duties.

The institution can go hang, but we shall not look upon her like again.

So, here's to you Betty, love. Sixty years as the world's most expensive civil servant - a job you had no choice over - isn't bad at all.

The Monarchy in Wales

There are three clear advantages to hereditary, constitutional monarchy over a republic as far as I can see.
  1. Monarchical titles generally command far more respect in diplomacy - as a "living brand" for the nation - creating a wider sense of "loyalty" to the state (when they are popular!).
  2. It's an apolitical position. It's good that there's someone above our elected politicians who can keep them on a leash - and maintain a sense of continuity - without being dragged into the mud of party politics.
  3. Long reigns build up decades of experience in diplomacy and statesmanship, and that level of experience can be invaluable when advising politicians.

Of course, I personally think the disadvantages far outweigh these advantages above.

I've always believed the "head of state options" should be something explored in more detail post-independence. I've brought up a Welsh Republic before, but today of all days is best to look at the arguments and options from the other side. I'm probably not going to make myself especially popular by doing so, but here goes.

The Status Quo

The Queen is head of several
"Commonwealth Realms", most of which
are independent in their own right.
(Pic : Wikipedia)
Retaining the "British" monarch as head of state is the most probable outcome post-independence. It's not acceptable, or ideal, but all but the most trenchant republican nationalists would accept that as an inevitable outcome. To them I would say that with independence there would be the opportunity to present arguments in a completely different environment, and make any changes.

Obviously the Queen/King would have the title "Queen/King of Wales" vis-a-vis Canada and Australia (presumably Scotland as well). The title Prince of Wales would be dropped. Wales would become a kingdom in its truest sense of the word.

If this happened, nobody would notice any difference and it would help maintain the British social union and the "kinship" - which is something even I would want to see. The monarch would have a formal constitutional role defined in any (ideally written) Welsh constitution, naturally.

I'd be unhappy, but not opposed to this.  I'm more a moderate republican (though I've been far more vociferous in the past) and could live with a slimmed-down, reformed, pan-Commonwealth realm monarchy.

Obviously, if I eventually had the choice, I would vote for a Welsh republic.

Brenin Cymru

There's the - significantly more eccentric - option of reviving a native Welsh hereditary monarchy. I imagine only a very small number of people actually want this. I think it should be ruled out, but let's have some fun anyway.

There are several solid claims to the "Welsh throne", depending on which of the old houses you follow. Sir David Watkin Williams-Wynn, 11th Baronet Bodelwyddan ("Dafydd III") is a direct descendant of Owain Gwynedd of the House of Aberffraw who was - nominally at least - "Owain I". His heir - or edling if we want to use the Welsh term - is ironically called Charles, and his daughter, Alexandra has a professional background as an artist.

Also in line for a claim is Evan Vaughan Anwyl from Tywyn via the same lineage. There are probably many others too - and that's kind of the reason why Wales fractured and lost its independence in the first place!

It's also relevant to note that Betty Windsor is - via Margaret Tudor - a distant cousin of Owain Glyndwr.

Is there a way to combine the respect and pomp the position of monarch has, with the democratic mandate of an elected head of state?

An Elective Monarchy

This is exactly what it says on the tin, and despite the oxymoronic nature, isn't as rare as you might think.

The obvious, and most famous example, is the Pope – head of state of both the Vatican City and the Holy See (as a sovereign diplomatic entity). The Pope is elected by the College of Cardinals in a Papal Conclave by a two-thirds majority.
  • Cambodian monarchs are chosen for a life-long term by council made up of aristocrats.
  • Malaysian monarchs are elected on a five-year term by the hereditary rulers of the Malaysian federal states (with the exception of one, which has its own elected monarch).
  • The French President, directly elected by the French, is a co-prince of Andorra along with the Bishop of La Seu d'Urgell.
  • The Maori Monarch of New Zealand was once elected by tribal elders, but it has become a hereditary role.

If Wales were to establish a monarch other than the existing "British" monarch, or reviving a "native" hereditary monarchy, this would be another option on the table. It's probably the closest you can get to a compromise between monarchists and republicans.

So, what could an (elected) Welsh monarchy look like?

Title & Style

Counting Owain Glyndwr as Owain IV
for numbering might go some way
to righting some historical wrongs.
(Pic : Wikipedia)
There would be a constitutional title Tywysog(es) Cymru – in English, Prince(ss) of Wales. Only the monarch would have a title and constitutional role. Their spouse (where relevant) could probably have an "Honourable" prefix before their name, or a new title can be created.

If Wales becomes independent before the death of Elizabeth II (if we're honest, that's unlikely), I'd support granting her the constitutional title Princess of Wales until she dies - as a courtesy – becoming the last hereditary monarch in Welsh history. The elective monarchy would be established afterwards.

The elected monarch would take a regnal name (formally in Welsh, with an English translation). The issue here is numbering.

In my opinion, only native Welsh monarchs up to and and including Owain Glyndwr (Owain IV), as well as monarchs since Henry VII (Harri I), should be counted. This would retrospectively reposition EnglandandWales as a personal union, starting with Henry Tudor and "legitimised" through the Laws in Wales Acts. So, for example, anyone taking the regnal name Edward under this arrangement would become Iorwerth IV. Henry (Harri III), Elizabeth (Bethan III) etc.

The style of the Tywysog(es) should be somewhat egalitarian, but still respectable – a simple Sir or Ma'am. None of this "Royal Highness" or "Majesty" stuff.

As a state representative abroad, the style should probably be a more presidential "His/Her Excellency". They should not be the head of a church, they should not be "divine". Bows and curtsies would probably be reserved to formal state events and only to respect the office - not the person.

Selection and Eligibility

This is a tricky one : How do you decide who would be suitable to be a monarch or not?

We can probably afford to be more nationalistic than with a president. They should have to be Welsh-born on both sides of their family and live in Wales – but the criteria would be unrestricted with regard race, religion, disability and sexuality.

All prospective candidates will be expected to have made a significant contribution to Welsh public life or public service – for example : military service, charity work, volunteering.

There are two ways to go about nominating – open and closed. Open being a wider nomination process, closed being amongst a group of selected or appointed individuals. In this instance, I'd prefer closed.

An "Accension Council" of sorts - made up of the great and the good of Welsh society, members of the Assembly Commission, as well as drafted members of the public - would assess candidates and decide who to go to a public vote, probably via a secret ballot to shortlist them to a maximum of three.

This process could start a year or two in advance of a scheduled election, to make sure there are candidates in place should something happen – like a death or abdication. These candidates would be "held in reserve", and their names kept secret (for security reasons).

The Llywydd of the National Assembly would act as an interim head of state when required – but they wouldn't take the title.

How do you elect a monarch?

First past the post, supplementary vote and alternative vote are probably the three options here. All relatively straightforward and similar to those I suggested for a President. I would prefer Alternative Vote, personally. Another posibility is the use of some sort of electoral college (made up of local authorities, universities etc.).

To maintain the dignity of the role, a Tywysog(es) wouldn't "lose" an election. Instead, the winner would be "confirmed", or we could even adapt the Eisteddfod term "chaired".

There wouldn't be a election campaign as such either, just a detailed biographical profile. I imagine most candidates will be fairly well known to the Welsh public anyway.

Terms could be long – perhaps 7/8 years. There would be no term limits, meaning a Tywysog(es) can stand for re-election as many times as he/she wishes. If nobody is selected to stand against the sitting Tywysog(es) then the sitting Tywysog(es) would be "confirmed" automatically.

A Tywysog(es) would be able to abdicate at any time, prompting an extraordinary election. The same would happen should a Tywysog(es) die in office. A former Tywysog(es) would probably keep a title after leaving office - probably something like The Honourable X/Regnal Name.

There should be an informal agreement that a sitting Tywysog(es) who can't fully perform their duties - for whatever reason - should stand down at the end of their current term. Only an incredibly popular or exceptional Tywysog(es) could realistically "reign" for three terms or more.

Constitutional Role

An elected Welsh monarch could draw together some
of our older traditions and create some new ones
(Pic : Rhys McKenzie via Flickr)
Only sitting legislators - and those that don't meet the other criteria - would be banned from being selected. Any Tywysog(es) should need to declare and renounce any memberships of political parties. They should also no longer be able to hold any paid or unpaid role in the private or public sector.

The role is likely to be very similar to those I outlined last year for a potential president, but with the politicised roles removed, or only used on the advice of the government:
  • Commander-in-chief of the Welsh Defence Forces
  • Represents Wales abroad and at home with dignity and tact.
  • Receive and entertain visiting dignitaries and guests of honour, organise state visits and functions.
  • Conferring honours, appointing ambassadors, commissioning officers etc.
  • Act as a mediator in inter/intra government disputes (i.e coalition negotiations)
  • Declare a state of emergency, national holiday and order lowering of flags on public buildings. Signs bills into law and treaties with the authority of the legislature (majority vote).
  • Appoints the Prime Minister (with backing of legislature) and approves cabinet appointments; accepts/declines resignation of government ministers.
  • Dissolves the legislature and calls an extraordinary general election at the request of the legislature (i.e. Vote of no confidence in the government).

The Tywysog(es) would carry out "State Openings" of the National Assembly, and make a similar speech to those made by the monarch in Westminster.

The Prime Minister would probably be expected to hold fairly regular meetings on government policy with the Tywysog(es), and more as a courtesy to a head of state than a serious political role.

So the role would be the "opening stuff, shaking hands, waving at crowd" type role we've come to expect from the existing monarch. As I mentioned earlier, a way to make "really special people feel special".

Pomp & Ceremony

Being elected Tywysog(es) should probably be considered the
highest civilian honour in an independent Wales
(Pic: ITV)
There would be a formal coronation/inauguration for any new Tywysog(es). Whether a new coronet would be made, or the existing one used, or even whether a crown should be used at all, is up for debate. It should be an open, secular ceremony.

There would be an opportunity for celebrations should a Tywysog(es) remain in the role for 25, 50 years etc. Due to the elected nature, these would likely be incredibly rare events. The Tywysog(es) would have to be incredibly popular to be able to manage that.

There should probably be a "palace", doubling up as a venue for state functions. I'm sure there are many suggestions for a possible location : City Hall and Insole Court in Cardiff, Tredegar House in Newport and Erddig House in Wrexham are possible candidates.

Serving and former Tywysogion/Tywysogesau would be eligible - and generally expected - to have a state funeral.

What I would want to avoid, however, is the creation of a "personality cult". There would probably be portraits/formal photographs in public buildings - changed with the Tywysog(es) - but there's no need for the levels of reverence the existing monarch has. No "official birthday", no celebrations for every minor event in their personal lives, no gold carriages, and the Welsh people would be "citizens" not "subjects".

Like some of the monarchs in the Scandinavian countries - Denmark for example - they should be accessible and anyone should be able to request an audience.

I'd also be disappointed if there were to be the creation of "dynasties" - where the offspring of a Tywysog(es) gets elected/selected for their parentage alone.

Likewise, the Tywysog(es) would probably have a bit more personal freedom. Their privacy would be expected to be respected like any other Welsh citizen, they should be able to have interviews, pose for photographs and walk down the street with minimal protection.

I suppose that it could be best described as being able to do their shopping, or go to a restaurant, while being noticed and generally polite to the public and vice versa, not expecting that much in the way of "special treatment", but getting it anyway because they are well-liked.

The role of Tywysog(es) itself should be considered the highest civil honour in an independent Wales
. By electing someone to the position, we would collectively be saying : "You've earned the Welsh crown because you represent the best of the Welsh people".

That, in my opinion, is a monarchy fit for the 21st century, and fit for any future independent Wales.


  1. Brilliant post, Owen.

    I love the idea of a Welsh state headed by a Tywysog(es).

  2. We could import one, fully trained. Plenty of international precedent for this and found a new Royal Welsh House, could take the name King Hywel the 2nd.

    See the link for a suitable candidate:


  3. ... or we could just ask the Noble Lord Elis-Thomas if he would like to become King

  4. Owen, there's also the 'Norwegian solution' which I outline in my book, The Phenomenon of Welshness or How many aircraft carriers would an independent Wales have?'http://www.carreg-gwalch.com/product/phenomenon_of_welshness_the/

    A member of the House of Windsor becomes head of a new Welsh house, adopting a Welsh name, learning Welsh (properly) etc. This is what the Norwegians did on independence in 1904 when a Danish prince became the Norwegian king. So as to give contitunity to the title he changed his names to Haakon (I believe) and reconnected the Norwegian throne which had been dormant for 600 years. So, in the Welsh context it would be a member of the house of windsor becoming Llywelyn III or Owain II.

    Still not sure if I like the idea or not, but as I think you allude to, Wales (and more importantly) Welsh people like and need pomp and ceremony. Better have Welsh pomp and ceremony than the British version.


    PS - if I'm right, the Irish title of Tanaiste for Dept Prime Minister is the same word as Tywysog in Welsh.

  5. Wales is an ancient nation and we need a Royal Welsh House. I like Anon 20.42's idea of importing a European prince.

    I can already picture King Hywel the 2nd's coronation ceremony


    ^^ Something similar to this but on a far grander scale. A late night flame procession that would lead to the coronation chair at Cardiff Castle!

    Torches burning bright, orchestral music, harps playing the anthem, the nation worked up in a frenzy as little old Wales crowns a king!

  6. Thanks everyone for the comments.

    I wouldn't personally be a fan of "importing" a monarch, whether from the Windsors or elsewhere. However I can see why that would be tempting. It's also one of the reasons I would, in this scenario, prefer an elected monarch. If Wales established a hereditary monarch, you're looking down the line at the creation of a wider aristocracy and the continuation of hereditary privilege, just with a Welsh accent.

    If they were elected, whether for a limited term, limited terms, or for life - at least it's only the one person and maybe their spouse, without any hangers-on. I think that's all we would need really - one person as a figurehead, not a "Royal Family" as such.

    Anon 21:45 - Funnily enough, I would imagine DET would be up for a role like this. He would probably be a fairly suitable candidate for it as well. It would be a decent way to "shut him up" without demoting him or gagging him, while giving him a respectful and dignified exit from frontline politics. I imagine though he either wants a government role or to sit on the red benches in London.

    Sion - I agree, we need "Welsh pomp". I'm not much of a fan of it in general. It's all a bit "bread and circuses", but a big civic event like an inauguration can draw in the crowds, and like you say, I'd rather it be Welsh than British.

    Having looked it up Tanaiste means the "heir" of the chieftain (Taoiseach). I'm not sure if that means Tanaiste means "Prince" in subordinate to the Taoiseach's "King".

    Anon 14:50 - That's pretty much how I'd picture it! Though if we had an elected monarch, it could be the precedecessor formally handing over the coronet to the newly elected Tywysog(es).

    If we're going to do it, it should be as awe-inspiring as possible, while remaining fairly secular and inclusive. If St David's Day were to be a national holiday post-independence, then I can think of no better way to round off festivities every few years than inaugurating a new Tywysog(es). It would be truly unique in Europe to have an elected monarch crowned like that.

    Let's see how many Americans in particular will be checking their Welsh ancestry if we did something on that scale.

  7. As a republican, the idea of an elective monarchy is not that unappealing. Any such system would of course be a de facto republic in all but name in any case, just with extra fur, horses and shiny things. Nothing wrong with that. Tywysog, by the way, would be the perfect title for an elected monarch. As well as being the title used by the Llywelyns, Dafydds and Owains of the past it is, unlike "King" and "Queen", quite untainted by connotations of being a higher being ruling by divine right. The literal translation of tywysog is, simply, "leader" - from the verb "tywys" - to lead.

    I would, however, object to any notion of the continuation of (or renewal of) a hereditary monarchy in Wales. Native or not, the hereditary principle is anathema to social mobility, and I don't think that's the sort of thing we should aspire to for an independent Wales.

    Good to see my photo of the Wrexham Eisteddfod getting an airing. ;)

  8. Of course elective monarchies are not new, I would mention that of the old Polish Republic

  9. Rhys & Cibwr - The more I think about it, the more I'm coming around to the idea of an elected monarch, however eccentric it might be. It would, effectively, be a ceremonical president but with the trappings of monarchy as you said, Rhys. It's not a perfect compromise between republicans and monarchists, but it might be worth being an option on the table.

    My only hang up is that a monarch, in itself, and despite the more egalitarian title of Tywysog(es) does imply that that one person is "above" the rest of us, rather than a more civilian title of president. It's more for the "pomp" aspect as Sion mentioned earlier, but with a Welsh flavour and a way we can express ourselves to the world without being crushed by red, white and blue bunting. Maybe it could be a model all the Celtic nations could follow a la Scandanavia. I wouldn't expect England to do the same though, and that's not a disparaging remark.

    And your photo has been duly credited, Rhys. :)

  10. The Swedish speaker signs bills into law and receives ambassadors - the King has his head on coins and has coffee with his ministers once a year - that is as far as it goes, a republic with a king in all but name. Incidentally classical Athens had a king, or rather two of them, but was ruled by a popular assembly.

  11. maen_tramgwydd8 June 2012 at 12:57

    The concept of monarchy is feudal, long past its sell-by date. It carries a lot of historical baggage, and imho best consigned to the dustbin. Ireland has shown the best way to go, with its dignified Presidency.

    The trouble with the institution is that once established, it can be very difficult to be free of it. The French in 1793 and the Russians in 1917 had to resort to extreme measures to be rid of it permanently. We've seen how it has been hyped up in media and press in the UK, and the resultant surge in public support. Whatever happens in Scotland and Wales, I can't see England ditching it as it has the support of the social and political elites.

  12. Cibwr - Is that setup really worth even having a King and Royal Family though? I'd be pretty annoyed if I had a head of state that was "out of the loop" of national politics to that extent, even if their role was largely ceremonial.

    maen_tramgwydd - I think you sum up my reservations about a monarch, even an elected one, and that's that the concept is rather outdated. However electing them, and giving them a clearly defined role, should mitigate it. It's not all bad when you have a chance to hang out the Welsh bunting and put on a show for the World. Ultimately president's are boring (Obama-moments aside) while princes(s's) aren't.

  13. I prefer the old-school option. There is only one known family in Wales with actual 'royal' blood (according to the laws of Hywel) and that is the family of 'Anwyl of Tywyn'. They are descended, in an unbroken line of succession, from father to son all the way back to Rhodri Mawr who was acknowledged as "King of the Britons"... and if you follow his line back it extends in the male line as far back as Coel Hen, the High-King of North Britain (c.300AD) and pre-Roman genealogical tracts.

    I'd say that this family should be offered the talaith and one of its members would serve as a ceremonial figure head, for life, connecting the present with the illustrious past. This family, advised by leading politicians, would choose which among their own number should be titular prince - not unlike the Cambodian "throne council" system. Once confirmed, the individual would be "Prince of the Welsh" in title alone (rather like the Swedish monarchy) without any formal role in the running of the state. Perhaps they could perform civic duties such as the opening the Eisteddfodau etc.

  14. Thanks for the comment, James.

    If we're going to go down the "old school" route then the Anwyl of Tywyn line would no doubt have a solid "claim to the throne". I'm not sure of the exact details though.

    I don't like the idea of a head of state for life. I think it should be expected - even in a hereditary monarchy - that they should abdicate if they can no longer fulfil their duties, similarly as what's happened in Belgium and the Netherlands recently.

    I would expect them to perform the ceremonial functions as you describe, and as I've outlined on here a few times before.