A Queen who healed the wounds of the past

James Bundy suggests Queen Elizabeth II was a key figure in helping Scotland move beyond sectarianism.

Her Majesty the Queen was a constant in Scottish lives during her 70-year reign. At the heart of her reign was a sense of duty; a deep understanding that the role of a constitutional monarch is not one of power, but of dedicated service.

This humility allowed Her Majesty to remain in touch with a changing nation. The longevity of Her Majesty’s reign made her synonymous with the Crown, a source of British identity.

This resulted in Her Majesty’s individual personality representing what it meant to be British. One part of her personality was her love of Scotland. She loved our countryside, natural beauty, fresh air, and national history.

Her Majesty felt at home in Scotland, where she could metaphorically leave her crown at the palace gates, and focus on being a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother.

Scotland’s feelings towards Her Majesty, however, were not united.

Whilst a majority had an admiration for her as an individual, there was, and still is, a sizeable minority who question the role of the Royal Family. One key reason for this is the anti-Catholicism associated with the Royal Family when one explores the history of Scotland and the rest of Britain.

On March 10th 1615, St John Ogilvie was martyred after refusing to accept the supremacy of King James VI & I on spiritual matters. In 1649, King Charles I was sentenced to death by a questionable court within Parliament. This was after a period of Civil War, partly sparked by parliamentary fears about his ‘papist’ reforms and Catholic wife.

In 1688, the reign of the Catholic James VII & II came to a premature end, due to a com- bination of his using the Royal Prerogative to ease restrictions on Catholic and Protestant Nonconformist worship, and the birth of his son sparking fears of a Catholic dynasty.

To secure a Protestant succession of the throne, the Act of Succession was passed in 1701. After the death of Queen Anne in 1714, the throne was inherited by George I, despite there being over 50 Catholics with better claims.

The Act of Succession extended to Scotland after the Act of Union 1707, an act which incorporated the ‘Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Act 1707’ passed by the Scottish Parliament, ensuring that future British monarchs must ‘preserve the settlement of the true Protestant religion as established by the laws made in Scotland’.

This was to protect the status of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. With Catholics prohibited from inheriting the British crown, it is understandable that some Catholics state they cannot identify with the crown.

Though one must point out that other than the examples of King James VI & I and King Charles II, the examples of anti-Catholic behaviour were conducted by the Parliaments of Scotland and England.

These examples also exclude the Test Acts passed by Parliament which prohibited those who believed in Transubstantiation from public office, and the banning of Catholic worship imposed by various Parliaments.

During her lifetime, Her Majesty the Queen set out to start the journey of over- coming this troubled history. She met five popes, including inviting both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom. On both occasions, public Masses were celebrated in Scotland.

When Her Majesty met Pope Francis in 2014, it was to mark 100 years of re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and the Holy See.

Writing to her son and successor, King Charles III, Pope Francis paid ‘tribute to her life of unstinting service to the good of the nation and the Commonwealth, her example of devotion to duty, her steadfast witness of faith in Jesus Christ and her firm hope in his promises’.

We have every expectation of continued improvement in relations between the monarchy and Catholics under the reign of Charles III.

When attending the canonisation of St John Henry Newman in 2019, the then prince wrote: “We can only be grateful to Newman for the gifts, rooted in his Catholic faith, which he shared with wider society: his intense and moving spiritual autobiography and his deeply-felt poetry.”

The historic difficulties that Catholics have faced whilst living on these islands is often symbolised by the fact that a Catholic cannot become monarch of the United Kingdom.

The reign of Queen Elizabeth II, however, will be judged as a period when relationships between the Catholic Church, Scotland, and the rest of the United Kingdom improved, including how practicing Catholics in Scotland judge the institution of monarchy.

Her son’s, and our King’s, mission should be to continue to improve this relationship, and history suggests he will.

James Bundy is a writer, commentator and Conservative councillor in Falkirk.

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

Get the latest Scottish Catholic news. Sign up today.