Wrestling with the Royals

Angela Haggerty reflects on how to voice scepticism for the monarchy while the nation is in mourning.

You don’t need to be a history buff to understand that Catholics haven’t had the best of times in Scotland down the centuries. That fundamentally out-of-place feeling is enhanced when the monarchy of these islands won’t allow a Catholic to sit on the throne.

The combination of the monarch being the head of the Church of England and the historical mistreatment of Catholics by the Protestant establishment in Scotland – there was the 1923 Church of Scotland report, for example, which described Irish Catholics as a ‘menace’, and for which the Church of Scotland has since apologised – still leaves many of us a with a sense of being othered in the country we call home.

It’s within this context, then, that many of us have felt a profound unease over the national expectation to grieve the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

Recent events have prompted inner conflict for many Catholics in Scotland who struggle to marry their faithful requirements to pray for the Queen as a child of God, equal to all others, with the knowledge that the Queen was the representative of an outrageously unequal system of hereditary monarchy.

I grew up in Rothesay, on the Isle of Bute. The new King Charles III was, until this month, the Duke of Rothesay, and visited the island many times. On one of those occasions, I was in secondary school and a French horn player in the school band.

When he once paid a visit to Rothesay Castle, we were invited to provide the music for the event. It was a big deal: locals lined the streets to welcome the Duke, and inside the castle there were stringent security procedures in place, the likes of which were a little intimidating to a young girl like me who was rather baffled by the whole spectacle.

Even at that young age, I found it difficult to feel the sense of honour that I was expected to exhibit. I’d grown up with an inherent knowledge that people like me didn’t belong in the world of royal fandom. It felt alien to me.

As I got older, that feeling only grew stronger. I am a republican, I believe that a head of state should be elected by citizens of the state – it’s not personal, it’s politics.

I cannot bow and curtsy to a Royal Family that owns vast lands when citizens of this country live in poverty.

I find it hard to respect a Royal Family that allows ordinary citizens to throw their doors open to refugees but keeps their own palace doors closed. In a cost-of-living crisis, the knowledge that the Queen’s crown was so heavy under the weight of gold and jewels that she had to be careful not to break her neck while wearing it, is hard to stomach.

As a political commentator, I feel compelled to point these things out amid what can only be described as a hysterical and unquestioning media reaction to the Queen’s passing, but to do so inevitably provokes a furious response among many who believe even the most basic discussion of alternative republican views is a mark of unacceptable disrespect.

On social media, in particular, it doesn’t take long for trolls to take aim at my Catholic identity, reminding me again that people like me can be viewed with suspicion purely because of our Faith; that we will always be met as rebellious troublemakers rather than tax-paying citizens.

But as a Catholic, I feel compelled to put all of that aside and pray for the repose of the Queen’s soul in the same way I would pray for anyone else.

I was brought up to believe that praying for those we find hard to love or respect, or whom we disagree with, was just as important – if not more important – than praying for the people we love.

And despite the strength of my political feelings, I have to acknowledge that for other people, for reasons I may not understand, the death of the Queen may feel deeply personal and cause genuine sadness.

And so the key for me in the wake of the Queen’s passing is to try to strike the balance. I’m trying to be mindful when speaking publicly. It is possible – and, I think, essential – to put forward views about political alternatives, but it can be done without disrespecting the grief of others.

Above all, I take direction from my Faith and the morals and ethics held within it that are so often missing in mainstream political discourse.

This period of Royal mourning will feel conflicting for many Catholics in Scotland, but it’s important we navigate it with our Catholic values and not with anger.

Angela Haggerty is a writer and commentator.

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