At the Crucible of History: The Centenary of the Romanov Family’s Murder

Romanovs 1913

For today and tomorrow, I am using this photograph as my Facebook cover photo.

Many of you already know who these people are, but for those who do not, let me tell you why I am featuring them, and what they represent to me. Above all else, in terms of my thinking, keep in mind the premise that “those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it…”

First, let me begin with a quick note about the photograph: it was taken in 1913, 105 years ago. In 1913, World War I had not yet begun, Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States, George V King of Great Britain and Ireland. Pius X was Pope of Rome, while China had only just overthrown its millennia-old monarchy. An Ottoman sultan still reigned from Istanbul, while the Meiji Emperor had died in Tokyo the year before. Most homes in the world used neither electricity nor gas, most people used horses or carriages rather than cars, and the wealthiest kings and captains of industry were just as vulnerable as the poorest factory worker or pauper to numerous diseases which we now no longer have among us.

Look at this family pictured here, seemingly of a world so far removed from our own, a century apart, and see if you can find a glimpse into their unique personalities. Look at their faces: the two eldest daughters on the photo’s left and right edges, beautiful in the golden age of their late teens. Notice the shy, inquisitive gaze of the oldest, on the left, and the somewhat bolder smile and direct gaze of the next-oldest, on the right. The youngest daughter, whom her parents called the ‘Imp’ for her mischievous ways, stands next to her clearly naturally reserved father, arm-in-arm with the family’s youngest child, her brother and the only son. Standing in the back, the mother, who looks so much like her own maternal grandmother, places her arm on her husband’s chair; even in this photo, worry etches her face, while to her right, our left, the middle daughter, whose face radiates kindness, looks on with a thoughtful stare.

Who were these people, who was this family? What happened to them only five years after they sat for this photograph, a moment in history when their father and husband’s dynasty had, been on the throne of Russia for three hundred years and seemed certain to continue in power for generations to come?

One hundred years ago, in the pre-dawn hours of July 17, 1918, the unlawfully imprisoned Imperial Family of Russia—held without any semblance of legal authority or pretense—was murdered by a team of Bolshevik Cheka secret police along with four of their devoted servants and assistants. This was both a horrific tragedy and a history-changing political murder.

The murdered family members were: the Emperor Nicholas II Romanov (50), his wife, Queen Victoria’s beloved granddaughter, the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna (46), their four daughters, the Grand Duchesses Olga (22), Tatiana (21), Maria (19), and Anastasia (17), and their son, the Grand Duke and Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich (13).

Murdered with them were their four devoted servants and friends who chose to share their exile and imprisonment: their physician Dr Eugene Botkin (53), footman Alexei Trupp (62), cook Ivan Kharitonov (47), and maid Anna Demidova (40). All the servants who stayed with the Imperial Family and shared their martyrdom were Orthodox, save for Trupp, who was a Catholic Latvian, but, interestingly, he was also glorified as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) along with the others in 1981.

The murders took place in the dimly lit cellar of the Ipatiev House in the isolated town of Yekaterinburg, Ural Siberia. Led by Yakov Yurovsky, the ten killers were all convinced atheistic Bolshevik revolutionaries from Baltic Latvia and Lithuania.

The Emperor, the Empress, the two oldest Grand Duchesses, and the men died from the initial hail of bullets; the Tsarevich, Grand Duchesses Maria and Anastasia, and Anna Demidova survived the initial blasts. The princesses, wearing diamonds and other gems sewn into their dresses, were savagely bayoneted along with their brother and Demidova, who attempted to fight back. One of the family’s poor dogs, a French bulldog, was also killed, while another escaped and was later found and adopted by the anti-Bolshevik (White) Army soldiers. These details are disturbing to read and to learn, but I believe that we must know these things to understand the depths of the utter evil and the sadism that motivated the murderers, both those who gave the order and those who drunkenly carried it out.

The most disturbing part is that Lenin and all his lieutenants had—after inventing a revolutionary propaganda machine to spread both slander and distorted half-truths about the Tsar and his policies—somehow convinced themselves that these heinous murders were for the ‘good’ of ‘The People’ and the totalitarian cause of advancing the Soviet Proletariat against its ‘Class Enemies’…

The order to kill them all—not only the Emperor, but his wife, children, and their servants—came directly from Lenin and his lieutenants Yakov Sverdlov and Filipp Goloshchyokin. Not content merely with killing the Emperor, Empress, and their children and servants, their killers mutilated the victims’ bodies and then attempted to destroy them by kerosene and fire before irreverently dumping them nearby at Ganina Yama.

The very next day, July 18th, 1918, the Bolsheviks killed the late Empress’ older sister, who was also the late Emperor’s aunt-by-marriage, the widowed Grand Duchess-turned-nun-and-abbess Elizabeth Fyodorovna. Along with her devoted former maid and fellow nun Varvara Yakovleva and several cadet princes of the Romanov family, the Grand Duchess was taken by the Bolsheviks to an old mine shaft at Alapaevsk, clubbed on the head, and thrown alive down the mine shaft. Save for one grand duke, Sergei Mikhailovitch, who had been shot, the others survived the fall and sang hymns down in the shaft until they died of Bolshevik grenade blasts, smoke inhalation from burning brushwood that the Bolsheviks threw down upon them, or blood loss.

One of the most beloved women in Moscow who was immensely popular with the faithful for all her social work and loving kindness—in some ways comparable to a kind of Russian Orthodox Mother Teresa figure—the Bolsheviks didn’t dare arrest Abbess-Grand Duchess Elizabeth in broad daylight. Like her sister, brother-in-law, young nieces and nephew, and millions of other future victims of Soviet repression and mass murder, Grand Duchess Elizabeth was arrested without legal pretense, imprisoned, and ultimately killed under shadow of darkness.

Glorified as martyrs in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) in 1981, and glorified as passion-bearing saints in the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000, the Imperial Family and their dear servants are widely venerated throughout the Orthodox world. Many Catholics and high church Protestants also revere them as well. They are viewed by most Orthodox as martyrs (Gr. ‘witnesses’) who were killed in large measure due to their killers’ utter hatred for all religion, Christianity generally, but Orthodoxy in particularly. Others view them as ‘passion-bearers’—those who went to their deaths with Christ-like composure, forgiveness, and long-suffering.

In the short term, the brutal murders achieved what Lenin had sought—eliminating the main focal point for the unity of anti-communist White Army resistance to the Bolshevik Red Army. Within several years as the Russian Civil War began to wind down under Lenin, Trotsky, and then Stalin’s brutal regime, the United States recognized the USSR as a legitimate political entity and established full diplomatic relations with it, with other countries quickly following suit.

Yet today, increasing public veneration of the Imperial Family in Russia and Eastern Europe represents one of the most visible healings of memory. For many, it is an inseparable part of the ongoing civil society transformations of post-Soviet Russian cultural, political, and religious life. Just as many formerly communist countries have torn down their Soviet-era statues of Lenin and Stalin, statues of Nicholas II and his family and shrines to their memory have risen across Russia, Ukraine, and Serbia, with plans for more to follow.

“Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it”. Today millions of Western schoolchildren rightfully learn about the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, but very few are educated about the horrors of the Soviet holocausts and various communist purges and revolutions, in which tens of millions of people have died as “enemies of the People”. This was not just in Russia and China, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, North Korea, and Cuba, but all across the world. In Vietnam, Cambodia, Georgia, Armenia, Angola, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, and Mongolia, millions of people died under communist firing squads, in gulags, concentration camps, torture chambers, mental hospitals, etc. Millions more died of deliberate famine-inducing policies and purges of dissent. People must learn of communism’s murderous history or, in their ignorance, they will be more likely to sympathize with its proponents today and ignore the historical realities of its massive abuses and murders.

While controversial among some Westerners for how the Russian government has utilized the Romanovs’ murders to foster conservative nationalist and Orthodox political sentiments (it is worth noting here that all governments engage in co-opting national historical events and prominent personalities for ideological purposes), the growing popular veneration of the Imperial Family today is also undoubtedly part of something else, a reality that transcends a purely earthly political dimension. This is something that, while often connected to political considerations, also exists independent of them: the ongoing spiritual process of a gradual re-Christianization of Russian society after the +70 year experiment in atheistic communist Soviet dictatorship. This was an experiment with many scientific and medical achievements, but also one of innumerable totalitarian horrors, persecutions, and genocidal levels of engineered starvation in Kazakhstan and Ukraine, which, along with all the purges, claimed the lives of tens of millions of people from 1918 to 1991.

Through the wise actions and policies of so many brave men and women across the world, and, I believe, Divine Providence, this murderous experiment collapsed in less than eight decades where it had first been violently launched a century ago. A century ago today, the men ruling Russia ordered the murder of its previous ruler, its last monarch of a three centuries-old dynasty, and his entire family and household. Today, the people ruling Russia overwhelmingly abhor the ideology that inspired these murders, and instead many of them are among the patrons and pilgrims of the commemorations going on across Russian cities and towns today. In only a century, think of all that has changed. Think, too, of those who, even now, seek to bring to Western countries the communist policies which led to untold suffering for tens of millions in Russia, Eastern Europe, and indeed worldwide.

In remembering and honoring the Romanovs today and tomorrow—and all the tens of millions of victims of Soviet and communist oppression everywhere—let us keep in mind the historical nuances surrounding their lives and deaths, the examples found in both, and the reality of the hope of our Resurrection above all else. May they intercede for us all before the Throne of God!

Remembering Queen Marie Antoinette of France

I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one’s conscience reproaches one with nothing.

I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister…

Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.

I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed…

I pardon all my enemies the evils that they have done me.

-Excerpt from Queen Marie Antoinette’s last letter, written at 4:30am to her sister-in-law Princess Elisabeth of France, 16 October 1793.

Today we remember Her Most Christian Majesty Queen Marie Antoinette of France and Navarre, guillotined by the radical French Republic on 16 October 1793. May her memory, and that of her martyred son and husband, be eternal!

1783

1783 “Rose Portrait” of the 28-year old Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, by court painter Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun/

Born on 2 November 1755 to the Austrian Habsburg monarch Maria Theresa (1717-1780, r. 1740-80), reigning Queen of Hungary and Croatia, Archduchess of Austria, and from 1745-65 de jure Empress consort of the Holy Roman Empire, and her husband, Prince Franz Stefan, Duke of Lorraine (1708-1765), Holy Roman Emperor, Princess Maria Antonia, as she was known before her marriage, had a happy and warm childhood. Her mother and father created a warm, informal family life in the royal palace of Schoenbrunn in Vienna centered around their devout Catholic faith.

Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa of the House of Habsburg, Queen of Hungary and Croatia, sovereign Archduchess of Austria. Queen Marie Antoinette's mother lived from 1717-1780, ruling the Habsburg dominions from 1740-80 and serving as Holy Roman Empress from 1745-65 with her husband's death. She then co-ruled with her son Joseph II (r. 1765-90) as Dowager Empress until her own death in 1780.

Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa of the House of Habsburg, Queen of Hungary and Croatia, sovereign Archduchess of Austria. Queen Marie Antoinette’s mother lived from 1717-1780, ruling the Habsburg dominions from 1740-80 and serving as Holy Roman Empress from 1745-65 with her husband’s death. She then co-ruled with her son Joseph II (r. 1765-90) as Dowager Empress until her own death in 1780.

The widowed Empress Maria Theresa with her children, including Archduchess Maria Antonia (Marie Antoinette).

The widowed Empress Maria Theresa with her children, including Archduchess Maria Antonia (Marie Antoinette).

At the age of 15, in 1770, Maria Antonia became Dauphine (Crown Princess) of France upon her marriage to the Dauphin Louis-Auguste de France (1754-1793), favourite grandson and heir of the ailing King Louis XV of France of the Bourbon dynasty.

Painting of the wedding of then-Dauphin Louis-Auguste de France and Austrian Archduchess Maria Antonia on 16 May 1770.

Painting of the wedding of then-Dauphin Louis-Auguste de France and Austrian Archduchess Maria Antonia on 16 May 1770.

Profile medallion of Marie Antoinette as Archduchess of Austria and Dauphine of France.

Profile medallion of Marie Antoinette as Archduchess of Austria and Dauphine of France.

Upon her husband’s accession to the French throne as Louis XVI on 10 May 1774, when she was only 18, Marie Antoinette became Queen of France and Navarre.

Antoine François Callet's portrait of King Louis XVI in royal robes.

Antoine François Callet’s portrait of King Louis XVI in royal robes.

Marie Antoinette's monogram as Queen of France, 1774-1793.

Marie Antoinette’s monogram as Queen of France, 1774-1793.

Denied any real political influence, Marie turned her attentions to fashion, arranging elaborate parties and banquets, card games, and gardening. She established a friendship through letter correspondence with Queen Charlotte of Great Britain, consort of King George III.

King Louis XVI of France (1755-1793) shown at the age of 20 in 1775, a year after ascending to the Throne.

King Louis XVI of France (1755-1793) shown at the age of 20 in 1775, a year after ascending to the Throne.

The young Queen painted in 1775 at the age of 19. Courtesy of the Musée Antoine Lécuyer.

The young Queen painted in 1775 at the age of 19. Courtesy of the Musée Antoine Lécuyer.

Queen Marie Antoinette in a court dress worn over extremely wide panniers. By Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1778).

Queen Marie Antoinette in a court dress worn over extremely wide panniers. By Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1778).

The royal couple were widely ridiculed by the French public for their failure to produce an heir; Marie Antoinette’s brother the Emperor of Austria Joseph II even weighed in on their marital problems, as did their mother Empress Maria Theresa, who gave her daughter rather forward advice on how best to begin a normative sexual life with her husband the King. Finally, reportedly after a small surgical correction (possibly circumcision) the King and Queen began to enjoy a normal married life. After eight years of marriage, the Queen at last gave birth to a daughter, Princess Marie-Thérèse Charlotte (1778-1851), the first of her four children, and in 1781 to a son and heir, the Dauphin Louis Joseph (d. 1789). In 1785 she gave birth to a son who would survive Louis XVI by several years, Louis Charles (d. 1795, r. de jure as Louis XVII from 1793-95).

Portrait of the young Dauphin Louis Charles, heir of France, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. By Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun.

Portrait of the young Dauphin Louis Charles, heir of France, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. By Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun.

Alexander Kucharsky's portrait of the seven year old Louis Charles, Dauphin of France, in 1792, less than a year before his father Louis XVI's death.

Alexander Kucharsky’s portrait of the seven year old Louis Charles, Dauphin of France, in 1792, less than a year before his father Louis XVI’s death.

Within the Kingdom of France, a growing number of the population eventually came to dislike her, accusing L’Autrichienne, “the Austrian woman” (a nickname given Marie Antoinette upon her arrival to France by Louis XV’s hostile daughters,Mesdames de France), of being profligate, promiscuous, and of harbouring sympathies for France’s enemies, particularly Austria, her country of origin. The Diamond Necklace affair further damaged her reputation. The Queen later became known as Madame Déficit because France’s financial crisis was blamed on her lavish spending and her perceived opposition to the social and financial reforms of the more liberal-minded ministers Turgot and Necker. To counter anti-monarchical sentiment which focused particularly on the Queen’s alleged (but false) extramarital affairs and financial irresponsibility, Versailles royal portraitists released several paintings of the Queen with her children, showing her as a faithful wife and devoted mother.

Marie Antoinette with her two eldest children, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte and the Dauphin Louis Joseph (1781-89), in the Petit Trianon's gardens, by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller (1785).

Marie Antoinette with her two eldest children, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte and the Dauphin Louis Joseph (1781-89), in the Petit Trianon’s gardens, by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller (1785).

This State Portrait by Vigée-Lebrun (1787) of Marie Antoinette and her three surviving children Marie Thérèse, Louis Charles (on her lap), and Louis Joseph, was meant to help her reputation by depicting her as a mother and in simple, yet stately attire.

This State Portrait by Vigée-Lebrun (1787) of Marie Antoinette and her three surviving children Marie Thérèse, Louis Charles (on her lap), and Louis Joseph, was meant to help her reputation by depicting her as a mother and in simple, yet stately , essentially bourgeoisie, attire.

During the French Revolution, after a mob of angry Parisian women (and armed men) stormed the Palace of Versailles in October 1789 — attempting to kill the Queen and slaughtering the royal Swiss Guards — the revolutionary government placed the royal family under house arrest in the Paris Tuileries Palace.

Several events linked to Marie Antoinette, in particular the royal family’s bungled June 1791 attempt to flee to Varennes, and her perceived support for Austria against the revolutionary government, had disastrous effects on French popular opinion: over a year later, on 10 August 1792, the attack on the Tuileries forced the royal family to take refuge at the National Assembly.

Arrest of the royal family at the house of the registrar of passports, at Varennes, night of 21–22 June 1791, by Thomas Falcon Marshall (1854).

Arrest of the royal family at the house of the registrar of passports, at Varennes, night of 21–22 June 1791, by Thomas Falcon Marshall (1854).

On 13 August 1792, the family was imprisoned — ostensibly for their own safety from the mob calling for their heads — in the Temple. On 21 September 1792, Louis XVI was formally deposed as King and the monarchy declared abolished. Around this time, Marie Antoinette said to one of her close friends, Madame Campan:

… If the factions assassinate me … it will be a fortunate event for me; they will deliver me from a most painful existence… I am his wife; I will not suffer him to incur the smallest risk without my sharing it.

The increasingly radical revolutionaries wondered what to do with the man they considered an “ex-king”: Should he be sent into exile, perhaps to America? Should he be kept a prisoner for life? Should he be killed? What about a trial? Leading Jacobin anti-monarchists such as Robespierre and Saint Just called for the immediate execution of Louis, with some urging the assembly not to try him at all, but kill him without trial. The verdict was a foregone conclusion: the radical majority of revolutionaries in the National Assembly convicted the King of treason against the French Republic on 20 January (despite the fact that Louis XVI had never sworn loyalty to it or acknowledged the abolition of the monarchy). They sent Louis XVI to the guillotine on 21 January 1793. As this account notes, the King went to his death with great calm and noble dignity, pardoning all those who took part in it and praying that France might be spared further political violence:

My account is based on that left by Fr. Henry Essex Edgeworth, an English man and the priest who accompanied the King, when he journeyed through Paris on that final morning.

King Louis XVI leaves his sorrowing family.

King Louis XVI says farewell to his family.

On January 20 1793 King Louis XVI was sentenced to death by the National Convention. The execution was scheduled to take place on the following morning. That evening the King was allowed to spend some time with his family, in order to take his leave. He explained to his sorrowing children what was going to happen on the following day. He asked his young son and heir, Prince Louis Charles, not to try to take revenge on the French people. When he left his weeping offspring to return to his own room, he told them that he would come back to see them in the morning. He knew that would not be possible, but he felt it would be comforting for them to feel that he might.

The last journey of a King of France.

On the following morning the King was up at 5 AM. At eight o’clock a guard of 1200 soldiers arrived to escort him to the place of execution. He was brought there in a closed carriage. There was little conversation between the King and the priest, as they were accompanied in the carriage by two gendarmes. Louis just asked his companion to point out various psalms, from the prayer book which he was carrying. The two guards appeared to be very impressed by the dignity and fortitude of their prisoner. They had never been in such close proximity to the King before. The journey to the scaffold lasted for about two hours and the streets were lined all the way by armed citizens of the new Republic. The carriage was also surrounded by the troops and drummers were marching alongside, with the intention of drowning out any cries of sympathy there might be for the unfortunate monarch. All the houses appeared empty and there were no faces appearing at any of the windows. All the activity was in the streets, where the populace were all rushing forward to the great square, to witness the completion of the crime. Whether they all approved it is not known.

Eventually the sad cavalcade arrived at the Place Louis XV, where the instrument of execution was set up. This huge square was shortly to be renamed the Place de la Revolution and is now known as the Place de la Concorde. The guillotine, that Louis XVI was executed on, was in the centre of the square. Thousands of the victims of the illusion of liberty were to follow him to their deaths, on it’s blood-soaked timbers in the following years.

When the king noticed that the carriage had stopped, he addressed himself to the two guards, regarding the priest.

‘I recommend to you this good man; take care that after my death no insult be offered to him – I charge you to prevent it.’

Right up till the end, this good man always showed concern for other people.

The execution of King Louis XVI.

When he disembarked from the carriage, he was surrounded by three guards who attempted to seize him in order to take off his garments. The King royally dismissed them and took his own coat and neckerchief off and arranged the collar of his shirt. For a moment, the soldiers were disconcerted by this show of spirit but they soon recovered and surrounded him again. This time it was in order to bind his hands.

‘What are you attempting?’ said the King, drawing back his hands. ‘To bind you,’ answered the wretches. ‘To bind me,’ said the King, with an indignant air. ‘No! I shall never consent to that: do what you have been ordered, but you shall never bind me. . .’

They gave up the attempt after that.

The pathway to the guillotine was very rough and the priest feared that his King might stumble on the way to his death. King Louis XVI, however, walked resolutely forward and straight up the steps to the awaiting blade. He marched directly across the platform and silenced, with a look alone, the drummers who were standing at the base of the scaffold. Then, in a voice that seemed loud enough to be heard all over the city, he addressed the crowd. These were the final words of this King of France to his people.

“I die innocent of all the crimes laid to my charge; I Pardon those who have occasioned my death; and I pray to God that the blood you are going to shed may never be visited on France.”

He was attempting to proceed when an officer on horseback screamed at the drummers to start beating. They immediately commenced and any further words King Louis XVI might have been trying to say were drowned out.

Many voices in the crowd could be heard encouraging the executioners to perform their task. It was but the work of a few moments, to hustle the King into position and take off his head with one blow from the guillotine. For a moment, a hush fell over the throngs of people. But when one of the soldiers took the head of the dead king and showed it to them, they commenced cheering and throwing their hats in the air.

Thus died the saint and martyr King Louis XVI. His very last thoughts were for the welfare of the people who were murdering him. Remember this on the 14th of July (Bastille Day).

King Louis XVI on the scaffold moments before his death under the guillotine.

King Louis XVI on the scaffold moments before his death under the guillotine.

The death of King Louis XVI on 21 January 1793. From this moment, according to French royal law and tradition, he and Marie Antoinette's son and heir the Dauphin Louis Charles as now King as Louis XVII. Marie Antoinette was now Queen Mother of France, though, of course, the French Republic did not recognise her as such, calling her instead the

The death of King Louis XVI on 21 January 1793. The chief executioner Sanson shows the royal head to the people. From this moment, according to French royal law and tradition, he and Marie Antoinette’s son and heir the Dauphin Louis Charles as now King as Louis XVII. Marie Antoinette was now Queen Mother of France, though, of course, the French Republic did not recognise her as such, calling her instead the “Widow Capet”.

Marie Antoinette, kept afterwards in a state of close guard with no privacy, deeply mourned her husband. By this time her once-splendid hair had turned white from stress.

The Queen aged rapidly in her confinement and subsequent imprisonment, especially following her husband's death.

The Queen aged rapidly in her confinement and subsequent imprisonment, especially following her husband’s death.

Marie Antoinette prisoner in the Temple Tower, attributed to Alexandre Kucharski, ca. 1792. (Private collection)

Marie Antoinette prisoner in the Temple Tower, attributed to Alexandre Kucharski, ca. 1792. (Private collection)

It was only a matter of time before the hatred and fury of the radical revolutionaries returned to the person of the hated Queen. Shortly after the King’s murder, she was removed from her children, and imprisoned in a dank and foul-smelling room in Paris’ Conciergerie prison. In October 1793 she was charged with treason against the Republic and conspiring with Austria (her late brother Leopold II had been, and his son Francis II, her nephew, was now the reigning Archduke of Austria and Holy Roman Emperor). She was permitted no attorney to speak in her defense.

Trial of the Queen, October 14-16 1793.

Trial of the Queen, October 14-16 1793. “Marie Antoinette au Tribunal revolutionnaire”, engraving by Alphonse Francois, from a painting by Paul Delaroche (1857). United States Library of Congress.

French Queen Mother Marie Antoinette at her trial, October 1793.

French Queen Mother Marie Antoinette at her trial, October 1793.

Marie-Antoinette_au_Tribunal_révolutionnaire_by_Alphonse_François

After a two-day trial begun on 14 October 1793, during which even the women of Paris (who hated her) felt her inquisitors went too far by forcing her son Louis XVII to testify against his mother and accuse her of molesting him, Marie Antoinette was convicted by the revolutionary tribunal of treason. When asked what her response was to the charges against her, the Queen ignored them, except the charge of incest with her own son, which she vehemently and eloquently denied:

I thought that human nature would excuse me from answering such an imputation, but I appeal from it to the heart of every mother here present.

Like her husband before her, Marie Antoinette was allowed no appeal. Her jailers refused her request to see her children one last time, so she spent her last hours in prayer and writing this letter to her sister-in-law Princess Elisabeth, who would ultimately follow the Queen to the guillotine in 1794*:

16th October, 4.30 A.M.

It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time. I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one’s conscience reproaches one with nothing.

I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister. You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you! I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you. Alas! poor child; I do not venture to write to her; she would not receive my letter. 


I do not even know whether this will reach you. Do you receive my blessing for both of them. I hope that one day when they are older they may be able to rejoin you, and to enjoy to the full your tender care. Let them both think of the lesson which I have never ceased to impress upon them, that the principles and the exact performance of their duties are the chief foundation of life; and then mutual affection and confidence in one another will constitute its happiness. Let my daughter feel that at her age she ought always to aid her brother by the advice which her greater
experience and her affection may inspire her to give him. And let my son in his turn render to his sister all the care and all the services which affection can inspire. Let them, in short, both feel that, in whatever positions they may be placed, they will never be truly happy but through their union. Let them follow our example. In our own misfortunes how much comfort has our affection for one another afforded us! And, in times of happiness, we have enjoyed that doubly from being able to share it with a friend; and where can one find friends more tender and more united than in one’s own family? Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.

I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed. Having no spiritual consolation to look for, not even knowing whether there are still in this place any priests of that religion (and indeed the place where I am would expose them to too much danger if they were to enter it but once), I sincerely implore pardon of God for all the faults which I may have committed during my life. I trust that, in His goodness, He will mercifully accept my last prayers, as well as those which I have for a long time addressed to Him, to receive my soul into His mercy. I have to speak to you of one thing which is very painful to my heart, I know how much pain the child must have caused you. Forgive him, my dear sister; think of his age, and how easy it is to make a child say whatever one wishes, especially when he does not understand it. It will come to pass one day, I hope, that he will better feel the value of your kindness and of your tender affection for both of them. It remains to confide to you my last thoughts. I should have wished to write them at the beginning of my trial; but, besides that they did not leave me any means of writing, events have passed so rapidly that I really have not had time.

I beg pardon of all whom I know, and especially of you, my sister, for all the vexations which, without intending it, I may have caused you. I pardon all my enemies the evils that they have done me. I bid farewell to my aunts and to all my brothers and sisters. I had friends. The idea of being forever separated from them and from all their troubles is one of the greatest sorrows that I suffer in dying. Let them at least know that to my latest moment I thought of them.

Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger.

Queen Marie Antoinette was executed on the Place de la Révolution on 16 October 1793. Here are two short videos which dramatise her death.

Marie Antoinette moments before her execution. In reality, her jailers cropped her hair extremely short so as not to get in the way of the guillotine (and, more realistically, to humiliate her). Unlike her husband the King, whom his killers permitted to ride to his execution in a closed coach, the Queen was seated in an open tumbrel, exposed to the jeers, taunts, and assaults of the Parisian crowd come to see her die.

Marie Antoinette moments before her execution. In reality, her jailers cropped her hair extremely short so as not to get in the way of the guillotine (and, more realistically, to humiliate her). Unlike her husband the King, whom his killers permitted to ride to his execution in a closed coach, the Queen was seated in an open tumbrel, exposed to the jeers, taunts, and assaults of the Parisian crowd come to see her die.

Marie Antoinette's execution, 16 October 1793.

Marie Antoinette’s execution, 16 October 1793. Her last known words were to one of her guards; she accidentally stepped on his foot, and said to him “Pardon me, monsieur, I did not mean to do it.”

Following the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814, Louis XVI’s brother King Louis XVIII ordered his late brother and sister-in-law buried in a magnificent tomb befitting their royal status. Here they lie to this day. May God have mercy on them, remember them in His Kingdom, and one day restore the Bourbon monarchy in France:

The tomb of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in the royal Basilica of Saint Denis outside Paris.

The funerary monument of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in the royal Basilica of Saint Denis outside Paris. The sculptures, designed in 1830, are by Edme Gaulle and Pierre Petitot.

Mort à la République! Mort aux les traîtres républicaines! Mort à la Révolution! Mort à le drapeau tricolore! Mort aux tyrans! Mort à Robespierre et Saint-Just! Mort aux Jacobins! Vive la monarchie de France! Vive le roi et la reine de France! Vive la liberté!

*Tried before the revolutionary tribunal and accused of being “the sister of a Tyrant”, Princess Elisabeth, Louis XVI’s sister, responded: “If my brother had been what you call him, you would not have been where you are, nor I where I am!”. She was convicted, and guillotined the following day.

Bibliography:

Recommended further reading:

In This Great Service: A Theological and Political Defense of Monarchy

Laurits Tuxen's 1898 Coronation of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna.

Laurits Tuxen’s 1898 Coronation Portrait of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna.

“Lord God of our fathers, and King of Kings, Who created all things by Thy word, and by Thy wisdom has made man, that he should walk uprightly and rule righteously over Thy world; Thou hast chosen me as . . . judge over Thy people. I acknowledge Thy unsearchable purpose towards me, and bow in thankfulness before Thy Majesty. Do Thou, my Lord and Governor, fit me for the work to which Thou hast sent me; teach me and guide me in this great service. May there be with me the wisdom which belongs to Thy throne; send it from Thy Holy Heaven, that I may know what is well-pleasing in Thy sight, and what is right according to Thy commandment. May my heart be in Thy hand, to accomplish all that is to the profit of the people committed to my charge and to Thy glory, that so in the day of Thy judgment I may give Thee account of my stewardship without blame; through the grace and mercy of Thy Son, Who was once crucified for us, to Whom be all honor and glory with Thee and the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, unto ages of ages. Amen.”

–Russian emperors’ coronation oath, last spoken by Nicholas II at his coronation in 1896.

“Lord Jesus Christ! Omnipotent Master of heaven and earth! To Thee I deliver the nation and people that were entrusted to my care and purchased by Thy Precious Blood, the children whom Thou didst bestow upon me, and to Thee I surrender my soul, O Lord!”

Georgian Queen Tamar the Great’s dying prayer, uttered in 1213.

This will be no great tract, for such a lengthy essay it is not in my power at present time to write, and wiser men and women than I have already left the world with so many excellent essays on the virtues of the monarchical system. Instead, let this essay serve as a straightforward and simple enumeration of the benefits of monarchy, its inherent virtues, and natural superiority over the republican form of government presently used by most of the world.

Further, let it serve as a theological reflection on the reality that kingship is the sole political model which is recognized and discussed in the Holy Scriptures, even though several forms of government existed in the world at the time of the Scriptures’ composition. As Christ is often referred to as the eternal King of the ages and the Son of David, let the point stand that the Israelites prior to His coming understood and anticipated His messiahship as a typological fulfillment and full realization of their ancient Davidic kingship. That is, as Israel’s kings were anointed by God and consecrated to their duties of holy service to Him and His people, even carrying out specific priestly roles in the Temple, so too have “pious kings and right-believing queens” of the Orthodox Faith, as defenders of the new Israel, the Church, been understood throughout their existence to be consecrated to their people’s service and anointed by God. Reflecting the highly typological language of the Church, which permeates all of her liturgical services, the role of the Christian king is compared to that of Christ: just as Christ the God-Man unites Himself in loving service to the Church His people, all kings are called to unite themselves in a life of service and martyric dedication to their people.

Before Christ’s incarnation, the kings of the line of King David, who was both the Lord’s anointed king and a priest and prophet for His people Israel, served God as the earthly governors of His people, while after Christ’s incarnation—with the world transfigured and time and matter itself made sacred by God Himself having come to dwell among humanity and take on human nature in all things except our sinfulness—Christian kings served God in this way, as stewards, caretakers, and servants of the good order, security, and peacefulness of their people. This is why, throughout Christendom, but especially in the Orthodox East, the rites of coronation and anointing of Christian monarchs emphasize not only their natural and ontological bond with their subjects—an essentially familial bond in which the king is father of his people and the queen the mother of her people—but also the continuation in the Church and with the Church’s blessing of Davidic kingship. Christian kings in general, and Orthodox monarchs in particular, have a claim to the Davidic lineage of kings which has its origins in the very pages of the Old Testament’s books of Samuel the Prophet.

One particularly striking historical reality is the concept of Davidic kingship as it was practiced for some 2,800 years in ancient Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia). Preceding Christ’s incarnation by some eight centuries, the royal House of Solomon in what would ultimately become (after AD 451) the non-Chalcedonian kingdom of Ethiopia by its very name claimed not only a theological and ontological continuity with the line of David, but, as the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church’s canonical book “The Glory of Kings” (Kebra Negast) lays out, the foundation of the Solomon dynasty is that they claim to be the literal, biological descendants of King David through his son Solomon’s son Menelek. According to the Kebra Negast, Menelek was Solomon’s son and the successor of Solomon’s purported lover Queen Makeda of Axum (mythically Sheba). As the story goes, the young Menelek purportedly brought the original Ark of the Covenant with him to Ethiopia after leaving his father’s kingdom, and while the House of Solomon no longer rules there, it is in Ethiopia, as the Ethiopian Church claims, that the true Ark resides to this day.

Leaving aside the unique claims made by the Ethiopian kings and their Church, which follows the proscriptions of the Mosaic Law more closely than any other Christian communion, the concept of Davidic kingship is one not limited to mere biological descent from King David (however fascinating that possibility is to contemplate), but one of covenantal kingship in which God anoints and consecrates the king and/or queen as His servant(s) who carry out and bear with His grace the burden of the “great service” of governing His people (see the above coronation oath of Russian monarchs). Davidic kingship, by necessity, is a royal lineage or authority which resides only with the people of Israel. Who are the people of Israel today? By this term, I do not mean Israel the geographical spot on a map (which the Romans called Palestina) or Israel the modern Jewish political state established in 1948. Both Israel on the map and Israel the State are not the ontological entity of Israel, the people of God, which, since Pentecost and the coming down of the Holy Spirit, isthe Orthodox Church, the “New Israel” of the New Covenant.

Because the Church alone, in heaven and on earth, is the full dwelling place and abode of the Holy Spirit, which blesses and consecrates all things and raises up the human race to the heavenly, in the Church alone rests the ability and authority to bless and consecrate kings and queens to God’s service. This is why, from the first Christian Roman emperors of the fourth century (on through the later Eastern Roman or Byzantine emperors) to the ancient kings and queens of England and France, to the Orthodox emperors and empresses of Russia, Christian kingdoms uniformly understood their monarchs and consorts to be first and foremost God’s anointed servants, endowed by the Church at their coronations with the charism or grace of the Church’s blessing of their “great service”. The Church always understood monarchs’ lives—however grave their individual shortcomings or crimes might be—to have been solemnly consecrated to the Lord’s service from their coronation and anointing, and dedicated to the defense, good ordering, and stewardship of His people.

It goes without saying that, as all presidential republics or parliamentary democracies see authority as primarily coming up temporarily to elected rulers from the people of the nation themselves andnot down from God upon divinely anointed and consecrated king and queens, no elected system can theoretically or practically embody, manifest, or make real the solemn and covenantal three-way relationship that exists between God, a crowned and anointed monarch, and his or her people. There is no covenant between President Obama and the American people, nor was there such between any of his predecessors and the people, nor was there between Prime Minister David Cameron and the British people, or President Hollande and the French people. A constitutional oath is not a covenant with God, but merely a promise to the people to respect the existing earthly constitutional laws of the state. Unlike a coronation, at which the new sovereign is mystically and forever joined to his or her people, there is no spiritual dimension whatsoever to the inauguration of a president or the first Cabinet meeting of a prime minister.

An individual president or prime minister may or may not govern well, he or she may or may not be privately a virtuous and ethical person, but whether or not they are virtuous or ethical, never mind pious, devout, and concerned with the state of his or her soul, is of literally no concern to the republican or democratic system itself. It is not so much that democracy or republicanism sanctions or “blesses” the immorality of its rulers so much as both elected systems are 1) entirely unconcerned with morality, 2) founded and enunciated without any real concern for private morality or the idea of corporate, national salvation, and 3) have no authority or license besides a subjective appeal to God or some other kind of transcendent moral framework by which they may appeal to, recognize, or submit to any kind of universal, objective Truth. Democracy is not so much allergic to the notion of objective Truth as it is blind to it; the only real truth in any democracy is the ever-changing will of the people expressed through the act of voting.

A democracy or republic’s people may overwhelmingly follow one religion, for example, as in largely Catholic Ireland or Sunni Muslim Turkey or Pakistan, but any appeal by the president or prime minister of that country to that one prevailing religion is, in a republic or democracy, a fundamentally alien appeal grounded in that elected leader’s personal whim or the perceived political expediency of the moment. There is nothing foundationally or integrally religious in either the democratic or republican systems, since all elected systems have as the basis and fount of their authority the fundamentally secularexpression of the popular will, not some sort of objective Truth (e.g. God’s blessing and sanction to reign following His laws and commandments). Even if one approaches the subject of government from an atheistic perspective, and one does not believe in a God who supposedly blesses and sanctifies a monarchy and the rule of the monarchs, it remains inescapable that the political foundation of monarchy is entirely a religious one (the blessing and authority of God), whereas the political foundation of a republic or democracy is an entirely secular construct in which God’s will and His very existence are both utterly irrelevant to the foundation, mission, and legitimacy of the political state. It is of little surprise that the philosophical and ethical foundations of all modern republics and democracies are the writings of so-called “Enlightenment” thinkers who were, without exception, all deists or atheists in their private religious beliefs.

Built entirely on the inherently and inevitably changing expression of whatever happens to be the popular will at a given moment in time, democracies and republics are fundamentally onlyconcerned with whatever might be the will of their voters, and therefore, they are fundamentally notconcerned with questions of what constitutes objective Truth, whether such Truth exists, or how to best lead a nation’s people toward that Truth. A republic or democracy’s people may live their lives unconscious of, and the body politic may exist entirely ignorant of, for instance, the Person of Christ, Whom Christians know to be God the eternal Son, yet nothing in the elected “contracts” of a prime minister or president oblige them in the discharge of their office to introduce their people to Christ (or if the country is mostly Muslim, to the teachings of Muhammad found in the Qur’an, etc.). This is because any republic or democracy is fundamentally secular in nature (any republics ostensibly rooted in religion such as the world’s many “Islamic republics” are an existential and ontological aberration with literally no credible, ancient theological foundation within Islam itself.)

Since elected rulers’ authority is entirely secular, as it is derived only from the power and authority conferred by a popular election, it is entirely outside the scope of a president or prime minister’s elected prerogative and therefore, his or her necessarily temporary authority, to understand his or her temporary stewardship of the body politic as one uniquely blessed and sanctified by God. An individual president or prime minister might happen to be a devout Muslim or Christian who believes that God blessed his or her leadership of their country, but there is nothing within the political system over which they preside that recognizes this entirely subjective belief. Whether or not a president or prime minister believes in God or that God may have blessed his or her leadership is fundamentally irrelevant to the discharge and duties of their secular, elected office. The only real blessing in the republican or democratic systems is that of the voter who “blesses” the candidate by voting for him or her in an election.

This is why democratic republicanism (or republican democracy, however one prefers to order the term) is essentially a secular, entirely non-religious creation. God’s very existence is a matter of literally no concern within the framework of a republican or democratic government, which, taking its authority only from the people, presupposes onlythat the people themselves are sovereign to the degree that their express approval is required for the election of new leaders of the body politic. The only “blessing” that takes place in the casting of ballots at the poll stations or at the later “inauguration” rites in presidential systems is the manifestation of the popular will through the election-based transfer of political power. It goes without saying that the conferring of the people’s will and approval of this or that candidate is an altogether different framework for conferring and recognizing political authority than the solemn anointing and sacred consecration by the Holy Spirit through the Church of a king or queen, or emperor or empress to their people’s service (or, in Islam, the blessing by Allah of a Muslim monarch’s reign).

These musings on the foundational flaws and problems in the republican and democratic political systems beg the question: What is monarchy? Above all else, it a solemn and covenantal service to God in which the monarch is ultimately subject to the Creator to give an account of his or her stewardship and rule over His people. The greatest monarchs in history are those who were the most effective stewards of the good order, prosperity, and peacefulness of their realms. Just as Christianity understands that is natural for men and women to honor, love, and worship their Creator, as man has his very purpose and end in serving and loving Him, so too it is natural for all righteous rulers to honor, love, and worship their Creator, and see themselves as not so much exalted above their subjects so much as the first of His humble servants. The virtues and values of these concepts are entirely alien to the republican and democratic systems, in which God fundamentally does not matter.

Practically speaking, monarchy is the hereditary inheritance and exercise of either political power, ancient ceremonial authority, or both such power and authority, in which the monarch is understood to be the chief servant of the good of his or her realm. The chief good, in a spiritual sense, in any religious society is mankind’s salvation, so for a Christian monarch, it is his or her fundamental duty to encourage, however deemed best, the living of Christian values and a common Christian life by his or her people. For Muslim monarchs, it is their fundamental duty to encourage, however deemed best, the living of Muslim values and a common Muslim life by their people, the same applying to Buddhist monarchs or Hindu monarchs, and so on. The virtue and values of these concepts (of encouraging the spiritual development and transformation of their people) are again fundamentally alien to the republican and democratic systems.

Any monarchy in a religious society, in which the monarch’s reign is understood to be blessed by God, is one that must essentially and practically value above all else the corporate salvation of the nation as the highest duty, the highest good and ontological purpose or end of the monarchy and the political state itself. Seeing as all republican and democratic governments are fundamentally notconcerned with God or salvation, their leaders understandably do not value this. The greatest purpose or end of a democratic or republican system is, in the baldest sense, the perpetuation and preservation by the dominant party’s elite of their own political power.

It is apparent to any student of history that there have been successful monarchs and terrible monarchs, just as there have been successful presidents and terrible presidents, effective prime ministers and incompetent ones. I would never presume to argue that we should accept various monarchs’ abuses of their authority throughout history, and history is rightfully harsh on monarchs who showed themselves to be either incompetent or tyrannical. Yet, just as the reality that certain presidents and premiers have abused their authority does not singularly prove the defectiveness of democracy as a political system, so too republicans and democrats ought to acknowledge that bad monarchs’ presence in history does not singularly prove monarchy’s defectiveness. My account here is not an ideological defense of the historical record of all monarchs as ‘good’, nor is it a condemnation of all republican and democratic authorities as ‘bad’. Instead, it is an examination of the virtues, benefits, and liabilities of both systems (monarchy and republican democracy), with the implicit realization that in both systems there have been certain authorities who governed better or worse than others.

Nevertheless, I am prepared to argue that, within the framework of political theory, monarchs are actually far more accountable to their people than are elected republican leaders. Most elective, republican systems today are inherently non-theistic in their political constitutions (God does not appear as the ultimate authority and judge of mankind), and thus, their notions of political accountability are completely divorced from God or any notion of objective Truth, salvation, redemption, or eternal consequences. Nothing intrinsic to the nature of the elected office of president or prime minister beholds occupants of either office to see themselves as accountable to God for their exercise of that office. Conscientious presidents and premiers throughout history have naturally held themselves accountable to both God and their people, but this is not something which the elected roles themselves prescribe. In monarchies, on the other hand, the monarch’s accountability to God for their service on behalf of their people is at the very foundation of the office and role itself. This accountability of service is stressed numerous times in the foundational prayers and supplications used in their rites of coronation. It is the primary and defining source of their political authority and legitimacy. An individual president or prime minister might personally believe themselves to rule with God’s help; no monarch may dare to rule without it.

From an iconic Christian perspective, bearing in mind above all else the transformational reality of Christ the God-Man’s incarnation, which sanctifies and raises up human nature to its natural and divine potential, Christian monarchy alone of all forms of political authority has at its core the ideas of self-sacrifice, loving service, individual and collective transformation and growing in holiness, and accountability directly rooted in the Christian Gospel. Of all forms of government, Christian monarchy alone directs and compels those in paramount authority to pursue that which is objectively good and true, because Christian monarchy alone is rooted in, believes in, and is defined as succeeding or failing based on to what extent its rulers foster, pursue, and protect that which is objectively good and true—the corporate and ever-deepening life of the people in Christ. Monarchy alone demands of the ruler an account before God of his or her carrying out of that lifelong role of service and dedication.

To this end, I will share one anecdote: according to Georgian Orthodox priest Fr. Zakaria Machitadze in his book The Lives of Georgian Saints, when Queen Tamar the Great ascended the Georgian throne in 1184 following her father King Giorgi III’s death, she addressed the clergy of her realm with these words outlying the basic duties and obligations of her role as monarch:

At the beginning of her reign, Tamar convened a Church council and addressed the clergy with wisdom and humility: “Judge according to righteousness, affirming good and condemning evil,” she advised. “Begin with me — if I sin I should be censured, for the royal crown is sent down from above as a sign of divine service. Allow neither the wealth of the nobles nor the poverty of the masses to hinder your work. You by word and I by deed, you by preaching and I by the law, you by upbringing and I by education will care for those souls whom God has entrusted to us, and together we will abide by the law of God, in order to escape eternal condemnation.… You as priests and I as ruler, you as stewards of good and I as the watchman of that good.”

St. Queen Tamar the Great of Georgia (1160-1213, r. 1184-1213).St. Queen Tamar the Great of Georgia (1160-1213, r. 1184-1213).

In every monarchy in the world, from ancient times to present, all monarchs have been instructed and admonished in their accession celebrations, coronation oaths, or other installation ceremonies with regard to the tremendous ethical responsibilities and sacred obligations incumbent upon their high office. In Imperial Rome, emperors celebrating triumphal processions were acclaimed as the personification of the supreme deity, Jupiter Optimus Maximus, yet at their side throughout the fanfare stood a humble slave, whose duty was to whisper in the emperor’s ear the humbling and haunting words Momento mori: “Remember: you are mortal.” Imperial China, the world’s longest-lasting monarchy, maintained since the Zhou dynasty the concept of the Mandate of Heaven, by which the emperors (called the “Son of Heaven”, Tianzi) were accountable to the gods of heaven (Tian) for their rule and, if they transgressed beyond all bounds of propriety or became so ineffective that they endangered the empire, the divine mandate to rule could be withdrawn and transferred to someone else worthy of holding it.

While elected civil authorities today commonly swear public oaths to maintain and defend the political constitutions of their respective nation-states, monarchs throughout history commonly undertook solemn, public oaths to govern their peoples with mercy, truth, and righteousness, ideals which are emphatically, and inseparably tied to the Christian Gospel. A modern president or prime minister swears only to defend the integrity of a fallible constitutional document composed by men; the Christian ideals of mercy, truth, and righteousness are entirely absent from any elected head of government’s oath. In the history of the world’s other largest monotheistic faith, Islam, monarchs also saw themselves as accountable to God and the precepts put forth in Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an, and recitations from this book featured prominently in the installation rites of the Sunni Ottoman Turkish sultans and Shiite Safavid Persian shahs.

By the very nature of the democratic system in which they operate, democratically elected leaders in republics are accountable in actuality only to ever-shifting opinion polls, the often amoral and conflicting political interests of their most powerful financial supporters, and the media whose presentation of political events often significantly influences voters’ opinion. Even the best republican leaders in history have always had to balance these often conflicting demands of office, so that the pursuit of the ideals of the Truth becomes clouded at best and often instead entirely abandoned in the fray of partisan politics. In contrast, even the worst monarchs in history are, within the monarchical framework, accountable notonly to their people, but especially and ultimately to God for how they serve and reign. By God’s grace all kings reign and ultimately to Him all must give an account of their stewardship. Therefore, a monarch who has spent his or her formative years being trained in the service of their people and in love and fear of God will feel and understand himself or herself to be accountable to history, to their people, and especially to God who rules over all things. This ancient monarchical process of the formation of the ruler as his or her people’s first servant and dedicated defender is a much more time-tested method of producing able rulers than the comparatively recent, modern notion that a previously partisan, highly divisive elected politician will, once sworn into office, suddenly become a moral, ethically driven person able to execute his or her office above partisan interests. Indeed, while history is replete with numerous examples of selfless and dedicated monarchs, I have yet to come across one politician who operated entirely selflessly and without partisan bias.

Thus, from both a theoretical and a practical viewpoint, monarchs are far truer servants of their state than democratic, republican leaders can ever hope to be. Whether a monarch actively rules (exercising paramount political authority in his or her kingdom) or simply reigns ceremonially, as most do today, his or her coronation or installation oath invariably binds them to serve and reign above all else in remembrance and fear of God, prioritizing the salvation, moral and ethical good, and lifelong service of their people. Democratic and republican constitutional oaths prescribe no such obligations on the part of a president or prime minister.

I include the above coronation oath taken by Russian emperors to contrast it with the oaths of office commonly taken by elected republican heads of state today. Whereas the President of the United States solemnly swears to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States” and to the best of his or her ability “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States”, the Russian emperors, to use just one example, swear a solemn oath before God and their people to “accomplish all that is to the profit of the people committed to my charge”. The Russian monarchs who were crowned as God’s supreme earthly “judge over Thy people” humbly “bow in thankfulness before Thy Majesty” and acknowledge themselves as subordinate to and servant of their “Lord and Governor”. Likewise, Queen Tamar of Georgia, in her dying prayer, prepared to give her final account to God for “the nation and people entrusted to my care”. A President of the United States is accountable only to voters’ and his or her most influential supporters’ changing opinions of him or her over time, whereas everyone a century ago understood the Russian emperors to be accountable before God and their people for their “great service”, a sacred and solemn obligation far more binding than the temporary discharge of an elected office.

The presidential oath of office does not speak at all of the president’s accountability to either God or his or her people, whereas at the very core of the Russian emperors’ oath is his or her prayer to “in the day of Thy judgment give [God] account of my stewardship without blame”. The highest moral authority referenced in the presidential oath is the Constitution itself, a man-made, amendable, and changing document which so many people in this country somehow treat almost as if it were infallible. On the other hand, in the Russian monarchs’ coronation oath, the highest authority to which the monarch must submit is none other than God Himself, Whose guidance, teaching, and assistance the monarch constantly implores throughout the coronation oath and beyond.

It is telling that nowhere in the coronation oath for Russian monarchs (viewed before the 1905 revolution as absolute autocrats subject to no earthly constitution) is to be found any haughty exultation of their own power or authority, but, instead, a humble prayer that God “teach me and guide me in this great service.” Thus, at the very climax and pinnacle of his coronation as supreme Autocrat of a vast, multiethnic empire, the Russian emperor humbly took on the role of a servant, imploring God’s guidance in his monarchical rule, a role defined above all else as a “great service” to God and his people.

Just as every Christian family is headed by either a father and mother together or just one of these, so too a monarch, either male or female, serves as the symbolic father or mother of his or her nation. Ideally, the monarch and his or her consort serve together as the typological father and mother of their people. This is a profoundly unifying, supra-political role, and the less the monarch actively involves himself or herself in the nation’s political life, the easier it tends to be for their people to view them in this way. In those monarchies in which the monarch reigns with a crowned consort, we see even further the most natural manifestation of the familleidéale, in which a king/emperor and queen/empress preside together in loving service as the symbolic ‘father’ and ‘mother’ on behalf of their national ‘family’. In a very real and symbolic sense, the monarch and his or her consort serve as the earthly heads of their nation, and, regardless of whether or not they rule politically or simply reign, they serve to embody the Christian ideals of marriage, family life, and domestic unity and tranquility for their people, ideals which are themselves salvific when joined to a common life lived in union with Christ and His Gospel. In any democratic model, by virtue of their temporary and elected, intrinsically partisan office, presidents or prime ministers cannot hope to ever serve in this symbolic way, and the people suffer for lack of a unifying, supra-political father and mother figure to look to for moral example and virtuous conduct. It is a telling example of childhood psychology that boys and girls all around the world play at being kings and queens, never president and prime minister.

It is well known in British history that the Anglican Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603, r. 1558-1603) repeatedly and publicly referred to herself as England’s bride, England’s wife, and her Kingdom as her husband; what is less well known is that this concept began with her Catholic half-sister and predecessor, Queen Mary I (1516-1558, r. 1553-1558). Sarah Duncan’s book Mary I: Gender, Power, and Ceremony in the Reign of England’s First Queen is a superb resource in this area of research. Since Mary was the first crowned and anointed queen regnant in English history, her reign necessitated the development of new political language to legitimize and confer royal authority on a woman. To justify and legitimize this anomaly of female rule, a new formulation of sovereignty itself was necessary, since it was unprecedented for a woman to rule England. This new development was known as the theory of the “king’s two bodies”, or, for Mary and Elizabeth’s reigns, the queen’s two bodies. It recognized that the monarch has both a “body personal”, which was mortal, and could be female, and a “body politic” — the timeless, immortal Crown and Throne personified in and through the monarch, which passed from one monarch to his or her successor, and so forth, unto eternity.

Fittingly, as kings were compared to Christ, Mary I was compared to the Queen of kings, the Virgin Mary, Queen of heaven, the chief intercessor for Christians. As Duncan shows, it was the oft-forgotten, largely marginalized Mary Tudor, not her half-sister Elizabeth, who invented the concept of the Queen regnant as Mother to her people and “married” to the Kingdom of England.

Since, as an Orthodox Christian, I am fundamentally concerned with my own salvation and especially the world’s, and interested most in Christian monarchy as opposed to the monarchical traditions of other faiths, it is worth examining what the Holy Scriptures, the divine books assembled and compiled by the Holy Spirit acting through Christ’s Body, the Orthodox Church, have to say about government in general, and kingship in particular. Here are just a few examples from an article written here by Fr. Joseph Gleason:

  • Psalm 2:10-12 urges Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”
  • Psalm 24:7 refers to God in the Person of the Holy Spirit as a King: “ Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.”
  • Romans 13:1 refers to the divine origins of the “powers that be” (originally kings in every country): “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”
  • The Book of Judges repeatedly connects the lack of kingship with the lawlessness and chaos then prevailing in Israel: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:5-6). This refrain “in those days there was no king in Israel” and its equation with lawlessness and injustice appears numerous times throughout the Book of Judges.
  • When the Prophet Samuel was an old man, he prepared to leave his sons after him as judges over the people of Israel, but the people of Israel wanted none of them, reminding the prophet that his sons were not righteous men as he was. Instead, they beseeched him to anoint a king for them (1 Samuel 8:1-22).
  • Proverbs 16:12 warn that kings must act righteously: “It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness.”
  • Proverbs 20:28 pray that “Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.”
  • Proverbs 29:14 promises an eternal throne (sainthood) to kings who love the poor: “The king that faithfully judgeth the poor, his throne shall be established forever.”

As Father Joseph Gleason notes in the same article, numerous further Scriptural passages mark kingship as a special vehicle or mechanism by which God communicates with His people Israel and His prophets:

  • In Genesis 14, King Melchizedek prophetically acts out the first proto-Eucharist in Scripture, blessing Abraham with bread and wine.
  • In Genesis 17, God promises to bless Abraham with kings for descendants.
  • In Genesis 35, God promises to bless Jacob with kings for descendants.
  • In Genesis 49, God promises that Israel’s kings will come from the tribe of Judah.
  • In Deuteronomy 17, Moses lays out the blueprint for Israel to have godly kings.
  • In 1 Samuel 2, Hannah prophesies about the coming monarchy (verse 10) in a very positive context, focusing on the Lord’s anointed monarch.
  • When Israel’s kings behave righteously, Scripture never suggests that they should have been “good enough to abolish monarchy, and establish some better form of government”.
  • Similarly, when Israel’s kings act wickedly, Scripture never suggests that “being a king” was part of their sin.
  • In the New Testament, many people spoke Greek, and the entire Roman Empire was deeply influenced by the Greek culture, which had already been aware of democracy for over 500 years. Yet, Jesus and the apostles never suggest that we should replace monarchies with democracies (or with any other form of government). Individual kings are reprimanded, but monarchy itself as a political form is never condemned.
  • The apostle Peter tells us to “submit … to the king” and “honor the king“.
  • The apostle Paul not only asks us to pray for, but also to give thanks for kings.
  • Throughout Scripture, Jesus is referred to as a great King.
  • In the book of Revelation, God promises us Christians that we will reign as kings.

From Genesis to Revelation, monarchy is presented in a positive light, as God’s plan from the foundation of the world. (1 Samuel 8 is no exception, as demonstrated in this article on “The Long-Awaited King“ by the same Fr. Joseph Gleason.) Things go well when kingship is practiced in a godly way, and things go poorly when it is practiced in an evil way. But the same goes for any job under the sun. In this particular sense, there is nothing unique about the monarchy.

What do the Church Fathers and early Christian bishops have to say about monarchy and other forms of government? These were men who knew the Scriptures better than any others:

“Monarchy is superior to every other constitution and form of government. For polyarchy, where everyone competes on equal terms, is really anarchy and discord.” –Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea

St Gregory the Theologian says in his Third Theological Oration:

“The three most ancient opinions concerning God are Anarchia, Polyarchia, and Monarchia. The first two are the sport of the children of Hellas, and may they continue to be so. For Anarchy is a thing without order; and the Rule of Many is factious, and thus anarchical, and thus disorderly. For both these tend to the same thing, namely disorder; and this to dissolution, for disorder is the first step to dissolution. But Monarchy is that which we hold in honour.”

We see also, more explicitly in the writings of St Theodore the Studite, found in volume 4 of the Philokalia:

“There is one Lord and Giver of the Law, as it is written: one authority and one Divine principle over all. This single principle is the source of all wisdom, goodness and good order; it extends over every creature that has received its beginning from the goodness of God…, it is given to one man only… to construct rules of life in accordance with the likeness of God. For the divine Moses in his description of the origin of the world that comes from the mouth of God, cites the word: ‘Let us create man in accordance with Our image and likeness’ (Genesis 1.26). Hence the establishment among men of every dominion and every authority, especially in the Churches of God: one patriarch in a patriarchate, one metropolitan in a metropolia, one bishop in a bishopric, one abbot in a monastery, and in secular life, if you want to listen, one king, one regimental commander, one captain on a ship. And if one will did not rule in all this, there would be no law and order in anything, and it would not be for the best, for a multiplicity of wills destroys everything.”

Likewise, St Emperor Justinian (483-565) elucidates the right relationship of the Church and the State in the Preamble of Novella Six (in the Codex):

“The two greatest gifts which God in His infinite goodness has granted men are the Priesthood and the Empire. The priesthood takes care of divine interests and the empire of human interests of which it has supervision. Both powers emanate from the same principle and bring human life to its perfection. It is for this reason that emperors have nothing closer to their hearts than the honor of priests because they pray continually to God for the emperors. When the clergy shows a proper spirit and devotes itself entirely to God, and the emperor governs the state which is entrusted to him, then a harmony results which is most profitable to the human race. So it is then that the true divine teachings and the honor of the clergy are the first among our preoccupations.”

Here are some additional quotes on monarchy from other prominent Church Fathers:

“Power, that is authority and royal power, are established by God.” –St Isidore of Pelusium

“The difference between a tyrant and a king is that the tyrant strives in every way to carry out his own will. But the king does good to those whom he rules.” –St Basil the Great

“If some evildoer unlawfully seizes power, we do not say that he is established by God…” –St Isidore of Pelusium

“God gave the greatest gift to men: the priesthood and the imperial power; the first preserves and watches over the heavenly, while the second rules earthly things by means of just laws.” –Seventh Ecumenical Council

“A priest who is not a monarchist is not worthy to stand at the altar table. The priest who is a republican is always a man of poor faith. God himself anoints the monarch to be head of the kingdom, while the president is elected by the pride of the people. The king stays in power by implementing God’s commandments, while the president does so by pleasing those who rule. The king brings his faithful subjects to God, while the president takes them away from God.” –Metropolitan and New-Martyr St. Vladimir of Kiev

Monarchy is an icon of Christ. No other form of government images this:

“God has placed a king on earth in the image of His Heavenly single rule, an autocratic king in the image of His almighty power, an autocratic king and a hereditary king in the image of His Kingdom that does not pass away.”—Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow

In summary, here are just a few of the reasons, from both a consideration of political theory and practical application, that monarchy is a more moral, stable, and overall better and ontologically higher form of government than any other system. I will not delve into the debate of whether or not absolute or autocratic monarchy is preferable to constitutional monarchy, but I will simply observe that, whether or not a monarchy exists constitutionally within a democratic political framework, its existence is still of great benefit to the broader political society and culture.

1)  Monarchy’s intrinsic end or aim is ontologically higher than the intrinsic end or aim of any other type of political authority. The underlying purpose of monarchy is the rendering to God by each monarch of a successful stewardship on behalf of his or her people. Each monarch is only a temporary steward, but he must give an eternal account of his or her stewardship to the King of Kings. This stewardship is best carried out by the monarch’s zealous maintenance of peace and good order, and therefore, the general protection of liberties and freedoms conducive to that peace and order. An elected leader who abuses his or her authority and violates the constitution he or she has sworn to defend understands himself or herself to face only earthly consequences (possible impeachment, criminal conviction, removal from office, enduring unpopularity, etc.). A monarch on the other hand understands himself or herself to be fundamentally accountable to God for how he or she discharges the duties of his or her office.

2)   Monarchy is the most natural form of government known to mankind, and the most widely practiced form of political authority throughout human history. The fact that monarchies still exist today after thousands of years and numerous political revolutions is remarkable in and of itself, and all the more so given that most monarchies in the world today are seen as highly legitimate by most of their populations. History is replete with examples of bad monarchs and good monarchs, as well as bad presidents and good ones, yet the presidential and prime ministerial systems of government are, at most, three hundred years old in any part of the world, and in most countries, far more recent introductions.

3)      Monarchy is the only form of political authority which images on a national and societal level the most basic and foundational unit of society: the family. Thus, far more than elected prime ministers or presidents, monarchs and their families are able to set an ideal model for family life, which is the basic foundation of the rest of society. A president or prime minister need not be married, and it is becoming increasingly common to see unmarried presidents (France’s Francois Hollande) or prime ministers (former Australian PM Julia Gillard).

4)      Monarchy is the only form of political authority which Christian Scripture and Tradition praise, defend, and encourage.

5)     Monarchy is the only form of government which properly and ideally images the highest Christian virtues of service and self-sacrifice. Almost every Christian society was, historically, a monarchy. Similarly, monarchy is the only form of political authority which has at its core the maintenance of Christian faith and virtues, as seen by the coronation oaths, still taken, of British monarchs, and the ones formerly taken by Russian, French, Hungarian, and German sovereigns.

6)      Monarchy is the only form of government in which the ruler is obliged to defend objective Truth and represent and defend a fundamentally incarnational, Christian worldview. Thus, the Russian emperors prayed to receive “the wisdom which belongs to [God’s] throne; send it from Thy Holy Heaven, that I may know what is well-pleasing in Thy sight, and what is right according to Thy commandment.”

7)     As previously argued, monarchy can be shown to represent and manifest an intrinsically and ontologically higher form of government when compared with republican democracy. Monarchs are held to be accountable not only to their people but most of all to God for their service and stewardship.

8)     My final point should go without saying: Monarchy is an intrinsically and ontologically higher form of government than the modern tyrannies of either communism or fascism, in which rulers are never held accountable except by history, and are free to commit innumerable abuses, as the examples of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, Croatia, and Spain, and the communist Soviet Union, China, Romania, Cuba, and Vietnam show.

While some might find it strange that I, being an American, should write an essay in defense of monarchy, I would posit that there are many of my fellow Americans who are monarchists. One of the most tragic and disturbing realities of American political history is the forced extrajudicial exiling, immediately after the ratification of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, of hundreds of thousands of American Loyalists from the country; most of them saw themselves as loyal subjects of the King, yet the victorious Patriots viewed them as irredeemable traitors who must be deported.

Many of my friends of all political persuasions feel a natural love for the person of Queen Elizabeth II, who would be our Sovereign, as she is Canada’s, had history not separated our country 232 years ago from its prior centuries of union with the Kingdom of Great Britain. Why, on any moral or ethical level, should Americans feel any less respect or devotion to Her Majesty the Queen than to our own elected political authorities, when the former has made as her life’s priority the furthering of peace around the world, the gentle communication of Christian values to her people, and the closer cooperation of the family of nations of which she is the earthly head? As a living embodiment of monarchy’s core values and virtues of service to God and her people, Her Majesty the Queen is rightly hailed by people across the world of every nation and political persuasion as a model monarch and woman who prioritizes her service to God and her people. As she promised decades ago when she was still Crown Princess Elizabeth, her pledge to the lifelong service of her people is one she has discharged, and continues to discharge, with remarkable humility and enduring grace: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

In closing, I would humbly ask for the blessing of Almighty God, the King of Kings, on all civil authorities everywhere, especially all monarchs and their consorts, and ask that He strengthen all rulers in righteousness, moral conduct, piety, and remembrance of their ultimate accountability to Him who judges all men and women. I would enjoin all people everywhere to pray for the life of their rulers, whether elected or unelected, that by their prayers their rulers may either continue in justice and piety, or, if unjust and impious, be converted to governing justly, carefully, and in remembrance of God, to whom all must ultimately give account of their lives.

Ryan Hunter

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