When the English king Charles I was executed in 1649 for treason, it wasn’t just the end of the monarchy (for a bit), but until that point the monarch was seen as completely infallible - they were God’s chosen representative on Earth. One can only imagine what a completely melon-twisting moment it would have been for the man on the seventeenth century street.

The monarchy was eventually restored but people no longer thought of the King as having the Divine Right to rule.

However, a huge number of traditions and superstitions which became part of the British de facto constitution survived this transition and live to this day.

The National Wales: Charles I (1600–1649), King of England was beheaded. This is a painting by Daniël Mijtens.Charles I (1600–1649), King of England was beheaded. This is a painting by Daniël Mijtens.

When the monarch takes to the throne, the coronation ceremony includes rituals and rites based on ceremonies originally performed on behalf of kings and queens in post-Roman Britain.

One of the more perverse of the Saxon rituals which persists is the anointing of the monarch, where the Archbishop of Canterbury pours holy oil from a twelfth century silver-gilt spoon encrusted with four pearls onto the new monarch’s head - historically, this is the literal moment that God’s power is divested to the monarch on Earth.

Of course, us mere mortals aren’t allowed to see this sort of thing, so it all happens behind a golden curtain.

The National Wales: The State Opening of Parliament 2021The State Opening of Parliament 2021

Westminster’s parliament is full of these ancient rituals too - each day before the livestream of business in the House of Commons begins, the Speaker takes part in a ceremonial parade from his apartment upstairs down to the chamber before leading MPs in a recital of the Lord’s Prayer (although they’re not allowed to look at each other in case somebody accidentally outs themselves as being Catholic).

In 1706 the famously progressive House of Lords proposed a bill outlawing the use of Norman French in Parliament. The Commons - representatives of the people that they were and remain - rejected it, and the language of twelfth century English aristocracy is still used to formally pass laws in a country that has fibre optic broadband.

The National Wales:

These examples of ancient hangovers are selective, and extreme, but they’re representative of the mess and hodge-podge that makes the UK’s constitution.

While traditions and history make a people who they are, the UK’s constitution has an overly-deferential reliance on the past. As a result British identities are very much mired in the same deference to the achievements of our ancestors.

What is it to be Welsh? Is it about who we used to be (a subordinate, assimilated junior partner in an empire), or is it about projecting the joys and beauty of our culture and of our current achievements to the wider world?


As chaotic as the last 6 years have been, they’ve shown without doubt that radical changes to the UK’s constitution are possible if the political will is there.

If you were given a completely blank page to start a brand new country from scratch, how much from the UK’s gaffer-taped structures of the state would you copy in that new country?

The National Wales: THe NHS would make it into any new country Leigh Jones inventedTHe NHS would make it into any new country Leigh Jones invented

A health service that’s free at the point of use? Yes please! The House of Commons chamber is pretty cool I suppose, despite its occupants, so I guess we could find a use for that. But strange women hiding behind curtains getting oil from God poured onto them is no basis for a system of government.

The US comedian Doug Stanhope is often outspoken about a variety of subjects, and although he can sometimes be a bit hit and miss, a line of his has stuck with me since I first heard him say it about fifteen years ago - “If marriage didn’t exist, would you invent it?”.

It’s Marie Kondo’s philosophy spat from the mouth of a belligerent drunk. A question about simplifying life...

If the UK didn’t exist, would you invent it?

Would you choose a system where your head of state was somebody who inherited their role because their ancestors a thousand years ago were supposedly chosen by God for that role?

Would you choose a system where that head of state earned an annual income of £20m that came from rents paid on land that was consolidated in a quashed rebellion eight hundred years ago?

The National Wales:

Would you allow that head of state to use the money they earned from that tithe to pay for legal settlements in civil cases of child abuse involving their son?

If you were starting from scratch, would you choose any of this for Wales?

The arguments in favour of the Union are based on the flawed assumption that all four nations are equal partners. Until and unless that power imbalance is addressed, that Union is doomed. Why wait for that to happen when we can build something better ourselves?

Leigh Jones is a music industry professional who lives in London. He has a weekly Welsh language podcast with author Llwyd Owen called 'Ysbeidiau Heulog'.

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