Quakers offer ‘Loyal Address’ to the king

The Religious Society of Friends is one of just twenty-seven ‘privileged bodies’ which retain the historic right to present an address to the British sovereign in person.

Leasa Lambert addresses the king (Ian Jones)

Quakers from Britain and Ireland visited Buckingham Palace last week after being invited to offer a ‘Loyal Address’ – a historic entitlement to address the monarch.

On 9 March, Quakers thanked the king for speaking out on the environment, emphasising that a just solution to the climate crisis requires disrupting existing economic systems. Read by Leasa Lambert, of the Black, Brown & People of Colour Quaker Fellowship, the address observed that Quaker communities welcome trans and gender-diverse people.

Noting the Quaker commitment to make reparations for past involvement in slavery, the address said there is a moral imperative on us all to repair the harm done.

It also, as with so many Loyal Addresses over the centuries, reiterated the Quaker Peace Testimony. ‘We may think wars end through force of arms or negotiation, but peace is maintained by building relationships, mutual dependency and shared prosperity.’

As happened at the last Loyal Address, the delegate, this time Leasa Lambert, nodded, rather than bowing or curtseying. 

The delegation included Adwoa Burnley, clerk of Yearly Meeting (YM); Fred Langridge, first assistant clerk of YM; Teresa Parker, engagement and faith in action lead for BYM; Robert Card, clerk of Meeting for Sufferings; Pleasaunce Perry, a representative of Ireland Yearly Meeting; Katherine Stephenson, a representative of Ireland Yearly Meeting; Angela Stather, a representative of General Meeting for Scotland; Erica Thomas, a representative of Crynwyr Cymru – Quakers in Wales; Yvonne Estop, a representative of Quker Rainbow; and three representatives of the Black, Brown & People of Colour Quaker Fellowship: Leasa Lambert, Marghuerita Remi-Judah, and Elinor Kershaw.

The Religious Society of Friends is one of just twenty-seven ‘privileged bodies’ which retain the historic right to present an address to the British sovereign in person. Nowadays this right is restricted to significant occasions in the life of the monarch.

The last time Quakers made an address was in 2012, when Elizabeth Windsor celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. The first was in the late seventeenth century.

Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) acknowledged that ‘the Quaker relationship with being identified as a privileged body is a difficult one, along with the idea of making a “Loyal Address” to the monarch. Quakers uphold a testimony to equality, which is at odds with hereditary monarchy. But the address offers a rare chance to catch the ear of power.’

Writing on the Quakers in Britain website, BYM noted that ‘through the centuries the attitude has varied from ingratiating to formal. In 1872, a Birmingham Quaker pointed out there were Quakers “who consider a republic the better model”.’

Paul Parker, recording clerk for BYM, said: ‘Margaret Fell addressed Charles II in 1660 saying, “We are a people that follow after those things that make for peace, love and unity; it is our desire that others’ feet may walk in the same.”

‘For others to “walk in the same”, we must talk to them, and in that spirit, we chose to accept the invitation in order to raise issues of concern to Quakers today.’

Some Friends did not agree that Quakers should be taking part in the address to the monarchy. These included Young Friends General Meeting which was invited but declined to take part, responding ‘that participating legitimises an institution at odds with Quaker values, that making a “loyal” address would not be truthful, and that our presence would be tokenistic rather than following the movement of the Spirit’.

The Quaker Socialist Society also spoke out against the address: ‘We believe it to be appropriate to make a clear stand in rejection of the monarchy. We don’t need this relic, and we shouldn’t be validating its existence in any way.’

‘History is useful for remembering and strengthening our core values. On the other hand; love, truth and justice require us to approach it with caution. When Quakers first started making “loyal addresses” the dynamics were different; the monarchy held and wielded power in different ways to now, and inevitably – with lives at stake – early Quakers wanted their influence to be instrumental for the common good.’

The statement suggests that the king’s power and extreme wealth ‘rests on a deeply troubling history of his predecessors’, and the British monarchy ‘today upholds a history of imperialism and colonialism (which caused climate change)’. Highlighting recent claims of racism by Harry and Meghan, and criticising the king for spending ‘phenomenal amounts of taxpayer money on his coronation during a cost of living crisis’, the statement says: ‘living our faith requires us to be part of movements in place that support social equity’ and ‘see past the entitled practices’.

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