Westminster Abbey’s Canon Theologian is also a Chaplain to His Majesty The King. As the Coronation approaches, Alec Marsh finds he offers a unique perspective on its significance for the country
THE Reverend Dr Jamie Hawkey, Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey and a Chaplain to HM The King, goes to put the kettle on. Through the windows of his sitting room I can see a magnolia tree in a walled garden, where a narrow lawn occupies a space where the chapel in which Henry III swore to uphold Magna Carta once stood. As well as piles of country magazines, the room is a sanctuary for books on Renaissance art. There’s a rugged landscape on the wall, alongside a photograph of his wife flying over a fence at a hunter trial in Aberdeenshire.
We are in the precincts of an abbey in central London but nature is everywhere. Hawkey returns with coffee. A youthful 43, he is one of five priests – four canons and the Dean appointed by the Crown – who oversee Westminster Abbey, a Royal peculiar, church and national funerary monument that has been at the centre of our religious life since 1066. “We have over 3,300 people buried here,” he tells me.
Eyes of the world on the Abbey
When this month the Abbey becomes the focus of world attention for the Coronation, the Dean and Chapter will be the hosts. However, the service itself – uniquely at Westminster Abbey – is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s show. “It’s a hugely exciting time,” declares Hawkey, who will be present. “It’s incredible to think one will be witnessing a public but deeply intimate rite, the making of a sovereign, the anointing of a king. The crown only signifies that he’s been anointed – it’s the anointing that really matters, the anointing for service.”
Hawkey has strong opinions about what it will mean for King and country. “The Coronation will be the most extraordinary event and it will be a hugely moving inauguration of a reign of a man who is deeply committed to public service, to care for his people – I really mean affectionate care – and someone who is profoundly intent on being a focus for unity for the United Kingdom, the realms and the Commonwealth.
“This king is an internationalist, he’s a highly cultured man, he’s a person with a big heart and a big brain; he’s a person of profound generosity – generosity of spirit, seeing the good, searching out the good, the better angels of our nature,” he enthuses. As a member of the King’s Ecclesiastical Household, Hawkey has a stronger sense of our monarch’s spiritual outlook than many.
Route to Westminster Abbey
Born in Sussex, Hawkey studied theology at Cambridge before deciding to enter the priesthood. So he went back to Cambridge for training and did a doctorate in the doctrine of the Church at the same time. He served his curacy in Portsmouth before coming to the Abbey as a minor canon. He then went off to be Dean and Director of Studies in Theology at Clare College, Cambridge. In 2017 he was appointed a Chaplain to The Queen, whom he regards as “one of the most impressive Christian disciples of our age”.
His appointment was renewed on the third or fourth day of The King’s reign. “It’s a huge privilege,” he says. “I am a massive admirer of The King. His world view is an extremely beautiful one. I’m passionate about what he has done for the countryside, young people, for the arts; what he does very discreetly and quietly for the common good.”
Hawkey returned to the Abbey as Canon Theologian in 2019. “I was the youngest Canon of Westminster I would think for a century,” he says. As Canon Theologian he serves in the rota running daily and weekly services at the Abbey, but he’s also responsible for its education efforts, digital outreach and the Westminster Institute, which works with Parliament, the civil service, judiciary and others ‘to promote virtue in public life’.
Love of the countryside
While his working life is in London, Hawkey has a love of the countryside that goes back to a childhood exploring the South Downs. He doesn’t shoot, though members of his family do. “It’s not because I don’t support it; indeed the field-to-fork concept really matters to me and I love pheasant,” he declares. Hawkey’s wife, Carol, a keen horsewoman, used to hunt with the Fife while he would follow on foot.
“I’ve met some wonderful people this way,” he says. “I admire how people in rural communities care for one another, their animals and the delicate balance of our rural environment. Those of us who live in cities can so easily lose our connection to nature, and our respect for the countryside and its people.” This is a belief that underpinned a talk Hawkey gave last year at the Surtees’ Society. “I spoke of the philosophy that should underpin our care of the countryside. It is important to treasure our past while being focused on the challenges of the present, and retaining an ability to laugh at ourselves. Surtees managed that while still being highly entertaining. It’s a pretty important cocktail for our times.”
Hawkey finds solace in walks in the Ochil Hills and the Highlands near Blair Atholl. “My wife and I always go to the Blair horse trials. Her family have been fence judges for generations.” He recalls lambing with his father-in-law, a now-retired shepherd, on Shuna, an island on the west coast of Scotland. A lamb had been born dead, another separated from its mother. His father-in-law skinned the lamb, placed its coat around the lost one and put it in a pen with the ewe. “The next day, neither lamb nor ewe would have known that they weren’t related,” recalls Hawkey. “It was the most beautiful thing; an illustration of God’s love and grace. I never have problems preaching on the good shepherd,” he laughs. I’ll wager that not many Canon Theologians of Westminster Abbey have been able to say that.
Want to learn more about the Coronation at Westminster Abbey
Click here to read our history of the Coronation. And check out our guide to the Coronation procession by clicking here.