Thoughts On The Monarchy

The death of one monarch and the accession of the next inevitably triggers a pause for thought. Several thoughts.

Most immediately, why did I feel emotional at different points over the last few days? I’ve never been an ardent monarchist; I’d not queue to see one of their family and while I’ll belt out the national anthem at a sporting event, I’d belt out Bob the Builder if that was our national anthem. I’ve often said of our own rather jingoistic anthem that it’s not its lyrics or tune that appeals but its brevity.

And the Queen was old, approaching Methuselah on the ageing spectrum. So no one was going to be surprised at her passing, though its suddenness has had something to do with the sense of slight bewilderment. We might have imagined a few days or weeks of increasingly sombre statements from the palace that would prepare us, not a photo of the Queen looking twinkly eyed a couple of days before as she accepted Liz Truss as her umpteenth PM.

I think it is in part the unfamiliarity of this event, a passing of the monarchy, a succession which even state events like the death of the Queen Mum and Prince Phillip didn’t involve. Very few of us would remember the last time as any sort of comparator. I tried a thought experiment: imagine King Charles dying in the next few years. How would we react? The same set of traditions would be evoked, the same clearing of the TV schedules but the public’s response? Would it be so intense? Would so many queue?

As an aside this mythologising about the British love of queuing is grating. I’ve seen many other nations queue with a ferocity we couldn’t imagine. Standing at an American lift station waiting to return to the top of the mountain requires an intricate knowledge of one’s personal geography. It may seem as thought there is no specific structure to it, but move ahead before you allotted moment and the hissing invokes a nest of rattlers and delay by a split second and the ‘Hey Bud, are you with us?’ Tells you, like no other accent that you’d better shuffle forward the allotted yard ‘right now’. Coming from the French approximation to a human magimix as one is pushed and prodded into gaps smaller than those between my teeth before being spat out in front of a chair that requires both timing and unbruisable thighs to mount safely, it is quite a thing.

No, we queue and we moan at having to queue; those two go hand in glove for we Brits. That’s what makes this time, as many file past the coffin lying in state, so exceptional. We queue but as far as I can make out, we aren’t moaning.

And how would we see King Charles in his demise? What cliched status would we attach to him? With Princess Diana it was the People’s Princess, with the Queen it is becoming common to hear people call her the Nation’s Grandma. Charles? The Nation’s slightly irritating and know-all uncle who’s made more annoying for often being right, perhaps? I’d love to think the reinvention of King Charles will enable him to receive a better, more affectionate moniker, but I do wonder if his history of barbed comments will make that difficult.

It has also been of interest that few of the natural opponents of the Monarchy have popped their heads above the parapet. The republicans amongst us have dipped their heads, mumbled stuff about how as an individual you have to admire what the Queen managed to do over her reign and sloped off to the pub. They’ve not stopped republicanising, of course. They’ll be back, banging on about class and elitism and empire and how the monarchy epitomised all that. And in a curious way, they are right but not as they intend it. Today, for many, Britain is a place of opportunity. No, of course those opportunities aren’t as wide spread as they should be or we would wish, but they are far more widely available than in 1952 or in hundreds of other countries around the world today. We, as a nation, rightly rail against those denied opportunities through poor schooling, awful home lives, bias and prejudice. We are appalled by the evils of modern slavery, of course. But we revere the servitude we willingly impose on one family. Oh sure, if you are born royal you get to occupy some castles and landed estates, dress in sumptuous jewels if that is your thing and avoid queuing. I imagine one thing every member of the Royal family would find challenging, if they escaped their captivity would be traffic lights: they’d never have stopped for a traffic light in their lives.

But like giant pandas, we get excited when they breed, we want to view the new borns. They are born into captivity just as much as Chi-Chi and Ann-Ann were; they are held behind bars, just as the gorillas are at London zoo. They get the best food, excellent veterinary care and plenty of marvellous frocks. But the freedom to be where they want, when they want and how they want? Hardly. What if a successor was an atheist (please)? How’d that go down in our judgmental press and mealy-mouthed media?

But if they try and leave, we vilify them or those perceived to have driven them out. We see them in binary colours; good and bad. The Queen is currently a white hat but think back to Aberfan and the death of Diana and she was, if not a black hat then sporting a fetching shade of dark grey. The latest examples are Harry and Megan; families fall out but when this one does there is nowhere to hide. Everything is picked over in a very public gaze.

Whatever one may think of Megan and her victimhood and new agey pontificating on Spotify – nope, I’ve not listened to her podcasts but read the snotty reviewers so I’m as bad as anyone, falling to judgment without proper research – you have to sympathise with a life never to be lived in the quiet again. Sure her mistake was to indulge the self harm of marrying into the monarchy but her reaction to what that entails is all rather human. The fact that the new Princess of Wales keeps her cool and her counsel says a lot for her determination, resilience and fortitude. Made of steel, that one, methinks.

Let’s be clear: I’m no republican. I admire the Queen wholeheartedly and, indeed the new King for playing out their roles where they haven’t ever had a choice. It’s extraordinarily cruel of us to do this to anyone. Andrew’s behaviour has been egregious and gross and he deserves a heap of approbation but the miracle is not that he has turned out the way he has, but that more haven’t. Maybe having equerries and footmen numbs one to one’s reality.

No, despite this I’d keep the monarchy because, if I’ve learnt one thing in my several years on this rock it is be careful what you wish for. Without the monarchy we’d still need a head of state. Our PM, arguably has too much power as it is, but give them the sort of powers vested in, say the US President without the history of how to control it, the history of working out how the checks and balances function in practice in a society not used to such a structure and things would rapidly deteriorate. It took the French five goes to work out their preferred republican structure, and even the American’s needed a civil war and umpteen amendments to their mythologised constitution. And if we slipped in another figurehead, like, say the Irish, who’d we get? Like Groucho Marx refusing to join any club that would have him as a member, I’d fear that those who might make a decent fist of it – a younger Sir D Attenborough, say – would be too intelligent and self aware and avoid putting themselves forward. I’d fear it becoming the repository of failed political lackeys or a stepping stone to high political office. I doubt it would cost us much less than the monarchy either without the resulting boost to tourism and tea towels, though the National Trust would probably benefit from a few more stately homes in which to instal their tearooms.

I remain steadfast in admiring what the Queen did; I’ve been fascinated to hear what her still surviving PMs said about their weekly audiences. Some talk about the wisdom shared, some the humour and the opportunity at times of major stress and crisis to take some time out with someone who’d seen many crises before. I wonder if, in truth, it was the fact that it brought home to them the essentially ephemeral nature of their position when compared to hers that counted most; it acted as a check on the egos of those who thought themselves most powerful at that moment. Monarchs in Britain today have little power and a lot of influence, mostly by just being there, being a living and breathing representation of continuity.

But what a totally shitty job it is. Seventy-one years and no retirement. Bloody hell, no thank you even if you get to make films with Paddington and never have to queue to get home after another English defeat. I’ll happily accept my place in the moaning multitude as the doors close on another train, leaving me to grumble in the rain…

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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37 Responses to Thoughts On The Monarchy

  1. trifflepudling says:

    For the last 200 years the British seem to have been able to find something particular to love about any present incumbent apart from Edward VIII, who was seen to have deserted his post. Hopefully Charles will benefit from this propensity.
    I think you’re right about what would take its place if the monarchy was abolished being not a great prospect. The institution as part of our society helps create a workable balance.
    I would hate to do their job. Coming towards the end of my career, the thought of starting a new job with the highest profile at 75 is absolutely horrifying. And for the rest of the family, it’s a very restricted life for most of them – I can’t imagine it!
    As long as Charles remembers he is just actually Charles, and what he receives from the public in terms of admiration is mostly due to his role, he’ll be ok. I don’t think what he’s said in the past will affect things in the long run and he’ll know that’s not on now. And anyway, a lot of people will have agreed with what he’s said. He’s not going to have 70 years to make an impression as King. Elizabeth was a direct connection to history from what seems so long ago now and to a past which included Britain being on the winning side in WWII, still a big part of the national psyche. Even without that I found much to love and admire about her, and in the way she wholeheartedly carried out her duty, always. Absolutely stellar.
    I do admire them for their behaviour and demeanour over the past 9 days -they must be drained physically and emotionally.
    Thanks for this piece. Obviously people are thinking hard about what to comment as it’s 4 hours since you posted!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I’ve probably bored them! What you say resonates. Yes, I expect we will muddle on, mostly happy with Charles, occasionally irritated and sometimes amused when he berates a leaky pen channelling his inner Fawlty. Hey ho onwards to a Carolean age!

      Like

  2. Black humour aside, Geoff, this post is very good and quite realistic. Great job, Old Boy 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a great post, Geoff, and you express many of my own views, even from this side of the pond. I think the thing about the monarchy is that it’s always there, the one lasting thing in a sea of changing politics and times. The royals do work, and I’m not sure even with all the money I would be able to do what they do, day after day, with no choice. I view Queen Elizabeth with great affection and wish King Charles all the best. He will be overseeing some rocky times – I suspect that many of the Commonwealth nations will want to go their own ways during his reign. Despite the anti-monarchists, I think you need the royalty. They are your Hollywood stars!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So interesting to read your thoughts on this, Geoff!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. JT Twissel says:

    You make a good point about Charles – he’s not a young man. Will your country put up with ten days of mourning and constant coverage of the pageantry – not to mention the expense and disruption of every day life once again? I doubt he has the time to reach mythical status.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post Geoff. With regard to what will happen on Charles demise, I suspect that it will all be preplanned with a great deal of input from Charles (if it has not already been planned) and I suspect it will be a much simplified process. What we are seeing now is exactly as had already been planned many years ago, with input from The Queen. It will have been modified slightly to fit in with the particular circumstances now.
    The military have always had set formats for various circumstances. They are in published form, and they are practiced. It is safe to assume that The Government and the Royal Family also have similar written procedures to cover all eventualities!
    God Save The King, although I suspect the Commonwealth will be greatly diminished during his reign.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. tootlepedal says:

    To be fair, she could have retired at any time she wanted. She had a son eager to take the load off her shoulders.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I loved reading your thoughts on all of this. I have not stayed tuned into the goings on like many. I haven’t the time. Like the phrase “it’s not its lyrics or tune that appeals but its brevity.” Well said. Great article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • V.M.Sang says:

      What we laughingly call a National Anthem is simply a hymn asking the deity to protect the monarch.
      I think it’s time for England to have its own. God Save the King belongs to all 4 nations.
      The other 3 have their own. Why not England?
      And yes, it’s brief, but such a dirge. Think of La Marseillaise, The Star-Spangled Banner, the Italian National Anthem (which does go on a bit, admittedly). They are good tunes that will inspire, and compare them with ours. We need our own.
      AND NOT JERUSALEM.
      Yes, it’s a good, rousing tune, but it’s called JERUSALEM –a city in the middle East, for goodness sake.
      It is very Christian. Is this right for a country where many don’t believe in a deity, and there are many others who are not Christian?
      But it seems to me that it’s becoming the unofficial anthem of England, especially in cricket, and it annoys me.
      Sorry for the rant. I’ve finished now.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Norah says:

    A very thoughtful and thoughtprovoking post, Geoff. I was interested to hear your views.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Such wide-ranging wisdom, humour, and honesty. Yes, it is a shitty job

    Liked by 1 person

  11. V.M.Sang says:

    I agree with everything you say, here, Geoff. But, I think it was in Bristol, the republicans were out with their banners, shouting, only a few days after the Queen’s death. They are entitled to their views. In many ways I understand them, but just after the death of the Queen, I think it was disrespectful and completely the wrong time.
    I understand that King George V took some steps to slim down the monarchy and there were more taken in the Queen’s reign. I think there will be more taken during the reign of King Charles.
    As to vilifying some of the Queen’s family, well Andrew brought about his own problems. He should have known better. But I feel sorry for Harry. Not so long ago he was held in high esteem for his active service with the army in Afghanistan and his work with disabled past soldiers.
    Then he had the temerity to fall in love with, and marry, an American divorcée. Not only that, but she has a black mother! Consequently he is now no longer the golden boy, and can now do nothing right. I don’t blame him for stepping back and leaving the country. How much is racism?
    Having a king or queen as head if state does give stability. As you mentioned, the Queen had seen it all before and could give reasoned and sensible advice to her prime minister’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Thanks for commenting Viv. I am instinctively anxious at attempts to restrain protest. I agree its impolite but there is an awkward balance.
      I imagine all monarchies are different as this one will be. We will be sure to moan about it.
      Re Andew I agree. The man is an arsenal and he’s hisxown architect of his own downfall but being royal makes his humiliation and excoriation that bit worse.
      Harry and Megan haven’t helped themselves by hanging on to their titles. If they want to step away then do it completely. As for racism, I’m not convinced. It’s such an easy card to play. But overall, none of them can really be free of their birth and that is plain cruel.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Many shrewd and thoughtful observations here, your self-effacing dismissal of such praise notwithstanding. 😉
    I for one think Bob the Builder would be a most excellent anthem! Let’s start a campaign to have it played at sporting events: you get to work on your football and cricket and I’ll start in our football and baseball. Imagine: if we succeed, we may end up with a world anthem!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Widdershins says:

    An excellent piece of writing, good sir. 😀
    … when Harry and William were young I occasionally wondered which one of them would be the one to walk away from the ‘job’. T’was a rather courageous thing to do, because the gilding on that cage can be rather seductive.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Jennie says:

    Well said, Geoff, all the way through this excellent post. I second your observations. Of course you were emotional, as this was a completely new change, and change is what we don’t like. As to the job, yes it’s shitty, with no retirement. William will do well in his new role, and I think his children will also, when their time comes.

    Liked by 1 person

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