When Graham made a comment on my last post about the sycophantic remarks we could expect over the next days I thought it was a little harsh. Now I can’t bear to turn on the television or listen to the radio. Even The Guardian is stuffed with royal stories. At least there I can choose what to read.
When I was on the Mall yesterday I saw people, taking selfies with the Palace as a backdrop. Many people were clearly there to witness history, to read the notice on the gates, to marvel at the crowds. Yet television commentary described all of them as mourners. Am I mourning the Queen? I don’t know. I am still shocked at her death. It seemed so sudden. We saw her on our screens on Tuesday, physically frail, but still alert, no apparent cause to think that in forty eight hours she’d be dead. What happened? Was it just a simple case of old age like my cousin Alec’s dog who climbed into the car for a five minute drive to the place where he was going to have a walk, only to be found dead on arrival, eyes closed, curled up as though in sleep? That suddenness is what I am struggling with most. That and adjusting to understanding that when someone talks about the Queen today, they are talking about Camilla, not her mother-in-law.
I have nothing against Elizabeth II, and so far nothing against Charles III, but the interviews with people who knew or them are painful. Krishnan Guru-Murthy asked Nicholas Soames for his reaction to Charles’ address and then to tell us what he thought the new king meant. At the end I was no wiser. Soames, an old friend of the king, we learned, simply told us that Charles will be wonderful, he will make a great king, that this was continuity. How he will be great and wonderful, and why continuity is so much to be desired he left unanswered.
I admit I have only watched a fraction of the coverage, but the reason I have not watched more is that the broadcasters seem to have decided that this is a chance to roll back the years to the early 50s, for us all to listen uncritically to any old nonsense and boring anecdote wheeled out to show Charles is a good chap and that having a monarch is the natural and right order of things. I feel I am being told what to think, that there is no other way of doing things. That’s not a good feeling. Nor is it a healthy way to run a country.
Over the last few years there have been conversations, quiet and respectful conversations about the future of the monarchy in this country; how at the end of Elizabeth’s reign we have an opportunity to look at what sort of monarchy we have and what sort of monarchy we want. Soames and others evidently desire no change. For them continuity means doing things exactly the same way as they have been done for decades, for us all to know our place and keep to it. It’s tradition. Tradition is not always benevolent. We traditionally put the severed heads of those executed on bridges and other landmarks. Fortunately, we’ve moved on from that.
If monarchy is to survive, and I’m not saying it should, there needs to be honesty about what it does, who benefits and by how much, and discussions about how it might be modernised to create a fairer, more equitable system. Like many I respected Elizabeth II. That is not to say I respect the institution of monarchy, or the idea of royalty. Our Queen got her job because she was descended from ruthless men who had strong armies and won battles and territories. Ditto the aristocracy. Originally kingship was not hereditary. At some point a king decided he wanted his power to stay in the family. He had sons who he trained to fight. No need to choose someone from outside that circle. Then it all got dressed up, investing kings with a spiritual aura: chosen by God, the Lord’s Anointed etc etc. Make sure your family alliances are with the similar powerful, consolidate your position, your lands, your reach.
It is in Nicholas Soames’ interest for continuity to mean we keep doing things as they have been done for centuries. It maintains the status quo, something from which he benefits. It would be nice if we were to be treated as grown ups and involved in a discussion about the future of monarchy in the UK, not simply expected to accept that nothing will change.