Category Archives: monarchy

God save the Queen

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, who has reigned since 1953 as Elizabeth II, was, Dalrymple reminds us,

thrust into the rôle of heir to the throne at the age of 10, and that of monarch at age 26, without choice, consultation, or inclination. She was reared to be a function incarnate. Her wishes counted for nothing, except in the most trivial matters.

Supremely unfree

She was

imbued with an iron sense of duty by an adored father who died at a comparatively early age (and whose portrait she still wears on her bosom at official functions), and was obliged repeatedly to make emollient speeches and appear always to be deeply interested in the dullest of dignitaries. The highest standard of living in the world was probably insufficient recompense for the sacrifice—that of herself as an individual human being—that she had to make.

Bound to obey the dictates of the government that acted in her name

Aware of her limitations, educated in the arcana of her constitutional rôle but little else, interested mainly in thoroughbred horses, Elizabeth had constantly to juggle several, often conflicting imperatives:

  • the need to preserve her throne
  • the need to do her duty by her country
  • the need to act morally (for she was clearly a highly moral person)
  • her need to please her family

Wedded to duty

These, Dalrymple points out,

were not things always easy to reconcile, and sometimes they were irreconcilable. Prince Philip did not want to live in Buckingham Palace, whose grandeur is cold and forbidding, nor did she; but as it was customary for the reigning monarch to live there, she overruled her husband’s and her own inclinations. This was a decision typical of many others. In the struggle between what she wanted and what she thought was her duty, the latter always won.

It is curious, says Dalrymple,

how, in a democracy such as the British, the unelected head of state should have been so much more wedded to duty than any popularly elected politician.

The royals fascinate millions — but not Dalrymple

The doctor-writer says that the British monarchy is odd at many levels.

  • It has no justification in philosophical first principles
  • Its flummery is often ridiculous
  • It exacts a toll on those caught up in it

He notes that the enthusiasm of the population

for what is, after all, a group of self-confessedly ordinary people who are obviously acting a part, is mysterious. Yet the monarchy costs much less than the Italian presidency and is of a fascination to millions (myself not included).

Why Dalrymple backs the monarchy

The doctor-writer says:

I am a believer in constitutional monarchy, at least for my own country, in part because I find the prospect of any of my fellow-countrymen being head of state appalling.

Storm clouds on the horizon for the British monarchy

The kitsch industry

The English intelligentsia, writes Dalrymple,

are hostile to the monarchy as never before. Ever on the lookout for old institutions to destroy, little but the monarchy remains for their attention. Thanks to the expansion of tertiary education and the decline of industry, the intelligentsia are larger and more influential than at any time in history; they never rest until they get what they want.

Made in China

Moreover, the British population is

so disconnected from its country’s past that it has not the faintest idea of the constitutional role of the monarchy. So weak has understanding become that those who defend in public the extravaganza of the royal wedding and its expense are reduced to performing a cost-benefit analysis. The security and other arrangements will cost £x; but the receipts from the extra tourism, television rights, and kitsch industry — royal memorabilia such as plates, mugs, biscuit tins, and bogus commemorative coins — will amount to an estimated £x+n, even if most of the kitsch will be produced in China.

There is, says Dalrymple,

something undignified about the use of the language of profit and loss about a monarchy that has lasted, with a short break for revolution, a millennium. If after a thousand years the best or only thing you can say for a political institution is that it brings in a few extra tourists, who are a market for foreign-produced junk, attachment to that institution in an age that prides itself on its rationality and ability to found itself on self-evident first principles is not likely to be very strong or to last long.

Foreign-produced junk

The whole point of a constitutional monarch,

that he is head of state and symbol of national unity not by virtue of a popularity contest or of any personal qualities, and is therefore above the fray to whose violence his very existence places a limit, is entirely lost on young British people, who believe in their own unlimited sovereignty. If they celebrated the wedding at all, it was for them just another occasion to get drunk.