My first love was the history of the British monarchy. As children my brother and I would regale each other joyously with the outrageous names of long-dead kings: Aethelred. Cnut. By age six I knew the names of all of Henry VIII’s wives and how they’d met their ends. For my first term paper (in fifth grade), I chose as my topic “The Reign of Elizabeth I.” The entire reign. Alas, I ran out of time and ended up turning in a paper on “The Coronation of Elizabeth I.”
Anyway, I love the British monarchy. It fascinates me, like an ancient remnant of some primitive half-remembered voodoo thing deep in our past. I love the continuity of it; I love the fact that the Queen can actually trace her ancestry to an anointed king who lived more than a thousand years ago. Real monarchy makes absolutely no fucking sense — as current events in Nepal remind us — but defanged of its power, it’s rather a charming relic.
Alas, it’s a relic that may not long outlast the current Queen. This Guardian piece by Jonathan Freedland, a staunch republican, is lovely for its graciousness: he acknowledges that as figureheads go, Elizabeth has done a remarkably fine job. But when she finally heads off to that big Balmoral in the sky, he says, with her will go the most compelling remaining argument for the monarchy. Imagine a future with King Charles III on the throne, and you begin to see his point.
But we’re not going to worry about that today. Today, we’re going to wish the Queen a happy 80th birthday. Happy Birthday, Queen! Long may you live. Enjoy your corgis, your cornflakes, and your fantabulous hats. Enjoy, for that matter, your inherited wealth, your palaces, and your scores of personal attendants (I say with the big-heartedness of one who isn’t a British taxpayer). You may be the last of your kind.
20 Responses to “Now that’s one kickass hat”
Søren Kongstad says:
Well if the UK looses its monarchy chances are that the oldest monarchy in the world will continue on.
Here in Denmark our crown prince, his wife, and their newborn child is gathering a ridiculous amount of attention. The republican movement is nonexistent, the most popular, but still extreme minority opinion, is that the queen should abdicate, to nurture her health and thus make the crown prince Frederik the new monarch.
On a side note, it has always bothered me that the consort of male monarch is called a queen, but the consort of a female monarch is merely called a prince?
Its like people accept that a king is always above a queen. Yes I know its all tradition, but still traditions are only traditions because we choose to perpetuate them!
But happy birthday to Lizzie
I have a strong fascination with the British Royalty also, Violet, despite being an Oz republican. I wonder if we had the same childhood book (mine was A Pageant of History)?
Happy Birthday Lizzie indeed. Enjoy the gins and tonic. And the hats.
Alon Levy says:
Two things: one, Jonathan Freedland isn’t a particularly mainstream figure – if I’m not mistaken he wrote an article for the Guardian saying that the Orange Revolution was a CIA conspiracy, he’s so far to the left.
Two, Charles is obviously not the kind of king any sane person would want to live in, but there’s probably enough inertia in Britain that he’ll eventually succeed his mother and serve till he dies. As I comment on a speech by the Prime Minister in my novel, which takes place in 2020 and 2021:
Prime Minister Williams made sure not to mention the King of England as the national symbol, or as the person that British officials should serve; many in Britain regarded King Charles as the strongest argument for a British republic.
I am haunted by a meeting I had at least 20 years ago with a famed Marxist sociologist from the UK. If ever there was someone, I assumed, who would find the monarchy to be an idiotic anachronism, this was the guy.
So I raised the issue. And Dr. “Class Warfare” turned out to love the queen and the whole family and the institution.
It was like a love he had that existed completely outside his political self. To him, it was an institution that had evolved so far from its royalist, anti-democratic past that all that remained was its mythical and romantic significance.
Which raises a question.
Can some institutions with origins in authoritarian or patriarchal or other odious thought evolve to the point where they no longer need be resisted and can even be tolerated as humorous ironic anachronisms?
I guess I am thinking about some of the dopey patriarchal practices and institutions that are so yesterday that perhaps we need not fear that they hold any of their original meaning. That we can view them the same way a Marxist sociologist might view the Queen Mum.
I guess I am thinking of the father giving away his daughter at a wedding. Everything about its subtext is noxious, with all the notions of property and sexual ownership, etc. I haven’t ever done this (readers of this blog will know that my brief and ill-considered union with Vi produced no offspring that I know of) but I know men who find the idea of inherent male privilege to be socially and culturally toxic who have marched down the aisle with their daughter.
Everything in me warns me to be cautious about even antiquated symbolic representations of racism, sexism, etc.
Yet I also wonder if there might be a cultural statute of limitations after which some loony practices become separated from their original noxious origin and rendered harmless.
On one extreme we’d all agree that the swastika symbol isn’t there yet and won’t be in our lifetimes, if ever. Some symbols – like the swastika and crucifix — are so invested with profound meaning that they might never lose their meaning. But if one of my daughters asked me at some point to walk her down the aisle, would there be a point in resisting based on the admittedly patriarchal origins of the practice?
Certainly, enjoying the trappings and pomp of the monarchy doesn’t imply endorsement of the beheadings or violence against women or serfdom that it has been sanctioned over the years.
I am torn on this one.
I have read quite a few books about the British monarchy. Not the current phase, but more like around 1200 – 1600 . totally fascinating!
Actually, we’re watching Elizabeth R right now, the one with Glenda Jackson and Robert Hardy from 1971. I saw it on Netflix and had to get it…. It’s riveting.
I love the notion of monarchy because it is so human. The character of a monarchy depends on the personal quirks, talents and madness of specific individual people. Plainly, monarchies matter deeply to many people. The fact that we cannot make sense of this–explain it to a computer, or make it work out in a balance sheet–may (I think does) reflect a limitation in our understanding of what it means to make sense. In this patriarchal, mean, calculating, mechanical world where any individual departing from a bland, fungible norm is regarded as a problem to be aborted, brainwashed, marginalized, censured or jailed, monarchy may be the last human institution actually shaped by the idiosyncracies of the humans making it up. I’m pro-human.
I think many Britons are in favour of the (powerless) monarchy bevause its a last grasp back to the glory of the Empire, and a reminder of how important Britain used to be. It’s an admittedly annoying at times part of the individuality of our country, at a time when all Europeans are getting a bit antsy over the so-called cultural dissolution in Europe.
I’m not a british taxzpayer either so i can honestly also say- God Save the Queen! Happy Birthday and many happy returns. We are going to miss her soooooo much when she’s not here anymore. Enjoy her while you can.
Søren, the Danish monarchy is indeed venerable, but it only counts as the oldest because the Brits insist on tracing theirs back to the Norman Conquest. As if that was such a big deal! They could go right back to Alfred the Great (whose blood flows in Elizabeth’s veins) and then they’d have Denmark beat. After all, the Normans did marry into the remnants of the old English royal family, so really there’s as much genetic continuity between pre and post Norman invasion as there is between the Stuarts and the Hanoverians. We can just overlook that little matter of a foreign invasion, usurpation, and subsequent overhaul of the culture, language, and economy.
But I do love Denmark as well. As you know, Christian IX was the male counterpart of Victoria: just about all extant royals in Europe are descended from him or her or both.
tigtog: No, we just had a little American encyclopedia.
KC: I just have to tell you that your comment is one of the most pithy statements on the appeal of monarchy I’ve seen. That is exactly how I feel.
Steve, I think one of your daughters is getting married or dreaming about it and wants you to walk her down the aisle.
My short answer is yes, I think it’s possible to retain certain ancient customs that have been effectively shorn of their original, odious meanings. When I got married, my own father walked me down the aisle — even though I was a feminist and he certainly wasn’t a sexist (though I don’t know that he would have self-identified as a feminist exactly). I thought about having both my parents escort me, but that would have been clumsy. I thought about walking alone, but I was a nervous wreck and didn’t want to do that. Having Dad escort me was actually very comforting; it felt parental and helpful, not ugly in any way. My brother had previously escorted my mother down the aisle, and they were standing up there with the officiator waiting for us. It was very nice.
In planning my wedding I really had enormous doubts about that whole giving-the-bride-away thing and didn’t want to do anything that smacked of sexism, but in the event, my Dad’s comforting arm as we walked down the aisle is one of the nicest memories I have.
On the other hand, that was 25 years ago, I was extremely young, and actually I didn’t care a great deal about the details of the ceremony. I’d never once dreamed of a wedding or given any thought to it, so the planning was almost perfunctory. If I were doing it today, or had a daughter who was getting married, I think I would be much more radical about jettisoning the old traditions or at least re-inventing them in a more gender-equal fashion.
I live in such a radical feminuist household that marriage, at least in anything resembling the form in whch we noew undersatand it, is probably not on the agenda for my daughters.
But you are right. I got stuck on the dad’s aisle walk and other customs that are so confusing and contradictory. They can be vestiges of god knows what form of oppression. Yet at the same time they can be infused with love and meaning.
*If I were doing it today, or had a daughter who was getting married, I think I would be much more radical about jettisoning the old traditions or at least re-inventing them in a more gender-equal fashion.*
Wouldn’t it be awesome to have the groom being escorted down the aisle by his mum? And if we think that’s weird, why do we think this?
I think it would be kickass! (Actually if my groom had had a mother we might have done that, but she’d died years before.)
I almost got married again a few years ago, and I thought I would simply have my family stand with me and his family stand with him. Of course by that time (late thirties) I was much too old to have any desire for someone to walk me down the aisle.
*I thought I would simply have my family stand with me and his family stand with him.*
That’s a really nice idea.
Alon Levy says:
Well, if you ask me, there’s no point in having any wedding ceremony, period. I don’t know about anyone else here, but I’ve never felt the need to have some ceremony just because it’s traditional. Even a nontraditional ceremony is basically a way of reconciling a tradition with progressive values, like going to a Unitarian church or a Reform synagogue.
Søren Kongstad says:
We got married at the city hall, by city officials.
This was after my girlfriend proposed to me on my 30th birthday.
No one followed anyone down anywhere. We never considered a church wedding, and truth be told, the proposal was at least in some part contingent on the fact that I had just bought the appartment we live in, its very bothersome to set it up legally so we were sure that everything would be split evenly in case we split. A marriage is an, expensive, but nice way to ensure that. Anyway its as good an excuse as anyone to get hitched ;)
I don’t know about anyone else here, but I’ve never felt the need to have some ceremony just because it’s traditional.
That’s cool. But you’re talking to a person who bakes cakes in the shape of bunnies.
Lis Riba says:
First of all, in Jewish tradition both bride and groom are walked down the aisle by both parents.
Re:the monarchy, I’m an American fascinated by Tudor & Stuart royal history. Frankly, I hope you don’t get rid of your monarchy.
One of the problems I think America has is that the celebrity figurehead and actual reins of power are held by the same person. So what should be an election on issues and matters of consequence turns into a popularity contest of images over substance.
By separating those two roles into different people — monarch and prime minister — reduces the likelihood of confusion.
Blinded. I’m blinded.