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Royal Pessimists

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The birth almost four years ago of Prince George of Cambridge marked the first time in over a century in which a British sovereign and three generations of presumed future monarchs were all alive at the same time. The last time that happened was during the reign of Queen Victoria when her great-grandson, the future Edward Vlll and later Duke of Windsor, was born in the late 1890s. While on the surface one might presume the venerable Victoria had little in common with her nymphomaniac son and selfish, irresponsible, fascist sympathizing great-grandson, they nonetheless shared the same opinion concerning the future of the British Monarchy, i.e. that it was a political anachronism that would either not survive them, or die out with their grandchild. Charles Higham writes in The Duchess of Windsor, The Secret Life, that one of the reasons why Edward Vlll, who along with his wife were likely Nazi collaborators, abdicated was his genuine conviction that constitutional monarchies were a thing of the past and he was convinced that in short order his Nazi allies would reinstall him in Buckingham Palace as a dictatorial “president for life.” Needless to write, Edward’s best laid post throne renunciation plans came to nothing, and the House of Windsor still reigns to this day. While many predict this still mostly German, inbred family won’t survive the second Elizabethan age, one must bear in mind at least one of this dynasty’s most glorious sovereigns thought her family was doomed as well, and over a hundred years after her death they’re still here. The argument can be made that a healthy dose of internal pessimism is part of what keeps the British Royal Family going.

Even Winston Churchill, ass kissingly passionate monarchist that he was, conceded in his History of the English Speaking Peoples that the 1701 Act of Settlement, which officially overthrew the Scottish originated, Catholic House of Stuart on the British throne in favor of their distant, German, Protestant cousins, the Hanovers, upon the death of Queen Anne, completely dispelled the notion that Britain’s new Teutonic sovereigns could lay any claim to reigning by divine right. It was parliament that was responsible for their ascendance, and this particular royal family’s tradition of constantly acquiescing to the monarch in parliament is one of the fundamental reasons why they’ve endured so long. While her dynasty had already been on the throne for 123 years by the time Queen Victoria took the reigns, the House of Hanover had achieved little to recommend itself to the British people beyond being a constitutional convenience. While her husband, Prince Albert, who’s clever rebranding included coining the term the royal family, did much to give the Hanoverian monarchy a prestige it had never had before, his death plunged Victoria into such a deep, reclusive mourning period, that lasted for so long, that by the 1870s the monarchy soon being overthrown in favor of a republic was thought by most a forgone conclusion. Despite Alexander, Grand Duke of Russia’s contention in his memoir, Twilight of Royalty, that Queen Victoria genuinely believed her prerogative came from the almighty, she apparently was convinced her throne’s days were numbered as well.

According to Karl Shaw in his book, Royal Babylon, The Alarming History of European Royalty, one of the reasons why Victoria kept her government papers away from her oldest son and heir, and generally allowed him no official role on her behalf, was her contention that the monarchy would just barely survive her and he was likely Britain’s last king. Things didn’t turn around popularity wise for the royals until the Prince of Wales nearly died from typhoid, and the subsequent public outpouring over his recovery reignited latent monarchist fervor. Victoria’s ensuing reign jubilees also further endeared the crown to the public, and now the Victorian age is thought to represent a historical nadir when it comes to monarchist sentiment.

King Edward Vll further restored his dynasty’s popularity by reinstating much of the pomp and circumstance of the crown that had fallen by the wayside during the latter half of his mother’s reign. Yet, according to his cousin, Grand Duke Alexander, in his afore mentioned tome, Edward had scarce hope for the future of the British throne. One day shortly after his mother’s death Edward was entertaining Alexander at his “seaside palace,” likely Osbourne before the king gave it to his government, when they both caught sight of his grandson and heir presumptive, Prince Edward, playing in the distance. The king then turned to his distant kinsman and in-law and informed him that they were looking at the boy who’d one day become the last king of England.

Despite the vicissitudes caused by the First World War, the newly named House of Windsor managed to survive into the 1930s, and the little prince playing by the seaside eventually became King Edward Vlll. Charles Higham writes in The Duchess of Windsor, the Secret Life, that one of the reasons why he abdicated was his conviction that constitutional monarchies, and constitutional democracies for that matter, were outmoded institutions of the past. The devastation wrought by WW1, coupled with the extreme economic hardship unleashed by the stock market crashes of 1929 had rendered Western Europe’s working classes disillusioned, desperate and revolutionary, and Edward was convinced nothing short of fascism could prevent the whole sale slaughter of Europe’s ruling class. To that end, he threw his lot in with the Nazis, and gave up his throne believing they’d shortly restore him to power either as an unconstitutional, radically populist monarch, or as a dictatorial president for life. Needless to write, Britain and its allies fought a successful war against Nazi Germany and its counterparts, kicked their asses, constitutional monarchies and democracies triumphed and still exist to this day, and Edward and his hideously masculine wife spent the rest of their useless lives in exile pining over what might’ve been.

When the late Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who was a stalwart monarchist despite his socialist sympathies and possible spying on behalf of the Soviet Union, was asked if the monarchy would survive Prince Charles, he stated that it all depended on the type of monarch who succeeded him. This sort of pragmatism, coupled with a healthy dose of pessimism, helps explain why the British monarchy, and specifically the Windsors, have survived so long. By not taking their position for granted, they’ve allowed themselves to adapt to the changing preferences of the British people. It was King George l who initially grasped the concept that an institution as patently arbitrary and undemocratic as a hereditary monarchy could only survive in an increasingly liberal country if it divested itself of all political power. It was Prince Albert who grasped the concept that the key to a powerless monarchy’s survival was to become popular with the public, providing nationalist color and panache to a modern nation’s otherwise bland, contentious political landscape. With the sole exception of Edward Vlll, British sovereigns since the advent of the House of Hanover have taken these lessons to heart and kept their grasp on the throne. Long may they continue to do so!!!!!!!

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Comments (3)

Paige Cummings

Key phrase “not take their position for granted…” is this not exactly what William and Catherine are doing?” just assuming and abusing the exchequor. Yes, I know they are given the money by Charles…buts that’s a lot of money that could be helping the peasants

The amount of money William and Catherine generate in tourism and publicity for their country is priceless. Royal Foibles you described the Royal Family perfectly; “…providing nationalist color and panache to a modern nation’s otherwise bland, contentious political landscape.” Another informative, fun and well written post!

I agree with the first post!

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