hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Sixty Years of Royal Duty

Alphen, the Netherlands. 21 March. Edmund Spenser’s 1590 Faerie Queen was an ill-concealed homage to Queen Elizabeth I, one of England’s greatest monarchs. “Ill can he rule the great that cannot reach the small”, he wrote (note the somewhat gender-bending concept of kingship in the sixteenth century). He could well have been writing of Queen Elizabeth II, who yesterday addressed both Houses of Parliament in the majestic St George’s Hall on the occasion of the official launch of her diamond jubilee; the celebration of sixty years on the throne. The fourteenth century gothic monument is the centre-piece of the Palace of Westminster and all that is left of the palace from which her eminent forebear ruled.

House of Commons speaker, John Bercow, demonstrating yet again his self-serving talent for the ill-timed and inappropriate, called the Queen, “the kaleidoscope queen’. He suggested that Her Majesty has been at the forefront of change as England slowly at first and now with great and ill-considered haste continues on its way to no longer being the England I once knew and loved. In fact the Queen has been the opposite. She has managed to confer upon a troubled country an aura of stability but has done so in the absence of nostalgia, which for an octogenarian monarch is quite an achievement. Indeed, she has been personally responsible in no small measure for much needed reassurance without which the revolutionary change and national decline that has taken place in her reign could well have descended into chaos.

Now, I am no royal flunky, far from it. Indeed, I find the whole edifice of the Royal Household at times absurd and arrogant. There are people within it who have really earned the royal patronage they enjoy because of the service they have given both society and country. There are also those within the Household who continue to look down their rather snooty upper-class noses at the rest of us in spite of having done little else in their lives than to have been born into the right family. Yes, twenty-first century Britain still suffers from such class nonsense.

So, why do I, a Yorkshire democrat, believe so firmly in the Queen and the institution of monarchy? It is a question those of you unlucky enough not to have been born English will doubtless find puzzling. The short answer can be found about a mile (no kilometres here) down the road in the House of Commons. The merest glance at Britain’s politicians is enough to convince most sane British people of the value of and need for a constitutional monarchy.

That said the monarchy can ill afford to be complacent. This most permanent of institutions has survived democracy precisely because it has been able to adapt and it will need to do so again. The affection in which Her Majesty is rightly held does not automatically extend to the institution of monarchy itself. The Queen has ‘ruled’ (she does not of course) with unusual intelligence and sensitivity to the sensibilities of an increasingly complex people and indeed those of the fifty-three other countries in her beloved Commonwealth. She remains head of state in some sixteen countries. She should, of course, have been Queen of America, but the Yanks were ejected from the Empire for failing to understand the difference between rugby and football and coming up instead with an extended TV commercial which is neither.  The only time her assured grip of the public mood slipped was in the immediate aftermath of the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales. She has also offered sage advice to twelve prime ministers, occasionally reminding them of the distinction between the interests of their political party and that of the country.

However, without wishing to be morbid Her Majesty is in her late-eighties. Soon Britain, if it lasts, will need to consider a future without her. That will be a shock to many of us. She has been a constant during all my fifty-four years. When she goes the undoubted majesty she has conferred on the monarchy will doubtless go with her. She is after all the last Imperial Britannic Majesty. His Royal Highness Prince Charles to my mind will be a good king, albeit in a very different manner as he too shares a deep understanding of the needs of a restless people. As for Prince William, he is very much a man of his era and far less stuffy than many in the Household that serves him. Therefore I am confident that in future the monarchy will indeed learn to be more modest, like the country it serves and like the monarchy here in the Netherlands.

So, not only am I confident that the monarchy will survive but it shall continue to enjoy my support and loyalty. That might, as I say, seem strange to foreigners, but it is simply our way of ordering power in a complex state. And, to have an institution at the head of state that is by definition bipartisan and above the political fray is to my mind a very real blessing.

Thank you, your Majesty for your sixty years of duty to our country. I remain a humble, loyal citizen of the country you head, but you will forgive me if I will never be your subject. Those days are gone. And no, I am not looking for a knighthood. An OBE (Order of the British Empire) would be nice though.

Lord Lindley-French of Bramall Lane

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