The fanfare has died down quite a bit now, but last week’s media chatter pretty revolved around the arrival of The Royal Baby aka George Alexander Louis.
Right now he is completely blissfully ignorant as to the significance of his birth and royal fate. I wonder at what age he will start to realise that there is something unique about him and his circumstances? When do you tell the future king of England that he is destined to be so?
And what does it even mean to be an English monarch in the 21st century?
Although he will never be entirely marginalised politically — future prime ministers will consult with him on all major affairs of the state, in fact, they will first seek his approval to form their governments — he is not expected to wield any real power and any attempts to do so or even the slightest display of partisanship on his part will earn him stern disapproval.
People are quite content with the ceremony of it all. But beyond that, the royals have their place just like everybody else. And they would do well to remember it. George’s grandfather, Charles, has come in for much public criticism for his perceived “interference” in political affairs. The late Christopher Hitchens disparagingly called him “Prince of Piffle” after he openly expressed his views on the environment and religion.
I dare say that the elder Hitch’s staunch republican tendencies had something to do with that.
And to his constant bafflement, they were never shared by the majority of the English people, who are quite happy with a monarch who “reigns but does not rule”.
Quite different to the royals of old, as the discovery of the remains of one of Charles and George’s predecessors, the infamous Richard III, will attest. He died in a bloody scuffle for the throne of England, which he lost.
Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets to rule over England.
As I have written before: “The origins of power are bloody and well bloody.”
His successor, the strong and ruthless Henry VII began the long Tudor reign (and rule) which included two of the most well-known English sovereigns, Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I.
Monarchs in this mold wielded pretty much all the power they liked. And they were prepared to kill for it too. And be killed.
Since then, however, revolution claimed the head of at least one king, Charles I. And for the most infinitesimal moment in history England was a republic under Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans.
But perhaps with the same yearning for tradition that still exists today, the chastened monarchy was restored and Charles II acceded to the throne.
What followed afterwards was a gradual lessening of power for the monarchy as they gave way to ever increasing push back from the parliamentarians. The days of mad grabs for power were over, but future political battles would be fiercely fought between the parties in parliament and between the classes and the sexes. And as they turned their focus upon each other, the monarchy became the backdrop for what ultimately united them, despite their differences.
And this is why it endures and it lasts. To be a monarch in the 21st century is to be a symbol of unity and continuity. Obviously a view not shared by all, but by enough to keep them in palaces and castles.
In fact, today’s royals are perceived to be not just “for us” but “of us” too, as Kate and William have tried so hard to prove. They are purposefully portrayed as ordinary and relatable, the princess of “humble origins” and her humble-mannered prince. This has fed into their enormous popularity and all-time high approval ratings.
They are liked. And they want us to like them.
Despite the hardships of the economic recession, not many begrudge them their lavish lifestyles (within reason of course).
In the 21st century, all George will need is the love of the British people and that will be his mandate.