-by Nigel Best
Amazing how quickly the Royal Family press machine went into overdrive on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s death.
Storylines quickly materialized around service to country, longevity of her reign, how, behind the mask of solemnity she was a caring mother to the nation, and a doting grandmother and great-grandmother to her family.
Most of all, though, the stories dripped with varying tones of how the monarch had defined the moral core of Great Britain, the commonwealth, and, somehow, the rest of the world. As if…!
The headlines were unfurled like flags at half mast, and barely a dissenting voice was heard across the nation. That was dignified. A woman wielding power in such a male-dominated world is something to be admired.
However, that was then. Now the coffin has disappeared, tributes have been read, and discussions of the place in a modern society for this royal family can begin.
First, dear reader, before we venture any further, two points need to be made. I admit, I’m conflicted about Britain’s royal family, in part because my story would be about abolishing the whole institution. On the other hand, there’s the story the institution tells about us all, and it cannot be denied.
(Secondly, one thing you read in this story is a fabrication. You will have to decide. Obvious though it may be, you’ll be incorrect.)
So, back to this funeral that has me glued to the tv for no other apparent reason than inevitably something bizarre must happen during all of this pomp and ceremony.
Whilst we wait for that moment, a bit of history.
What we’re witnessing is really a dodge. Royal funerals with all the pageantry and public attendance are actually a modern phenomenon created upon the demise of Queen Victoria, that stodgy looking royal ma’am who was actually disliked by the vast majority of the British public. In part, the dislike had to do with her hiding from public view after her husband died.
More likely, it had to do with the families of all the young men sent off to fight in countries and against foes most families had never heard of. These never-to-return young men were fighting for an empire that was really only enriching a few of the nobility and businessmen of the time.
Thus the need to create a fantasy, a story, a benediction around the monarch’s funeral: Line the streets with flag-waving plebes, parade the coffin, roll out the pomp.
In the dawning of the new medium of photography, those pictures cast a spell, and a a fantasy story was created. What’s happening today is the continuation of that legacy.
Prior to Victoria, though, most kings and queens succumbed to disease or found their way to the hereafter via death on a battlefield.
But not all.
Back in 1327, the nobles of the time are alleged to have murdered Edward II by inserting a red hot poker into the royal bum.
In 1016, almost a thousand years before the yankee king, Elvis died ignomiously next to his throne, an assassin hiding in the pit below Edmund II’s toilet, stabbed the king in the dangly bits. The knife being left in the said area felled his majesty.
(It would seem that the British don’t really go for the jugular!)
Then there’s Henry VIII, he of the numerous wives. When the obese liege died, having been placed inside a lead-lined coffin, as even the current monarch has been, he began to swell like a sausage that hasn’t been pierced. It’s said when this large man’s body exploded inside the coffin, it blew off the lid. Body parts flew everywhere before being recovered by the nobles in attendance and returned to his sarcophagus.
A fitting demise for a sovereign that seemed to enjoy sending his betrothed to the block for an axeman to chop off their heads.
As for the lead-lined coffins, they’re handy in very quickly turning mortal remains into a soup inside the coffin. This leaves little to be salvaged if down the road there are to be grave robbers.
I am not expecting anything quite as fun as any of the above with the current funeral, but there have been moments. I saw that spider crawl out of the flowers atop the casket, There is the piece of paper that has fallen from someone’s service book onto the floor of Westminster Abbey in plain view of the camera. A billion people worldwide are wondering just what is written on that note.
But what to make of this royal coffin slowly sinking into a vault below the Windsor chapel? If symbolism is everything about today, surely this moment is the most bizarre? Down, not up?
So what does this moment really say about us?
It immediately casts a light on the apparent repeating of Roman history in the United States: From monarch to republic to authoritarianism.
Who wants that? Not Great Britain! Indeed, it is obvious in that for now royalty will prevail, that a new Rome won’t be falling upon St. George’s domain anytime soon.
Today does continue to reveal the depths of regal authority conflicting with the scars of colonial tyranny. There has to be an acknowledgment and a reckoning with the past, and that moment surely is upon us?
The wealth of the royal family that is on display was, in part, earned in the past from a royal decree that of every slave captured and sold, the monarchy would receive a cash royalty.
There also needs to be an explanation for the nazi sympathies that have stained this German-heritage family.
How about giving the regal boot to certain family who have become royal embarrassments?
How about just admitting Harry is not Charles’ offspring? And, how will the nation react to the crowning of Camilla as Queen Consort when the memory of Diana is still fresh in the British psyche?
Then there are those who will say, “Well, Elizabeth did serve her country in the second world war.” That’s true, but so did millions of other ‘ordinary’ citizens. Those that returned from the battlefields did so not to the comforts of palaces and attending staff, but to destroyed homes and years of rationing.
Is this all just nitpicking?
As for me, do I want a republic? Do I want a diminished royal household?
Well, before casting my vote, I wouldn’t mind seeing the true scope of how much money is generated by the family, something that is constantly withheld from the public.
Without being flippant, it’s not exactly like the queen or king meet people at the airport and suggest afternoon tea, is it? I’d be a monarchist if he/she did. Instead, at the height of the tourist season, the queen always made a quick exit from London to enjoy hunting and walking on her estate, Balmoral Castle.
This is where I have a tough time with any of this loyalty and service to a nation storyline. The royals live a life of luxury. Winter skiing, summer’s at estates or on board luxury yachts. Shaking hands with despots and corrupt business persons at the occasional charity fund-raising events. Waving from balconies, gold-covered carriages, waving from car windows.
Did I mention suitcases full of cash, or offshore bank accounts?
How about getting laws changed because it’s in their interests? Royals can now marry a divorcee (Edward and Wallace’s soup has been boiling in their graves!). And royals can now marry a catholic (It’s a wonder Henry VIII’s soup hasn’t exploded.)
It’s all this fantasy stuff disguising the truths that would force my vote for a republic. At the end of it all, they are not gods, just very rich, very privileged human beings that are fallible, and do not reflect in any way my life.
I don’t pretend fealty. I wouldn’t bow my head. I won’t be shouting, “Long Live the King,” at next year’s coronation.
I’ll probably be watching the shenanigans on my tv, though, still just as conflicted.