The British Monarchy: Birds in a Gilded Cage (or Brilliant Scam-Artists?)

Michael House

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“People say, what does it matter? It’s harmless. The Queen is only a figurehead. It brings in the tourists. But she is more than a figurehead. Every piece of potential legislation that may affect ‘The Firm,’ as they call themselves, has to have royal consent. The monarchy costs the taxpayer £67 million a year ($86 million.) The ‘cottage’ that Elizabeth Windsor gave Harry and Meghan to live in was renovated at the cost to the taxpayer of £2.4 million. Andrew Windsor, friend and associate of Jeffrey Epstein, cost the taxpayer £610,000 for foreign travel in 2010.  He would use RAF jets to fly to golf courses. And so on.”—Michael House

The Polemicist

By Michael House, FRGS

Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria Herzog von Bayern

Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria Herzog von Bayern aka Duke of Bavaria.

Michael House

WEST HAMPSTEAD London England—(Weekly Hubris)—May 1, 2020—To be a Republican in the US is to be a hissing and a byword. To be a Republican in the UK is a badge of honor, as will be explained below. I did not watch Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Harry Windsor and Meghan Markle. I am not interested in these people, with their silly titles (baby Archie is apparently an Earl) and their tedious feuds. But anything that undermines the monarchy and encourages the UK to grow up as a nation has to be a good thing. The interview also, I understand, pointed up the everyday racism here that people of color know only too well.

Young nations, or old nations that have run out of viable monarchs, have tended to seek a king among the minor royalty of Europe. Greece did it twice in the 19th century, first with Otto, a  German princeling. That didn’t work out too well, so, second time round, they went for a Dane who proved to be a better bet.

Likewise, Albania in the 20th century. When it threw off the Ottoman yoke, Albania went king-shopping in Germany, and came up with the unfortunately (but aptly) named William of Wied. He lasted a few months. Trying again, they eschewed nobility, and offered the throne to C.B. Fry, a famous British cricketer and all-round athlete. He declined, and, finally a home-grown candidate turned up, named Zog.

Zog I, King of the Albanians, born Ahmet Muhtar Zogolli (and his chow). (Photo: Chowtales.)

Britain went monarch-hunting in Germany 300 years ago. It happened like this. In 1688, King James the Second was deposed from the British throne (many present-day dukes are descended from women who didn’t say No to James and his brother Charles). He was a Catholic, and he tried to rule by decree and to persecute Protestant bishops (history-buffs will know that this is a gross oversimplification.) His daughter Mary was a Protestant, and she and her husband William of Orange (a Dutchman) were invited by Parliament to job-share the throne. (Stay with me, it gets more interesting.)

William and Mary left no children, so, in 1702, Mary’s younger sister Ann became queen. Despite 17 pregnancies, she left no heir, so, when she died in 1716, Parliament had to hunt for a relative who was not a Catholic to take the job.

The minor princeling who won the jackpot was the founder of the present dynasty.

George, the Elector of Hanover (an obsolete office, Electors had once chosen the next Holy Roman Emperor) was Queen Ann’s second cousin. There were 56 closer relatives of Ann still alive, but they were all Catholics. An Act of Parliament forbade (and still forbids) a Catholic from ascending the throne. (Religious bigotry is not dead in the UK.) So, this obscure German aristocrat was given the opportunity to fill his boots, and his descendants have been doing so ever since.

Some of you will have spotted that the deposition from the throne of James the Second destroyed the whole concept of a hereditary monarchy. You can’t pick and choose. The next one up to bat gets the gig, whether suitable or not.  James’s son and grandson tried to regain the throne in 1715 (the Old Pretender) and 1745 (Bonnie Prince Charlie), without success. Romantics will say that the true monarch today is the “King-over-the-water,” Franz, Duke of Bavaria, direct descendent of the Stuart kings.

Family tree showing the Jacobite line of succession and its relationship to the UK monarchs descended from Sophia of Hanover. (Image via Wikipedia.)

The British monarchy is like Japanese knotweed, very hard to eliminate. It has survived every crisis. After Queen Victoria’s Albert died, she became a recluse, the “Widow of Windsor,” with decreasing popularity, until Prime Minister Disraeli proclaimed her Empress of India, which cheered her up. These people do love titles.

Her son, Edward the Seventh, was a notorious lecher, one of whose mistresses, Alice Keppel, was the great-grandmother of Charles Windsor’s mistress and later wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles. Edward the Eighth married a twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson, and was driven from the throne, but the monarchy survived. Charles Windsor “Prince Charles” was effectively forced to marry a very young earl’s daughter, Lady Diana Spencer, whom he did not love. Once she had performed her role as a human incubating machine and produced the heir (William) and the spare, (Harry) she was discarded.

The monarchy is a pernicious institution. It is the apex of a pyramid of snobbery, titles, obscene wealth, and forelock-tugging. Meghan Markle will have been startled to learn that she is supposed to curtsey every time she encounters the Queen. Charles Windsor has a lackey to squeeze his toothpaste onto the brush in the morning. The Queen’s younger sister, Margaret, insisted that her lovers address her as “Your Royal Highness.”

People say, what does it matter? It’s harmless. The Queen is only a figurehead. It brings in the tourists. But she is more than a figurehead. Every piece of potential legislation that may affect “The Firm,” as they call themselves, has to have royal consent. The monarchy costs the taxpayer £67 million a year ($86 million.) The “cottage” that Elizabeth Windsor gave Harry and Meghan to live in was renovated at the cost to the taxpayer of £2.4 million. Andrew Windsor, friend and associate of Jeffrey Epstein, cost the taxpayer £610,000 for foreign travel in 2010.  He would use RAF jets to fly to golf courses. And so on.

It is ironic that they call themselves “The Firm.”  They are a money-making outfit. The Queen is said to be worth £400 million. (The only good thing about Brexit is that the Queen no longer gets millions in European Union agricultural subsidies.) Add the Crown Jewels and huge land holdings in Lancashire and Cornwall, and the figure climbs into the billions. Successive grovelling governments, Labour and Conservative, have allowed the royals to get away with financial murder. So, well done, to Meghan and Harry for being self-sufficient and ceasing to bleed the taxpayer as the government offers NHS staff a 1 percent pay-raise.

Olivia Coleman portraying Elizabeth II in “The Crown.” (Image via AP News)

Olivia Coleman portraying Elizabeth II in “The Crown.” (Image via AP News.)

The monarchy is also a cruel institution. Fans of “The Crown will remember the atrocious treatment meted out to the Queen’s sister Margaret because she didn’t toe the line. I understand Harry Windsor told Oprah that his father and elder brother were trapped in the system. But in an inversion of a classic fairy tale, the beautiful maiden has rescued the prince.

Hilary Mantel, she of the wonderful Thomas Cromwell trilogy, put it very well when she compared the royals to pandas: “expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment . . . and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage.” Charles Windsor told his friend Selina Scott that “there are many times when I feel totally trapped.”

So, to declare the UK a republic would be a humane act as well as a socially and economically desirable one. But will the people and Parliament ever release the zoo animals?

When Elizabeth dies, that should be the end of this ludicrous anachronism. It was a great scam while it lasted, but every crime-family, even one of the most successful in history, must finally be terminated. Let Charles Windsor run for President. I’m sure he would win by a landslide (forelock-tugging is a hard habit to break), but at least we will have had a choice.

Michael House

About Michael House

Michael House was born, of rural, peasant stock, in Somerset, England. He read law at Exeter College, Oxford and was elected President of the Oxford Union. In 1974, along with five colleagues, House started up a set of barristers' chambers in three little rooms in Lincoln's Inn, London, specializing in human rights and in representing the poor and dispossessed. The set now comprises 170 members and occupies a 17th-century building that was home to the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated (Spencer Perceval, 1812). In 1987, depressed by Mrs. Thatcher's third election victory, House fled to Greece for three years, where he was published in The Athenian and The Southeastern Review. He also there met his archaeologist wife, Diane. The pair returned to England in 1990 after a half-year, round-the-world trip, and settled in London and Northamptonshire. Since then, by way of escape from humdrum criminality, House has traveled in Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, Ladakh, Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Morocco, Syria, Jordon, Libya, Mongolia, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka, where only the stout walls of Galle Fort saved him and his spouse from being swept away by the tsunami. House returns to Greece, his second home, almost every year. He has written for, inter alia, History Today, the Universities Quarterly, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Rough Guide to Greece and www.greecetraveler.com. House practices criminal defense law from Garden Court Chambers, Lincoln's Inn Fields, in London, and hopes that if he keeps on practicing, he may eventually get the hang of it. His yet unachieved ambitions are: to farm alpacas; see Tibet liberated from the Chinese jackboot; and live to see Britain a socialist republic.
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2 Responses to The British Monarchy: Birds in a Gilded Cage (or Brilliant Scam-Artists?)

  1. Avatar Will Balk says:

    !!!A welcome respite from the apparently rote worship of British monarchism among the American populace. It would appear that those living under that monarchy have a clearer – if perhaps more jaundiced – view of the role of the Firm than those of us who fought to be liberated from it. A welcome new voice in these pages!

  2. Avatar Michael House. says:

    Thanks Will. Much appreciated. Actually rather an old new voice.

    I see that the queen’s cousin Prince Michael of Kent, has been caught offering access to dictator Putin’s inner circle for £10,000 a day. Greedy aristocrat sells access to vile kleptocrat. Apparently he was unable to do what he promised, so he added fraud to corruption. What a family!

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