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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Debating British monarchy

Debating British monarchy | Podcast | History Extra

"[On George V] He was terribly good as being the father of his people. He wasn't very good at being the father of his own children...

For the first twenty six years of his life George the Fifth as he became did not expect to become king and he went on to be a hugely successful king. And many, certainly in modern times, of this country's most successful monarchs - Queen Victoria, George the Fifth, George the Sixth, the present Queen were not born expecting that they would rein.

So one of the slightly quixotic conclusions that one might draw from this and I can't suppose this would necessarily play all that well at Highgrove House is that the best preparation to be a monarch is not to be born expecting to be a monarch... Maybe actually if you're going to be a monarch who reigns rather than rules, maybe it's a positive advantage not to be very well educated. I mean that sounds slightly perverse and again it may not play very well at Highgrove but there is a kind of case for that...

There were two different parts of the English constitution - the dignified part and the efficient part and the efficient part allegedly was the cabinet and the House of Commons and the dignified part was the monarchy and the House of Lords and Bagehot said that a monarch had three rights - to warn, to encourage and to be consulted and this is often trotted out as the essence of how to be a constitutional monarch...

'All the kings we're talking about here like all the other forty one subjects of these books and like Elizabeth the Second today were crowned and anointed with holy oil in a ceremony full of mystery and sanctity... If Prince Charles, when he becomes King, wishes to be crowned not just Defender of the Faith which is of course the Protestant faith in a Protestant service but Defender of All Faiths. There's going to have to be some very nifty theological footwork to try to make that work.'

'At which the English monarchy has of course excelled since the sixteenth century'...

Monarchs historically are generically male and that's because they're supposed to be warrior kings and philosopher kings and lawgivers. And that's historically what monarchs were supposed to do in a time when they ruled. Whereas constitutional monarchy is in a sense emasculated monarchy. They don't do any of those things anymore.

And there's a sense in which it's feminised monarchy. It's much easier for a woman to be a constitutional monarch I think than for a man because if you are a man you are still hankering after these macho things. Doing things, interfering. Whereas actually the point of being a constitutional monarch is that you don't interfere. And the Queen has done that very brilliantly I think. We don't really know what the Queen thinks about anything and to have sustained that across sixty years is a truly extraordinary-'

'And culturally we are used to the idea of figureheads being female. That figureheads on ships are female, statues of great conceptual qualities: justice or liberty are female'...

'Part of the challenge of constitutional monarchy is finding other things for them to do... finding alternative things for them to do which keep them occupied, keep them in the public eye but keep them out of the business of government is in a sense the challenge of constitutional monarchy'"
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