Us and the Queen

Thoughts on the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

“Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you’ve been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.”

— A. E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad, Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, 1887

It’s one week since the end of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations and round our way the flags and bunting are still out in force. Granted, this may be attributed to the same personal sloppiness that means my neighbour’s Christmas lights dangle mockingly from his guttering in July, or it may be something else entirely. I cannot be sure.

It might be that what became insufferably known as the ‘platty joobz’ amongst the ‘beveragino’ set provided normal, honest British people with a specific and tangible focal point for celebration amidst a torrid two years. Four days of merry-making to distract the nation from our perilous situation, grasping with the last of our finger-strength to the edge of the cliff. Since the turn of 2020 we have been caught betwixt COVID, the pending Third World War and hyperinflation in the flustered manner of an unsuspecting Vicar walking into a BDSM nightclub when the invite clearly specified ‘Tea Party & Raffle’. In light of this, who can begrudge a few more days of clinging to the good feeling generated by leaving those flags flapping just a little longer.

And it was generated. Despite the best efforts of professional churls like Twitter’s Otto English, The New Statesman and Republic (Britain’s effete anti-monarchy movement) the four-day weekend saw an uneasy truce between all but the most entrenched partisans of the raging culture war. The lion lay down with the lamb and across Britain streets were closed to traffic, allowing neighbours to unselfconsciously play party games, eat cake, drink beer and generally have wholesome fun. The Union Flag ceased, however temporarily, to exist as a symbol of hate speech and the red, white and blue bunting wrapped itself around the lampposts of Remainers and Leavers alike.

Ultimately, this is the role of a Jubilee. A great coming-together to celebrate one of the few things we all on this grievance-stricken little island have in common; our monarch. Cards on the table, I am an incorrigible monarchist although I recognise that the Windsors have done their best to cheapen, besmirch and enfeeble the proud tradition of the English, and latterly British, monarchy. I have toyed with the idea of being publicly and ostentatiously Pro-Monarchy / Anti-Windsor, and maybe even trying to get the hashtag trending, but the whole point of the King or Queen is that they are anointed by God, not selected by committee or hailed by the demos like a President or a Prime Minister. Whether I have reservations on the Queen matters not at all. She is the Queen. Overthrowing monarchs is suspiciously French behaviour and God Save The Queen doesn’t come with conditions.

The Monarchy, or perhaps more specifically The Queen, is still overtly popular throughout the land. Whether this will be the case in ten, twenty or fifty years is unknowable. As a nation we are disconnected from our history to an extent never experienced and our connection to the sovereign is wilting from the very roots. School children will know something of the Tudors and the more inquisitive will have heard of 1066, but even amongst university educated adults the events of 1688 and the Glorious Revolution are almost entirely unknown. The imprint of royalty is all over our daily business; Royal Mail delivers letters from Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise and if you don’t pay them their due from the Royal Mint you may end up doing a spell at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, and yet Our Island Story is now having the kings and queens who shaped it digitally removed like a George Lucas remaster. If this new story is ten pages long then it starts on page one with Black Romans on Hadrian’s Wall, whizzes past ‘some white guys doing stuff’ at the top of page two, and pages three to ten are Mary Seacole, The Windrush Generation and the establishment of the NHS. These are the only institutions worth respecting.

When The Kinks sang “all the stories have been told / of Kings and days of old / but there’s no England now” they couldn’t have expected that forty years later even the stories would have dried up. The history of Britain is the history of its monarchs, as much as some like to kid themselves that it’s the history of non-binary fishmongers from Grimsby. The Gove Reforms gave some hope to the re-emergence of British History as a key aspect of the school curriculum, but a subject is only as strong as its teacher, and in 2022 most History teachers view British History as something shameful, something to be apologised for. The most coveted of all apologies is that of the Queen.

Even those in media who make a claim for the continued existence of the monarchy do it in such a way as to appease the tedious, po-faced critics of our “unelected” Head of State. “The royals”, they gush, “bring more money into this country than they take from it”. As if the Royal Family should be judged by balance sheet, a tourist attraction like Warwick Castle or Madame Tussards.

Whether this is true or not is beside the point. This is no better claim for the continued existence of an ancient institution, intrinsic to the soul of the country, than saying you should continue driving your unreliable 1950s Morris Minor because lots of other people think it’s cute. There seems to be no case made, even amongst notionally pro-monarchy media outlets, for the glory of monarchy, the safety of stability and the extremely British value of pragmatically sticking with what you know. Her Majesty is a descendent of those storied kings of yore; Charles II, Elizabeth I, James I, Henry V, all the way back to Alfred the Great. Shepherding the wayward flock of these islands is in her very blood. That no-one seems to think this is every bit as compelling a reason for her, and her heirs and successors, is telling of a culture that has forgotten itself.

As in so much, the slugs of cultural Marxism and cultural Americanism have slimed into our collective consciousness and left their gritty smear. When the subject is broached, many of the most open advocates, both left and right, demand a vote, a say, as if the Queen is just a genial old lady President who could be replaced at any moment. Another opportunity to churn the cesspool of politics and take hearty gulps of the sewage therein. People whose political cues are taken from James Felton books and Radio 4 panel shows are exactly those whose views should be precluded from the political process and yet all too often those are whose hooting views are heeded.

In Clint Eastwood’s 90s revenge classic Unforgiven, Richard Harris as ‘English Bob’ opines:

“There’s a dignity in royalty, a majesty that precludes the likelihood of assassination. Now, if you were to point a pistol at a king or a queen, your hand would shake as though palsied… the sight of royalty would cause you to dismiss all thoughts of bloodshed, and you would stand — how should I put it? — in awe.”

Clearly, Eastwood was using English Bob as a point of ridicule and contrast for his own dour Presbyterian Republicanism, and no modern audience would possibly empathise with this viewpoint. Yet until recently – very recently – this is what many British people believed with earnestness. That no one is willing to defend this perspective anymore speaks to a saddening loss of the sparkle and shine of the ritualistic and the degradation of the hereditary contract between monarch and subject. If we no longer believe in God, we can no longer believe in God’s anointed, and therefore we must offer ourselves to rule by grey-suited technocrats. All the remaining Royal Houses of Europe that haven’t had their heads stretched on the block have modernised to the point of tedium. They cringe at the pageantry, the pomp and ceremony to placate their politicians and keep their lifestyle. Only on our sceptre’d isle does the crown get transported to parliament in its own golden carriage. Long may it continue.

Superficially the jubilee was a success. People will seldom sneer at a four-day weekend, true. However, beyond the silly hats and bowls of trifle it provided us with a national moment. A moment where we could occupy the comfortable rhythm of our forefathers. Just for a second, a glimpse of an older, less cynical Britain appeared from behind the June clouds before vanishing again and the battle lines were redrawn. I believe the desire for nationhood and identity to be innate, but the baton must be very deliberately passed. We don’t have an Independence Day, or even a patron saint to get behind. We do, however, have a Queen.

Dan Simons is a teacher from the Midlands of England.

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