Saturday, April 30, 2011

Royal Fiction

The current Royal Family have often been portrayed in fiction, though they hardly need it, given how soap operaish its been over the years. I particularly liked Sue Townsend's "The Queen and I", and the gin-drinking Queen Mother in Spitting Image. But nobody actually does fiction like the British aristocracy. For those of us who've never seen a Debrett's or think the "season" relates to football or racing, there's probably a vague sense that this country is run according to ancient precedent, fixed forever and unchangeable like something predestined from Lord of the Rings. What yesterday proved yet again, is how risible this view of history is. The Royal Family are arch writers and re-writers of the so-called "traditions" that are then utilised for retaining the family firm.

Two items from the wedding yesterday struck me as the kind of loose ends we're getting used to in Stephen Moffat's version of Dr. Who, but if you delve a little too deep unravel. I'm sure that soldiers and sailors and airmen frequently get married in their dress uniform, however inappropriate that might seem to the rest of us who don't want our work gear in our wedding photos - what's wrong with Moss Bros? - but they announced with all gravitas that William was going to wear an Irish Guards' Colonel outfit rather than his own outfit. It turns out he's an honorary colonel in the guards since February. What happened? Did he look through a set of uniforms with Kate and go "that one looks good, I'll ring granny and see if she can sort me out a commission?" I have no idea; but if the dressing up box of military uniforms can be used so arbitrarily then maybe the rest of us should look for a nice uniform next time we get married. We wouldn't, of course, because it would be seen as crass in the extreme; but given that his brother was wearing his own appropriate uniform, where on earth does this fiction come from?

Secondly, this Duke and Duchess of Cambridge nonsense. I'm sure there's some logic to the titles that the Royal Family dish out - its one of the perks of their job, of course - but the Dukedom (if that's the word) has a patchy heritage as it is, and has been in disuse for years. So, our King in waiting gets married in someone else's uniform and now, with his new wife, sports an imaginary title - both things having been conferred since the start of the year. The 19th century business men who would buy a stately pile to get hold of a title had nothing on the family who run this ridiculous pyramid scheme. One of the many pleasures of reading Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" was her shining a light on the pork barrel politics of the day; a time when royal patronage and political power were so clearly linked - in 2011, we have Labour Prime Ministers missed off the guest list because they are not "privy councillors" (whatever that is), and new titles for the 2nd in line to the throne and his wife which may as well been ordered up mail order from the United States.

Of course, if the Queen cannot create such trinkets and baubles, then who in the country can? But it highlights the absurdity of the British class system (which I referred to in a recent poem as "a repeating lie") in a way that would make the most florid of romantic novelists blush. Simon Schama, on the BBC yesterday, made the interesting point that the troubles in the Middle East are all about getting rid of family dynasties. The fascinating history of the British Monarchy is that the family has remained potent, even as its been rightly stripped of more and more of its power. Without belittling yesterday's marriage in any way, these "grace and favour" powers - whether creating a new Dukedom, or turning a small Wiltshire town "Royal", seem to me to have little place in a modern country. I'm not sure whether I felt sad for him, or vaguely proud of his chutzpah, that David Beckham proudly wore his OBE on his dress suit; not everyone can be a soldier, and the gongs they get are one symbol of a nation's gratefulness that one should never disparage, but surely our most famous footballer missed a trick by not dressing himself up in all his winning medals from his illustrious playing career - he'd have looked more like a pearly Queen than Elton John in his heyday.


Jim H. said...

Of course, let's not forget the jumped-up kits the Beatles donned for their Sgt. Pepper center spread.

Adrian Slatcher said...

They were playing characters I believe :)