January 15, 2020
Author: Chilton Williamson
The British monarchy is not glamorous, nor is it intended to be. It is ceremonial; not at all the same thing. The British public is devoted to its royalty as an institution, and to the Royal Family themselves. But it does not look to them as a source of vulgar entertainment. Instead it sees the Royals as an inspiration and an aspiration—not, of course, to become Royal itself and enter into the charmed circle but to accept and find pride and satisfaction in their own allotted role as loyal subjects and worthy commoners in the polity of the United Kingdom, the greatest civilization in history. Hereditary monarchy removes much, if not quite all, of the sting of social and economic inequality by making position an accident of birth. And as Walter Bagehot wrote more than a century and a half ago, it asserts the superior value of what cannot be bought by money nor attained by mere grubby effort, and thus the principle of transcendence. Lastly, it insists upon another principle, one of utter and complete fidelity to unsought duty, of which General Robert E. Lee said the denominative noun was the most beautiful world in the English language. Lee was perhaps the greatest American gentleman who ever served his country, but by his long colonial inheritance he was very much an English one as well.
There is another important point to make about the British monarchy in the context of the disastrous marriage between the prince who is presently sixth in line to the throne and the television actress “of colour” from southern California. Civilization is not about luxury. It is not even about comfort, and never has been. The country houses, the great estates, the chateaux, and the palaces of Europe have never been either comfortable of luxurious, in the modern bourgeois sense of the word. For centuries the aristocracy has lived without complaining of the absence of comfort, which they seemed not to notice, or taking much effort to improve their situation. They still do. Rather, they make themselves “comfortable” with the draughty houses and relatively primitive plumbing that continue to shock and discomfit American tourists in Britain and on the Continent.
Sandringham House, which was opened in 1870 and where Kings George V and VI—grandfather and father respectively of Elizabeth II–died, is far from luxurious. The Queen is reported to see to her own breakfast cereal, which she stores in Tupperware tubs, herself. The Windsors are resolutely frugal, and in this as in other ways they are quintessentially upper class. It is, or used to be, called “old shoe,” and still prevails among what remains of the old WASP aristocracy in the United States. In 1952 Adlai Stevenson, then governor of Illinois, Democratic candidate for president of the United States, and a genuine American patrician, was photographed with his legs crossed to display a gaping hole in the sole of one shoe. Even seven decades ago this was much remarked on, mainly by Democrats eager to suggest that Stevenson was really what the English call “of the people.” Can one imagine any American politician today, of whatever party, exhibiting such simple and wholesome sartorial insouciance as Stevenson did then?
The Daily Telegraph—the house organ of the Tory Party—reports that Megan, Duchess of Sussex, complained that “it isn’t working for me.” She meant, of course, her marriage to a Duke, her life as a Royal, and the scrutiny she is subject to in both roles. It is not that the Duchess is averse to publicity, which, as a former actress with many celebrated and wealthy American friends, she lives for. What she misses is glamour— glamour of the Hollywood sort especially. To her, the Royals and the British aristocracy are dull and uninteresting. Princess Michael, of course, is just the opposite, but the Princess is an outspoken anti-progressive– no good. Her Royal Highness would far rather be sitting around a swimming pool in Malibu with George Clooney than grouse-hunting in Scotland—she’s a conscientious objector when it comes to hunting—with a Duke of the British realm, who happens also to be her husband of less than two years and the father of her child, not yet a year old. Given her more than plebian background her preferences are understandable–but what did the girl think she was getting in for in marrying the Prince? One suspects that even Grace Kelly’s life as Princess of Monaco would not satisfy her, despite being able to meet all the George Clooneys she wanted to while giving state dinners with Opra Winfrey and other assorted American glitterati.
The Duchess has complained that people (her royal inlaws, apparently) have not thought to inquire of her whether she is “OK” or not. Now doubt they take it for granted that an American Cinderella who has landed an English prince, an historic cottage built in 1792 by Queen Charlotte, tens or scores of millions of pounds, and the rapt and doting attention of the world could possibly be anything but “OK.” But no; the inlaws have not always been nice her, or said nice things to her on every occasion. Perhaps they have made her feel socially inferior? She herself has not suggested as much, but columnists in England and the United States have claimed that the problem is racism on the part of the Royals. A black American woman writing for CNN might reasonably be pardoned for making such an error, but an English one ought to know that the British have always discriminated far more readily by class rather than by race. When for instance the Palace was considering the propriety of a meeting between Edward VII and the dark-skinned king of a South Pacific Island, a member of his staff interjected, “The man’s a king, damn it,” and the meeting went ahead as planned.
Whatever racial consciousness might be present in l’affaire Markle reflects not racist prejudice on the part of the Windsors but reflexive liberal prejudice in the Anglosphere in favor of a woman of color any time a whisper of suspected racism is heard; a prejudice the Duchess appears to be exploiting for her own ends. In America Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been playing a similar game; indeed the two women resemble each other in many ways besides their complexions, both of them being devoted to creating mayhem in high places. Megan née Markle really isn’t satisfied with being the Duchess of Sussex. She doesn’t want to stand by her Englishman and do the duty she signed up for, cutting ribbons and paying visits to retarded children; she wants to Save the World, meaning remake it in her own image, and she’s convinced a weak, neurotic, and immature husband to go along with the project. She’d really much prefer being AOC for now, and President Michelle Obama as soon as she comes of age in five years. Neither job is available to a member of the British Royal Family. So La Markle wants to chuck it all, return to the freedom of North America, make a lot of money by trading on her English title, have a lot of unsupervised and uninhibited fun, and really go places.
The Windsors (she’s doubtless been thinking since the royal powwow at Sandringham) proved an easy nut to crack. After all, she seems to have won. Now she’s going to have a go at the world–but only after she’s dealt with her father, who’s preparing to testify against her in the London court that will be hearing her suit against the tabloid press in the matter of a letter he wrote to her some time. A glance at a photograph of Thomas Markle makes it difficult to believe the man is the father-in-law of the Duke of Sussex. Royalty should really be more careful in choosing a wife.