There are Australian people who express the kind of adoration for the royal family of Britain (and of Denmark more recently) that others reserve for footballers and celebrities and religious leaders. When I see or hear one of these mad people, trotted out by the media every time there is the faintest whiff of a Republic in the eucalypt-scented air, I wonder about their powers of logic, just as I do when I hear a creationist or climate change denier.
As best I understand it, at the very moment in 1066 that William of Normandy planted his flag in the corpse of the last Anglo Saxon King of part of England, god infused his DNA with a quality of royalness. So, from that moment to now and well into the 21st century (assuming young Willie manages to put a bit of DNA into Kate), a thousand years later, anyone having a bit of that DNA passed on through, what, 50 generations, gets to be the monarch of Britain and to be worshipped by ordinary people without the DNA. I’m sure you can see a flaw or two in the proposition. In the first place, leaving aside the whole god-royal DNA thingy which might just have a tiny problem or two, whatever the merits of William’s DNA, his offspring had only half of it, their offspring a quarter, and as soon as ten generations we are down to les than one thousandth of the essence of William. I will leave it to you to work out where we are after 50 generations.
But even that calculation of course makes the assumption that old Normandy Bill passed on his genetic makeup in an unbroken line down to our own dear queen and beyond. Anyone with even a smattering of recollection of the British Monarch-based history universally taught in Australia when I was a lad will recall the odd hiccup along that smooth unbroken line of succession. For most of the 1000 years the one who became king was the one not with the most William DNA but the one with the big battalions, and bigger sword. There are interlopers, and sidetracks, and dead ends, and usurpers to such a tangled web we weave that the chances of even the slightest bit of royal William the Conqueror’s DNA remaining are zero, zilch, non-existent, less than none. Remember, even in recent times, that our dear queen is a fluke, not meant to hold the royal sceptre, get the sacred oil put on her head. That if she had a brother her life would have been like that of sister Maggie, since lacking a y chromosome stops the royalness of the DNA becoming realised. Similarly her dad wasn’t meant to have a crown, being the younger brother and all, and only first sons get the full benefit of royal DNA. But then old Eddie fell for a scarlet woman, and since a woman who isn’t a virgin can’t act as a receptacle for royal DNA because having had intercourse with a non-royal pollutes her uterus (a belief still held by some breeders of sheep and cattle), old Eddie had to pass on his royalness to Bertie, via a secret handshake, and take his woman, and their rather unfortunate political allegiances, away from the land that William once conquered for Normandy.
The queen’s great grandmother of course, she who passed on, as well as royal DNA, an unfortunate gene that wiped out potential royals by making them bleed to death, only became queen as a result of the unfortunate and barren circumstances of her two predecessors. And their predecessors were only royal by a fluke after sailing in from distant Hanover. And all that only takes us back some 250 years. So I suppose the question for monarchists is, if you really think you are worshipping the current holder of a bit of DNA derived from chance events (Harold of course being bloody unlucky, really, to be dead) in the eleventh century on the south coast of England, how do you imagine that DNA got to young William?
But maybe you haven’t thought through the DNA stuff. Fine. Do you think instead that there has been some kind of legal and constitutional passing on of the kingship like an extended torch relay? That, you know, “the king is dead, long live the king” and so on. Again, I hate to remind you, same problem as the DNA. Remember (of just a few moments) “my horse my horse, my kingdom” etc, crown found on the battlefield, dead princes in tower, Mary dying before she could kill Lizzie, the ride to Scotland to announce that there was a kingship of England going if the king of Scotland wanted it, James driven out by a Dutchman, the phone call to the Elector of Hanover, you remember all that? So sure, the winning king each time rewrote the rule books to ensure that everything was now, in retrospect, legal and above board, and the succession had passed on properly, but we all know that is bullshit, yes?
So given all the extra-legal shenanigans of crown passing-on at times (and I haven’t even mentioned the gaggle of royal consorts from all over Europe, including H8’s six attempts to find a suitable batch of DNA to mix with his) what current monarchists seem to be saying is this. George 6, nice enough fellow, not sharpest knife in the drawer and never seen as foreman material, but scrubbed up all right when the stammer was gone. Pity no son, but you can’t have everything, and not being pro-Nazi a big plus. So King George, hands to QE2, hands to C3 (no, you don’t get a vote, wanna have your royal cake and eat it too?), hands to W5, hands to baby bump. There, that’s a proper legal succession with not too much dilution of Bertie’s blood eh?
But if this is the structure of the monarchist world, then what the hell is it about? Of 30 million people, was Bertie Wooster (sorry G6) really the one you’d choose to be the boss of your country if you had your druthers? QE2, ok, mostly harmless, but put her in a room with a thousand of her exact female peers and I bet you wouldn’t pick her out. And then C3. I mean, he’s um, well, nutty, not to put too fine a point on it. If he’s applying for a job with you as office boy against a field of three, do you think you’d give it to him? Of 60 million people, is he really the best and the brightest?
And then William. Nice enough lad it seems, but if he had swapped identities with a fellow student at St Andrews, would you have been any the wiser? Helicopter pilot, great, uniquely for a royal heir he has a trade, but is he capable of anything but driving a helicopter and impregnating fair lady?
So here’s this bunch of imperfectly ordinary, at times dysfunctional, extended family whose only claims to fame is inherited wealth, the ability to say nothing at length, and, somewhere on their persons, a tattooed royal barcode ready to be scanned when earlier lives draw peacefully to close.
Sorry, but what the hell is it about this system that brings apparently normal people to tears and hero worship? Why on earth would you want this gaggle of unemployable people given the job of heading up not just one country but many including some on other side of world. What the hell do you imagine the advantage is of worshipping this crew rather than electing, every five years, someone with talent and wit, from among your fellow citizens, to do the job, such as it is?
Am I missing something here?
It couldn’t be, could it, that monarchists still believe in that other aspect of kingship that old Billy passed down to his heirs, that the way to rule people was to put the fear of god into them. That kings were not merely a man among other men, primus inter pares, but were in fact god’s representative on earth, ready to make a preliminary judgement on whether people had been naughty or nice before they even got to the pearly gates. That kings could heal people with a touch or kill people with a gesture, and god was behind them all the way. That behind every good king was a good, or a bad, depending, god. That getting a crown wasn’t just like getting the ultimate Boy Scout badge for kingship, but, held over a head by a priest, was a signal to god that here was a new God Rep, ready to be sworn in to the heavenly gang. That the holy oil with which the priest anointed kings was, like the biscuit thingy at mass, actually a real thing with real powers. I mean our modern monarchists, in Australia, in the year 2012, couldn’t actually still believe in the divine right of kings.
Note – This post was inspired by a challenge from Matt da Silva on completing a post on royalty at his blog.
I have had other goes at this family of Saxe-Coburg-Gothas and their Australian cheerleaders on this blog
and at last here