The House of Windsor – Stabroek News


It’s tempting to think of The British Royal Family as one very long reality TV show stretching back centuries and offering an addictive mix of characters, palace intrigue and above all, high-profile pageantry.

Its main star died last week in episode 17 of season 552, and now “The House of Windsor” is hosting a two-week special of binge-worthy entertainment.

No family on this planet can surpass British royalty when it comes to planning a funeral, birthday or wedding; no matter how often marriages don’t last, the bride rides in a golden carriage! The history, weird lore (the Stone of Scone) and sheer opulence of their surroundings make for the most alluring television.

Many have torn for a human being they have never met. Yet when you consider that the Queen has had her profile on every stamp, coin or pound note since 1952, it’s a daily tactile familiarity that has a cumulative emotional power as intimate as a small photo of a loved one in a wallet or a miniature in a Tudor pocket. Everything will now have to be changed to the profile of the king, facing in the opposite direction according to tradition.

It is this incredibly powerful iconography and pageantry and sense of continuity that has made many Britons so swayed by Queen Elizabeth II. Perhaps they need an enduring, fabulously wealthy matriarch or patriarch as assurance that as long as the Windsors are around, Britain won’t go to the hounds. Never mind that the concept of kingship is little more legitimate than the Church of England which Larkin, who was uncharacteristically sentimental about his “constant” queen, described as this “vast moth-eaten musical brocade”.

We have also been reminded over the past week of the Royal Family’s declared position of neutrality/non-interference in British politics in line with the Westminster model which is supposed to offer both democracy and stability amidst the cut and change of elected government. This is quite a stretch, as the monarchy has always sought to shape public opinion and debate in British life, primarily as a means of securing its position within it or better above it.

Little political power you say? On Monday, the UK will literally close its doors for the funeral that is as tight as any communist country on the death of a great leader. The British Broadcasting Corporation, an enthusiastic publicist, provided stunning footage, including aerial feeds of King Charles’ Rolls Royce coming and going, eerily reminiscent of OJ Simpson and his Bronco or the coffin lying in a beautifully lit Edinburgh church . each corner by statue-like guards. Then there were round-the-clock profiles and analyzes of his life and influence. The funeral itself will be a precise and highly polished spectacle relegating that of the ‘people’s princess’ to a footnote in history as all the instruments of state are deployed to etch in stone the supreme heritage of his majesty.

The monarch, in addition to being the head of the Church of England and the armed forces with the prerogative to declare war without the approval of Parliament, also holds the power to appoint a Prime Minister and to approve (or not but very rarely) bills. They also make appointments and bestow or accept various honors – OBE’s MBE’s etc etc. Knighthoods are the exclusive domain of the monarch. The same applies to royal warrants for business products – “By appointment at…”. These favors are highly coveted by the British elite who stay in line and support the Crown. Needless to say, vocal anti-monarchists are often overlooked. And then there are apparent counterparts. More recently, Saudi billionaire Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz reportedly received a CBE in exchange for a large donation to a foundation from Prince Charles.

Perhaps the most powerful and troubling dynamic is the Prime Minister’s mandatory weekly audience with Chief Windsor. Meetings are private, no one else is present and no records are kept. It’s one aspect of the royal family’s strange combination of high visibility (the Queen once said you have to see it to believe it) and opacity: we see her coffin in all its glory draped, but we don’t yet know how a person who was up and talking two days prior with PM Liz Truss, actually died. She just passed out.

We get a glimpse of these weekly hearings and how they must have shaped government policy over the decades; they point out that far more direct opinions are conveyed to the elected leader than the shoulder claimed by beleaguered PMs to cry over tea. Take the 2014 Scottish independence referendum: Prime Minister David Cameron was said to have been very indiscreet when he recalled that the Queen had “purred” when he phoned to announce that Scots had voted to stay. But that was no surprise, since the Queen herself, in a flippant but clearly staged remark four days before the referendum, had told a well-wisher as she left her Scottish church: “Well, I hope the people will think very carefully about the future.”

Alas, she was silent on the war in Iraq even as a million of her subjects marched through London against her. Tens of thousands of people died. As for the disastrous Brexit vote, not a word. Alas, we’ll never know if she ever raised a disapproving eyebrow at Cameron when he came up on a Wednesday with that wacky idea.

So now we come to the new king, Charles Philip Arthur George, who has none of his mother’s inscrutability. He has offered public opinions on many topics ranging from organic farming to his pet peeve, modern architecture. How might his views on the latter lead to a return to a traditionalist style – neo-this, neo-that? With architectural eras named after monarchs or periods – Tudor, Georgian, Regency, Victorian – can we now see a straight-backed Carolean style? What is more concerning is the leak of letters that Prince Charles had written to several ministers between 2004 and 2005 in which he pushed for various causes such as herbal medicine or the culling of the badger. Trivial perhaps if not for his explicit lobbying of Prime Minister Tony Blair to replace a certain military helicopter.

When the ‘Black Spider’ memos were published, after a long legal battle, the Guardian reported then-Attorney General Dominic Grieve warning that their publication would ‘seriously damage his role as a future monarch because, if he renounced his position of political neutrality as heir to the throne, he does not recover it easily when he is king”.

However, perhaps his mother’s lack of inscrutability can turn out to be a good thing.

King Charles, for all his duties to constancy, seems thoughtful and not entirely anti-modern. He is said to be deeply interested in Buddhism. His visit to Northern Ireland on Monday, which forced bitter rivals to sit in the same room, could yet unlock the current stalemate. Similar gestures would go a long way to promoting harmony among countries still struggling with the consequences of colonialism. Particularly our Cooperative Republic of Guyana so bruised by British imperialism which was overseen by successive monarchs including the Windsors. For Guyana and the Caribbean, now is the time to reiterate a demand for an apology for the atrocities of slavery and empire.

There is no emerging threat to the monarchy. Indeed, the next few weeks could strengthen their mark. They are like encrusted Fabergé eggs that you are not allowed to unlock but cannot help admiring.

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