She’s become a social institution / Prepares her prey like an execution

When I was around nine I could name all the kings and queens of the Eng­land (and by exten­sion — as the domain extend­ed across the 1000 odd years when Wes­sex mutat­ed into Eng­land, the Unit­ed King­dom and then the Empire and Com­mon­wealth — large red tracts of the world). 1

Still can — with­out need of a moment to gath­er their names in my head. More, I can name many of their spous­es plus the kings (and Queen) of Scot­land.

I come from an era when Queen and coun­try were impos­si­ble to dis­en­tan­gle and our Queen was the one in Lon­don, Wind­sor or, at Christ­mas, in Scot­land read­ing out the roy­al mes­sage that all those red parts of the world stopped to lis­ten to.

I was a roy­al­ist and I was not alone.

Until I went to Lon­don in 1983 and my delu­sions came crash­ing down.

I encoun­tered a struc­tured class sys­tem built not only on unde­served priv­i­lege, but also on a soci­etal accep­tance of that fact that some peo­ple are by their birth, some­how far bet­ter than me, or bet­ter than the over­whelm­ing mass of human­i­ty. It is most­ly unques­tioned. It’s very ugly and offers no ben­e­fits to any­one beyond the anoint­ed.

We colo­nials had been raised on a diet of media and gov­ern­men­tal dri­ven delu­sion, which had proved help­ful when the empire came call­ing for troops sev­er­al times over the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry, includ­ing the — at any lev­el — inde­fen­si­ble Boer and First World Wars. We most­ly did not ques­tion either.

The Sec­ond World War too, we entered as the result of a knee-jerk reac­tion to British dec­la­ra­tions. The great evils of Nazi-ism were not then appar­ent and what was being wit­nessed in Europe in 1939 was hard­ly worse than the bloody impe­r­i­al sweep across much of the world over the past cen­tu­ry or two.

The why ques­tions were nev­er asked in New Zealand. Not just the why about war but the much wider why.

Why is there an aris­toc­ra­cy? More, impor­tant­ly, why is there a roy­al fam­i­ly and a monarch at the head of that aris­toc­ra­cy and why does such a per­son have a fief­dom that includes a far-flung nation at the bot­tom of the plan­et.

One answer, and per­haps the best one, is that such pro­vides sta­bil­i­ty to a polit­i­cal sys­tem. I almost buy into that notion. The fact that we most­ly have a benign vac­u­um as head of state — apo­lit­i­cal — has some mer­it. In the 1990s it was oft said that if we were to have a pres­i­dent our choice would be lim­it­ed to Sir Ed and Rachel Hunter. Both would be benign and one would pro­vide nation­al amuse­ment every time she opened her mouth.

Instead, we almost got Princess Diana — I’m not sure the line of demar­ca­tion between Di and Rach would have been that well defined.

How­ev­er, Ger­many and oth­er states have a non-impe­r­i­al or non-monar­chic sys­tem with apo­lit­i­cal heads of state, and our string of pret­ty wor­thy Gov­er­nor Gen­er­als since the 1980s have offered a num­ber of qual­i­fied pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates who would fill the cer­e­mo­ni­al post with­out some odd def­er­ence to a dys­func­tion­al monar­chy in a for­eign state.

The why ques­tion has anoth­er answer: a long time ago the monar­ch’s ances­tor killed enough peo­ple to pro­claim that he had been anoint­ed by the ver­sion of the deity in com­mon use at the time. He then pro­ceed­ed to kill more peo­ple — in fact, any­one who ques­tioned his divine right to rule — until after some gen­er­a­tions that divine right to rule became enshrined. He was a mass mur­der­er par excel­lence and thus we called him king.

If we dis­agreed he killed us. And our fam­i­lies. And our friends. And their fam­i­lies.

The peo­ple who helped him kill these peo­ple became the aris­toc­ra­cy who today think they are more wor­thy than us. Or, alter­na­tive­ly, they were the descen­dants of the younger (or female) off­spring of the head killer.

In an odd way, many of these blood­thirsty tyrants who we now call the ear­ly kings and queens of Eng­land and beyond, were arguably some­how more wor­thy than the incum­bents now or since the rule has devolved into the con­sti­tu­tion­al monar­chy of the past 350 or so years. The best of them used the total pow­er they had to hew togeth­er a work­ing state. That state even­tu­al­ly became Great Britain and the Com­mon­wealth.

That state gave the world great sci­ence, knowl­edge, and whether it’s PC or not to say it, huge advances in human civil­i­sa­tion.

The armies of the king, though, bru­talised and mur­dered large parts of the world — almost all of whom were hap­py to cast aside monar­chy as soon as they could, when the empire offered them back — we were told gra­cious­ly — the free­dom that was stripped from them after the Impe­r­i­al forces killed their fore­bears.

As kids, I don’t think we ever real­ly thought about who the good guys were in the 1965 movie Zulu, or the sto­ries of Gor­don in Sudan.

Hail Regi­na.

This, of course, is all his­to­ry and there were obvi­ous­ly mas­sive ben­e­fits of Empire too, and the traf­fic was not all neg­a­tive.

That said, in the years since 1700 I’m hard pressed to think of a monarch who has proved wor­thy of the task. All the Georges were either insane, insignif­i­cant, pompous, self-obsessed or just a wee bit hope­less.

The only pos­si­ble excep­tion to this being the cur­rent Queen’s father who may not have a great man but seems to have been at worst a good man — per­haps because he was nev­er trained for the job.

Vic­to­ria not only enjoyed the ben­e­fits of impe­r­i­al slaugh­ter and con­quest but active­ly encour­aged it beyond just impe­r­i­al expan­sion. Her bureau­crat­ic and mil­i­tary ser­vants were doing awful, awful things in her name until she died. Much of the glo­ri­ous his­to­ry of the Vic­to­ri­an era was writ­ten as pro­pa­gan­da by her gov­ern­ment to sell the idea of the Empire to the Empire. It large­ly worked.

Her son, Edward, was a good for noth­ing friv­o­lous bleep that his­to­ry has large­ly for­got­ten. He used his posi­tion to solic­it sex.

The cur­rent queen seems nice, giv­en her upbring­ing as some­one more spe­cial than us, but, it has to be said, not bright. Her hus­band is a prick.

I quite liked the Queen’s sis­ter. At least she made no pre­tence of being any­thing oth­er than what she was — good or bad.

Charles likes archi­tec­ture — my mum does too. It does­n’t qual­i­fy that nump­ty to be king of any­thing. His first wife spent some time throw­ing her name into a cause or two — when she could fit it in between more impor­tant tasks like being bet­ter than the rest of us — and deserves some cred­it for at least try­ing

Their dys­func­tion­al­i­ty — the whole lot — comes from that inalien­able belief that they mat­ter and we real­ly don’t.

Willie read a few words of Maori, in a speech by num­bers, in Christchurch, and the media fawned. He then returned to his life of inbred priv­i­lege and dis­dain. Sad­ly he comes across as being as nice­ly vac­u­ous as his par­ents, grand­par­ents, aun­ties, uncles and almost all the wider aris­toc­ra­cy.

Or, to use a Har­ry Enfield-ism, ‘nice but dim’. One won­ders what he has done to deserve his ele­vat­ed posi­tion, and if he will turn into a prick like his grand­dad — peo­ple fawned over that roy­al wed­ding too.

I think I’d rather have Tiki Tane as head of state.

Show 1 foot­note

  1. And am old enough to remem­ber teach­ers at school proud­ly point­ing to said red tracts on the wall map.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Andre Drom­gool on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Simon Grigg for Pres­i­dent! You’d bet­ter move back soon on that basis BTW. If we elect Tiki it may just be to avoid NZ turn­ing into a police state — it sounds like it could­n’t hap­pen with him in charge!

Mark Tier­ney on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 4:37 pm


You are right about the com­par­a­tive use­less­ness of the cur­rent roy­als as opposed to the Tudors and the ear­li­er Eng­lish mon­archs. I’ve nev­er under­stood the ven­er­a­tion of Eliz­a­beth 1’s deci­sion not to have a child as it led to the rapid decline of that house and that empire.

I have though come around to the weird state of see­ing the prac­ti­cal­i­ty of monar­chy, while dis­lik­ing the roy­als them­selves. With­out a strong monar­chy I think the UK could have been sucked into either of the polit­i­cal fash­ions that swept Europe in the 20C.

Roy­al fam­i­lies, espe­cial­ly con­sti­tu­tion­al ones in a func­tion­ing democ­ra­cy, are sym­bols that can act as moral brakes on soci­ety, for good and bad, because they very lit­er­al­ly ask the ques­tion — well, if you like that idea so much, and I don’t, are you will­ing to kill me for it? That tends to make peo­ple think, if even for just a moment.

You’re liv­ing in Thai­land. That’s an exam­ple of a roy­al fam­i­ly being used in an entire­ly dif­fer­ent fash­ion.

Mark Tier­ney on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 4:38 pm

On the 29th I have to go to two wed­ding par­ties. They still love them here.

Simon Grigg on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 4:53 pm

I do think that UK offers a more per­fect democ­ra­cy, if such a thing is pos­si­ble, than the US in prac­ti­cal terms — but then so does Ger­many.

I don’t like the idea that the head of state is polit­i­cal, but to be fair, the monar­chy did­n’t stop Bis­mark nor count­less oth­er tyrants. And in Ger­many it was strong.

Was the strong monar­chy the rea­son Britain did­n’t go dark in the 20th cen­tu­ry? I’d argue that Churchill and oth­ers played a larg­er part, plus the fact that democ­ra­cy has some 800 years of his­to­ry in the UK. In 1776 the UK was a semi-func­tion­ing democ­ra­cy, albeit lim­it­ed. For much of West­ern Europe that was­n’t true until the years after WW1.

Simon Grigg on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 4:53 pm

And yep — if Liz had borne an heir — no awful Stu­arts

Simon Grigg on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 4:56 pm

And to be hon­est Mark — I’ve found myself tak­ing your posi­tion at times.

The local guy met Elvis — it’s enough

Simon Grigg on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Mark Tier­ney on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Inter­est­ing you men­tion Bis­mar­ck. His was in the ser­vice of his King, who sum­mar­i­ly dis­posed of him when he’d carved him a new state by destroy­ing the under­ly­ing lay­ers of junior aris­toc­ra­cy by any means nec­es­sary.

Gri­er Gov­orko on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 4:59 pm

It does­n’t qual­i­fy that nump­ty to be king of any­thing” — Best line of the week.

Mark Tier­ney on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 5:02 pm

You are also absolute­ly right about Churchill, but he was a very lone (and loony) voice there for a while. Always inter­est­ing to note that the UK turfed him out in 45. They knew what he was capa­ble of. 🙂
As to the impact of the roy­als at the time, remem­ber how chum­my a lot of aris­tos were with the Nazis. The Queen Moth­er was how­ev­er, not impressed. When you read of how tight a grip Com­mu­nism and Facism had on huge swathes of UK soci­ety, it took every social force imag­in­able to turn it back.

Simon Grigg on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 5:04 pm

True — and the abdi­ca­tion of Edward to be sent to the Bahamas and semi-pro­tec­tive Impe­r­i­al cus­tody

Simon Grigg on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Or was it Bermu­da.…

Mark Tier­ney on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I take it you’ve read the Niall Fer­gu­son book?

Simon Grigg on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Not yet. I find myself agree­ing with him at times and at oth­ers want­i­ng to throt­tle him.

His WWI book was quite some­thing, but this cur­rent one, with­out read­ing it, seems to be built on selec­tive truths.

Mark Tier­ney on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 5:14 pm

I haven’t read the new one yet, I meant EMPIRE.
Com­plete­ly agree that he is equal parts inter­est­ing and mad­den­ing, but he does at least force you to chal­lenge some assump­tions.

Ste­fan Mor­ris on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 5:58 pm

@Simon. democ­ra­cy? a semi benign oli­garchy at best.

Ste­fan Mor­ris on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 6:01 pm

@Mark. churchill loony? no. cham­ber­lain defo and atlee? well the uk has been on a los­ing streak ever since.

Mark Tier­ney on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I meant Churchill could often come across as a very extreme char­ac­ter. And he was­n’t always right either — an inva­sion of the Dar­d­enelles any­one? Cham­ber­lain was a well-mean­ing idiot. Atlee was per­haps mis­guid­ed, but social wel­fare swept the world at the time. Even the US. And the big­ger ques­tion is, yes the cost of those pro­grams is now too heavy, but what social upheaval might you have had with­out them?
Actu­al­ly insane — Ted Heath. Not because of any par­tic­u­lar action, but because he was actu­al­ly mad.

Andre Drom­gool on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 6:11 pm

We increas­ing­ly have a plu­toc­ra­cy in NZ — and the Saxe-Coburg Gotha’s have enough coin to rule us on that basis. Churchill had a long enough innings to right the wrong that was Gal­lipoli. His His­to­ry of Eng­land is a great read still. The fact we haven’t got rid of the monar­chy is part­ly due to the media gush­ing all over the roy­als. But then we are rather short of celebri­ties here — as evi­denced by the line-up on shows like “Celebri­ty” Trea­sure Island for exam­ple.

Mark Tier­ney on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I have no idea why NZ still has the Queen as the Head of State. Be an inter­est­ing ques­tion going for­ward for Aus­trala­sia.
I like this use of the word ‘increas­ing­ly’. I’m not aware of a time post Wai­t­an­gi when it has­n’t been a benign plu­toc­ra­cy.

Ste­fan Mor­ris on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Heath was yer actu­al upper class twit and respon­si­ble for the UK sign­ing up to the EUSSR which is prob­a­bly the end of the UK as a sov­er­eign state. Iron­ic real­ly. Churchill only fucked up the naval bom­bard­ment of the dar­d­enelles. the deci­sion to send in ANZACs was­n’t churchill’s though he took the rap. he was a man of con­vic­tion and moral­i­ty, some­thing we will nev­er see in politi­cians again.

Mark Tier­ney on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 6:24 pm

The UK will thank­ful­ly sur­vive the EU for some time yet. My mon­ey is that it out­lasts it.
Few men in his­to­ry walked the razor of his­to­ry as well as Win­ston. But I’m a long way from join­ing that cult yet.
But if I were Euro­pean, my stat­ues would also be of Roo­sevelt.

Andre Drom­gool on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Sir Wal­ter Nash’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy is an inter­est­ing read. It tells of him going to Eng­land in the 1950’s, look­ing to fund our debt and being treat­ed like a com­mon­er and told to piss off to an extent — hence the black bud­get (which appar­ent­ly was inter-gen­er­a­tional theft with the boomers on the wrong end hence their will­ing­ness to hit us with roger­nomics and the moth­er of all bud­gets). Then they joined the EEC/EU and real­ly screwed us over. We were oiks in their eyes then and I doubt the cur­rent rulers of Eng­land view us that much dif­fer­ent­ly now. We should kick them to touch.

Mark Tier­ney on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Agreed. They have no inter­est in us except as a tourist des­ti­na­tion or some­here to retire to.

Mark Tier­ney on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 6:29 pm

I must get that book by the way.

Simon Grigg on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 6:29 pm

And sad­ly Stal­in — although I’d bury that stat­ue upside down and plant a gar­den on top to try and exor­cise it.

But yes, FDR has my vote too.

Churchill strad­dles more than his­to­ry — he cov­ers great and appalling pret­ty well too. His lega­cy on India is hor­ren­dous — not only the Ben­gal famines but before.

he also bears the bur­den for the tra­gi-com­ic Sid­ney Street fias­co. One of Britain’s more absurd moments.

Simon Grigg on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 6:34 pm

I’d rather not, Ste­fan, although I think McCul­ly sees him­self as Win­nie

Simon Grigg on Face­book
April 18, 2011 at 6:38 pm

He just smokes

April 21, 2011 at 12:52 am

@Mark — Hitchens, still ful­mi­nat­ing despite his ter­mi­nal woes, on roy­al­ty. As always, he says most things bet­ter.

April 21, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Sir Howard Mor­rison’s plas­ti­cized corpse for pres­i­dent

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