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.
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.