Thursday 28 April 2011


‘In France, Mummy, they have a President and we have a Queen’  Trefusis Minor said as we were walking down the street earlier today. ‘In France everyone thought it wasn’t fair that you had to be from just one family so a long time ago they cut a lot of people’s heads off and had a vote and now they have a president.’

‘And is that better than having a Queen?’ I ask, thinking Trefusis Minor seems to have a remarkably precocious grasp on current affairs.

‘It goes both ways,’ he says obliquely, ‘It’s not as fair to have a Queen, but it goes both ways’

I’m not entirely sure what he means by this, but I’m interested in where the conversation is heading, particularly since Trefusis Minor has already declared himself against the Royal Wedding – ‘it’s just two people getting married,’ he said earlier this week, with appealing understatement, ‘it’s not that interesting’.

‘We cut a King’s head off and had a republic in this country about a hundred and fifty years before the French got down to it’ I say.

‘Yes, but it didn’t really work. I think they got it a bit wrong – there was no fun, no singing, no sport, you had to go to church all the time, more than once a day*. It was really boring. We’re probably all right with the Queen.’ I do so love the influence of Horrible Histories on seven year olds - is the '1066 and All That' of their generation.

Sadly, the conversation then veered off down a ‘if-you-had-radiation-what-super-power-would-you-get’ cul-de-sac, but whilst Trefusis Minor was telling me I’d probably find it handy to be able to pick things up without having to actually go and get them, I started to think that his laconic ‘we’re probably all right with the Queen’ captured the reason why republicanism finds it so hard to take root in the UK - we're just not bothered enough to change. According to a recent YouGov poll, only 13% of Britons want the monarchy scrapped in favour of an elected president – and even in the emotionally charged wake of Diana’s death, three-quarters of us remained broadly in favour of retaining the monarchy.

Last month, I went to an Editorial Intelligence panel discussion on the Royal Wedding. On the panel were, amongst others, Rachel Johnson, The Evening Standard’s Sarah Sands, YouGov president Peter Kellner and the wonderful civil rights campaigner and republican Peter Tatchell. Tatchell is, by all logical measures, absolutely right when he says that the monarchy is profoundly unfair:

"This is an issue of democracy and human rights. The monarch is our head of state. The monarchical system is anti-Catholic, sexist and, by default, racist. Catholics are barred. For the foreseeable future, no black or Asian person can be our head of state. First-born girls are passed over in favour of younger male children....Our head of state ought to be chosen based on merit and public endorsement, not on the grounds of privileged parentage and inheritance."

Who can disagree? And yet, 66% of us believe that Britain will be still be a monarchy in 100 years time. How can one begin to sum up the general feeling of the nation? There’s an awful lot wrong with the monarchy, but we kind of like it, and we’re deeply suspicious of change? An elected system is also no guarantee of fairness – the great Republics of France and the US haven’t exactly yielded a representative sample of Presidents. As Peter Kellner said at the same debate, ‘For 123 of the last 174 years, we’ve had a female monarch… for how many of the last 174 years has American democracy produced a female president?’

As I drink my cup of tea from the fabulously kitsch Wills ‘n’ Kate mug Mr Trefusis bought me, I think I’m with Trefusis Minor, we're probably all right with the Queen. Unlike Trefusis Minor, I absolutely love a good Royal Wedding.   

*Trefusis Minor's rather jaundiced views on life under the British Commonwealth seem mostly to have been sourced from Horrible Histories...


Steerforth said...

Like religion, monarchy is an act of faith which defies rational thought.

I love the fact that our head of state can trace her ancestry back to an English king from 1,300 years ago (I can't remember his name, but it probably started with Eg). I also think the institution of the monarchy provides a vital ceiling on the power of politicians (look at how George Bush installed his cronies as soon as he was elected). I value an indpendent monarch, judiciary and civil service.

Also, I've noticed that many of the most advanced social democracies - Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Holland and Belgium - have monarchies (you can also include Australia, New Zealand and Canada), which rather refutes the belief that the institution is bad for democracy.

jongleuse said...

Loving T Minor's excellent command of history. I was given a withering look by my 5 year old last week as I started explaining Christopher Columbus.
'Mummy I know who Christopher Columbus was.' And he did.
Steerforth according to Wikipedia she is patrilineally descended from Conrad of Meissen...

Anonymous said...

I am no royalist but I agree with Trefusis Minor: I doubt an elected head of state would be any improvement -and I do like a bit of pomp and circumstance occasionally. I just wish we had less of the royals, both numerically and being constantly shoved down our throats by the press.

lucy joy said...

The royal family interested me as a child in a way politicians never could. We've come expect less from the royal family. Vulgarity, divorce, alcoholism, fraud and all manor of illicit acts can be forgiven. When politicians behave in this way, we're outraged, it's unacceptable. We're a funny bunch. If we had an elected head of state, someone like the Duke of Cambridge would do, probably.

Unknown said...

You are so to the point: we'd all love a republic but hate change.

I'm not even British and I had Royal Wedding Fever for weeks before the event. And there was only one cure - wall to wall RW. And I loved it all; the dress, the trees in the Abbey, the kiss, the frowning bridesmaid (she reminded me of angry Little My in the Moomin's), the awful hats. Best TV for ages...(apart from The Killing of course, and the Wire..oh dear, must stop there.) xx

Helena xx

Miss Whistle said...

I heart Trefusis Minor. He's plainly brilliant. xxx

Mark said...

Mrs T. I have just discovered you blog through a Facebook post on the site of Sir Martin of Bartle. Your writing is just fantastic. As far as the royals go, I love them (re: previous post ... Tory boy...!) An old school friend was Equerry to the Queen, but even before that I was always a fan of our royal family. I was in Las Vegas & Norway (home) for the Wedding build up, it almost seemed like they loved it more than us Brits, sad in a way?

Helen@Knitted baby booties said...

I can't get exited about the royals but, my superpower of choice would be invisability. I'd love to know what happens everywhere when the doors and curtains close each night!