“A family on the throne is an interesting idea also. It brings down the pride of sovereignty to the level of petty life. No feeling could seem more childish than the enthusiasm of the English at the marriage of the Prince of Wales. They treated as a great political event, what, looked at as a matter of pure business, was very small indeed. But no feeling could be more like common human nature as it is, and as it is likely to be. The women – one half the human race at least – care fifty times more for a marriage than a ministry. All but a few cynics like to see a pretty novel touching for a moment the dry scenes of the grave world. A princely marriage is the brilliant edition of a universal fact, and as such, it rivets mankind. … Just so a royal family sweetens politics by the seasonable addition of nice and pretty events. It introduces irrelevant facts into the business of government, but they are facts which speak to ‘men’s bosoms’ and employ their thoughts.”
That passage from Walter Bagheot’s The English Constitution has probably been in the minds of all my readers over the last few days. It certainly sprang to my mind as I listened, yesterday and this morning, to the Today programme’s efforts to convince the nation that we all despise the fuss being made about the wedding of Prince Henry of Wales and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Before I get on to healthier matters, let me tell you, in case you weren’t listening, what the Today programme was up to. Yesterday its thesis was that everyone in Britain was bored stiff by the royal wedding. It trekked off to Nottingham (I think that was where it went) and asked various people whether they were interested in the wedding. Lots of men, obviously terrified they might be thought sissy otherwise, said they had no interest in such weedy, feminine things as weddings. A few women confessed they would be watching the ceremony, but others, keen to establish their feminist credentials, made it clear they were above such things. The result was that the Today programme reckoned we all thought the wedding boring and beneath us.
This morning the BBC, obsessed as it always is by race, was running the theory that Meghan Markle wasn’t really black at all. They didn’t use the word the Labour Party uses about our new Home Secretary, but what they meant was that she was “coconut” (black on the outside but white in the middle). I reckon they were rather put out when Baroness Lawrence, the mother of Stephen Lawrence, wouldn’t go along with that. But they still felt it important to make it clear that they were not horribly common like the rest of the media: let no one imagine the Today programme approved of this frightfully vulgar wedding, and let no one ever run away with the idea that Today thinks Meghan to be genuinely mixed race.
It is estimated that 1.9 billion people throughout the world watched today’s wedding on the television. Windsor itself was packed to the gunwales with well over 100,000 visitors. Maybe Nottingham, the town of macho men and furious feminists, was an exception, but my guess is that the rest of the country actually rather enjoyed the spectacle. Of course there will have been many people, men and women (let us ignore the BBC’s sexist portrayal of men as superior beings who hate royal weddings and women who love them), who will have been genuinely bored by it all. There will have been others who secretly loved it, but would never dare admit the fact for fear of losing face. Others will have objected, not because they were bored by it, but because their political opinions required them to be very cross about anything royal.
But, even in Bagheot’s day, especially in his day I should say, there were a great many British people who would have loved the Today programme and its morally superior approach to royal stories. For a large part of her reign Queen Victoria was nowhere near as popular as our present Queen is. Republicanism, which, to the Today programme’s distress, is a lost cause (at least for the next few years) was a genuine threat to the establishment in the nineteenth century. If Bagheot’s words meant something when he wrote them, they mean a lot more now.
So much for Today’s assertion that we all share its disapproval of the royal wedding. What about its (and the rest of the BBC’s) obsession with race? I confess, and it probably is a sin, that I have become extremely irritated by having to listen to BBC interviewers droning on endlessly about the colour of the new Duchess of Sussex’s skin. It seems to me that there are two problems here.
First, most of us (obviously there are some disagreeable exceptions), genuinely think that the colour of someone’s skin is of no interest at all. I do understand why a few elderly, white, middle class BBC types might think that the fact that the new Duchess is of mixed race is fascinating, but most of us, and pretty well all the young, just don’t agree with them.
Secondly, and I think Baroness Lawrence was really making this point, I honestly don’t think racism is a charge that can properly be laid against the royal family now or in the past. Don’t get me wrong. I agree that the royals have sometimes adopted appallingly silly theories about who can be permitted to marry into “the firm”. For a long time they insisted that no Prince or Princess of the blood could ever marry someone who was not also of royal blood. Then, almost as idiotically, they decided that “incomers” had, at least, to be members of the ancient British aristocracy. At last, they have accepted that Princes and Princesses should be allowed to marry people they love, irrespective of class.
Yes, they have been stupidly obsessed by class, but there is no evidence that they have ever worried about colour. Victoria was famously infatuated by an Indian. Baroness Lawrence goes further back and suggests that we had a black queen in the mid-eighteenth century. She must mean Queen Charlotte, George III’s consort (though historians are divided as to whether she had African ancestry). Lady Lawrence could have gone way back to the fourteenth century and cited Queen Philippa, Edward III’s wife, as another black queen. But it doesn’t really matter whether those queens were black or white. The point is that, though stuck with many faults, the British royal family has been vastly less racist than other, lesser, mortals over the years.
I recognise that I haven’t answered the Today programme’s allegation that Meghan is a “coconut”, that we should not treat her as being mixed race because she is too rich and successful. But that is an allegation which is almost impossible to answer. There is a particularly nasty sort of feminist who makes a similar allegation against Margaret Thatcher: “she was not a woman, because she was a Tory, and no real woman can ever be a Tory”. I’m afraid the charge has to remain unanswered.
Gosh, how grumpy I am. I must lighten up.
I, even though male, watched the wedding and I loved it. I won’t pretend everything was to my taste. I worried slightly about the number of guests who were described by the royal correspondent of Hello Magazine as “A list celebrities”. But I suppose, unattractive though those “celebrities” seemed, they might have been genuine friends of the bride and groom. I wasn’t taken by the horrid modern marriage rite they used. I was, as always, irritated by the abomination of saying “those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder” (even the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t understand what is meant by “let no man put asunder” – in case you are as dim as he is I should explain that what is meant is that no human being, only God, can put them asunder).
But there was so much to love about the ceremony. The music was perfect. I found, to my amazement, that I loved the Gospel Choir. Obviously, being a dreary old man, I adored the Tallis and the conventional hymns. But I also fell for the American Bishop (“African American” was the only thing the boring old BBC thought interesting about him) who preached the sermon. Amazing theatricality, but also an immensely uplifting message to us all. We weren’t used to that sort of thing from bishops, and the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York (who have not been properly brought up) thought it hilarious and made that clear to the cameras.
This princely marriage was certainly one to rivet mankind, though obviously not the superior folk who run the Today programme. My guess is that it will be remembered for a very long time.
But I must not ignore my many friends who will, honestly, proclaim their detestation of that which billions (literally) of others loved. Who knows whether they or I am right? All I can say is that I do understand why they think it was all beastly. They are convinced we should get rid of our constitutional monarchy and replace it with an elected president, probably an “A list celebrity”. Holding that opinion, they plainly could not think this “princely marriage” was a good thing. The sad thing is that they won’t have seen that of which they so disapprove (because it would be horribly embarrassing for them to admit they had watched it). I wonder whether they might take a less critical approach to these things if they were prepared to risk the embarrassment and take a peek at what the rest of us inadequate people enjoyed so much.