In 1959 I went to Marburg/Lahn, West Germany, to work as a Lektor. My first job. My friend & predecessor Mary Kern had persuaded her Professor that it might be good to have an English Lektor who had studied English, rather than the usual German language graduate. I arrived with as much German as I could learn on a beach in Jugoslavia from the Teach Yourself German. One project was to give a series of lectures on British Institutions, and one of these lectures was about the Monarchy.
It seems to me interesting, now that we have another Heir to the Throne, to look at this lecture of over fifty years ago, seeing how much has changed, and more surprisingly, how much has not changed.
The lecture was meant to be a Socratic dialogue between a Republican and a Royalist, read by me and a student with very good English. A student came up to me afterwards and said “I enjoyed your lecture – the English view and the German View”. The Grune Blatt was popular tabloid in Germany at the time.
A. J was reading the Grune Blatt the other day (I read itregularly, of course, like most students); the main article was about Fara Dibah. I find that when it isn’t about her it’s about ex-Queen Soraya, or King Baudouin, or Queen Elizabeth, or Pricess Margaret, or Princess Alexandra. Even the ex-Kingsof Jugoslavia and Spain, and old Farouk, and people with claims to the throne of France are in and out of the newspaper everyday. I can’ t imagine why they’re so newsworthy.
B. Yes; I agree with you; it is odd that in our democratic countries the common people are so whole-heartedly concerned withthe affairs of Royal Families – the elite, who read the Times and the Observer like me (Top People, you know), don’t learn so much about them. The Court Circular in the Times tells uswhat the Royal Family is doing, and we’re sometimes discretely told that the Queen is suffering from a slight cold, but thereit ends. And a good thing too, I think. Constant prying into the affairs of the Royal Family is a danger to the Monarchy,in the long run.
A. My God. You don’t really approve of the whole thing, do you?
B. Certainly I approve of it. It’s a much better system than a Presidency, with all the dubious political shuffling that goeswith it. Look at America, where the highest representative of the State will be the leader of a political party – where, in other words, he won’t have the respect of more than half the population. Or look at France, where the President is a kind of lay Pope- a respected spiritual leader who is unable to use his temporal power to get anything done. Or again, look at Germany. Imagine the Prime Minister of England announcing that he’d decided to become King, and then a bit later, that he’d decided. not to, after all. What a lot of humbug! No, our solution is far more satisfactory, far more dignified.
A. I’m not sure I agree with this view of the American or GermanPresidencies, but then I’d rather have the leader of the State a human being, with some admirable qualities and some faults. Like Heuss was in Germany, or Tito is, in Jugoslavia – he’s a very good example. I’ d always prefer human beings to dignified puppets.
B. This only goes to show what a romantic you are at heart. Tito is really a medieval king who fought his way to the throne through personal combat, and united a grateful people. Very Balkan, of course. But he wouldn’t do in a democracy; after all, he’s not only President of the State, but President of the National Assembly too – very powerful, in other words. You can’t bracket him with Heuss.
A. It’s interesting that you should bring Democracy into it: in the first place this raises a problem of definition. The President of America has as much power as Marshall ‘Tito: does that mean America isn’t a Democracy? In the second place I have serious doubts as to whether a Monarchy is compatible with a Democracy. But we can come back to this in a moment. The question is, what does work in your Democracy? In other words, if you think Tito has too much power, how much does Queen Elizabeth have?
B Can I rephrase that “What’s her position? Well, she’s the Head of the State, and the symbol of the State. She’s the permanent part of Parliament: laws are enacted by her together with the Houses of Lords and of Commons. Some things are theoretically hers-The Queen’s Government, the Royal Air-force, the Royal Mail – this is a convenient fiction. She’s also Queen of some other countries-Canada and Australia, for example – and she’s the Head of the Commonwealth, recognized as such even by Commonwealth Republics like India. And lastly she is the temporal Head of the Church of England, which is the official State Church.
A. Let’s take the first matter. If the Queen has to give her consent to laws before they can be enacted, this ought to mean that she can interfere by refusing to give her consent. But this doesn’t in fact happen, does it?
B. There’s a long delay – a number of years – before official papers about the Monarch are released, so it’s difficult to say for sure what’s happening, but I think that recent Kings have abided by constitutional practice and simply accepted what their ministers presented to them. All the same, the King has certain rights. Bagehot, in his English Constitution, put it like this:
… the sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy such as ours, three rights – the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn. And he pictures the Monarch as saying: I do not oppose, it is my duty not to oppose; but observe that I warn.
The King often does this. Prince Albert, as he was dying, made suggestions about a message from the British Government to the Northern States in the American Civil War-_it was so severe that if it had been sent, the North might have declared war on us. As it was, the message was softened, and they didn’t. Albert, acting with Victoria was fairly powerful. A constitutional monarch can’t really refuse to sign something in the long run, but he can certainly put pressure on his Ministry. King Edward VII once delayed the official announcement of changes in Army pay from early July to late October simply by refusing to sign the necessary papers until his Minister explained to him in full detail what the changes would mean (King Edward VII A Biography by Sir Sydney Lee, II p.216 seq.) In those days there were still Kings in most of Europe, and they were generally related. The Tsar was a relative of Edward VII, the Kaiser was his nephew, and Leopold of the Belgians was his great-uncle. This meant that a good deal of diplomacy could be carried on by subtle hints in family letters. The Prime Minister would have an audience with Edward, who would write a letter to Wilhelm, who would have a conference with his Chancellor. So that communications would be made without any official Government notes. Edward himself had the concept of a kind of Trade Union of Kings. He refused to recognize the new King of Serbia until the assassins of the former King had been punished. He said:
..1 have another, and, so to say, a personal reason. Mon metier a moi est d’etre Roi. King Alexander was also by his metier ‘un Roi’. As you see, we belonged to the same guild, as labourers or professional men. I cannot be indifferent to the assassination of a member of my profession, or, if you like, a member of my guild. We should all be obliged to shut up our businesses if we, the Kings, were to consider the assassinations of Kings as of no consequence at all. 1 regret, but you see that I cannot do what you wish me to do.
ibid. II p273
This kind of Happy Families diplomacy has naturally died away as Monarchy died away. Within England, however, more recently, George V persuaded Ramsay MacDonald to head a National Government; again, according to Herbert Morrison, George VI discussed particular death sentences with him when he was Home Secretary. Morrison didn’t accept his advice, but at least the King made his point. What it comes to is that the King sees all Government Papers and signs many of them. If he is diligent in reading them he’ll have a very wide knowledge of what is going on, and since he is permanently there, and is above Party Politics, he’s in a good position to give impartial advice.
A. Assuming also that he isn’t a normal human being with prejudices and preferences. But let’s stick to powers. It’s my turn to give an example. Have you read your Lytton Strachey? Do you remember Queen Victoria’s advice to the First Lord of the Admiralty about the reform of the Navy?
“Her own personal feeling,” she wrote, “would be for the beards without the moustaches, as the latter have rather a soldier-like appearance; but then the object in view would not be obtained, viz. to prevent the necessity of shaving . Therefore it had better be as proposed, the entire beard, only it should be kept short and very clean.” After thinking over the question for another week, the Queen wrote a final letter. She wished, she said, : “to make one additional observation respecting the beards, viz. that on no account should moustaches be allowed without beards. That must be clearly understood.”
Lytton Strachey: Queen Victoria p.213
B. This is a very nice example of Victoria’s general tone. But I don’t see how it fits into the power question.
A. I admit I used it because it amuses me – but look at the way it’s phrased. “On no account •••• that must be clearly understood.” It sounds pretty uncompromising – almost dictatorial. What about Victoria’s memorandum to Palmerston, the Foreign Secretary, in 1850, when she threatened to dismiss him if he altered dispatches after she had approved them, although the right of appointing or dismissing a Foreign Secretary properly belongs to the Prime Minister? Or what about her remark ‘a democratic monarchy is what she will never belong to’? If Albert had lived longer she might have seriously opposed giving the vote to the working classes. What is there to stop the present Queen from hindering the Government in the same way?
B. Nothing at all – except custom. That and the fact that Kings have become more and more democratic.
A. You mean more and more middle-class.
B. Perhaps, but as that’s the only class left, it is democracy.
A. I suppose I asked for that. Anyhow, it boils down to the fact that the King has theoretically the power to do a great deal, but in practice doesn’t dare to do a thing.
B. There is one exception. The King himself decides which people are to be honoured with the Order of Merit, the Garter, the Thistle, and the Royal Victorian Order. Apart from that you’re quite right. But it isn’t that the King doesn’t dare, it’s that Kings have a great sense of duty – public service.
A. Oh really. I thought I was supposed to be the romantic. Let me put it another way. A satisfactory constitutional monarch must either be very lazy or very stupid, or, if he dares to be intelligent, mustn’t use his intelligence to get anything done. He must try not to let anyone notice it until after he is dead.
B. I shouldn’t dream of contesting that Kings have been stupid and lazy, but you see it doesn’t matter. It’s the institution which counts, not the man.
A. Can you really believe that? What would happen if the next King turned out to have a personality like Henry VIII, intelligent~ wilful, and a natural leader? He’d hardly fit in, would he?
B. I imagine that he’d eventually abdicate, as Edward VIII did.
A. And everything would go on as if nothing had happened?
B. I expect so.
A. We shan’t make much progress here. What about the second part of the Queen’s position, that she is the titular head of the Commonwealth. What powers does that involve?
B. None at all, so far as I can see. The Preamble of the Statute of Westminster of 1931 describes the Crown as the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. But you really shouldn’t place so much emphasis on power. Symbolic values often achieve a great deal. For example during the War George VI used to travel up from Windsor every day to work in Buckingham Palace. I’ve seen this ridiculed by A J.P. Taylor, but it must have been an immense boost to the morale of the British people to know that he was in England, and in London, during the worst German attacks. Or again, for symbolic value, think of President Heuss’ State Visit to London. I think that public respect for Heuss did a great deal to improve British feelings about the Germans.
A. This is probably a good example for the assertion that Presidents are just as good as Kings, for practical purposes.
B. On the contrary: Presidents change, and by vote, and the next one may not necessarily command as much respect as the last one.
A. I think you will find that Monarchy is as vulnerable as Presidency: I doubt whether respect for the Monarchy would survive a succession of really bad Kings – and of course, no one can really make a King abdicate if he doesn’t want to, whereas a President is under control. What’s more, there’s a bit of choice when it comes to Presidents. Kings have an awful inevitability. But let’s come to the last thing you said about the Queen. About her religious position. Does this give her any real power, or is it just another formality?
B. The Queen is the temporal head of the Church of England. Her title to the Crown derives from the Act of Settlement 1701, which said:
The Crown shall remain and shall continue to the said most excellent Princess Sophia and the heirs of her body being protestant.
Because of this Act a King may not be a Roman Catholic or marry a Roman Catholic, and must swear to maintain the Established Church. Before you go on, A, let me add that I can see the corner you are trying to drive me into.
A. In you go, all the same. Do you realise what all this adds up to? The King is obliged to carry out his Royal duties, which occupy most of his time and may work him to death, as they worked George VI to death. He may not go where he pleases or do what he pleases because his time and his person are at the disposal of the nation. He may not do anything positive for the good of his subjects except to warn ministers, and he must stand by powerless and watch these ministers when they do various things which make the nation appear aggressive or idiotic. He may not marry whom he pleases; he must choose from foreign Royalty -with one or two honorable exceptions a scruffy lot of rootless emigrees – or from British noble families, on whom I won’t comment, and furthermore, only from those of them who are Protestants. Naturally he mayn’t worship which god he pleases. And last, or perhaps first of all, he can’t choose royalty as a career: it’s thrust upon him and he can do nothing about it. Really B., it’s intolerable. He hasn’t the democratic rights of his own subjects, whom he is supposed to represent. Isn’t that a subtle corruption, the just British State with its head in an iron mask?
B. Oh come. No-one has to become king. And of course anyone who feels he can’t do the job properly can abdicate, like Edward VIII.
A. That’s a very naive point of view. Kings are brought up as Kings: they are educated from the start in the idea that they are above the level of others, that they have a duty to the State, and so on, and so forth. Your suggestion that no-one has to become a King might be a reasonable one if you could point to one example of an heir to the throne who refused to take up the crown. As for your example of abdication, Edward VIII provides perfect fuel for my argument. He abdicated. and married, and then what?
Does he seem to be living a full and satisfied life? Is
he happy? I can’t believe it. Look at the photographs. Just
consider this. After he had abdicated, when he wrote an article
in a Sunday paper on 24 May 1953, an article critical of the Labour
Party, Herbert Morrison could write this (and remember that
Morrison was a Labour Home Secretary, and, mind you, an important member of the Labour Party;)
Such an expression of opinion critical of any political party on the part of a former Monarch is, I think, unfortunate. It confirms my personal view that ex-Monarchs are wise to be silent) and. not live in a country or countries over which they formerly ruled.
Morrison: Government and Parliament p82
The Labour Party is the one which is supposed to believe in equality! In plain words, when personal honesty leads him to give up the one job he’s been brought up to do, when he realises that he is not trained to do anything else, and not permitted to try anything else, the advice from the Labour Party is “Shut up and get out!” Take a more recent case. Mr Armstrong-Jones married Princess Margaret. He’s a a commercial photographer; I’ve seen some of his photographs and they are really good. But from now on he won’t work as a photographer, because Royalty does not indulge in Commerce. Another good man reduced to opening flower shows and twiddling his thumbs.
B I can understand your feeling here; in fact I more or less agree with you. Kings and Princesses ought to be allowed to live natural lives, and in Norway and Sweden they approach far nearer to the ideal than we do. I would certainly like to see certain reforms in the way the Monarchy is treated; some reforms have been suggested by Lord Altrincham (a good Royalist if ever there was one). But you see what happened to him. He was abused in the daily papers and his face was slapped in the street. The British Public just don’t seem ready for these reforms.
A An argument I’ve heard before to justify not reforming anything of social importance that needed to be reformed – the Death Penalty, the Homosexuality Law – it’s even used about joining Europe, though there isn’t a scrap of evidence to prove that the Public are so unprepared.
B Or a scrap of evidence to prove the contrary. So we shall stick to our very different estimates. But I want to return to your argument. I suppose I should have to agree that a great deal of sacrifice is expected of a King and a Royal Family: fortunately their devotion to their indispensible office gives them the strength to make that sacrifice. Because my fundamental contention is that the Monarchy is indispensible. You have used Morrison, let me add Atlee, who was Prime Minister from 1945 – 51. He recently said that democracies with a Monarchy are more democratic than ones with a president. Well then, if the job is essential, someone has to do it. I’d hate to have the job – and I’d hate others too. Think of being a dustman. – but there have to be dustmen. I think it’s terrible that there are still miners; I’d like to abolish mining: it’s degrading and appallingly dangerous. But you know that we have to have miners, and we also have to have kings. But I expect you won’t agree there.
A. No. I certainly won’t. I would like to see the Monarchy abolished, and I don’t think it at all essential.
B. You know that Philip Toynbee said that wanting to abolish the Monarchy was the sign of a false radical?
A. Toynbee’s remark was a silly one: all he meant was that some things are more urgent than others. In any case I’m not the spiritual heir of Toynbee, or of Atlee, or. of Morrison. You can’t talk about ‘Radicals’ just like that, any more than you can talk about ‘The English’. As I said, I’d like to do away with the Monarchy, but it doesn’t depend on me. It’s bound to come to an end anyway. We can’t tolerate this inequality in a democratic state. Think of the things which are hitched on to it- an Established Church – a kind of built-in religious intolerance. The Nobility – a self-renewing growth of class-distinction and social inequality. lt’s a focus for the most vicious of virtues, Patriotism (you can’t deny that the extremest nationalists are the most fervent Royalists,) an encouragement of inequality in education (since the Royal Children will receive Public School education outside the State System.) And the utter ruin of the design of our Postage Stamps.
B. Whatever you say, I should hate to see it all disappear, and I wonder how happy you would be with the mangled remains left after your reforms? But I won’t argue about these things, because I want to show you how impractical your ideas are. Supposing you had a party whose members had decided to abolish the Monarchy.
Before those who were elected became Members of Parliament they would have to take the oath, which goes like this:
I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true
allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and
successors, according to Law. So help me God.
Anyone who refused to swear wouldn’t become an MP . And then if your Republicans did swear, they would have to break their oath to carry out their prograrnme. For this they could be, and probably would be, tried in a court of law. Even without the Parliamentary oath the would probably be committing High Treason, which includes trying to kill the King, the Queen, or the heir to the throne, or starting a revolution to overthrow the Government (by action, not by speaking or writing.) The punishment for High Treason, by the way, is Public Execution, so the Republicans might end up hanged in rows on Tower Hill, just as in A.P.Herbert’s story the whole Government Party was sent to prison for breaking the electoral laws. If the MPs got into Parliament they might not be allowed by the Speaker to debate the abolition of the Monarchy, because it is quite Out of Order to ‘utter treasonable or seditious words, or to use the Queen’s name irreverently, or to influence the debate.’ Even if Bills were passed, they would have to be given the Royal Assent, and under the circumstances the Queen might refuse to give it – and she might be constitutionally right to refuse, too. As long as there was any opposition in Parliament or in the country it would cripple the Republicans, because the system is weighted very strongly in favour of the Monarch. The Republicans would have to keep on holding General Elections to make sure the Public were supporting them-otherwise they couldn’t find out what the Public thought, since there isn’t any machinery in England for the holding of plebiscites. As the Queen is the Head of the Established Church this would lead to a religious conflict.
A. It’s alarming that we can’t abolish the Monarchy without fighting the Church down to the very last vicar, but at the same time that we can’t disestablish the Church without abolishing the Monarchy. That’s really an insoluble riddle.
B. Only insoluble if you want to disestablish the Church. Why not leave it alone? It doesn’t do any harm, nobody takes the least bit of notice of it – which may be bad for it spiritually, but at any rate stops it from being effectively intolerant. And the Church helps the National Economy by putting all its money into steel shares. But I haven’t finished yet. The Queen is the figurehead of the Commonwealth, by the statute of Westminster, which we mentioned before. If a member of the Commonwealth wants to alter its status, the other nations have to approve its staying in the Commonwealth. You will see this process in action soon, because South Africa has decided to become a republic. If you had your way we might get the ridiculous situation of Britain being thrown out of the Commonwealth and Queen .Elizabeth continuing to reign as Queen of Canada and Australia, I daresay they’d be glad to have her. We should be a minor hive-off, like the Irish Republic, only without the dignity of having fought for it. And so eventually, adding it all together, your reform would take years to achieve, would split the nation, and wouldn’t bring about enough changes to justify the vast sums of money which would have to be spent on it.
A. Here we are back at money again. How much does the Queen cost, by the way?
B. No, you can’t escape that way. The Queen’s grant from Parliament (The Civil List) was £475,000 per annum as from 1952. That’s not quite 2d per head of population. I don’t suppose they mind paying 2d a year for a King or Queen, do you? The money covers a lot of necessary expenses, remember. Then on top of that Prince Philip got an annuity of /£40, 000. But consider what a marvelous tourist attraction they are. We must make millions out of that. Presidents don’t excite the tourists, but I bet you they don’t cost much less.
A. I’ve no idea how much a President costs, but you don’t tempt me into this argument. This is the big financier excuse – it makes money, so it can’t be wrong. I asked because I was curious, not because I wanted to change the subjeet. The fact that the Monarchy works and \would take effort to change seems sufficient to convince you that it is right,,, But somebody has to think about the truth. If 1. am right, that it injures the moral health of the nation and isn’t compatible with democracy, and I believe that I am right, then it will have to go in the end. However, in the mean time I shan’t go around in a dark cloak plotting High Treason in dark corners, I shall just sit down peacefully waiting for the next Bad King. He’ll do my work for me very effectively. I wonder how Prince Charles will turn out?
B. Yes, 1. wonder how Prince Charles will turn out too. And here, it seems to me, we might as well close the discussion, because we’re back where we started – the truth about Charles is bound to be revealed to regular readers of the Grune Blatt.