The Queen is Dead

September 18, 2022 at 3:16 pm (Uncategorized)

Memory is a remarkably unreliable thing. Nevertheless, this one memory persists. When I was perhaps 4 or 5, my classmates from St. Peter’s school in Old Windsor and I were led by our teachers to the Long Walk (a thoroughfare between Old Windsor and Windsor castle), and there we watched as the Queen rode by in a carriage. She waved at us, and we waved back. And that is the totality of my Royal experience.

A lot of people at my workplace have asked me how I feel about the death of the Queen. Some have even offered condolences, so before I get further in, let me be clear. I loathe the royal family and the idea of monarchy. Its existence is an affront to any ideal of equality and fairness; the notion that a person is “special” by virtue of being born into or marrying into this family is absurd. The arbitrariness of it is demonstrated by the origins of the dynasty. After Queen Anne, the younger sister of Queen Mary, died in 1714 without children, her second cousin, a member of the Hanoverian line was invited to become George I although he spoke no English. Upon his death, he was buried in Hanover. But, sure… royal blood.

We are not born with a set of views and political positions. When I was little I said my prayers before I went to bed. More because my parents told me to from any deep rooted conviction, but still I said them. However, I cannot ever recall being a monarchist. My mother, on the other hand, was an ardent admirer of the Royal family until the day she died. Perhaps, it was her enthusiasm for the Windsors that led me to see it as a kitschy irrelevancy from the beginning.

Like everyone under 70, Elizabeth II is the only British queen I have known. (I supposed since Camilla is the “Queen-consort,” Elizabeth is still the only queen I have known). It’s going to take a little while to get used to King Charles III, especially given his predecessors – a would be absolutist who lost a Civil War and his son, a party boy who fathered 10 children, but none with his queen – were hardly shining examples.

To be honest, I didn’t feel anything at her death. Not sadness, not joy. Nothing. Perhaps because we’d expected it for so long (she was 96, a pretty good run by anyone’s standard, and a testament to the idea that if you don’t have to work, you can live a long life), but also because she didn’t really seem to to be anything more than a figurehead. Other members of her family stood out for Nazi sympathies, unbridled classism, alcoholism, racism, etc. etc, and perhaps a whole chapter for the vile Andrew. We’ve all seen the video of Irish football fans chanting “LIzzie’s in a box,” but it just feels a bit empty. (Although, I note, I’ve never been on the direct end of British Empire policies, only its domestic version)

When Margaret Thatcher died, many, including myself, felt gleeful. Thatcher was a spiteful woman who delighted in carrying out policies that destroyed working class communities on behalf of the ruling powers in Britain (I suspect there’ll be a similar reaction when Trump dies). But even then, it felt hollow. We knew she’d won. Thatcher successfully carried out her policies, and when she was cast aside, it wasn’t by working class reaction (though the anti-Poll Tax movement certainly contributed to her removal), it was her own party that dumped her. And the Conservatives went on to win another majority election after her replacement by John Major. Celebrating her death didn’t change anything.

But of course, that’s not the whole story. When she became Queen in 1952, the British Empire, through direct control and influence was still a factor. The Suez Crisis was a few years on the horizon and about to reveal Britain’s waning super-power status. Elizabeth was queen during the decolonization of Africa; the “Troubles” in Ireland; and Britain’s other grubby deeds. Was Elizabeth the architect of these plans? No. Did she have any real power? Dubious. Yet, she was the head of the regime, the symbol of the status quo, of power and privilege, and for that, as for her predecessors, and for her heirs, she has responsibility.

There’s a quotation in circulation at the moment by James Connolly on the occasion of George V’s visit to Ireland which is worth considering. Connolly wrote:

“We will not blame him for the crimes of his ancestors if he relinquishes the royal rights of his ancestors; but as long as he claims their rights, by virtue of descent, then, by virtue of descent, he must shoulder the responsibility for their crimes.”

(Here’s the full article: Visit of King George V And we shouldn’t forget Connolly’s end. After his capture in the Easter Rebellion, the British authorities sentenced him to death by firing squad even though he was so grievously wounded his death was only a few days away. Connolly was so weak , he could not stand for execution, so he was tied to a chair before the firing squad.)

Monarchy has likely existed as long as class society. It’s existed in many forms, but the most common seems to be the hereditary form, typically from father to son. Thus the notion of the divine right of kings – very handy. You were king because God wanted you to be king; if you were overthrown, it must have been because you had displeased God and now this guy was king.

But, it should also be noted that kings often led their armies into battle, and were sometimes killed on the battlefield. In the days of the absolutist king, they also made decisions. This isn’t an argument that Charles should be leading armies of sitting in parliament, but noting, the public used to get a little more value for money.

At the time of the annus horribilis, my mum insisted that the monarchy was important because it provided unity. I replied she was right – the whole country was united around dislike of the royals. She countered, well, what about the money the monarchy brings in. I’m certainly not proposing we knock down Windsor Castle (It’s a cool building). I wouldn’t knock down churches either, but surely a better use can be found for them? American has no royal family, but still the tourists come. France slaughtered its royals, but we still go to Versailles.

Monarchy is an anachronism. Something for the school books. Currently there’s a wave of support. But soon, we might once again realize that waiting 35 hours to see the body of a woman who lived a life you cannot even imagine is deeply irrational. And no future just society will have such a thing.

Footnote on Canada.

Last week, two member nations of the Commonwealth declared a public holiday for the Queen’s funeral on September 19; republican-flirting Australia and New Zealand. What would Canada do?

Canada is the country that in the American Revolution chose to stay with Britain. The Loyalists. Last week, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a federal holiday for the Queen’s funeral. Not as good as it sounds – you only get the holiday if you work for the federal government. Then Nova Scotia, British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island also declared public holidays. Quebec has dithered, as has Alberta. Ontario, led by Conservative Doug Ford, declared Monday would not be a holiday, but a Day of Mourning. Ontarians were invited to take a minute at 1 PM to mourn privately (but still come to work).

The York Regional School Board soon after the Queen’s death sent a memo to its schools to focus on children and not the queen’s passing, as given the diverse population of this region, much of which would have been oppressed by the British Empire in previous decades, it might be triggering. Ontario Education Minister, Stephen Lecce, who has never set foot in a public school, quickly sent out a missive noting, “We have made clear our direction that all schools are to recognize the profound impact of Queen Elizabeth II’s lifelong and unwavering devotion to public service,” and ordering schools “to implement the province’s expectation, honour the Queen on the date of her funeral, and enrich students with a strong understanding of the values and enduring legacy of Canada’s constitutional democracy.” Uh huh.

As a kicker, the day after the announcement that Ontario would be open for business, Ford announced the Ontario Legislature was closing for six weeks. It’s been Ford’s MO that after passing unpopular legislation (like the recently bulldozed Bill 7; not to mention the upcoming municipal elections) to disappear for a few weeks, but many noted that it’s a bit much to tell people who, regardless of how they felt about the queen, expected a holiday, they weren’t getting one, only to turn around and give yourself six weeks off. Constituency work? Oh puhleeze For the record. The Ontario legislature was dissolved in early May and followed by a month-long election campaign. It did not meet until August, two months after the election. A month of sitting, and now another break until late October. And people say teachers get a lot of time off.

This whole business about monarchy and the rich and powerful in general reminds me of a story about a crow sitting on a tree branch. A rabbit comes along and looks up at the crow.

“Whatcha doing? Don’t you have something to do.”

“Nah,” replied the crow. “Just sitting. Doin’ nothin’.”

“Can I do that?” asked the rabbit.

“Sure.”

Five minutes later, a fox came along and ate the rabbit. The moral of the story is that if you want to sit around and do nothing, you have to be pretty high up.

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