Tough Luck, Charlie
The Man No One Wants To Be King has a son many do
by John F. Conway
The media are caught up in — or should I say, have created? — the hype about the looming royal wedding between Prince William, eldest son of Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Catherine Middleton. CTV gave it fully 15 minutes out of a 28-minute national newscast — 10 at the top and five at the close. It was deadly boring. Not to be outdone, The Globe and Mail not only presented us with a quarter-page colour portrait of the couple on its Nov. 17 front page, but included a six-page insert (one page of which was devoted to the “18-carat sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds” engagement ring which cost Charles $65,000 when he gave it to Diana back in 1981).
Buckets of ink spilled across the pages of newspapers around the world and thousands of minutes of TV air time were wasted on this trivial nonsense. But it’s apparently protocol for this latest chapter of the royal celebrity circus.
Speculation was rampant and, as usual, ridiculously shallow. Would the wedding’s cost heed the Queen’s stern austerity message forbidding the flaunting of royal wealth during these difficult times? Would this event — which will drag on until consummation on April 29, 2011 — provide the enormous economic stimulus needed to save the British economy? Would the British public be diverted from their angry protests and riots over the draconian cuts imposed by the government? Will this event pull Canadians out of their deepening indifference to the monarchy, and growing wish to be rid of the whole mess in favour of a republic?
The monarchy died in Canada a long time ago. We just haven’t figured out how to bury it once and for all. Switch the channel back to the final episodes of The Tudors.
Efforts were made to capture the public’s interest with folksy details, and we will be subjected to the tiresome, endless repetition of these nuggets as everyone comes to know them by heart. Catherine Middleton is the first real commoner to marry an heir to the throne since 1660 when Anne Hyde married the heir who became James II. “Katy,” as the tabloids call her, is solidly “middle class” — forget that her parents are multi-millionaires. William carried the $65,000 ring around in his back pack for days before he worked up the courage to pop the question. Willie first fell for Katy in 2002 when he ogled her as she vamped down the runway in black panties and a see-through dress at a charity fashion show (yes indeed, the common touch, at $325 a ticket).
On it goes: Katy and Willie will live a normal middle-class life in North Wales where he serves as an RAF rescue helicopter pilot. Katy will presumably keep working for her dad’s mail-order “Party Pieces” multi-million pound empire.
My God, the banality… the sheer banality of it all. Who really gives a flying frack?
But the deep politics of the event are something else. Lurking behind this feel-good celebration of the young royals’ coming nuptial bliss is the down-and-dirty politics of the royal family led by the stern matriarch, Elizabeth Windsor, a.k.a. Queen Elizabeth II. The reality is that this event pretty much spells the end of Prince Charles’s anguished aspiration to become King Charles III. The Queen at 85 (with an established record of extreme longevity for women in her family) is determined to do everything she can to make sure Charles, now 62, never makes it to the throne. William, as the eldest son of Charles, is next in line.
The Queen has been very displeased with Charles for many years — since the messy infidelities that led to the scandals and the collapsed marriage (Charles cheated on Diana long before she became a free spirit on the world stage). Diana, of course, displeased the Queen for her unwillingness to put up with Charles’s behaviour and to carry on with a stiff upper lip in the British tradition.
Charles’s sexual escapades might have been forgiven. After all his father, Phillip, the Prince Consort, has a reputation as a notorious womanizer which the Queen tolerated throughout their marriage. But Phillip was discrete and in earlier times the press dutifully avoided such personal matters. Alas, Charles didn’t just play around, he fell stupidly and adolescently in love with Camilla, his present wife, while she was still married to his best friend. Even more deeply embarrassing were the revelations of cell phone tapes of Charles’s verbal love making characterized by vulgar and adolescent clumsiness. Wanting to live in Camilla’s trousers was one thing, but to want to be her Tampax was hardly an apt romantic, or even sexually titillating, metaphor for a future King romancing his mistress.
Then for the Queen there was the profoundly upsetting and very public spectacle of two messy divorces and Charles’s civil marriage to Camilla.
Afterwards, the Queen and Parliament made it very clear to Charles that Camilla would never be crowned Queen when he ascended to the throne. She, like Phillip, the Queen’s Prince Consort, would only be granted the title of Princess Consort.
The prospect of a Charles III was not a happy option. But William is another matter as he emerged to manhood with easy charm and an effective common touch, which will be so important to the family business if it is to survive as a constitutional monarchy into the uncertain future. And William courted Catherine for almost 10 years, and sought the Queen’s approval before making his move. King William V and Queen Catherine would be much better than Charles III and Princess Consort Camilla to ensure future success of the Windsor family business. The British public agrees overwhelmingly, according to recent public opinion polls which show a vast majority want to dump Charles in favour of William.
BLAME THE NAME
Charles has not been an auspicious name for kings of Great Britain. Inspired by the long rule of Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, king of the Francks and Roman emperor from 768 to 814 during which the foundation of a Christian Europe was laid, the name became common in many royal houses, including seven emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, 15 kings of Sweden, 10 kings of France and four kings of Spain.
Yet there have only been two such kings of Great Britain, and one was the son of the other.
The rule of Charles I, from 1625 to 1649, remains a stain on Britain’s royal house, and an event best forgotten. Having defied Parliament, Charles I provoked the four-year English Civil War during which the king’s armies battled those of Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. The king was defeated at Naseby in 1645, signalling the triumph of Parliament’s will over the Crown and ushering in the Puritan revolution and Cromwell’s rule as Protector of the Commonwealth until his death in 1658.
Of much more importance for the monarchy, and the kingly name of Charles, was the final fate of Charles I. Refusing to accept defeat and come to terms with Parliament, Charles tried to continue the civil war. As a result he was tried at Westminster as “the tyrant, traitor and murderer, Charles Stuart,” found guilty and executed.
Parliament was not to be slighted thenceforth by a monarch.
Crowned king at the age of 20 in 1651 and raised as the flag for the hopeless royalist cause, Charles II saw his rag-tag army defeated eight months after his coronation. After nine years of impecunious exile in France, and only when it became clear that Cromwell’s son Richard was a disaster as Protector, Charles II was invited by Parliament to ascend the throne in 1660. Charles II spent the rest of his life serving as a good and constitutional king, loyal to Parliament which in turn was loyal to him.
Given such a background, it is not surprising that Charles did not become a favoured name for kings of Britain. Charles I defied Parliament, lost a civil war and was executed to the applause of his subjects. Charles II came to the throne on his knees, a supplicant to Parliament. After the father/son rule of the two, kings were never again quite so kingly, nor queens quite so queenly.
The name of William, however, has a glorious and triumphant legacy among kings of Great Britain, including William I, the Conqueror, and William III, William of Orange. King William V definitely has a better ring to it than Charles III.
Just ask Elizabeth Windsor.