I was reflecting, on my travels over the last few days, of the Queen’s recent passing. With difficulty, I must confess, I tried not to be too absorbed too quickly in recent emotive piety. This the modern media too quickly indulges in, which usually leads one to either throw away, or cloud, too quickly what is appropriate and needed judgment. As, at least, a residual fan of the British Monarchy I feel both a pause and reflection at this time is worth doing. I highlight, with over elaborate concision, some thoughts that came to me on my recent flight below from one part of the world to the other.
It was a cold January day in 1649 when Charles 1st King of England was lead to his death upon order of Oliver Cromwell. Charles wore extra layers so that people would not confuse his shivering with fear. Only a few decades later, after the Monarchy was paused by Cromwell’s totalitarian Republic, jubilant crowds greeted Charles II as he arrived from overseas to restore a now emasculated Monarchy.
It was emasculated as it had all of the powers of the Royal Prerogative taken from it and given to Parliament. There was no threat of foreign religion to be brought in with this new King that had plagued the Stuart’s flirtations with Catholicism. So the public felt safe having the Monarchy back. After this, in the 18th Century, the Monarchy had all but fizzled out in relevance being a tool to further the interests of either side of the now ruling House of Lords.
There was a tinge of foreign irrelevance and low profile activities that marked the Hanover Kings. They were used only for legal constitutional process until two shots in the arm brought the Monarchy back to relevance in the public domain. The first was the threat of an invading Napoleonic Republic which allowed those dominant landowners in the British Isles, who were terrified of losing their heads, to create mass hysteria around what would occur to national identity should Napoleon win the war.
Thus, gifted by Napoleon with a new life, the British Monarchy was revived by dominant landowners to imbue the national spirit with a sense of vigour for the fight. The second element was the 19th Century period of successful Empire building which saw association of the British Empire with the long instalment in constitutional office (or ‘reign’ to use a popular word) of Queen Victoria.
Yet only a few decades after her death the Monarchy regressed back to its 18th Century shadowy self, with Britain on a slow decline, when it received a hammer blow of Edward VIII’s abdication. This came at a time when Britain was still predominantly conservative in values, and divorce was still frowned upon. The series of events that followed allowed Queen Elizabeth II’s father, and following his short instalment in office, the Queen herself to come to the office of constitutional Monarch.
It was an office that the House of Windsor (Windsor after altering its foreign title following anti-German sentiments of the First World War) was ill-prepared for due to the abdication. The Queen’s office took a sensible tactic of creating a relatively low profile Monarch, doing outstanding service in one or two small areas of activity such as giving out awards, opening buildings, and maintaining the brand of Constitutional Monarchy on foreign trips. Her office started with the fragmentation of the British empire, including the rather horrid and soon to be independent, racially segregated, South Africa.
As supremely dignified as the Queen was in all aspects of public life, the hyper-conservative tactical approach of her office meant that it could not provide leadership for the Monarchy to respond effectively to the habits of modern news media. Since the 1960s, following the so called sexual revolution in Britain, a portion of the British public, now less conservative than its pre-war predecessors, created an appetite for an emerging commercial and rather tasteless and shark like public media.
This, morally debased, media saw the Monarchy as some sort fish shoal to incite public interest in every faux pas the Monarchy committed. From King Charles III indulgences with Camilla, to the public ally breakdown of Charles-Diana Spencer marriage, the death of Diana, the antics of Prince Harry indulging drunkenly in Nazi costumes, and more recently Prince Andrew’s moral lapses illustrate to me, at least, that the Queen’s office did not do enough to bridge some of the post war conservatism that marked the Queen’s dazzling entrance into office into subsequent generations.
That is, of course, no failure of the Queen, but her retinue. Yet it is not of course a failure that her namesake predecessor Queen Elizabeth I, marked with ruthless intelligence, would likely to have made. However the Queen has used her exquisite reserved, polished, and elegant persona to create a unique dignification of her office that perhaps Elizabeth I, living in harsher times, did not get the opportunity to.
The Queen has done something fantastic and given the Monarchy an opportunity to shine again or bring itself back into the public imagination, possibly for more good than ever before, and much like it had done in the late 17th Century with the Restoration, or the early 19th Century with the threat of Napoleonic invasion.
She had held the office with perfect dignity herself. No one could ever deny this, and this is ever more impressive considering the often colossal failings of judgment of those around her. This means that in the 21st Century, where nation states are likely to be potentially fragmented, a British Monarch’s voice with a more global, less national, and more humanitarian calling could still be relevant, and perhaps a needed, outlet to build the bonds of man in a potentially politically volatile world.
For that astonishing dignity, held throughout the volatility of the vicissitudes around her, she should be both congratulated and applauded with fervent gratitude.
Dr Abhijit Pandya
CEO and Founder
Pandya Arbitration Global.