Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Here we go again

When Charles and Di got married in 1981, I'd just taken my O Levels - and me and my  mates managed to avoid the mass-hysteria by going walking in the Highlands of Scotland. My reaction on hearing the news about William and Kate was much the same - followed of course by outrage at the cost at this time of recession, austerity and cuts. And then frustration  at the opiate effect it will undoubtedly generate in this bizarrely deferential celebrity-hungry age.

We've been here before: For most of their history the royals have kept their family affairs to themselves. Not because they   desired privacy - they simply felt that it wasn't any business of the plebeian masses what they got up to. Granted;  coronations, funerals and the royal 'progresses' were important demonstrations of royal power and mystique. But generally the royals and their hangers-on  could happily feud and shag  themselves stupid  because they saw themselves as above the moral reproaches of the great unwashed and most definitely not answerable to them.

Significantly a sense of royal PR-awareness only seemed to develop in the nineteenth century. Maybe  the first instance was the marriage of Caroline of Brunswick to the then Prince Of Wales, later the Prince Regent and then George IV. Engaged in the traditional royal manner before they had actually met,  she ticked the required  boxes of princess/protestant/available. All this would have been  business as usual if George hadn't have been such a monumental  arsehole - Blackadder's caricature of him is in fact charitable. His increasingly appalling treatment of his wife - including having the doors shut in Caroline's face at his own coronation - captured the popular imagination in a period of economic hardship,  reactionary governments and radical upsurge. This manifested itself in a ground-swell of sympathy for her - and after her early death the prime minister, Lord Liverpool even tried to divert her funeral from London to prevent rioting. 

From then on the royals seemed to take on board the need to play  the PR game and keep the masses 'on message':  By the 1870's  Queen Victoria had slipped out of the public eye and into reclusive widowhood. So Tory prime minister Disraeli, worried at social discontent and growing radicalism,  re-branded and re-launched  her  by reviving the Mughal title of 'Empress Of India' and stage-managing lavish jubilee celebrations.  By the 1930's prime minister Stanley Baldwin was pulling the strings behind the scenes of Edward VIII's abdication - and as he saw it safeguarding the institution of the monarchy and the fabric of society at another time of economic crisis and popular discontent.

Economic crisis. Radicalism. Discontent. Tory prime ministers. It all sounds horribly familiar - and it's why the monarchy still matters - it's not just about the money, they are always there to be wheeled out by the ruling class when things get a bit iffy ...

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