Arthur: “Well I am king…”
Man: “Oh, king, eh, very nice. And ‘ow’d you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers! By ‘angin’ on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society. If there’s ever going to be any progress...”
Arthur: “I am Arthur, king of the Britons“.
Woman: “I didn’t know we ‘ad a king! I thought we were autonomous collective.”
Man: “You’re fooling yourself! We’re living in a dictatorship! A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes…”
Woman: “There you go, bringing class into it again…”
Woman: “Well I didn’t vote for you!”
Arthur: “You don’t vote for kings!”
Woman: “Well ‘ow’d you become king then?”
Arthur: “The Lady of the Lake– her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king!”
Man: “Listen: Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords
is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power
derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some… farcical
(Monty Python and The Holy Grail).
I was reminded of this discussion after seeing a Facebook post about Prince Harry and his girlfriend, Meghan Markle. The Daily Mail ran with this story: Harry was out shooting anything that moved in Bavaria, while Meghan was in Toronto. The ‘story’ was that Meghan is a vegetarian while her ‘prince charming’ is out and about putting a bullet between the eyes of unsuspecting fauna that unhappily strayed into his crosshairs. Earlier in the week we were fed stories about ‘Wills’ and ‘Harry’ and their emotional struggles to come to terms with their mother’s death. I should not have to say, that of course this is a personal tragedy for them both, and they deserve the same respect as anyone who has lost a parent in such circumstances.
Perhaps that is my point here. That as ordinary human beings, if ‘pricked, do they not bleed?’ It is not their very human being that I find nauseatingly obnoxious. It is their status as ‘Royals’ – an anachronism which the peasants in the Holy Grail upon meeting Arthur recognised. Of course the film is fiction, and it is unlikely that ‘the peasant’ in the 12th century had such a discourse to challenge the ‘Divine Right of Kings’.
The ‘Divine Right’ was of course complete bollocks. The Church was and still is complicit in this fiction and fairy tale.
It was merely a justification for rich and powerful families to keep the populace in line and to keep their Royal and unearned standard of living based on the sweating backs of labouring classes. Of course it is about class, it still is. How do powerful people justify their wealth and privilege? They need a unifying myth. God is a great ‘go to’ myth. How does a Pope get to live in a palace while never getting any shit in his fingernails? How do the Cardinals and Bishops live in well fed and isolated splendour while also ignoring the founder’s injunctions on wealth? Keep the populace ignorant and claim the status of God’s emissary on earth. Challenge the Pope and you challenge God himself.
Today, we have added ‘The American Dream’, ‘Free Market Capitalism’ and especially in the UK a renaissance of Imperial Glory as we wallow in post colonial melancholia.
I’m also pissed off with the seemingly never ending chorus of sycophantic media arse licking of anything that smells of money, privilege and royal heritage. The UK press are sickeningly uncritical of anything the saints of Windsor are up to. I swear I’ll have to move to an island in the middle of the pacific when the Queen dies. I’ll have to do so to avoid the swamp of cherry picked nostalgia. They will all be at it. We will be told ad nauseam how the present incumbent of the ‘Divine Right’ has served the country; how she showed forbearance when her castle (her castle FFS!) burned down; how she managed the Royal PR to become immensely popular even after the Diana fiasco; how the ‘fuzzy wuzzies’ all over the world call her queen and how much they love her; how she carried out her ‘duty’ as if she had no choice but to accept a life of wealth and privilege; how her ‘annus horibilis’ nonetheless turned into a triumph.
Why all of this fawning? Why do the ruling class and the establishment especially, whip out the flag at the drop of a royal wave? Why do we buy into it?
Royalty is symbolic. It has no legal powers (much) but its symbolic power is immense and the ruling class know it. Royals sit at the symbolic head of a ‘natural hierarchy’ of ‘God – Queen – Ruling class – oiks’.
Most of us know God is a myth, a fairy tale. So the top of the hierarchy has been removed, but not for everyone. If the Queen is also seen as privileged mythology and has no right to be second in the hierarchy then we, domino like, come to the ruling class. If we get that far having dismissed the justifications for God and Queen…might we examine the founding myths the ruling class use?
Our current inability to echo the question from the Holy Grail about the divine right stems from uncritical, unthinking acceptance of this hierarchy. The Queen’s position is a lynch pin holding the whole mythology together. Remove the lynch pin and the whole edifice could fall apart. If the Queen is not God appointed, if “some watery tart waving about a scimitar” is not the basis for executive power, then what is? Remove the Queen, remove the myth and what have you left? The Hierarchy then needs another justification. In the US, the ‘Dream’ is a founding myth, alongside ‘rugged individualism’. In the UK, we would have to find faith in something. We are losing faith with free market capitalism, but we do have the military and mythical ‘British Values’, values which of course airbrush out of history privateering, colonial conquest, genocide, concentration camps and class exploitation. All justified with a sense of racial superiority as expressed in the ‘civilising process’ of the White Man’s burden.
If the peasants ask ‘why are you king then’….they might ask other awkward questions such as ‘who has power, how did they get it, in whose interest do they use it and how do we get rid of them?’ The Queen acts as bulwark against such awkward questions, because if we can accept Royalty as myth we can accept any number of myths.
It works by evoking ‘magic’ and ‘awe’ – raw emotions and vicarious experiences. Young women may not be able to look and dress like Kate, but they can aspire to. Calling the Princes ‘Wills and Harry’ and of course ‘Kate’, provides a patina of unearned ordinariness which allows us to think they are like us, and if they are like us then we too can aspire. Evoking the Princes’ pain over their mother’s death serves various purposes, one of which is the myth “they are just like us”. Such thinking serves to deflect awkward questions. “Us” do not have a divine right to be anything.