Jenny Nicholls is a Waiheke-based writer and columnist.
OPINION: An extrovert, live-wire friend – we’ll call him Ted – was feeling stressed, so he booked himself into a 10-day meditation retreat. It promised inner peace through mindfulness, and the contemplation of impermanence. Talking was not allowed.
Ted did his best, as instructed, to avoid worldly thoughts and desires. But after a week of struggle, worldly thoughts and desires surged back into his brain like a tidal wave. He became tormented by the need for conversation and a cold beer. He began to think less about the nature of reality, and more about the nature of the wall outside his room.
Finally, after eight days, he scrambled over the barrier, found a pub, and ordered a beer. The punters and barman were glued to TV screens, which seemed to be broadcasting some kind of flash funeral.
“Who died?” asked Ted.
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Everyone turned to look at him.
It was the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Someone swore and said, “What rock have you been under?”
There might still be a few devotees of remote, silent, hermetic orders who haven’t yet heard of the Queen’s death on September 8. A person I know spent most of the day wondering why RNZ Concert sounded so morose.
“It’ll be because the Queen is dead,” a visitor told him bluntly.
Ken might be a republican but, when he heard, even he felt the earth move.
According to The Guardian, a poll before her death found 81% of people held the Queen “in a positive regard”, a figure any prime minister would crawl over Scottish thistle for. This is even more remarkable when you think of how many years the Queen had in which to irritate, embarrass or appal people – and didn’t. By having a tantrum over a pen, for example.
King Charles III’s reputation seems, so far, to have survived his battles with inky pens, with 70% of his British subjects viewing him positively, probably the ones who haven’t seen the pen memes. Although, the paper points out, only 47% of Britons aged 18 to 24 want a monarchy, compared with 86% aged 65 and over.
The new king is to be called Charles, rather than Philip, Arthur or George, his other names. Many have questioned the wisdom of this, in case it reminds anyone of Charles I, who annoyed his subjects so much they cut his head off and declared a republic; or his son, Charles II, who paid his servants so rarely they had to steal his linen.
Mind you, even the most incompetent rulers have their admirers. I recently discovered a cache of extreme royalists who venerate Charles I as a saint.
Every year on the anniversary of his execution, mass is held in London by high-church Anglican devotees. In 2019 the service included the hymn, “O Holy King, Whose Severed Head” by the Hon Mrs Ermengarda Greville-Nugent, a neo-Jacobite who founded the Society of King Charles the Martyr with the Rev James Leonard Fish in 1894. (I am not making this up.)
Red-letter days in the society’s calendar are the “Nativity of S. Charles” and Restoration Day (celebrating the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660). There is a sporadically updated Society of King Charles the Martyr website. There is a magazine called Church and King. “There are branches in the USA and Australia,” claims the website.
Neo-Jacobites want to replace British parliamentary democracy with a monarch from the House of Stuart, not seen on the throne since the death of Queen Anne in 1714.
Although this is obviously barking mad, direct descendants of the House of Stuart are surprisingly close to the crown.
In her A History of English Food – a good place to go for English arcana – Clarissa Dickson Wright gossips: “The Stuarts certainly got around: most of the noble families of England are connected in some way either to a mistress of Charles I or a male lover of his father James.”
But it was Charles II who left the most tangible genetic signal in the peerage, even though he had no children with Queen Catherine, because he made so many illegitimate children dukes or earls. According to Wikipedia, “The present dukes of Buccleuch, Richmond, Grafton, and St Albans descend from Charles in an unbroken male line. Diana, Princess of Wales, was descended from two of Charles’ illegitimate sons: the dukes of Grafton and Richmond. Diana’s son, William, Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne, is likely to be the first British monarch descended from Charles II.”
He may have been skint, but under Charles II a new freedom and flamboyance swept England; the republic’s Puritan ethos had been shrugged off almost overnight. According to Dickson Wright, “food received a new boost”. Charles II’s brother James II was treated at his coronation with “ninety-nine varieties of cold meat and fish”, including veal, “hot lamb stones (testicles), hot marrow patties, pigs’ feet, bologna sausages, hot ‘saveloys’, hot oyster patties, cold ragout of oysters, wild duck, quail, chicken and puffin”.
Only three years after his elaborate banquet, James II, a Catholic, was booted out of England, swapped for his Protestant daughter Mary II and her husband William III of Orange. James’ exile ended years of conflict between Parliament and Crown, settling, once and for all, who was really in charge.
The Guardian’s Marina Hyde, in a column titled “After the funeral, the big question: was this queen bigger than the monarchy itself?”, noted: “Underpinning much of our Crown’s bravura pageantry is the painstaking sense that nothing, ever, can be taken for granted.”
The Queen gave the monarchy a sense of permanence. This is an illusion, a fairy tale, and why so many people loved her.