April 10th, 2005

Charles And Camilla

The heir to the throne marries his long-term lover in a registry office. The ceremony has been pushed back a day to make way for the funeral of the Pope. The population at large is more interested in the outcome of the Grand National horse race.

It's not exactly a hole in the corner job, but it's a far cry from the pomp of the last royal wedding.

We English had our revolution in the mid 1600s. Afterwards we brought the royal family back, but on the understanding that there'd be no more of that Divine Right of Kings nonsense. Monarchs from Charles II through to William IV were servants of their public, not particularly feted, but key elements in a cobbled together Constitution. When they were dull or ridiculous (as some of them were) they got laughed at.

This changed at the end of the 19th century. Britain was now an Empire and needed a glorious figure-head. Traditions and ceremonies were invented to elevate the monarchy and for the next 100 years or so the kings and queens- most of them spectacularly dull as people- were accorded a quasi divine status and respect. It became bad form to laugh at them. This was the golden age. These people had no power to speak of, but they were very ornamental. They couldn't fly, but their tail feathers were gorgeous.

The coronation of Elizabeth II was the high spot. Fittingly, symbolically, it coincided with the "British" conquest of Everest (by a Sherpa and a New Zealander.) Then began the decline. Britain no longer had an Empire and the imperial trappings were looking increasingly irrelevant and silly. Respect and deference seeped away. The media began to treat the royals the way they treated other celebs. Then came the scandal of Charles and Di....

There is lingering respect for the old Queen, there is a feverish excitement surrounding the boy-band glamour of the young princes, but the wedding of Charles and Camilla is a sure sign of the way things are going. We care less and less and, while it's unlikely that we will ever axe the monarchy (once is enough), we are now going to let it fizzle and fade. It will return to what it was before Disraeli reinvented Victoria as Empress of India and maybe, not so very long from now, we'll be seeing the royals riding their bicycles down the Mall.

That is, if we can be bothered to turn our heads and look.