The not-so-great and not-so-powerful king of England threw a party to celebrate his being crowned by a not-so-grateful public. The bill to the British taxpayers for this extravaganza is expected to top $125 million. Unlike a performance orchestrated by Andrew Lloyd Weber, this show had little drama and will be limited to one performance, although numerous reruns are expected. The entire affair is a colossal tribute to an archaic tradition that should have been dropped centuries ago when republican and democratic institutions started gaining traction. The adoption of a hereditary elite is one tradition that our country narrowly avoided. Some historians believe that our government, complete with a monarchy, would have looked much more like that of Great Britain if George Washington had children.
Martha Washington had four children by her former husband, Daniel Parke Custis, but none by George. Two of these Custis children died in early childhood. A surviving girl had epilepsy and died at 17 years old. The only child, John Parke Custis, to survive long enough to have a family of his own had a granddaughter who developed severe rheumatoid arthritis and married Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Army of Virginia. In an ironic twist, the general most instrumental in the creation of the United States of America was related through marriages to the general most instrumental in efforts to dissolve the United States of America. The Custis family inherited George Washington’s famous sword collection. The Union Army took possession of it at the end of the Civil War as enemy contraband. An act of Congress returned the collection to the rebel family.
George Washington’s longtime aid and confidante, the perpetually energetic Alexander Hamilton, envisioned a much more authoritarian President than George proved to be. Alexander would have been much more comfortable with the powers and prerogatives granted our modern Presidents than he was with the limited role envisioned for the President at the birth of our nation. As the power of the American Presidency evolved, the power of the British royalty faded. Currently, the King of the greatly diminished British empire is the head of a dysfunctional family with underutilized palaces and excessive expenses. Despite vast wealth and income from ancestral land holdings, this monarch pays little [and until recently nothing] in taxes and regularly turns to his subjects to help finance the upkeep of homes, facilities, and support staff that are unavailable to his compliant subjects.
The British are of course not the only people burdened by “welfare queens” and kings. We are most familiar with the British royals simply because the immigrants to the east coast of North America came in large measure from the British Isles. The land was already settled by millions of native Americans, but a variety of wars, epidemics, and fraudulent land deals facilitated the westward spread of the English speaking population.
That a god or gods chose the monarchs was a widely held notion in England, even when the country had a disastrous experience with a monarch. King Charles I was tried and executed for causing much misery in the British Isles by inciting wars in the homeland. The population generally still accepted the decapitated king as God’s choice to rule them, but they rationalized the king’s reign of terror as a punishment sent from the Divine because they had not been faithful enough to their Creator. Some societies are like children: they blame themselves for the mistreatment they suffer.
There is no denying that in recent decades the British royals have been entertaining. The palace intrigues and unexpected plot twists have been more riveting and jaw-dropping than any soap opera fiction. We delighted in Diana’s dancing with John Travolta and were left speechless by her death. The marriage of the effervescent Sarah Ferguson to the affable Prince Andrew had fairy tale dimensions until the tabloids caught Fergie’s Texan boyfriend sucking her toes as she sun-bathed topless. Andrew had his own photo-op as he bid farewell to a disturbingly young woman leaving Jeffrey Epstein’s pleasure palace. That Epstein was subsequently “suicided” heightened attention to the Prince’s relationship with the procurer of underage consorts. The royals’ distress at Prince Harry’s relationship with and subsequent marriage to an African-American woman highlighted the monarchy’s ancient prejudices and bigotry and offered yet another reason to drop the charade that this gang serves any real purpose besides modeling colorful costumes accented with strings of medals.
Hundreds of millions of us commoners watched the coronation with a mixture of awe and amusement. Charles III and his “queen consort” Camilla, best known for their shabby treatment of Princess Diana and their inclination to “talk dirty” over the phone, will now insist that the tabloids respect their privacy as they ride in gold and jewel bedecked carriages through the streets of London to take up residence in one of their several palaces.
After a lengthy day reciting oaths to be wise monarchs and demanding that their subjects swear allegiance to them, they can relax in their ancestral homes surrounded by hundreds of millions of dollars worth of artworks and celebrate the inevitable expansion of their own obscene wealth and that of the ever smaller circle of powerful elites that through the decades have propped them up. Those influential and wealthy few who sit with their anointed king will probably congratulate themselves on having pushed this uninspiring and uncharismatic individual onto the throne of England, Wales, Scotland, North Ireland, etc. and thereby assured the continuation of their own privileged social and political positions.
It is worth noting that the actual anointing of the king with sacred oil is done behind a screen. This is probably done without any public witnesses so that the king and his intimates can drop their serious demeanors for a few seconds and laugh at the gullible subjects who actually believe he will work for them. It is good to be king.
Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan. He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.