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Constitutional Monarchy
A Timely Warning for the Prince of Wales

Prince Charles, the heir to the classiest throne left, is widely known not to share the discretion of his mother, Elizabeth II. But now, voices are starting to warn that what was tolerable from a long-serving Prince of Wales will not fly for a monarch. As Nick Cohen writes in The Guardian:

The future Charles III expects to be heeded, not scrutinised, and above all he expects to intervene in politics with a regularity and partisanship his mother never dared imitate or, as far as we know, ever wanted to imitate either.

[…] Prince Charles has every reason to carry on behaving with his usual neurotic vanity. But then Edward VIII seemed as secure when he became king in January 1936 and he was gone within the year. History suggests that Britain may be a slavishly monarchical country, but if the monarch goes too far then the monarch goes. Don’t be too surprised if the indulgence and protection vanishes as swiftly for Charles III as it did for his great uncle.

Cohen would like to see the monarchy ended, but as he point out, the friends of the monarchy should take heed of these warnings more than anyone. George III’s mother is supposed to have advised her son to “rule, not just reign;” that advice cost George thirteen prime colonies and the idea that the personal views of the monarch should make a difference in how Britain should be governed is a recipe for even more trouble today.

While the British monarchy is more than 1,000 years old, quite a few monarchs have been turfed out or killed. Charles III won’t have to worry about the latter fate, but unless he makes up his mind to keep his opinions to himself, he could well share the fate of Edward VIII. Britain is run by professional politicians these days and while Queen Elizabeth has wide and deep popularity, the ice beneath her eldest son, surrounded as he is by hired staffers who may not be eager to share inconvenient truths with their august boss, may be much thinner than he understands.

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  • Fat_Man

    I assume that the Reason why Elizabeth has not resigned is that she doesn’t trust Chuck either.

    • Andrew Allison

      I suspect that the reason that Queen Elizabeth has not abdicated the throne is that she regards it as a lifelong duty. Supplanting Queen Victoria as longest-reigning Monarch in British history, which will happen just eight months from now, may also be a factor. If-and-when her health fails, she just might abdicate in favor of the Duke of Cambridge, a.k.a Prince William, a move which would be immensely popular among her subjects, who have little regard for his father.

      • Dan Greene

        If she feels that the throne is a lifelong duty, I think it is unlikely that she will undermine the tradition of succession by skipping over the Prince of Wales. Once you go down that road, it becomes nothing more than a version of “Britain’s Got Talent.” The monarchy may or may not survive but it won’t prosper by turning it into one more bit of pop culture trivia.

        Charles III’s reign will probably be a short one like Edward VII’s–another problem Prince of Wales. William III will get to the throne soon enough.

        The real problem is that no royal family is likely to be able to sustain the media silliness of our age. Bagehot warned of just this problem. Hard to be optimistic about the institution at this point, but not simply because Charles is whatever it is he is supposed to be.

        • Andrew Allison

          I beg to differ. My point was that, as a traditionalist, the Queen will probably act in the best interest of the monarchy, rather than that of her eldest son. I also think that you underestimate the place of the Monarchy in British, for want of a better word, sensibility. Time will tell whether Bagehot was right, but the enduring regard of the Royals by the British, and interest of the media, suggests otherwise. Finally, the only real talent required for the job (one that’s conspicuously lacking in the Prince of Wales), is not to do stupid things.

          • Dan Greene

            “My point was that, as a traditionalist, the Queen will probably act in the best interest of the monarchy, rather than that of her eldest son.”

            No doubt, but I don’t think her interpretation of what’s best for the monarchy and the UK will include generation-skipping. I agree with your point about the monarchy and British sensibility. I hope it will endure. But many things that seemed inherent parts of British sensibility are gone with the wind. I think that Bagehot has already been shown to be correct. When Murdoch’s repulsive minions are busy conducting their own intelligence gathering operations against the Prince of Wales, it’s pretty clear his worst fears are being proved true.

            British monarchs have done lots of stupid things. By historical standards–if you go beyond George VI and the current Queen–Charles has done little that truly qualifies as “stupid.”

            Interesting that TAI doesn’t actually include the main part of Cohen’s criticism–the canceling of a BBC special called “Reinventing the Royals” apparently at the royal family’s behest. But really, when the BBC is running a program like that, we KNOW that Bagehot has been proved right.

          • Kevin

            That’s a rare talent among those invested with power, even just having a megaphone for one’s views.

            The other issue is that Charles has never really done anything in 66 years and has no experience to temper his whims and fancies.

          • Dan Greene

            He commanded a minesweeper. What did you want him to do? That is the problem with a constitutional monarchy and even more with the heir apparent in a constitutional monarchy in an era of very long life spans. What is William doing? What do you want HIM to do?

          • f1b0nacc1


  • Jagneel

    UK is such a land of contradiction. With all the great things it has it also has this dog-and-pony show called royals. It is strange to see citizens putting up with this birth is destiny BS>

  • Dan Greene

    Interesting how TAI babbles incessantly about “peak liberalism” and subjects us to an endless series of “Christmas” articles telling us that Jesus was in the middle class, etc, etc. while also being told that we should pay no mind to complaints about the campaign to undermine the celebration of that holiday. Here we have an approving citation of the Guardian (off all things!) and Nick Cohen’s whining about Prince Charles. Why is anything that Nick Cohen writes a “timely warning” to anybody about anything? Yes, I’m sure he would like to see the British monarchy go away–not nearly pro-Israel enough to suit his taste, no doubt. I guess this is what neo-conservatism looks like–as distinct from conservatism.

    Besides the worship of the market and of aggressive military interventions abroad, what does TAI actually believe in? Certainly not the conservation of tradition.

    • Tom

      They’re called “interns” and they do most of the day-to-day writing. The adults take over for the longer articles.

      • Andrew Allison

        It appears to me that most of the writing is done by WRM & staff, not interns; and that the commentary on the demise of the Blue Model and peak Liberalism is being written by the grown-ups.

        • Tom

          I was referring to the current article, rather than the rest of it.

    • Andrew Allison

      Come now. Whilst TAI has been drawing attention to the manifest, across-the-board, failures of the Blue Model for some time now, “peak liberalism” post-dates the recent mid-term debacle. Furthermore, Cohen’s piece was one of the more intelligent things I’ve seen in The Guardian for quite some time. Finally, I’m having trouble reconciling your opinion of TAI’s disdain for tradition with it’s “endless series of “Christmas” articles telling us that Jesus was in the middle class, etc, etc. while also being told that we should pay no mind to complaints about the campaign to undermine the celebration of that holiday.”

  • Corlyss

    I bet they think the “neurotically vain” twit will heed them. It would be a delicious confrontation, one presaged in the 3rd installment of Michael Dobbs’ House of Cards, the British version that aired c. 1991-2.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The best thing Charles could possibly do is admit Alzheimer’s (or “something”—–whether he has it or not) and announce his willingness for the ceremonial throne to pass directly to William at the time of the Queen’s choosing. Every fan of the British monarchy in the world knows Will and Kate are more than “ready” for the responsibilities in a way Charles can never be.

    • Andrew Allison

      A closet monarchist outed [LOL] However, Prince Charles can’t abdicate unless/until he ascends the throne. We can (mirabile dictu) agree that, for many reasons, Will & Kate are far better qualified for the job.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Well, glory be. We finally are on a same page, but it’s sort of the “social page”—-given what the British Royals actually do.
        Seriously, though, to whatever extent William can better the world, I have a feeling he is completely devoted to that “duty” and likewise his wife. I am a fan because I think they are serious.

  • ljgude

    I’m an American who has spent half his life in Australia and my understanding or the royal family has changed has changed as a result. It is just a dog and pony show on the surface but it has a deeper symbolic significance of a hierarchical social order which the Brits have done well with. Keeping the symbolic significance reasonably functional while separating it from politics. As Americans we can’t see a head of state as above and outside of politics – our head of state is the president. We chose to codify our sense of fair play in out constitution and delegate to the 9 justices of the supreme court the job of deciding what was fair and what was not. In Britain the sense of fair play – what is and is not cricket – is a matter the principles of fairness embodied in the institution of monarchy – not the person of the monarch. So a Charles who involves himself in politics too noticeably would undermine these delicate arrangements. I can’t really believe he doesn’t know that so I think the points raised by the Guardian’s Nick Cohn are not realistic. Personally I actually like Charles and don’t think he is a neurotic twit, but a man troubled by the restrictions of the life he has been forced to live. His friendship with Vanderpost involved Charles’s concerns for his personal development with a man who has known Jung well – something that it self is used to portray Charles as flaky, but useful material if you are a monarch in waiting and want a psychological understanding of the symbolic and social role of monarchy, I think he will probably become king in his turn and work hard to preserve the institution.

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