CS Lewis Rejected Royal Honor
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  • As long as the royals serve as good cash cows I suppose the Brits will keep them around — at least, if what Brits I’ve asked about this are any guide.

  • David Taylor, MD

    An amusing and interesting note. I assume that the need to maintain the “magical” aura of the monarchy in England emerged in inverse proportion to the actual power of the monarchy, so that stripped of this final source of awe or respect or prestige, the monarchy has little more than its wealth to support it.

    On the other hand, I was reminded of two great books on the subject, one you are no doubt intimately familiar with, Kantorowicz’s great classic, The King’s Two Bodies, which traces the social and cultural foundations of the mystical – magical in a more profound sense – power of medieval kings as well their political power, and a more recent study of the British monarchy by Ilse Hayden, “Ritual and Privilege: The Ritual Context of British Royalty”, in which she argues first that the monarch holds more political power (if not authority) than is normally recognized, and second, that the royal family sits at the top of a significantly large social class composed of an aristocracy and nobility, and that so long as this social class persists, the royals will enjoy a variety of social privileges and position simply by virtue of being at the apex of this social pyramid. An interesting book.

    Nonetheless, it is a shame that the legal right of access to information should be used to embarrass people, or the memory of people, with no larger social good being achieved thereby.

  • The fact of C. S. Lewis being offered a CBE and the reason for him turning it down has long been known. In 1966 Lewis’ brother Warren published his letters. On 3 December 1951, Lewis wrote to the Prime Minister’s secretary:

    “I feel greatly obliged to the Prime Minister, and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable. There are always however knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List wd. of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I shd. not appear there. I am sure the Prime Minister will understand my reason, and that my gratitude is and will be none the less cordial.” (Lewis, W. H., “Letters of C. S. Lewis”, New York: Harcourt Brace & World, 1966, p. 235.)

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Will Vaus: Thanks!

  • Cunctator

    It isn’t often that one has to correct something WRM writes, but there is an error of historical fact in today’s column. George V could hardly have created the OBE to honour those who aided victory the Second World War since he died in 1936. So, either George V created it to honour those efforts in the First World War when he was king, or it was his son George VI who created it for the follow-on conflict.

  • GREAT quote:

    “…secrecy is, however, essential to the utility of English royalty as it now is. Above all things our royalty is to be reverenced, and if you begin to poke about it you cannot reverence it. When there is a select committee on the Queen, the charm of royalty will be gone. Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic. We must not bring the Queen into the combat of politics, or she will cease to be reverenced by all combatants; she will become one combatant among many.”

    I think I shall be a Bagehotist till I die.

  • Alex Weiner

    David Bowie turned down being knighted TWICE.

  • Paul Graham

    “How the British monarchy will survive in an age without secrets, in an age when laws require that all magic be bathed in full daylight remains to be seen.”

    ‘Bagehot’s’ modern incarnation (David Renie) just put out a piece that addresses this very question:


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