Could the royals get any more rotten?

2023 has left the arrogance of Charles and the ridiculousness of the Sussexes brutally exposed.

Julie Burchill

Julie Burchill

Topics Culture Politics UK

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2023 – the year of King Charles’s coronation and Prince Harry’s Spare – was a weird year for a republican like me. Though I nurse a profound and lifelong loathing for Charles, I found myself repeatedly taking his side against Harry and Meghan of Montecito. Add to this my weakness for Diana-faced Prince William (even when he is manhandling man-necklaces) and his well-groomed, well-meaning wife (great-great-granddaughter of a miner, daughter of a trolly dolly), and my attitude towards the British monarchy became something of a hot mess.

I always thought that a country in its right mind, sure of its place in the world, was automatically better without a monarchy. But how many of those are there in these dog days of civilisation? Looking at the United States, led by a man who barely knows what day it is, does the world’s leading democracy seem any healthier than ours, just because it has an elected head of state?

I always believed that a monarchy marked a country out as less rather than more civilised and comfortable with itself, but then there’s the example of the Scandinavian nations. At the last count, the top-10 happiest-countries list still includes the ‘bicycle monarchies’ of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Of course, all these royal families are exceedingly wealthy (though nowhere near as wealthy as the Windsors and worth millions rather than billions like the Middle Eastern sheikhs). But the fact that they sometimes take public transport can make people feel that they aren’t being played totally for fools. Still, no amount of just-folks spin can hide how preposterous the idea of being ‘born to rule’ is.

King Charles came to the throne making the right noises about slimming down the House of Windsor. But it’s no good seeing off a few lazy relatives if you’re then going to swan about like a pallid potentate at the COP28 shindig in Dubai, pushing the neo-feudal dream of one rule for the rich – endless foreign travel – and another for the poor, crouching by candlelight in 15-minute shanty towns.

His rule started badly, with tantrums over a leaky pen following the death of the queen last year. Then there was the heavy-handed behaviour of the Metropolitan Police on the day of the coronation, when they arrested a total of 64 people, including six anti-monarchy protesters whose demonstration had not even started, conjuring up a very Philip K Dickian dystopia. Only four were ever charged with an actual offence.

The strength of the British monarchy has been to manoeuvre itself somewhere between the excesses of the sheikhdoms (enjoying vast wealth) and the bicycle monarchies (not rubbing it in so the peasants don’t revolt). The naturally modest late Elizabeth II leant towards the latter, making the arrogant business of being ‘long to reign over us’ seem like something she just had to roll up her sleeves and get on with, like deadheading the roses. She wasn’t ‘born to rule’, as such – her rise to the throne was accelerated first by the abdication of Edward VIII and then by her father’s early death. This meant she grew up thinking of herself as a more regular person than most would-be sovereigns. Her ‘normal’ life as a navy wife was a time she apparently looked back on with the most affection.

The accession of Charles has ended this very British compromise. He expected all his life to be king, and has the arrogance that comes with this unusual destiny. He is the opposite of the profoundly stoic late queen in character. As he sat in his Diamond Jubilee state coach outside Westminster Abbey during a minor delay on his way to be crowned, lip-readers saw him griping: ‘We can never be on time… There’s always something… This is boring.’ This is who we’re expected to believe God himself anointed to place above us all – a superannuated Adrian Mole?

‘Do you want a President Blair or Trump, then?’, some genuflecting seat-sniffer will smirk if you suggest that it might be more democratic to have an elected head of state. But at least you can get rid of them after a few years, whereas you might have to wait decades for a sub-standard monarch to die. I do wonder how long the royal scam can last without the grace of Elizabeth the Good – only two-thirds of those who watched her funeral watched Charles’s coronation.

It says a lot about the awfulness of Prince Harry and his ghastly wife that I have felt less loathing than I expected for the king over the past year. But both sides are basically ridiculous. We were lucky as a country to have the queen, even if she set republicanism back decades. Now that The Firm is tearing itself apart, with both sides equally embarrassing in their own different ways, republicanism seems due for a revival. I’m in – so long as those two Californian grifters come to grief, too.

Julie Burchill is a spiked columnist. Her book, Welcome To The Woke Trials: How #Identity Killed Progressive Politics, is published by Academica Press.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Culture Politics UK


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