Princes, the dregs of their dull race... Mud from a muddy spring.
Percy Shelley on the princes of England in 1819.
Tom Paine, standing with Milton and Shelley at the head of England’s Republican tradition of writers, reminded us in the revolutionary year 1791 that monarchy was a sham and the principle of hereditary power an affront to all who believed in equality and democracy.
Monarchy was “like something kept behind a curtain, about which there is a great deal of bustle and fuss, and a wonderful aura of seeming solemnity. But when by any accident the curtain happens to be open and the company see what it is, they burst into laughter”.
The announcement of a royal wedding next year will unleash much bustle and fuss and “solemnity” (sycophancy and unctuousness) across the bulk of the bourgeois media. We are already enjoined to share in the felicity of the happy couple, and to use their wedding as a way to escape, if only for a moment, the doom and gloom of Austerity Britain. Softer commentators have begun to wring their hands over the likely cost of the event, and to worry about how it might be viewed by those whose jobs, services, pensions and benefits have been hacked back by the Coalition. But not to smile and raise a glass to Wills and Cath would be churlish, wouldn’t it?
Churlish. The action of a churl or commoner. The opposite of royal or noble or patrician. In Anglo-Saxon times, from whence the word originated, simply a designation of your status in society: neither slave nor thane. Across the centuries of class-society “churl” gathered associations in keeping with the way the ruling-class despise the ruled. To be churlish is to be uncivil, surly, loutish, bad-tempered, a boor, emotionally (and perhaps materially too) a miser. Well give me churlish anytime, if the alternative is...
The behaviour from the Old Etonian millionaires around the Cabinet table. They were sure to raise a manly monarchical cheer at one of their own finding a bride. And at the political bonus a royal wedding will bring as cuts bite hard. A chance for the Big Society to come together. Months of distraction from the “sadly-necessary” economic pain. Pageant! Tradition! Britishness!
The royal wedding offers a windfall for entrepreneurs too. Mugs, tea-towels, union-jack flags and underpants, whole landfills of tat to be bought and sold if the wedding of William’s mother Diana Spencer is anything to go by. The “mystique” of royalty sells.
Paine would lament that the institution he opposed on two continents in word and deed has managed to adapt and survive. Capstone to a constitution which retains hereditary peerage, and constructed symbol of the nation’s “stability” and “vitality”, the monarchy and those who benefit from and support it will look to ensure a blizzard of propaganda prevents any serious challenge to the status quo. The second-in-line to the throne will have a wife, and so the chance of legitimate heirs. The future will look a little more secure.
So our task is to be churlish. To laugh and expose the sham of monarchy’s mystique. To throw verbal bricks at their spectacle. To puncture the cant about one nation coming together to celebrate a fairy-tale wedding. To offer instead of a place as extras in the publicly-funded festivities of the House of Windsor a leading role in the alternative festival of the oppressed.