I have made a habit of abstaining from routine public comment about the British royal family for a number of reasons. The first is that they are human beings and are obvious targets for facile criticism and ridicule. The second is that, as an Irish republican, I consider that they have little or no significance in my life. The third is that I regard the whole British media circus of royal watchers, royal correspondents, and royal paparazzi as ridiculous.
The age of monarchy and hereditary nobility is over, and the House of Windsor is not merely an anachronism; it has lost its credibility and any prestige that it once possessed.
Yes, I concede that the British are very adept at public ceremonial centred on their royal family. But apart from its value as spectacle for tourists, most of that ceremonial is losing its previous meaning.
I watched the coronation as a once in a lifetime event. I was intrigued by the massive build-up in the British media. I found the coronation ceremony itself to be somewhat stilted and awkward rather than awe-inspiring, while the parade was elaborate and well-rehearsed.
The whole idea of the royal court, royal titles, royal orders and honours, seems to me to be an embodiment of discrimination based on status and class. The royal establishment, now nicknamed “the firm”, seems to absorb huge resources, acres of newsprint, and promote soap opera- like fetishism with personalities in a voyeuristic manner slightly reminiscent of an extended “Truman Show”.
I can quite see how Prince Harry, like the eponymous Truman, might realise the cruel falsity of his imprisonment and want to escape to North America where, to the chagrin of British media, he enjoys the popular support of the people.
Was that the last coronation of its kind? Put bluntly, if Charles were to pass away suddenly anytime soon would the whole pageant be repeated for William? That seems farfetched.
The House of Windsor is nearing the end of its present life. Perhaps it will endure as a Scandinavian pocket monarchy. But its glory days, such as they were, are over. The remaining Caribbean states are espousing republican constitutional status. The main dominions, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, also seem set to become republics too.
Then why write here about the sun setting on the House of Windsor? That sunset has one or two potential side-effects for Ireland.
Firstly, it will have an effect of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. Loyalty to the Crown will inevitably change its meaning if the monarch increasingly resembles a very modest Scandinavian institution clad in suits, casual gear, and bicycle clips.
Secondly, a reduction in the role of class consciousness in British society and thinking will inevitably have backwash effects in Ireland. Social inequality is still ingrained in British culture and ideology. It is part of the notion of British exceptionalism.
Accepting foreigners as equals, the antithesis of the imperial mindset. is part of a republican ideology. Brexit was in part motivated by a sense that Britain was in some way the natural superior of other European nationalities. Ireland’s relationship with Britain will be better for a lessening in a residual tendency there to subordinate others by reason of their origins.
Post-independence Ireland had its own royalty or nobility in the quasi-monarchical role we gave to the Roman Catholic hierarchy and clergy. Newsreel footage of politicians genuflecting before prelates to kiss episcopal rings reminds us that we once had an appetite for flummery analogous to that of the British.
Nobody imagines that we will see a social out-pouring like that of last week’s coronation in Britain for another Eucharistic Congress in Ireland. Even papal visitation sank rapidly in terms of public participation in the last few decades. Likewise, visits from American presidents and foreign heads of state or royalty are becoming very low-key affairs.
From time to time there are calls for the establishment of an Irish Legion D’Honneur or similar body. We are better off without titles of honour or quasi-nobility.
Those with a taste for such things must make do with donning ceremonial garb to receive honorary degrees, freedoms of cities, or accepting membership of institutions such as Aosdána or medals from the President. We are spared the inconvenience of having to cancel knighthoods or revoke membership of royal orders for misbehaviour, and the annual grisly spectacle of politically inspired honours lists.
We are by no means classless, but we do not fetishise class or accord social recognition based on ancestry or preferment by a self-serving establishment.
The British codded themselves in 1953 by speaking of a new Elizabethan era. While her reign was long, Elizabeth never defined an era so much as a period of political decline. So talk of a new Carolean era is absurd.