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THE recent furore around Prince Andrew’s links with a convicted sex offender and his inability to grasp the gravity of the matter, underlined in a car crash TV interview with journalist Emily Maitlis, has raised again the question of support or otherwise for the monarchy in Britain.
At a historical level England was the world leader in anti-monarchism, being the first country to execute a monarch, King Charles I in Whitehall on January 30 1649, and promote instead a republic under Cromwell.
However the monarchy was restored in 1660 and notwithstanding the reconfiguration of ruling-class power that was the Glorious Revolution of 1688 it has been with us ever since.
Support or opposition to the monarchy has varied over time depending on what it has or has not been doing and how this is seen by the wider population.
The royal reaction to the death of Princess Diana in 1997 led to an upsurge of views that the monarchy was an outdated institution that should be removed from any official role in British life for example.
Since then, and this is a pattern, specific incidents spark off disquiet at the royals. Before Andrew perhaps the most recent was Prince Philip’s car crash in January 2019 where he managed to injure several civilians driving a Range Rover at the age of 97 and appear somewhat unconcerned about the matter.
The Prince Andrew affair has focused anti-royal feeling again.
Reports suggest that it was when an audience member asked a question about the royals in the recent ITV election debate between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson that the Palace realised that Andrew would, officially at least, have to go.
Johnson defended the royal family in the debate while Corbyn suggested that those who actually merited support were the victims of the sex offender the prince had been friends with.
Subsequent events have underlined which leader was in touch with the political realities of the matter.
The wider historical point going back at least to the 19th century remains that popular dislike of the monarchy tends to coincide with occasions when it becomes obvious that their wealth, lifestyle and general behaviour is completely out of step with those of ordinary people.
The leading late Victorian newspaper Reynolds’s News, which sold 300,000 copies a week, specialised in anti-royal stories and commentary.
It was class politics in the most basic but often the most effective, us and them, model.
Antony Taylor, whose edited collection, Down with the Crown, is amongst the best guides to British anti-monarchism, has argued:
“When in 1887 during Victoria’s golden jubilee the Social Democratic Federation and socialist clubs protested against ‘fifty years of royal flunkeydom’ they located themselves within a long and well established tradition of hostile royal comment.”
Reynolds’s Newspaper has been digitised and is available online. A look at any edition from the last quarter of the 19th century will find anti-royal invective that would in most cases be considered too robust for 2019.
For example in November 1877 Reynolds’s carried a lengthy reader’s letter headed “the money cost of royalty.”
It read in part: “Morally and politically it is to the people an institution that costs more than money, in the restriction of liberty and human progress. It may enable us to form some idea of how wisely the French people have acted recently in voting in so significant a manner that they will have no more royalty.”
The writer goes on to complain about the “bloodsucking” powers of royalty funded by people’s taxes.
If the disgraceful behaviour of Prince Andrew has reawakened such sentiments, perhaps some good will come of it.
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