New York Times writer-at-large Sarah Lyall came at the English royal family from the Left as King Charles III formally became King of England in Westminster Abbey on Saturday. While most in the United Kingdom, and the United States, greeted the long-standing tradition with respect or at least acceptance, Lyall couldn’t resist injecting some kind of Occupy Buckingham Castle activism into the mix for Saturday's paper with “As a King Is Crowned, Some Britons Ask Why the Monarchy Persists.”
Lyall opened her dispatch from London with some Monty Python-sourced snark.
In a scene in the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, King Arthur roams around the English countryside attempting to gather knights for the Round Table. When he declares, “I am your king!” to a deeply unimpressed peasant, her response is both absurd and blindingly obvious.
“Well, I didn’t vote for you,” she says.
As long as there has been a monarch in this country -- for more than a 1,000 years -- there have been questions about the legitimacy of the monarchy. As the nation prepares for King Charles III’s coronation on Saturday, in an elaborate ceremony billed as an effort to bring modern flourishes to an ancient ritual, it is worth asking the question:
Why, when nobody voted for the monarchy and half the population under the age of 50 doesn’t think it should exist, does Britain still have one?
Lyall shopped for experts who cast supporters of the monarchy, who tend toward a traditional conservative or at least centrist disposition, as lazy thinkers behind the times. But not just that -- they support monarchy even though it's "racist, classist, sexist, and out of touch." Did she leave anything out?
“One of the reasons that the monarchy persists is that we don’t often have serious conversations about why we have a monarchy,” said Alastair Bellany, a historian at Rutgers University specializing in 16th- and 17th-century Britain. “I think we should. I think a serious country has to look in the mirror. It’s a lazy assumption that the monarchy is our message to Britain and the world that this is who we are.”
But while the critics regularly surface with plausible grievances -- the monarchy was built from the spoils of enslaved peoples; it is too expensive; it is racist, sexist, classist and out of touch; it automatically bestows power on people who can be shockingly unimpressive -- those arguments have not gained serious political traction.
Lyall found some more out-of-touch sources to confirm her left-leaning presupposition.
“The real question is not why they’re a monarchy, since, obviously, the royal family isn’t letting this go -- they’re the wealthiest and most powerful monarchy that still survives,” said Brooke Newman, an associate professor of history, specializing in early modern Britain, at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The question is, why does the public continue to support them?”
One way the family has retained its power and aura, Ms. Newman said, is by obscuring the extent of its past connections to colonialism and slavery. “There are a significant population of people in the U.K. who are opposed to talking about this,” she said.
Newman has a book coming out attacking the royals and their slavery connections:
My latest piece on the Royal Family’s historical links to the transatlantic slave trade & African slavery—& a brief snapshot into the task & stakes of #TheQueensSilence, to be published by @MarinerBooks @mudlarkbooks @HarperCollins https://t.co/RlQykFq7pS— Brooke Newman (@DrBrookeNewman) July 29, 2022
Even the positive mentions of the monarchy came off condescending:
Even knowing that, [Rutgers historian] Bellany said, he found himself unexpectedly moved last fall as he watched Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.
“Part of me was annoyed, and part of me was very mistrustful of what I was seeing,” Mr. Bellany said. “But part of me thought: ‘This is very well done. This is powerful theater.’ I think we should never underestimate the power of that theater.”