“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” — Act III, Scene I, King Henry IV, Part Two
I am not sure what to think of the English Royalty. We dumped King George in 1776.
King Charles III, a royal formerly known as Prince, represents a long English legacy and tradition, filled with wars, executions, struggles for power and multiple intrigues. Much of that history is dramatized in William Shakespeare’s history plays.
It began with William the Conqueror when he defeated Harold, a Saxon king, and was crowned on Christmas Day in Westminster Abbey, 1066. That iconic building, which has seen so much history, still remains an absolute must for any tourist. Ironically, William was Norman French. By 1400, Geoffrey Chaucer was writing The Canterbury Tales in middle English and French was disappearing as the court’s official language. The original Saxons eventually took back their country.
The new King Charles III is indeed the third Charles to wear the crown. Charles I was the son of King James and fought with the parliament. He was tried, convicted, and executed for treason in January, 1649. The monarchy was abolished and the Commonwealth of England was established as a republic. The Puritans had closed the theaters. Oliver Cornwell (1599 – 1658) dominated parliament when he wasn’t massacring Irish Catholics. (Winston Churchill called him a military dictator.) When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, he had Cromwell’s body exhumed from Westminster Abbey, then hanged and decapitated. Cromwell’s head was put on a spike. To the horror of the Puritans, King Charles II also allowed women to act on the reestablished stage for the first time. The Restoration began.
It is assumed King Charles III will have a less violent reign that the preceding Kings named Charles
About 20 percent of the British public do not support the royal family, and Jamaica, a former slave colony, refuses to mourn. One could argue that kings and queens in the 21st century are obsolete. Since the British monarchy is constitutional, the monarch is limited to functions such as knighting citizens, bestowing other honors, and appointing the prime minister. (The last duty of Queen Elizabeth was to greet the new prime minister.) King Charles will be head of the British Armed Forces but can’t declare war.
Why, then, does England need a king or queen? Queen Elizabeth did provide stability and even had a sense of humor. (Remember the queen and James Bond jumping from a helicopter for the opening ceremony of the London Summer Olympic Games in 2012?)
An appeal to tradition in an argument or debate is considered a fallacy, but tradition in a country’s history can have great power, and who can resist the royal pomp and pageantry? No one does it better than the British. When King Charles walked behind his mother’s horse-drawn coffin, the crown she wore when coronated as Elizabeth II displayed on top, his two sons and three siblings walking in their designated places, even their clothes declaring rank and/or circumstances—it was impressive, indeed. One sees the walking and mounted royal guards in redcoats and bear hats. Even the horses were trained to walk unnaturally slow as the cortege proceeded to Westminster Hall. There, Queen Elizabeth will lie in state for the public viewing. The funeral will take place at Westminster Abbey.
The British people have lost the only queen they have ever known since Queen Elizabeth reigned for 70 years. Ironically, she’s the only queen I have ever known, though as an American. It will be interesting to see how King Charles III does as a king in a changing modern world, something he has been anticipating for a long time.
Michael Corrigan graduated from San Francisco State with a Master of Arts degree in English and creative writing. He was active in theater and attended the American Film Institute. He retired from Idaho State University as an instructor of English and speech communications. He has written several books, including “Confessions of a Shanty Irishman,” “Mulligan” and “These Precious Hours.” NPR broadcast his play for two readers: “Letters from Rebecca.”