Monday, June 25, 2012

Something Old

Not everything worth reading is hot off the press. In this section, Nicholas Reid recommends "something old" that is still well worth reading. "Something old" can mean anything from a venerable and antique classic to a good book first published five or more years ago.

“WAR OF THE WINDSORS – A Century of Unconstitutional Monarchy” by Lynn Picknett, Clive Prince and Stephen Prior (first published 2002)

            It’s my usual practice to devote “Something Old” either to an older book that is really worth reading, or to an older book which reveals something interesting about attitudes at the time it was written.

            This week, I’m devoting the space to something fairly worthless and not particularly revealing. But there’s method in my madness.

            When you’re opposed to something on principle, it’s important to note what arguments are valid and what arguments are invalid, even if they appear to give ammunition to your cause. To me, War of the Windsors seems a case of an invalid argument in support of a good cause.

            This year, toadying books have been published to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – sixty years on the throne. Ten years ago, toadying books were published for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee – fifty year on the throne. It was as a sort of anti-Golden Jubilee book that a trio of “independent researchers” produced their iconoclastic War of the Windsors.

            It presents the story of the modern British royal family as per Lynn Picknett, Clive Prince and Stephen Prior.

            This is how their story goes.

            A bunch of Germans, whose proper dynastic name was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, changed their name to Windsor in the middle of the First World War as a propaganda exercise to disguise their German-ness and pretend to Englishness. They were a devious and self-interested bunch. The pushiest of the lot – and the book’s star villain – was the German princeling Louis Battenberg, who changed his name to Mountbatten.

            A promiscuous homosexual, congenital liar and military incompetent, “Dickie” Mountbatten was behind most of the royal wheezes and scams for more than half a century. He was also the chief formative influence on the neurotic and unstable Prince Charles whose own father, the Greek-German Duke of Edinburgh, was completely uninterested in parenting.

            Edward VIII (later Duke of Windsor) copped some flak for his well authenticated approval of Hitler and Nazism. But, says War of the Windsors, he wasn’t the only member of the royal family to go down that road. Probably worse was George VI’s other brother, the Duke of Kent, who died mysteriously during the war. Incidentally, the Duke of Kent was a sexually promiscuous homosexual.

            Elderly members of the royal family, such as George V and the late Queen Mother, have routinely been subjected to involuntary euthanasia, so that their deaths wouldn’t inconvenience royal timetables. As the king’s death neared in 1935, the royal medical bulletin said that George V was “moving peacefully towards his end”. In fact the royal surgeon finished him off by injecting an overdose of morphine, to ensure that the king’s death would first be reported in respectable morning papers like The Times rather than in lower-browed evening news-sheets.

            Not that we should weep too many tears for these individuals because, on inspection, all of them prove to be self-interested, devious, underhanded people.

            As for Queen Elizabeth II herself – she’s a cold-hearted crook. Along with other members of the royal family, she pays income tax only because she has been absolutely forced to. Members of the royal family regularly divert money from charities into their own private coffers.

            Spiced up with considerably more royal sex scandals and personal gaffes than I have noted here, the book is, I repeat, the version of the royal family as given by Picknett, Prince and Prior.

            As a non-dogmatic republican, I quite enjoy reading things that dish the dirt on British royalty. I wallowed with some amusement in much of War of the Windsors and I have no doubt that some of the scandals and dodgy things it narrates are perfectly true.

            But at a certain point my conscience got the better of me. Obsessed with conspiracy theories, this team of authors is so determined to hate the Windsors that they put the worst possible construction on their every action and utterance. While the tone tends to be sober and un-hysterical, it still adds up to completely unbalanced reporting, not helped by the authors’ constant complaint that vital research materials were withheld from them. My credence in this book was not entirely promoted by the knowledge that the authors had previously written books about the Turin Shroud, the Knights Templar and various historical conspiracies. Oh dear.

            So what do I mean by an invalid argument in support of a good cause?

            The good cause, as I see it, is revealing the flaws of monarchy as a system, showing how much members of the royal family are exempt from norms that bind the rest of us and how much the system itself functions to promote untenable social snobberies. The genuine sins of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha brood would provide excellent evidence of the flaws in monarchy, especially if the scandal of tax evasion were given more prominence, and the dubious nature of the royal honours system scrutinised. These things are more important than muddy, half-authenticated, and in most cases fairly trivial, sex scandals.

            The invalid argument is the purely ad hominem nature of War of the Windsors. It is like reading a series of tabloid exposes. In the end, one has to admit that it proves only the weaknesses of human nature. A series of similar petty scandals could be dragged up from the private lives of quite respectable republican leaders. It is the inherited and unearned nature of royalty that is the real scandal.

            So, while admitting its prurient appeal, I turn away from War of the Windsors with a firm cry of “Non tali auxilio!” I don’t applaud any old rope just because it happens to be anti-monarchist.

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