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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

THE BRITISH THRONE

American biographer Kitty Kelly made an impressive research about the lives of the world’s oldest surviving royalty, the British monarchy. In 1994 she started a controversial compilation of “The Royals”, a blow by blow account of the British royal family since the creation of the House of Windsor in 1917. The book was praised in the US (and even managed to become number one in the New York time magazine listing of Best sellers) as a fine masterpiece biography of the world’s most famous family but ridiculed in Britain as merely gossiping with inaccurate facts. Oh is it? I read the book in 2004 and very intrigued with the revelation of Kitty Kelly.

According to Ms. Kelly, royalty has a rather appalling, than mesmerizing concept. She was quoted that in Great Britain where there is a strict rule for social status; people solely defined by bloodlines, not character, education, achievement or wealth. Royalty stood at the top of humanity’s ladder, everybody else scrambled below with no hope of ascending. During ancient times, commoners were not allowed to mingle with royalty, and no one dared to defy the rules set by them.

The book exposed the most sensitive aspect of the monarchy and the scandals involving some prominent members including the heir apparent, Prince Charles. The first edition was released in the summer of 1997, so controversial that it was not published in Great Britain and the royal family even threatened to file a law suit against the biographer.

During Queen Victoria of England’s reign, royalty looked up by many as the true model of elegance, modesty and refinement, but as the 20th century approaches, this medieval principle gnarled to merely illusions as royals themselves are the source of scandals and controversies that hugged headlines throughout the world. In Britain, The Queen’s subjects are all disappointed with their future king, Prince Charles’ behavior that the local newspapers thundered: ABC (Anybody But Charles) and chanted “God Save the Queen and save us from her heir”.

Perhaps the most unforgettable scandal that rocked the establishment was the controversial voluntary abdication of King Edward VIII, eldest son of King George V. When the first Windsor monarch died from pneumonia on January 1936, Prince David ascended immediately as Edward VIII, but his first few months on the throne were marred by controversies that threatened an institutional crisis, the sensitive issue on whether he could take Wallis Simpson as his consort without the opposition of his subjects was the most common topic. Mrs. Simpson, a twice divorce American woman, did not pass the requirements of an ideal Queen Consort, she was even called “Edward’s unholy lover” by the King’s mother, Queen Mary. The Prime Ministers in the British commonwealth of nations reinforced the sentiments of the public by urging the new King to either abandon Wallis or abdicate.

Edward made no hesitation when he chose his lover over duty and tradition. In his unforgettable abdication statement, he said that it’s too impossible for him to continue his kingship without the support of the woman he loved. The news spread through out the world that, according to at least one account, one reporter in New York City exclaimed “it’s the greatest news to hit the world since the resurrection!”.

Edward was created Duke of Windsor and literally banished from the court sending his shy brother, Prince Albert or Bertie to the throne. The Duke of York, who by then married to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore and has 2 daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, was favored before hand by his father to inherit the crown. Amidst his stammering habit and reluctant nature, he was proper, solidly married and represented the monarchy with dignity in various official engagements, unlike his older brother who cavorted with married women to social gatherings. At the end of his life, George V, cursed the primogeniture succession that barred his second son Bertie from acquiring the crown, but within eleven months after his death, his favorite son began his rule and reigned for 16 years as George VI and was succeeded by his eldest daughter Elizabeth.

The British monarchy surrounded by mystique and charm, rely mostly on pomp and pageantry, where according to poet Noel Coward “that’s where they do best”. Its ancient symbol, the Windsor Castle, is the oldest inhabited castle in the world dating back from 11th century, when William the Conqueror choose the site as his official seat of court after his successful invasion from the last Anglo-Saxon King, Harold II. The fortress, composed of cobbled stone and dark archways, is situated south of London above the placid Thames River at Berkshire. 19th century diarist Samuel Pepys dubbed it as the most romantic castle that is in the world.

Today, the monarchy is still alive though haunted with loads of controversies, yet the mystique is still the status symbol of Great Britain. Its current head, Queen Elizabeth II, reigned for more than 50 years since her accession in 1952 on the death of her father King George VI, continued inspiring her subjects and all its territories and nations. Scandals and controversies however overshadowed the prestige of the crown. 20th century was probably the most trying times of the monarchy, where all members of the royal family deals with individual’s scandals, but as the old adage goes:" still the show must go on".

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