“They are projected as a central image of our society. They buttress the idea of the family. They prove that some are born to rule and others to be ruled. They embody the notion that merit is of no importance and inheritance is everything. They are the focus of every attempt to paper over the stinking decaying reality of British society with pretty pictures of an ideal dream of the past. Like the reality they conceal, they are a festering sore, and the great lie that they are fitted by breeding to reign over us is the apex of a system of lies which drowns the truth every day.”
Thus wrote Colin Sparks in Socialist Review on the occasion of the marriage between Charles and Diana in 1981. It was by all accounts a loveless match to provide a royal heir. Charles had renewed his relationship with old flame Camilla Parker Bowles, even though they were both now married, and when the affair came to light both marriages ended in divorce. One year later in August 1997 Diana died in a car crash in Paris. Charles and Camilla eventually married and now she has been crowned as Queen alongside King Charles at Westminster Abbey.
So much for buttressing the idea of the family, and readers will need no reminding of recent events – the scandal surrounding Prince Andrew and the scandalous treatment of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – that undermine the chocolate box image of the ‘Royal Family’ as a role model for the nation. It is anyway a recent phenomenon that would have fooled nobody during the Hanoverian period which, in Colin’s lively account, was characterised by adultery and, in the case of George IV, even bigamy.
Things settled down with his niece, Victoria. Along with her husband, Prince Albert, she created the image of a royal family that was supposed to be a role model for the nation. This was undermined by the lecherous behaviour of her son and heir, Edward. But World War I then intervened to reveal another side to the family.
Victoria was the last of the Hanoverians. Her children took the family name of Prince Albert, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Her grandson, George V, thought this was a bit too German and might remind people that he and the Kaiser were cousins at a time when their subjects were slaughtering each other on the Western Front. So he changed it to Windsor. George was also cousin to Nicholas, the Tsar of Russia and Britain’s ally in the war against Germany.
When the Tsar was overthrown by the Russian Revolution, it was agreed that he would take his family into exile in Britain. But Britain was also on the brink of revolution, and George was afraid that welcoming Nicholas would be unpopular and even feed revolutionary fervour in Britain and threaten his own rule. So he vetoed the idea, condemning his cousin Nicholas and his family to death at the hand of the Bolsheviks. When George’s other cousin, the Kaiser, was threatened by the German Revolution, he chose not to rely on Windsor family values and arranged his own abdication and escape into Holland.
George V was succeeded by Edward VII who was a strong supporter of Adolph Hitler. He was forced to abdicate, not because he was a nazi, but because he wanted to marry a divorced woman. The establishment could countenance a fascist king, but divorce was a step too far. His brother, George VI, presented no such obstacles. OK, he married a racist who went on to support the white supremacist, Ian Smith, in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and there are photos of the royal family, including his daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth II, giving nazi salutes. But at least he never got divorced.
So there we have it. From Charles and Diana to Charles and Camilla the Horrible History of the House of Windsor has come full circle. Privilege, Hypocrisy, Racism and Betrayal, all predicated upon dynastic survival, define our royal family. Roll on the Red Republic!