God forbid we should be twenty years without a rebellion says Thomas Jefferson. Who would have imagined that after two and a half centuries of Anglo-Saxon religious non-conformism, and a period of technical and social innovation that would seed an industrial revolution and the world's greatest empire, a flattering and successful attempt at the British model of freedom would be founded on the opposite side of the Atlantic by men who wished not so much renounce their Englishness as to announce their purer adherence to its moral criteria?
It has been suggested that Britain retains its crown because it just did things earlier than others. The French Revolution was so much more disruptive and bloody than England's slow Cromwellian trauma because enough time had passed for a revolutionary class to effectively challenge the status quo in France. There is a real danger that we are selling our national heritage short as a result of the affection we feel for the monarchy (and let's be clear - this specific Monarch). It is possible that the country that has given the world so much in the way of democracy and freedom may have peaked too early.
British history is the history of freedom, how it has spread about the world, and of course the incomplete project it remains. I don't object to Government plans to emphasise more British history in schools, just as long as we are teaching all of it and not just reciting lists of long-dead aristocrats. Let's find room for the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Reform and Parliament Acts, votes for women and the ending of the property qualification. Let's acknowledge our early mistake with slavery and realisation that we had to rid it from the earth. Let's remember the contribution to the political development of the world of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith, Tom Paine and John Stewart Mill, as well as learning who followed Alfred and Athelstan.
From the French and American Revolutions through to the UN Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights, British thoughts on freedom, pluralism and rights have remade the world. So why are we so timid at home?
Consider the major Royal 'story' of the week: the publication of pictures of a pregnant Duchess of Cambridge in the foreign press. The British press, who are a model of post-Leveson self-restraint (as they keep loudly reminding us), made a big show of not publishing the pictures of the Duchess on holiday in Mustique. Whilst reminding us about their selflessness in not republishing the photos, the Daily Mail did find space to publish photographs of the resort at which she stayed, how much the resort cost to build, how much the holiday cost, a picture of a lodge in which the Royal couple may have stayed, a description of how Kate looked in the photos that the Daily Mail was ethically unable to publish ("...a tiny bikini which showed off her visible bump..."), a photograph of the Duchess's mother, father, brother and sister who weren't on the holiday, and a side-bar update on how her late mother-in-law died in a car crash in case the Duchess needed reminding of the doe-eyed and inconveniently dead benchmark against which she will always be judged.
I have nothing against the Royal Family; I just having nothing for them. I don't care if Charles is a homeopathy fan or if Philip likes shooting things. Each to their own, which was the basic point of Locke and Mill and all the rest of them. I just think that there are cheaper ways we can all support the Daily Mail other than through state-sponsored celebrities.
The Queen is an admirable woman in many respects, but just as when the keystone is removed from an arch what will happen after she passes, we realise that this is not the Britain of the early-1950s, and the press no longer feels honour-bound by the last lingering fidelity it holds to the current monarch?
Our morbid fascination with this bizarre, ordinary, family invests them with a sort of inverted dignity just by them doing and saying nothing of real consequence. Elizabeth II has perfected this art of saying nothing and having everyone assume that she is some sort of a wise sphinx. Other royals let their guard down and forget about photographers when going about their ordinary business of cheating on their spouse or dressing as Nazis, but the Queen has the misfortune, and the advantage, of constant media attention to every appearance or utterance she makes, no matter how small or banal.
It's enough that we make her open community centres in East Nowhere, do we really have to pretend that each one is an event so auspicious that it needs a head of state just so the few words of civic nicety will be uttered by the last of a long line of the bored and duty-bound that stopped being interesting when Henry VIII retired to his chamber with terminal gout? Is it too much to ask for an actual, functioning, Head of State the next time a vacancy arises? At 86, it should be apparent to all that the Queen won't be with us forever, and people may soon find that affection for the individual does not transfer seamlessly to affection for an institution that 90% of British subjects have never associated with another person.
I was enthralled by the uncovering of Richard III's tomb in Leicester. I was fascinated by this very real link to our nation's past, but I couldn't help thinking that digging up these long-forgotten bones and the respectful re-interment of them was some kind of metaphor. Long-lens photographs of a pregnant woman on holiday don't really honour our heritage in the same way as discovering important evidence about what ultimately happened to a significant figure in British history, whose death saw the end of one Royal house and the beginning of another. Maybe it's time to just very gently and affectionately let go.
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