Most historians agree that the first king of England was a fellow named Aethelstan, who got the title in the year 927. Whatever it meant to be English in the tenth century, he certainly wasn’t a Briton. No, Britons, the people the Romans conquered when they invaded the island, were Celtic, spoke a Celtic language known as Ancient Brittonic, and had been there since before the days of the Pharaohs. This guy Aethelstan was, well, what today we would call a German. His folks, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes sailed over from Germany and moved into the power vacuum created when the Romans decided that all they really needed in that cold, rainy and dreary place was the tin mines of Cornwall. Defending the rest of it, including that worthless dump Londinium, from the Scots, Picts and Welsh, not to mention seafaring raiders who ravaged coastal settlements not only from Germany in the east, but also from Ireland in the west, just wasn’t cost effective anymore. So they worked out a deal with some of the Romanized Cornish locals to take over the tin trade and left altogether around 410 AD.
Not that Aethelstan’s forebearers in the green and pleasant land of Old Blighty had it easy themselves. Because, less than a century after they had defeated the native Britons whom the Romans had abandoned, set up their petty Teutonic kingdoms and begun squabbling among themselves with sword, arrow, axe, pike and fire, the Vikings arrived from Scandinavia and kicked their butts all the way from Northumbria to Sussex. One lone German king, Alfred of Wessex, managed to hold out against them. Over time, his descendants slowly and determinedly expanded their territorial control, creating an Anglo-Saxon realm, culminating with the dual coronations of Aethelstan – first as King of the Anglo Saxons in 924 and subsequently three years later as King of “Engla Londe,” as they so quaintly put it back then.
Aethelstan’s descendants got their posteriors handed to them again by yet another feisty Norseman named Sweyn Forkbeard in 1013, though, and Engla Londe had a rather rough go of it until 1042 when the Germans took the place back from Swedes, Norwegians and Danes under the leadership of King Edward the Confessor, so named because of his reputed piety. Maybe being pious worked – it wasn’t until he died, in 1066, that the Christian Lord who had carried them to victory over the worshipers of Odin forsook Engla Londe, failing to preform any victory-producing miracles for Edward’s successor, Harold, who was killed by descendants of still another line of Vikings, the Normans of France, at the Battle of Hastings. At least, by that time, those Vikings were Christians, too. Maybe God just liked them better.
Then ensued a period of about four centuries wherein every Briton, German and Scandinavian who fancied themselves to be English learned how to hate the French. And if you think NATO’s war in Afghanistan lasted a long time, think again, because the conflict which concluded that particular epoch of English history is known as the Hundred Years War. Actually, it lasted one hundred and sixteen years, and resulted in England finally becoming an independent kingdom, free from French influence and domination, under the Tudors – a bunch of Welshmen, no less. Of all the three possibilities, a Briton (of some sort or another), styled Henry VII, sat on the English throne. That must have really chapped quite a few Norman frogs’ bottoms.
That fellow’s son, of course, may have made quite a few folks on the island long for the days of the Plantagenets, what with him taking over the Church of England, divorcing and imprisoning his Spanish queen, sacking and destroying monasteries, angering and alienating not only the Pope but every Catholic monarch in Europe, and getting himself excommunicated in the bargain; all while desperately attempting to produce a male heir and lopping the heads off subsequent wives who popped out a female, or simply displeased him by flirting with other men; and, generally, demonstrating exactly how horrific a monarchy can be. And although his daughter’s reign of discovery and empire building threw a sharp contrast to Henry VIII’s royal dumpster fire, her successors, going all the way up to the founder of the current line of big eared, bucktoothed Germans, the son of the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Princess Sophia of the Rhine Palatinate, old George Ludwig, the Elector of Hanover, were no slouches in the horrific monarchy department themselves. Fortunately for the long-suffering English (and later British) public, George I and his progeny have managed to behave themselves much better than that lot, for the most part, anyway. It’s all in how things look relative to one another, I suppose. Obviously, they benefit greatly from comparison to the likes of James I, Charles I, Charles II and William III.
There have been some embarrassments in the Hanoverian line, of course. George III, a bipolar personality most likely poisoned to the point of hallucination by various eighteenth century remedies for his alternating bouts of mania and depression, went mad as a hatter. His fits of raving lunacy, triggered by the stress of sundry tragedies such as the loss favored toddlers from his vast brood of fifteen children or little annoyances like losing the American continent to a bunch of upstart colonials, have become the stuff of legend, not to mention major motion picture box office. And while Queen Victoria and her German consort, Franz August Karl Albert Emanuel, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, did a jolly good job, her son, Edward VII, was a rake and a wastrel of the first water. It was not for nothing that they called him “Dirty Bertie” – he has been linked to over fifty known mistresses, including one whose liaisons precipitated a divorce scandal with a Member of Parliament. He sired numerous bastards, consorted with legions of expensive prostitutes and is reputed to have fabricated for his use a custom-made “sex chair” which would allow him to engage in intercourse and other acts of erotica with two or more women at once. Fortunately, he was only King of England for ten years – after waiting sixty years, as Prince of Wales, for Queen Victoria to die. Sound familiar? The part about waiting sixty years, that is. Right – thought it might.
Then there was Edward VII’s grandson, Edward VIII, who fancied women with boyish figures, fell for a married social climber from Baltimore named Wallis Simpson, and was decidedly fond of the Nazis. Even more fortunately for England (and the rest of the world, it turned out) he was only King of England for ten months. And, of course, there’s Berties’s great-grandson, Prince Andrew, who, thank God Almighty, will never, ever be King, and should probably avoid travel to the United States, lest he find himself clapped in irons for doing as his great grand-pa-pa did, but with teenaged girls. Considering these facts, one wonders – could there be something… genetic… afoot? In what subsequent generations will blithering insanity, uncontrollable debauchery or a taste for goose-stepping dictators emerge in the House of Hanover? Nur die Zeit kann es verraten.
On the whole, though, England’s imported pet German royals, whose actual, proper family name, by the way, is Mountbatten Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, not “Windsor,” have been pretty good at the monarchy business. That certainly goes for the late Queen Elizabeth II, who was, it is said, a grand old gal with a heart of gold and a great sense of humor who lead England from Churchill and Stalin to Brexit and Putin; from Truman and de Gaulle to Biden and Macron; from black and white Pathe newsreels of her coronation to 8K full-color quadrophonic coverage of her funeral on the Internet. She saw the Cold War from its infancy to its doddering end; she saw the Western Alliance nearly end during the Suez Canal crisis; she saw the world nearly end during the Cuban Missile Crisis; she saw England win the World Cup; she saw the Berlin wall go up and she saw it come down; she saw men walk on the moon; she saw Argentina invade the Falklands and her Royal Army and Navy get them back; she saw the Communist Chinese take over the Crown Colony of Hong Kong; she saw convicted terrorist Nelson Mandela go to prison and she saw him become President of South Africa; she told the band to play The Star Spangled Banner after 9/11; she had stables full of the finest horses on the planet, and more cute, adorable little Welsh Corgi doggies than you could shake a stick at. What can you say but – Wow! What a stonking royal reign! Damen und Herren, Hut ab Königin Elizabeth die Zweite! Das ist wirklich eine beeindruckende königliche Frau! Drei Hoch auf das Haus Hanover! For the moment, anyway.
I ruminate on these topics not only because of her recent passing, but also because, today, after working a respectable ten hour day at my office in Washington DC and driving home, righteously exhausted, to my house in Great Falls, Virginia, the moment I plunked myself on the living room couch, I received a telephone call from Buckingham Palace. And yes, I will confess, no matter how tired I might be, if I am there when that happens, damn me if I let the call roll over to voice mail.
Voice: Hello? Tom Collins? This is Buckingham Palace.
Tom: So my Caller ID tells me. With whom am I speaking?
Voice: I’m… ah… Percy Petgrand… um… personal engrosser to His Majesty, Charles III.
Voice: I copy out his dictation in a big round hand, you see. It’s an ancient post here at the Palace.
Tom: Strange I’ve never heard of it, “Percy.”
Voice: Oh, you would be surprised at the number of obscure positions there are here at the Palace.
Tom: No doubt I would. Has anyone ever told you that you sound exactly like His Majesty?
Percy: Oh, my no, of course not. Although, in fact, it would be a great breach of royal protocol if anyone here at the Palace would ever venture that observation.
Tom: And I suppose it would be even a greater breach of royal protocol for the King to pick up the phone at… what is it over there in London… one-thirty in the morning, and call a commoner in America, wouldn’t it?
Percy: Yes, indeed, Mr. Collins. It most assuredly would. Please, tell me, is the resemblance in our voices really all that strong, do you think?
Tom: All I can say, sir, is that the resemblance is positively uncanny. In any event, what can I do for… I guess… Buckingham Palace?
Percy: You would be doing it for His Majesty, Mr. Collins. He directed me to call you.
Tom: May I ask where he got the telephone number he gave you?
Percy: Ah… He told me he got it from Jane Hartley.
Tom: Really? I must remember to thank her. So what is it I can do for His Majesty this evening – or, in your case, this morning?
Percy: Well, as you are most likely well aware, His Majesty’s mother was extremely popular with the British people.
Tom: Evidently. As she said, she knew she needed to be seen to be believed, and obviously she did an excellent job of that: practically everyone in the United Kingdom saw her plenty and believed in her intensely.
Percy: Ah, yes, how true. But unfortunately, His Majesty has not enjoyed as much popularity as she.
Tom: As much? I know it’s only 2022, but so far, that has to be the understatement of the century! She’s barely in the ground – or should I say, crypt – and already the hoi polloi are calling him “Charles the Turd.”
Percy: Oh, my God! Are they… really?
Tom: You bet, “Percy.” But don’t tell the King, okay? No reason to hurt his feelings, know what I mean?
Percy: Ah… yes… that is… no, we wouldn’t want… to do… that. Um… what do you suppose might be the… cause?
Tom: Are you kidding? What’s up with you, “Percy,” have you been living the Palace basement for the last thirty years? Tell me – who was even more popular than His Majesty’s mother?
Percy: Elton John?
Tom: Oh, Jesus have mercy! Diana, Princess of Wales!
Percy: Oh… oh, yes, of course.
Tom: And what did His Majesty do when he was Prince of Wales?
Percy: Well… quite a few things. He he promoted a number of humanitarian and charitable causes… he propounded important ideas concerning the environment, he…
Tom: He broke Diana’s heart!
Percy: I beg your pardon?
Tom: You heard me – he used Diana to breed him an heir and a spare while he ran around with Camilla Parker Bowles, having her do all those naughty things with him that Diana couldn’t even imagine, like strapping on a…
Percy: Sir! That is the King of England to whom you refer!
Tom: And caress my fundament with an iced champagne-soaked ostrich feather if I’m wrong!
Percy: What! Who told you… I mean, I’m shocked, Mr. Collins, that you would suggest such a thing!
Tom: Let’s get real here, Percy. If His Majesty wants to increase his popularity, the very first thing he has to do is send Camilla on a Commonwealth good will tour – by herself – on an itinerary that comprises some, shall we say, appropriate destinations.
Percy: Such as what?
Tom: First of all, put her on a British Airways flight – tourist class, so she can meet and mingle with His Majesty’s adoring subjects – to Ottawa, and then right onto a puddle jumper – no receptions with the Canadian Prime Minister, no state visit; she goes straight to the airport at Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. From there, she and her security detail, the poor devils, do a bus tour of places like Fort Providence, Nahanni Butte and Toad River until they get to Aklavik, where you fly her out of there from Freddie Carmichael Airport to Fairbanks, Alaska. From there she goes straight away to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and does a Range Rover tour of every village in the backcountry, then takes a ferry from Mabaduan to Somerset, Queensland, Australia for another bus tour through the Northern Territories and Western Australia, visiting places like Petermann, Kaltukatjara, Paraburdoo and Nanutara until she reaches Perth, where she immediately flies out for a visit to Diego Garcia. After that, it’s off to the Ngorongoro Crater, the Kingdom of Eswantini, and South Georgia Island, then a backwoods tour of Belize, then a visit to Kiribati, and so forth, so that it takes her at least fourteen months. And make sure the world knows exactly how remote, insignificant and uncomfortable those places are for her.
Percy: Why… that’s… abominable! Barbaric!
Tom: So was the way His Majesty and Camilla treated Diana. Listen, “Percy,” Camilla Parker Bowles in 2022 is about as popular as Anne Boleyn in 1533, okay? And if his Majesty wants to ever become popular with the British public, somebody has to be punished, and it obviously can’t be him.
Percy: I see. Well, such a suggestion must be the subject of some very… serious… prior… deliberation before being seriously considered.
Tom: Well, according to you, “Percy,” His Majesty requested my advice as to ways he can escape being a loathsome pariah to his people, and that’s my first recommendation. The second concerns Meghan, Prince Archie and Princess Lilebet.
Percy: Oh, my goodness. What about them?
Tom: His Royal Highness should invite them to Windsor Castle and let Archie and Lilebet be seen on BBC television playing with their cousins George, Charlotte and Louis.
Percy: Um… at the moment, given the… family situation, I think His Majesty would find that suggestion highly… problematic.
Tom: Well, “Percy,” you should tell him that if they want to preserve the monarchy, now that Grannie’s dead, everybody needs to get over that stuff, and quick.
Percy: It’s just that… oh, how shall I put this… due to their mother’s… shall we say… exotic genealogy, Archie and Lilebet are… as it were… um… possessed of a significant degree of melanin, you see, and… it’s not so much his Majesty’s concerns in such matters, mind you, but…
Tom: All the old retainers in the dead Queen’s Royal Household dislike black people.
Percy: Oh, dear! Is there really any need to be so… direct about it, Mr. Collins?
Tom: Yes, there is. And I advise that if the King sincerely wants to enhance his popularity, he should announce exactly what I suggested and sack anybody who objects straight away, no matter how long they hung around with his Mum. And he should make it clear that no sub rosa racism will be tolerated by anybody else who remains.
Percy: Good Lord, Mr. Collins! I’m not sure you fully comprehend the enormity of the organizational upheaval you are suggesting. And besides, His Majesty has already sacked over one hundred employees at Clarence House. Surely, that indicates His Majesty’s sincerity about streamlining and downsizing the monarchy.
Tom: No it does not. First of all Clarence House doesn’t count – it was His Majesty’s former residence while Prince of Wales. Secondly, what he did, and when he did it –during the Queen’s funeral, for God’s sake – just makes him, and Camilla for that matter, look like couple of heartless tyrants. And as to sacking the racists at the Palace, may I ask, would you prefer a societal upheaval that results in the end of the monarchy altogether?
Percy: Really? Do you assess the situation to be so essentially dire as to portend that?
Tom: Absolutely. And while we’re on the subject of British racism, what about that twenty million pound loan that the Crown took out in 1835 to compensate British slave owners for their “property,” the one which the people of the United Kingdom didn’t manage to pay off completely until 2015?
Percy: Oh, that. Well… what about it, indeed?
Tom: I also strongly recommend that His Majesty begin a program of reparations to Commonwealth countries such as Jamaica that were victims of colonial racism for a period of over four hundred years. And His Majesty can start by calling for an investigation and accounting of the massive wealth accumulated by those slave owners and their descendants, with a seventy percent surtax on all of their current wealth, effective immediately thereafter, to be paid as part of those reparations. What do you suppose His Majesty will do when you tell him I suggested that, “Percy?”
Percy: I… er… um… ah… that is… I… suspect he will be… speechless. But… won’t that make a number of people living on their hereditary wealth rather…. upset?
Tom: I should hope so. But believe me, it will make him much more popular in the Commonwealth, as well as effectively derailing the anti-monarchy movement for at least a decade, if not until the end of His Majesty’s reign. Now, to return to the issue of His Majesty’s promises to reform the monarchy, I suggest that, in addition to reducing the number of official members of the Royal Family, His Majesty should also assign each remaining adult member a portfolio of responsibilities, and each of those should be associated with a set of initiatives those Royal Family members must lead, each initiative having concrete, measurable goals, the achievement of which should be based on a set of realistic timelines.
Percy: Excuse me, Mr. Collins, but are you suggesting that members of the Royal Family be… assigned work?
Tom: Justifying their incomes in terms of real life achievements advancing the United Kingdom will go a long way to increase His Majesty’s popularity, I guarantee. And wouldn’t stop there – His Majesty should conduct annual performance reviews with each of them.
Percy: As if… my God… they were some kind of employees?
Tom: Exactly. Servants of the People of Great Britain, just like His Majesty. Why should he be the only one of those in the Royal Family? And speaking of the Royal Family, let’s not leave out the little lords and ladies: in the tradition of summer computer camp or math camp, where American parents send their children to learn something useful, I suggest His Majesty send Royal Family children to live with working class families for three weeks a year in places like Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester or Leeds, where they will participate in training programs for skilled trades, like plumbing, carpentry, building, welding, textiles, sheet metal fabrication, vehicle maintenance, solid waste management, sanitary engineering, electronic assembly or machine tool manufacture.
Percy: The children of titled people learning how to… make things?
Tom: Or learning how to milk cows, drive tractors, dig potatoes, keep bees, shear sheep… there are plenty of honest British occupations they can be trained in. It will give them some perspective, shall we say, when they return in the fall to Eton, Harrow, Benenden, Ampleforth, or whatever. And the people will love it!
Percy: I’m just not sure that His Majesty would be… comfortable with that sort of thing.
Tom: Will he be more comfortable with a bunch of idlers who hang around with decadent, corrupt billionaires and behave like Eurotrash? Because that’s what the British people think of their aristocracy, and His Majesty must, absolutely, must change that perception if he wants to become popular. And while we’re on the subject of Royals who behave like trash, if His Majesty wants to gain popularity and preserve the monarchy’s image, he needs take off that secret pressure his mother’s Palace placed on Scotland Yard not to prosecute Prince Andrew.
Percy: And let that go forward? Good Lord, man! It will be an immense scandal!
Tom: No, sweeping Prince Andrew’s conduct under the rug is the immense scandal. Seeing that he is brought to justice is what the British public wants. Even we Yanks can see that, and all the way from across the bloody pond, no less! And His Majesty’s popularity, as well as the reputation of the monarchy, would be greatly enhanced, were it come to pass.
Percy: Well, the Prince has already paid quite a bit of money for what he did, you know.
Tom: He’s also rich – and rich people paying a fine or a lawsuit settlement doesn’t cut any ice with the plebeians. They won’t be satisfied until they see some actual punishment.
Percy: Oh, dear… what would you suggest, locking him up in prison? That hardly sounds feasible.
Tom: No, obviously, he couldn’t be put in gen-pop. He wouldn’t last a week. But you could lock him in the Tower of London for a few years.
Percy: No, no, I couldn’t possibly… uh, I mean… His Majesty would never do that.
Tom: Okay, how about something else that is suitably royal. Give him a choice: either he could walk barefoot in the snow from the Palace to St. Paul’s Cathedral dressed in sack cloth and ashes through a gauntlet of eighty vicars flogging him with birch branches; or, he could accompany Camilla on that Commonwealth goodwill tour.
Percy: Oh, my God! I’m certain, Mr. Collins, he would opt for the sack cloth and the flogging any day.
Tom: And who could blame him?
Percy: Well, Mr. Collins, your remarks certainly demonstrate that you don’t pull any punches, as you Americans put it. It will be very difficult, however, for me… um… I mean… for His Majesty, to… bring any of your recommendations to fruition.
Tom: In response to that, “Percy,” I would say that if His Majesty has any better ideas for becoming popular with his subjects and preserving the British monarchy, he ought to get cracking with them like a house on fire, as you Brits put it, because right now, it’s Evil Queen Camilla, the Other Woman Who Destroyed Beloved Princess Diana, and her husband, Charles the Turd.
Percy: Oh, please, don’t say that anymore.
Tom: Okay. Anything else I can do for His Majesty?
Percy: Ah… no, I suppose not.
Tom: Please give him my regards when you brief him on our consultation, “Percy.”
Percy: I think you can be assured of that, Mr. Collins.
Tom: And let him know, if he wants any further advice, whether through you, some other Palace flunky, or in person, the consultation will be billed to the Palace at my usual rate.
Percy: I will be certain he knows that. And Mr. Collins?
Percy: I most definitely am not a “Palace flunky.”
Tom: Mr. “Percy Petgrand,” at this point, I am most definitely certain you aren’t even real.
Tom: Cheerio, Your Majesty, it’s been a long day, and I’m off to pour a glass of single malt scotch. Good bye!