Watching the Royal Wedding? Rebel isn’t. John Newsinger, author of ‘The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire’, gives his take on the horrible history of the house of Windsor.
There is something particularly depressing about seeing large numbers of working people, many who have hard lives, work long hours for little money, suffer under the lash of austerity, but nevertheless enthusiastically celebrate the Royal Family. For the great majority of people, real wages have been falling throughout the last decade, working conditions have been worsening and housing conditions have been deteriorating. At the same time, rents have been remorselessly rising. And yet many of these same people are apparently devoted to a family of dodgy Royal parasites who lord it over them, have never experienced material hardship and never will, all because of an accident of birth.
The birth of yet another Royal, Prince Louis, followed by the Harry Windsor and Meghan Markle wedding on 19th May are merely the latest episodes in this dispiriting soap opera. The wedding is going to be one of the most expensive ever, costing over £32 million of which some £30 million will be contributed by the British taxpayer. The cake alone costs some £50,000 and estimates of the wedding dress price go as high as £400,000. This great public display of inherited privilege and gross inequality will be relentlessly celebrated by press and television with truly sickening amounts of journalistic grovelling. And just as we have recovered from all this, it will no doubt be followed shortly by the death and costly state funeral of Philip Mountbatten, Elizabeth Windsor’s husband and a reactionary bigot and racist. There will be yet another tremendous media onslaught commemorating the wonderful ‘selfless’ contribution this wholly unsavoury individual has allegedly made to British society, and an unthinkable amount of public taxpayers money spent furnacing the event.
What is important to recognise though, is that popular Royalism is not a natural phenomenon or something written into the genes of the British people. The deference shown to the Royals is not an inevitable or inescapable aspect of British national character. Indeed, it is always worth comforting oneself with the useful reminder that in 1649 our forebears actually beheaded Charles Stuart and proclaimed a Republic (those were the days!). Far from being ‘natural’, popular Royalism is something that has to be very deliberately cultivated and is only maintained by a massive public relations machine. Obviously the Royals themselves have a vested interest in this, but so does the British ruling class as a whole. The values of deference and hierarchy, with ordinary people knowing their place and acknowledging that there are people — namely posh people — who are better than us merely because of an accident of birth, are very useful in a class society.
How has this popular Royalism been sustained? A good starting point is to consider the background to the system of patronage surrounding the Royals, the so-called ‘honours list’. Interestingly, this system was first mooted as part of the British Monarchy’s response to the Russian Revolution. With growing popular unrest in Britain and with the downfall of the Romanovs in Russia, then King George V was persuaded by his courtiers that something radical had to be done. He had watched with increasing alarm as his Russian cousin was stripped of his throne and this was widely celebrated in Britain at the time. He was acutely aware that his German origins made him vulnerable, indeed he had actually changed the family name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the much more English-sounding Windsor. Now he was urged to try to build up support for the Monarchy by creating an ‘honour’ that could be given to ordinary people, to commoners. This, he was told, would attach people to the Crown. George certainly did not like the idea. It went against every prejudice he held dear. Still, these were desperate times and on 4 June 1917 the Order of the British Empire (OBE) was created ‘For God and the Empire’. Although widely derided at the time, over time it has proven to be a tremendous public relations success.
The courtier arguing most forcefully for the OBE was Lord Esher, who had been warning of the Socialist threat to the Monarchy for some years. He was a paedophile, something that was known about in court circles. Indeed, after the War, he was involved in one of the great Royal cover-ups of the time, when his good friend Lord Harcourt attempted to rape one of a number of illegitimate children of the previous King, namely twelve year old Edward VII. Harcourt was persuaded/bullied into committing suicide, something that was kept quiet for years, and Esher was dispatched to remove his enormous collection of child pornography! Was there an upper class paedophile ring with court connections at this time? The evidence is not there to go that far, but then it wouldn’t be. Nevertheless, that one of the principal architects of the OBE was a paedophile is something that certainly deserves to be more widely known.
Skeletons in the Closet
The monarchy found itself in serious trouble again when Edward VIII succeeded to the throne in 1936. The conventional story is that he had to be removed from the throne because he was determined to marry an American divorcee, a Mrs Simpson. This is so much royalist nonsense that has successfully romanticised a wholly disreputable episode in the history of the Royal family. He was removed from the throne because his Nazi sympathies, sympathies that were enthusiastically shared by his American mistress, were considered to be a threat to national security by the Conservative government of the day. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin actually authorised MI5 to keep Mrs Simpson under close surveillance, had her phones tapped and most incredibly had the King’s phones tapped as well. In 1936 the Conservative government was having the phones at Buckingham Palace tapped because the King was known to be a Nazi sympathiser. Edward VIII was not forced to give up his throne because of his attachment to Mrs Simpson, but because of their mutual attachment to Adolf Hitler. Once again, this is something that deserves to be more widely known.
The Duke of Windsor, as Edward became, never repudiated his Nazi sympathies. Indeed, when the Second World War broke out, he continued to maintain a treasonous correspondence with the Nazis, hoping to be restored to the throne in the event of a Nazi victory. Once the War was over, the British government that knew all about his relations with the Nazis, and was determined to prevent it becoming public knowledge. MI6 was charged with securing and suppressing all of the relevant correspondence and the man they put in charge of the operation was a certain Anthony Blunt. Blunt was, of course, a Russian agent, so that both the British and Russian governments knew all about the Duke’s treachery, but it was successfully kept from the British people.
One recent history of British intelligence actually states that the correspondence included the Duke’s urging the Nazis that the way to bring the British to terms was to bomb the country. If this had come out in 1945 then the demand that the Duke of Windsor should be hanged would certainly have been irresistible, so it was suppressed. This act of suppression began under the Churchill government and was continued under the Attlee Labour government. No British government was prepared to damage the Monarchy by holding a former King to account. Anyone else would certainly have been hanged. He was kept in luxury for the rest of his miserable life.
Blunt was still to be of service to the Royal family. In 1963, the ‘Profumo affair’ was about to break with the revelation that Stephen Ward had pimped for members of the upper class. He had an exhibition of his art about to go on show, including a number of sketches of Prince Philip. Blunt was sent to purchase them to avoid any embarrassment. There seems little doubt that once Philip is safely dead and buried there are going to be any number of embarrassing stories that will come out day regarding this particular individual.
But what of Harry and Meghan? The first question to ask is whether she has any idea of the kind of family she is marrying into? And how does she feel about marrying someone who only got into Sandhurst by having his art teacher do much of his A Level work for him? When this actually came to light, he was not thrown out of the Army, was not stripped of his A Level and the wholly corrupt and disreputable school that had been a party to this scandal, Eton College, was not shut down in disgrace. Why are we not surprised? And does she know about how he turned up to a party when he was twenty dressed as a Nazi? One can only hope for her sake that she not really emotionally involved with this wholly useless individual whose life is just an extended public relations exercise. The marriage seems doomed. I give it two years.