THE LITERARY MEERKAT: Howard Denson

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The Rare and Remarkable Elizabeth II ©

Posted by Howard Denson on September 14, 2022 at 2:45 PM

By HOWARD DENSON

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I was saddened when news came that Queen Elizabeth II had died at the age of 96. She had been around so long that she almost seemed a member of the family, and I’m sure that many Brits and a fair amount of Americans felt that way.

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I should point out that she and I did have something in common. She was the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, whereas I am the great-grandson of Queen Victoria Lollar O’Rear (who, alas, died at the age of 28 in 1897, leaving behind two girls and two boys).

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Elizabeth belonged to the Great Generation and lived a worthy life, as she did her duty until she died. I mused that, when she was meeting the newly designated Prime Minister, Liz Truss, two days before her death that she may have been like my beloved grandmother, Clare O’Rear Stephenson. who made it to 91. Her smart-aleck daughters began calling their mother “Mammy” because she would admire a family member’s baby and say, “Give me some Mammy sugar” and kiss the baby on its neck. In her later years, when Mammy had a visit from one of her children, grandchildren, or close friends, she played the role of an animated and healthy woman. But when the visit was over, she often had to stay in bed for a day or two to recharge her batteries.

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It’s not surprising that the media covered the many tributes to the queen's life but then turned its attention to a fair amount of carping, some of it being silly, historically flawed, or simply tacky. A few examples:

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• Some complained about the twelve days of mourning, arguing that they should get on with it and enough grief is enough. They overlook the rituals associated with the deaths of presidents, premiers, and monarchs . . . and they feel they should have the right to tell people how long their grieving process should last.

• Some faulted the monarchy for the U.K.’s history of slavery.

• Others faulted the monarchy for the U.K.’s mistakes during colonialism.

• Some would fret about how much power she actually had.

• Oh, yes, they’d also take a dig about her performance during the Princess Di troubles and her death.

• Now that the Queen is dead, it’s really time to abolish the monarchy.

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People process her life and its end as if Elizabeth was part of a soap opera, with heroes and villains, desires and dislikes, and pro’s and con’s of decisions that various characters make. We might want to excuse this tendency because the Windsors have been subjects of such TV series as The Crown and The Royal Family, and films ranging from The King’s Speech to bio-pics of Maggie Thatcher or others. Elizabeth behaved herself and did her duty, unlike David (a.k.a. Edward VIII), who was foolish enough to throw away the crown and sympathize a bit too much with the Third Reich. She saw her introverted father do his duty. Bertie (a.k.a. George VI) stuttered and smoked too much, but a king’s gotta do what a king’s gotta do. Others simply couldn’t keep their pants on.

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Americans often view celebrities as part of a national soap opera (e.g., reality show “stars” to actors to rockers and athletes). We devote too much attention to wondering if She and He will actually get back again and will rehab work this time.

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Yet for all of our supposed knowledge about Elizabeth II, we hear that no outsider really knew the real person. In that respect, she was like Ronald Reagan, who had a public persona but a wall that concealed the real Ronald. That so baffled Edmund Morris that he fudged on writing the presidential biography. We didn’t end up with a volume that equaled his excellent biography of Theodore Roosevelt. Metaphorically, he punted on first down by using a fictional device of an observer trying to get an insight into the young actor and eventual politician.

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We probably don’t want to consider that the persona we build and parade before others for decades really IS the person we are. (Have a cuppa and debate the matter with your chums.)

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Elizabeth was remarkable in the degree to which she kept her opinions to herself and let an aura of mystery follow her around for 96 years. Many political and public figures lack this ability.

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In the U.S., POTUS #45 gave us the ultimate example of a narcissistic public figure who craves the spotlight with constant tweets or spontaneous remarks to reporters. As a sideshow barker and a sleazy wheeler-dealer, #45 will do say anything and take shortcuts to seal the deal, apparently unaware that his tweets and on-camera remarks are kept and thrown back at him whenever his lies are noteworthy.

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He left us with no sense of mystery and dignity, except for observers wondering what makes a person continuously act that way.

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Machiavelli in The Prince advised the up-and-coming leaders to assume a persona of seeming virtue. His advice is often reduced to “the means justify the means,” which is not what Machiavelli wrote. He warned the prince-to-be that others were watching and to mind how his acts were perceived.

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Back when British monarchs held life-or-death power, Elizabeth I understood that she had to check regularly with her subjects. Her successor, James I (whose team revised the Bible) got into his mind that the king was God’s anointed and he could damn well do whatever he pleased. Unfortunately, this “wisest fool in Christendom” taught this doctrine to his son, Charles, who persisted in believing that whatever he did was right and proper. His foolishness resulted in Parliament chopping off his head about 140 years before the French snicked off the head of Louis XVI.

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After a dalliance with a commonwealth under Cromwell, the Royalists and the general public wanted a return to the good old days, but with some safeguards. They restored a Stuart to the throne, but Charles II was keenly aware that Parliament called the shots and, if he got too big for his wig, he could end up minus a skull.

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His brother, James II, came to the throne with too much enthusiasm for Catholicism. When push came to shove, he skedaddled and Parliament welcomed the protestants William and Mary (James’ daughter). Over three centuries, the main minister became known as the Prime Minister, with the first “modern” version of that being William Pitt the Younger under George III.

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Slavery goes back thousands of years, but in the U.K. the industrial-agribusiness variety of slavery largely took place under the leadership of Parliament and the prime ministers. The royals in the 1700s didn’t directly own slaves (unlike our later early presidents), but they invested in companies that relied on slave trade. The abolitionists (from common folks) opposed the peculiar institution. We pay homage to William Wilberforce, a member of the House of Commons, for his decades-long persistence in getting the slave trade stopped and shortly before his death the abolishment of slavery itself in 1833.

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The English colonies date back to the days of monarchs with fairly absolute power, but colonialism for the U.K. really kicked into high gear thanks to the moneyed class. This certainly included the royals but was dominated even more by bankers and speculators. They established the Virginia Company of London, the East India Company, and other private organizations. They had one goal: make money, lots of it.

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Transgressions, atrocities, and incompetencies occurred so much under the private companies, the British administrators, and the military that any MEGA movement to Make the Empire Great Again would have to whitewash the negatives like mad.

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The point? It was not Elizabeth II’s responsibility (nor within her power) to right the wrongs of colonialism.

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The current syllogism in many venues is this:

 

• So-in-so is a great person.

• Great persons have power to do things.

• Such-and-such needs to be done.

• So-in-so isn’t doing it.

• Therefore, So-in-so is a pathetic excuse for a human being.

 

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Those on the far left and right often make those arguments.

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As critics gripe that it’s time to end the monarchy in the U.K., we hear very little debate, at least in the U.S., about some rationale for keeping the system:

• Tourists are attracted to Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guard, the Tower of London, the tours of Windsor Castle, and the like. London doesn’t need its version of Disney World since it already has the equivalent.

• The crown owns practically all of the properties that they occupy, and people erroneously assume that making the U.K. a republic would automatically free up capital.

• The crown has extensive employees that it pays for.

• The crown has millions/billions but often in property that can’t be sold. However, if the monarchy were abolished, Charles III, in theory, would have the option of selling Buckingham Palace to, say, the Blackstone Group, which might convert it to a more upscale Motel 6.

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Even as a constitutional monarch, Charles III will be challenged to match or even approximate the track record of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor.

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She was, after all, one rare and remarkable human being.

 

Categories: The Human Comedy or Tragedy

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