This is the text of my address to Deakin University's annual forum: ‘Yes we’re still a monarchy but it’s not my fault’
Thank you and I trust you find the following comments inane yet not un-aspersive. My name does not imply an imprimatur for the monarchy which, according to noted Englishman Christopher Hitchens, is ‘Britain’s favourite fetish’. Kingsbury just happens to be the moniker of a village in Somerset with an old church, three pubs and an ancient lock-up.
And speaking of prisons, if I am about to commit lese majeste, it is worth remembering that until towards the end of the 19th century, speaking poorly of the monarchy would have had me charged with treason and duly hung, eviscerated and chopped into pieces which, depending on your perspective, might be an improvement.
The current monarch is known to you as Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Mountbatten-Windsor - Elizabeth II. She is known as Brenda to readers of the magazine Private Eye, ‘Lilibet’ as a child, ‘Gertie’ to her friends and as ‘Cabbage’ to her husband.
The Queen was born in 1926 and acceded to the throne on February 6, 1952 on the death of her father, George VI. That's right - she has spent 58 years on the throne and was Queen before two of the three most recent British Prime Ministers were even born. This seems to confirm Malcolm Muggeridge’s observation that: ‘A ready means of being cherished by the English is to adopt the simple expedient of living a long time’.
It is therefore useful that the English instinctively admire any person who has no talent and is modest about it.
Indeed, the English like to think that incompetence is the same thing as sincerity.
In the defining Australian text ‘The Lucky Country’, Donald Horne identified Australian culture as broadly egalitarian and reflecting an element of a ‘fair go’. As good Australians, we therefore fondly embrace the hereditary, class-based British royal family and the Queen as the Australian head of state.
From the Queen’s own official website:
‘In all her duties, she speaks and acts as Queen of Australia, and not as Queen of the United Kingdom.’
And lest we be in any doubt about it, the Australian Oath of Allegiance is to the Queen and her successors
I, dot dot dot...., do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen dot dot dot..., Her heirs and successors according to law. SO HELP ME GOD!
This last bit would appear to rule out all us atheists and devil worshippers.
Royal heirs and successors seem to get our allegiance except where they were assassinated by royal rivals or retired to scandalously marry American divorcees. Otherwise we would still be swearing allegiance to the descendants of the murderous 10th century Athelstan, the first ruler of what we now know as England.
Once upon a time, people were indeed willing to kill to become king or queen, and often did. They were the Rottweilers of authoritarian politics. After several generations of in-breeding, all we are left with is the Corgis.
On the subject of Corgis, the Queen has, as monarch, had more than 30 of them, averaging around half a Corgi a year. This is considerably less than, according to Gareth Evans, Deng Xiao Peng’s three puppies a day.
The Queen currently has five Corgis, with most of her dogs descendent from the Corgi named ‘Susan’ given to her by her father on her 18th birthday. The Queen also has four Corgi-Dachshund-cross dogs – known as ‘Dorgis’.
As well as the United Kingdom, the Windsors were also monarchs of Ireland, until 1949 or 1937 depending on how one interprets the Irish constitution, India until 1950 and Pakistan until 1956. It seems they have each taken the advice that ‘the cure for admiring the monarchy is to go and look at it’.
The Australian head of state is paid from the British public purse but, interestingly, is exempt from paying taxes. Not like Kerry Packer didn’t pay taxes by rorting the system, which we all admired and thought very clever, but through legislation. Arranging not to pay taxes through legislation is extremely clever.
In 2007-8, the Queen received £40 million from the ‘civil lists’. The salary of the monarchy is NOT a reward for achievement: it is in the nature of a warm personal gesture to the queen by herself.
The Crown Estate is one of the largest property owners in the United Kingdom, worth over £7.3 Billion. Yet recently, the Queen asked the government for a poverty handout to help heat her palaces. Royal aides were told that the £60million worth of energy-saving grants were aimed at families on low incomes and if the money was given to Buckingham Palace instead of housing associations or hospitals it could lead to ‘adverse publicity’ for the Queen and the government.
Under the Act of Settlement, the Australian monarch is prohibited from either being Catholic or from marrying a Catholic. This law conflicts with Australian anti-discrimination laws, which also prohibit arrangements under which males have precedence over females.
One assumes that being of a different ethnic background is also a problem, with the Queen Mother, who in 1990 upon returning from a European summit, said: ‘It will never work, you know . . . It will never work with all those Huns, wops and dagos.’
When her daughter married her nephew Prince Philip, things didn’t improve. Prince Philip enquired of a British student in Papua New Guinea: ‘You managed not to get eaten then?’ To a student in China he said: ‘If you stay here much longer you will go home with slitty eyes.’ And then there was his observation that electrical equipment with tangled wires in a factory looked ‘as though it was put in by an Indian’.
It appears that royal racism is intergenerational, with Prince Harry referring to others not quite as he as ‘Paki’ and ‘Raghead’. This has since seen these descriptors declassified as offensively racist terms.
Nearly every family of a decent size and with – how shall we put this – overlapping lines of descent - has at least one relative who's a little strange. Maybe it's great-aunt Enid and her collection of carefully mounted cat skeletons, or second cousin Cyril’s extensive research library on famous serial killers.
This is not much of a problem, so long as one does not to get cornered by them at family reunions. But what happens when the family are hereditary rulers? What tends to follow is a reign of grotesque excess, blood, and terror, or at least public displays of stupidity and vacuity.
Eventually King Cyril the Horrible or Queen Enid the Loony will leave the throne and that should be the end of the problem, right? Not necessarily. In fact, not even probably.
Bad craziness in the ruling line rarely appears in isolated cases. Chances are the whole family line is just as tainted, which means that sooner or later - probably sooner - along will come Queen Enid II and King Cyril III, and the whole mess will start up all over again.
There are several reasons why royal families are prone to madness.
1. Genetics: That means excessive inbreeding and you're not getting rid of it unless your society is advanced enough to have genetic engineering to deal with the problem — in which case, why would you still have a hereditary monarchy? Stop living in the dark ages, people. Or at least stop marrying within the family.
2. The Family Curse: Worse than lousy genes, someone has cursed the royal line! This can be more difficult to deal with because even if you're careful about the inbreeding the curse doesn't care. It may even spread out to people who marry into the royal line and cause them to go mad as well. It also means that you might not solve the problem by just picking a new family to rule over you - they're just as likely to get the curse as soon as they take power. You could try having a parliamentary system and see how the curse deals with that – and hope it doesn't spread out to cover them as well.
3. A spiritual imbalance brought on by upsetting the planetary equilibrium. This works just like a curse but, rather than deliberate magic, this is the result of unintentional cosmic bad vibes.
4. Like the Corgis, the family has just gotten too used to being pampered and in power, and each generation has gotten a little more corrupt and decadent until finally everyone starts to notice.
5. We expect the monarchy to be ‘divinely touched’ and require the royal family to be at least a little bit loopy.
6. The culture itself is so hard on its rulers it means that being a bit loony is just a survival strategy.
7. They're Just Nuts: which is anything not covered by the preceding.
My philosophical colleague, Professor Ly Tin Weedle, has theorised on the physical underpinnings of royalty, arguing that the only thing known to go faster than ordinary light is ‘monarchy’. He reasoned this because you can't have more than one king, because there is no gap between kings as when a king dies the succession passes to the heir instantaneously. His theory has it that the atomic particles Kingons and occasionally Queenons therefore travel faster than the speed of light and transmit monarchy. Succession sometimes fails, however, if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, also known as a republicon.
Professor Weedle’s ambitious plan to use his discovery to send messages, involving modulating the signal through the careful torturing of a small king, was never fully expanded because, at that point, the bar closed.
So, yes, we’re still a monarchy, but it’s not my fault!