It was an extraordinary weekend. The various spectacles had something for all tastes: pageantry on Horse Guards; solemnity in St Paul’s; the street party of all street parties on the Mall. And there was also food for thought. What does this tell us about the monarchy, and about Britain?
I discussed it with a French friend, abetted by some moderately serious claret. We agreed that France was a monarchy masquerading as a republic; Spain, a republic pretending to be a monarchy. As for Britain, the monarchy is as secure as it has ever been.
The evolution of British institutions regularly refutes Our Lord Himself. It is possible to put new wine into old bottles. Ancient forms change, but the best changes are imperceptible, as they also ought to be when it comes to an ancient building. If some stonework has to be replaced, if parts of the roof need renewing, make the repairs in such a way that nobody notices.
There is one example of a government determined to blunder into radicalism, making a mess, and in so doing proving the wisdom of caution and common sense. In a fit of adolescent constitutional petulance, Tony Blair forced through Lords reform without knowing what he wished the outcome to be. It is still not clear.
Yet my friend and I agreed that there was one threat to the British crown: a lack of self-confidence among some of those charged with guiding its development. In Britain, as in the United States, a lot of semi-intellectuals despise their own country and its history. Easy victims to the infection of wokery, they would like to trash the past in order to sabotage the future. In the UK, though, they have a problem: the monarchy. The weekend demonstrated, to paraphrase Eliot, that history is now and Britain. Although there may be a fair few closet republicans in the Labour party, those of them interested in winning elections understand the need to keep that perversion to themselves.
But some have discovered a means of concealing their true goals while pretending to make suggestions that would help the monarchy work better. We read that there ought to be fewer princes, fewer palaces and less ceremonial. Anyone watching the weekend’s events would surely have understood that this is nonsense. Although the fun on the Mall is part of the picture, monarchy can work only if it is buttressed by grandeur, glory and religion; by a special status for the monarch’s closest relations; by customs and ceremonies that demonstrate the human condition can achieve a secular transcendence. Those calling for a slimmed-down coronation to usher in an Ikea monarchy are merely abolitionists in disguise.
We came to these conclusions while drinking quasi-regal wine. The name Talbot is bound up with the later parts of the Hundred Years’ War. Until his death in battle, John Talbot, sometime Constable of France and eventually 1st Earl of Shrewsbury (the current holder is the 22nd) kept the English cause alive with intrepid generalship which would have won the admiration of Henry V. His name is preserved in Château Talbot. We drank the 2009 which is maturing superbly. After a less distinguished period some decades ago, Talbot has steadily improved.
We also enjoyed its cadet branch, the Connetable Talbot from the same year. Inevitably, it has less depth, but it is a jolly good drop of claret. It helped us toast the Queen and forget the Prime Minister. If only it were that easy to consign him to oblivion.
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