The mask has slipped, and we see the raw power of monarchy. The kings and queens of England haven’t retained a throne for a thousand years by being soft. God’s anointed monarchs have kept their hollow crowns by force and cunning, or they’ve lost them to superior force and cunning.
Last week, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their secession from the monarchy, and that they intended to cash out with their titles, baubles, hereditary perquisites and sponsorship deals intact. Elizabeth II had other ideas. On Friday, the paparazzi at the gate snapped her driving the royal Range Rover with furrowed brow and full warpaint. The queen is 93 years old and has been in the media game all her life. She knows just how much leg to show. The message was, ‘I’m at the wheel now.’
As soon as Harry and Meghan dropped their bombshell, William and Kate rushed to brief their lickspittle media confidants. Harry and Meghan retaliated: both their households are as leaky as a Wellington boot that’s been chewed up by the corgis. But for Harry and Meghan, it’s less Wars of the Roses than Wars of the Poses: they want to look like victims cruelly cast out, not celebs on the make.
Her Maj gave the feuding grandchildren 72 hours to sort it out. On Monday morning, the princes made nice for the cameras, denying there had ever been a rift, that William had given up on holding Harry’s hand or snubbed Meghan, or that Kate had been, as Meghan’s people claim, ‘jealous’ of her. Then Her Britannic Majesty dropped the mike — and the hammer.
The queen says that she accepts Harry and Meghan’s wish to retire from the public royal work that they’d barely started, and decrees that there shall now be a transition period. Megxit turns out to be a lot like Brexit, which starts at the end of January. The moment of liberation is in fact an entry into an interminable and bitter ‘transition period’. This one will go on until the old lady sings — or until her minions have worked out how to completely sever the royal finances from those of Harry and Meghan.
The royals call themselves ‘The Firm’. Like any business, they want to minimize their taxes — allegedly through a number of secret overseas trusts. And while Harry and Meghan have trademarked a woke Pottery Barn called Sussex Royal, the royals have been protecting their brand since 1066. They’ve survived bankruptcies moral and financial. They’ve survived wars and liberal democracy too.
They survived Edward VIII marrying Wallis Simpson and courting Hitler. They’ve even survived the queen’s youngest son Edward getting the family to take part in television game shows, and her second son Andrew allegedly receiving daily massages as a guest of Jeffrey Epstein. They’ve survived Charles and Diana’s public divorce and Diana’s car-crash break for freedom. They’ve even survived photos of Sarah, Duchess of York having her toes sucked by her financial adviser — the sort of thing that people got their heads chopped off for in the good old days.
Through all of this, the queen has protected the brand and played the long game to secure the throne for Prince Charles. She’s cut out Edward, the Fredo Corleone of the family. She’s cut out hothead Andrew, the Sonny Corleone of the family. That leaves Michael, also known as Prince Charles, the one who thought he was meant for something better and then realized that this was his destiny.
Like Michael Corleone, Charles is now trying to go legit. He’s got his own War of the Poses to fight: the one to convince the British public, or at least the media, that the monarchy is worth its wages. He’s slimming down the royal family to the line of descent and forcing all the spare heirs to earn their own living, or at least to soak it off someone other than him. Even if the circumstances aren’t ideal, it suits Charles to cut out Harry and Meghan, and it suits the queen too.
It’s good to be the queen, but it must be miserable to see your family fall apart.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts editor of Spectator USA.