Queens forever! A modest constitutional proposal

Call me sexist, but I’m against male monarchs.

Put it this way. Imagine if the current jubilee jamboree was in honour of someone like Prince Philip or Prince Charles. The whole thing would be preposterous.

The purpose of a constitutional monarch is to act as a sort of human embodiment of the nation. A kind of living allegory. A real life Marianne, or Britannia. This role is hard enough for anyone to pull off, but particularly difficult for men. You have to be characterless but dazzling, noble and aloof but loveable, serious but humane.

As a lady it is possible, even in the modern era, to be entirely characterless but still to command respect as such an epitome of grace and good sense. For a man to do the same risks ridicule and irrelevance.

When you think about the British kings of the constitutional era, none of them were really popular (arguably with the fitful exceptions of Charles II and George VI). The problem is what you do with your position as a male monarch. There have been three broad approaches, and none of them has worked.

Some tried to use their position to implement their beliefs. This irritates the political establishment and calls into question royal legitimacy: the two James’s, Charles I, William III. Others pursued their pleasures, and invited public disapproval or contempt: Charles II, George IV, William IV, Edward VII & VIII. The rest did nothing and were regarded as colourless bores. You can’t win as a male monarch. Our own Charles looks like being a signed up member of group three, having dabbled with group one in middle age.

The best a constitutional king can hope for is to achieve a sort of dignified lawyerly background presence, but this is terribly vulnerable to the slightest slip up, whether it’s shooting the wrong animal (Juan Carlos of Spain) or straying from the marital path (Carl Gustav of Sweden).

By contrast, the four queens of the era, Mary II, Anne, Victoria and Elizabeth were and are hugely popular. They did very little except to float serenely above the fray, attracting the gallant loyalty and admiration of their subjects. Each acquired virtually demi-god status, upheld with almost mystic fervour by their paladins, poets, politicians and pop stars at home and abroad.

This will be quite beyond Prince Charles. I expect a rash of countries currently quite happy with the Queen as head of state to switch to republicanism as soon as the poor fellow succeeds to the throne.

Can anything be done? Well, there’s a move afoot to change the rules of succession so that the firstborn becomes heir to the throne whatever his or her sex. This is being done on the grounds that the current rule of male primogeniture is discriminatory.  It’s a silly reason to change the rules about monarchy, which is inherently discriminatory anyway. But at least it will have a beneficial side effect, which is to increase the chances of having a queen as head of state.

But I’d go a step further. Why not change to female primogeniture? In other words the mirror image of the current set-up. We should always go with a female heir unless none is available.

This would have two benefits. First, more queens than kings. And second, it would help redefine sexual politics, which has become worrying self-defeating. We feminists could move on from the dead-end of pretending women are just like men, and begin to celebrate the differences between the sexes once more!

PS: just read a list of polls in The Spectator on how many want to keep the monarchy in various European countries:

Denmark (queen): 82%
UK (queen): 80%
Netherlands (queen): 70%
Norway (king): 67%
Spain (king): 65%
Sweden (king): 46%

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One Response to Queens forever! A modest constitutional proposal

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