Queen summons crisis meeting to save monarchy
Citizen or subject? Republic or monarchy? Questions that were almost unthinkable in the UK, a few months ago, are now being openly discussed. Can today’s urgent royal summit steady the ship?
Sandringham is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as “Sant Dersingham”, the sandy part of Dersingham, subsequently shortened to Sandringham. William the Conqueror needed it to help pay for an army to protect his throne.
Today, 934 years later, Sandringham is stage to another attempt to shore up the British throne. The Queen has summoned her two immediate heirs, Prince Charles and Prince William, to sit down with Prince Harry. Meghan will phone in from Canada.
The Queen has ordered them to come up with a solution to the crisis that has been tearing the royal family apart for the past five days and that is now threatening the cause that she regards as the sacred purpose of her 93-year life: the preservation of the British monarchy.
Picture the scene. A woman often called one of the greatest queens in history, the longest-reigning British monarch of all time, acutely aware of the frailty of the institution that she still leads.
Her heir, aged 71, furious with his own youngest son for undermining his grandmother by going public about his decision to give up royal duties and start a new life.
His heir, William, aged 37, bruised and angry, a few hours after being quoted across the front page of the Sunday Times saying: “I've put my arm around my brother all our lives and I can’t do that anymore.”
Prince Harry, 35, resentful at his hostile treatment by the palace machine and hurt by the fact that his photo was missing from the Queen’s desk when she recorded her Christmas message.
Meghan, 38, a strong and successful woman, the first mixed-race member of the royal family in modern times, already living in voluntary exile in Canada and determined to take her husband with her.
There is the official business of the day. Will the Duke or Duchess of Sussex keep their royal titles? Where will Archie be raised?
How will they become financially independent? Will they stop getting money from Charles?
How will they divide their time between Britain and Canada? Will they get to keep Frogmore Cottage? How much official work will they do?
What commercial deals will they be allowed to forge? Who will pay for their security?
And there is the nuclear option that the Queen and her heirs fear most of all. The papers are reporting this morning that Meghan and Harry are threatening a tell-all TV interview if today’s talks fail.
“I have some idea of what might be aired in a full, no-holds-barred, sit-down interview and I don’t think it would be pretty,” writes Tom Bradby, ITV’s royal correspondent, in the Times.
The monarchy in the UK depends for its existence on the support of the public. The Queen remains hugely popular. But even she came close to losing the country’s backing after the death of Princess Diana, 23 years ago.
There was a period of relative calm. But recently it has all started to go wrong again. First, Prince Andrew horrified the palace with his decision, last year, to give an interview about his friend, the billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
Now, imagine if Harry and Meghan were to go into detail about what they feel was their mistreatment. How easy it would be for the tradition-steeped behaviour of the royal family to come across as racist, sexist and not fit for purpose in the modern world.
The public debate is already hostile. One Labour leadership candidate, Clive Lewis, has recently called for a referendum on the future of the royal family. “I’d rather see us as citizens than subjects,” he said.
That is why experts believe that even someone with the immense experience of the Queen is on the verge of panic. “She is the one who knows better than any of them how dangerously explosive this could be,” said one source. “She is fighting for the monarchy’s survival today and she will fight tooth and nail.”
She believes that constitutional monarchy is the best form of government. As long as she is alive, there will be no question of replacing it. But she also knows that more and more people are beginning to question whether it should last beyond her.
What do you think? Would you rather live in a monarchy or a republic? Would you rather be a subject or a citizen?
King vs President
A subject, say most British people still. This does not deny us citizenship rights. It merely adds to them. Monarchy represents continuity with the past. It embodies the idea of national identity and gives people something to believe in. Soldiers don’t go into battle in the name of Boris Johnson, they do it for Queen and country.
A citizen, say others. It is the 21st Century after all. None of us should be “subjects” today. There are more important things to spend money on than feudal stipends and more important things to think about than the soap opera of a privileged out-of-touch family.
- Would you be happy to live under a presidency – as, for example, in the USA?
- Answer honestly, do you feel more positively towards the Queen than you do towards any major elected leader? Why do you think that is?
- In pairs, choose three countries and then research how the head of state of each of those nations comes to power. Write up notes so that you can make a presentation to the class.
- Imagine the UK under King William III, 20 years from now. Write a short story about a meeting between him and his brother Harry and what they say to each other.
Some People Say...
“Citizens are not born, but made.”Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), Dutch philosopher
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Queen Elizabeth II has ruled for 66 years. According to YouGov, only 20% of the British population are against the monarchy. Countries like the USA and France previously revolted against monarchs – they are now republics with elected presidents. The royal family is estimated to bring more money into the country than it takes from the taxpayer.
- What do we not know?
- What any alternative system to the monarchy might look like in the UK. Whether the royal family might continue in a virtual republic as a purely ceremonial remnant of its former glory, as some have suggested. Whether the British honours system (the knighthoods and medals that are handed out every year) is losing its popularity as well.
- A country house in Norfolk that is the Queen’s private residence.
- An organisation, often founded for a religious, educational, professional or social purpose.
- Frogmore Cottage
- The house near Windsor recently renovated for Harry and Meghan to live in.
- Clive Lewis
- Labour MP for Norwich South.
- Constitutional monarchy
- A form of monarchy in which the sovereign exercises authority in accordance with a written or unwritten constitution, that hands over powers to a representative parliament of the people.
- A state which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.
- A member of a state owing allegiance to a monarch or other supreme ruler.
- A legally recognised national of a state or commonwealth.
- Feudalism was a combination of legal and military customs in medieval Europe during the 9th and 15th Centuries. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour. Today, “feudal” is used to describe something considered outdated.
- Can be fixed, regular sums paid as a salary or as expenses to a public official.