Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Commenting about Sir Max Hastings on the Monarchy

A fortnight ago The Sunday Times had an article by Sir Max Hastings written in the wake of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s television interview. Now I cannot claim to be a particular fan of Sir Max, and his article made me even less so. His piece can be seen at The monarchy in 2030: Charles III needs the king of all rebrands

In response I have posted a comment about the article on The Sunday Times website and which I am reproducing below:

An article that is both profound and insightful. Unfortunately it is profoundly wrong and the insight is all into Sir Max.

To set out all my criticisms would take too long but his article merely recycles arguments that have been around since the 1960s in favour of “downsizing” the Monarchy, its personnel and resources.

At the heart of Hastings’ case, for all his claims to support our most important institution and expression of national identity, is the wish of some in the political class to deny it all independence or agency. Hence the case presented for a smaller, leaner royal family, for stripping them of semi-private resources such as Balmoral and Sandringham, or transferring the Duchy of Cornwall to civil servants. In that last case would it show any of the vitality and initiative it currently does? I think we know the answer to that. It had worked well enough since 1337 - leave it be. 

The Monarchy under such a model becomes a powerless ornament that we can venerate but not take seriously as a counterweight to over-ambitious politicians. Given the presidential style of the current Prime Minister, for all his bumbling, we need an independent Crown with the appropriate resources. 

The idea of a smaller, more defined Royal Family depended on not losing members who might be expected to carry out duties on behalf of the Crown as older relatives step back after years of support. 

That is now much more difficult to sustain with the withdrawals of the past two years. If the Royal Family are to carry out the sort of patronages and visits here and in the Commonwealth that people do still expect it needs to be of a sensible and practical size. In these matters we could learn from some of the European monarchies, where titles are more standardised, whether or not the individuals are “full time”. There may have to be more “part time” members who can combine an appropriate career in this country with some public duties, supported or remunerated for those as and when necessary. 

Evolution in the life of the Monarchy will come as generational changes occur, but grounded in a long term sense of what is right and proper, not response to an over-hyped interview. Sir Max’s model offers little other than drab limitation - just the sort of thing that feeds the spirit of envy and waspishness that characterises republicanism in a certain misguided minority.

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