Dysfunctional relatives, dodgy paparazzi deals, B-list TV celebrity, divorce, death, and tragedy: surely Meghan Markle knew what she was getting into when she entered into union with Prince Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor last Saturday? It's not as if the history of the Royal Family is a closely-guarded secret, so what on earth was this clever, ambitious girl “straight outta” Santa Monica thinking?
For cynical Royal watchers (of whom there are many), the dazzling wedding of Harry and Meghan at St George's Chapel, on the grounds of Windsor Castle, including an impressive and impassioned speech about love and equality by American bishop Michael Curry, was a transparent attempt to make the Royals "relevant" again. By hitching Harry to a West Coast actress of African-American heritage the family can claim to reflect the diverse kingdom they Lord it over; their marriage the latest demonstration of a survival instinct which has kept them on the throne while other Royal Houses across Europe were stripped of power, reduced to tokenistic figureheads, and, in some cases, had their heads unceremoniously removed.
As someone brought up in a family which has long been both Left Wing and Republican, I watched the wedding with a mixture of bewilderment and admiration. Who would sleep in a deck chair on Windsor High Street simply to get a glimpse of the happy couple as they sped past surrounded by their security detail? Why fly from distant continents to attend the wedding of someone you've never met? And, more pertinent: how has the Royal Family managed not just to hold on, but thrive, in a modern world that is surely the antithesis of everything they represent?
I recall countless arguments with other progressives when younger in which I argued the UK needed a Republican movement for all the diverse strands of Left-wing activism to unite behind. How could we tolerate the existence of a group of literally entitled people to whom we pay billions in taxes, who wield great influence, if not direct power, whose vast privilege in an era of austerity is surely anachronistic, whose wealth was built on the plundering of the planet—not to mention the subjugation of my own ancestors?
Yet older, wiser heads on what we used to call "The Left" disagreed: there was, they said, no English appetite for removing or reducing the Royal Family, whose head has been monarch since 1953, who is supreme governor of the Church of England and whose image is on every coin, every bank note, every postal stamp. Our armies fight for Queen and Country; the Queen's children and their children enlist in the armed services; serious crimes are dealt with at Crown Court; before every major sporting event the participants sing "God Save The Queen." I sometimes think the real reason we haven't abolished the Monarchy is that it would be too difficult, too much bother, to disentangle our institutions from their influence.
Besides, we've been down that revolutionary road before. In 1649 we executed James I but had no clear idea of who or what would take its place; after civil unrest, the Monarchy was restored in 1660 when Charles II returned from exile and the Royals have reigned supreme ever since. Every major crisis—war, abdication, the death of Diana—has if anything made the monarchy stronger. It's fair to say you don't survive 1,000 years of turbulent history without resilience; our Royals are masters of survival, adaptable, tenacious, somehow able to reflect the common mood while remaining apart, their rifts and flaws mercilessly exposed and lapped up by their subjects yet retaining airs of arcane mystery.
As a Republican I grew to respect the Royals, recognize their virtues and worth to the nation (particularly with regard to tourism), but I also wanted the nation to grow up: to leave behind this ludicrous pomp, these mysterious ceremonies, the swords and scandals, the games of thrones; in a supposed meritocracy, how could their continued existence, let alone influence, be justified?
I remain a Republican, albeit a peaceable one, but I'm beginning to better understand my fellow countrymen and women. We all understand it's a charade; that it's a fairytale world from ancient tales of knights and kings, castles and queens; but that we need that, somehow, in the same way, humanity has always needed stories, myth, make-belief.
It's fair to say Britain hasn't been a happy place these past few years. Inept government (and shadow government); the divisiveness of Brexit; a meanness of spirit with regard to immigrants and the poor; terrorist attacks; a growing unease about our place in the world and Europe; fears for the future of our children and theirs, rising crime, rising intolerance and rising sea-levels which threaten to inundate our islands. We needed a fairytale, and yesterday we got one. Viewing Harry and Meghan in their golden carriage, the sun beaming down on medieval castles, sword-bearing soldiers in red tunics and flag-waving, Commonwealth commoners, I found myself hoping for one thing above all: that the dashing young prince and his clever young princess live happily ever after.
Because sometimes we all need to believe in make-believe.
Mark Liam Piggott
Political Journalist (London )