I think Darwin would have been rather proud of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor. Born to the Duke of York and the former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons, she was ‘delivered’ a senior aristocrat but the top job fell to her. As Machiavelli wrote, ‘fortune is the arbiter of half our affairs’. Her ‘fortune’, or luck as the Italian intended us to understand, was to become Queen.
Had her racy Uncle David not fallen for a serial American divorcee .. well, we all know that bit.
So, on Tuesday, the overwhelming majority of Brits will celebrate her 60 ‘glorious years’. Silly hats, bunting, too much fizz and a surfeit of party cakes will vie with solemnity, church services and the massed ranks of the thinning Red Line, Tars on ships and the heirs to Churchill’s ‘few’, flying over Buckingham Palace.
You pays your money, you takes your choice.
But why? And, more importantly, how?
Whilst HM celebrates those 60 years, there’s a counter argument that mocks, not her, but the institution of monarchy: anachronistic, undemocratic or, as the Guardian’s brilliant cartoonist Steve Bell says, ‘just a bit silly’.
I am not going to go back to Ethelred the Unready, and that lot, but I will start with William the Conqueror. A Norman, convinced the Crown was his rightful inheritance, through a circuitous blood line and a promise from a saintly King, he fought for it when it was denied him. He won, it stuck and he, and his line, started the Tower of London and the Queen’s beloved Windsor.
Later John, who came to an untimely end in the Wash, smashed out of his head on a ‘surfeit of malmsey’ and running away with the Crown jewels, had had to sign away a fair old chuck of the Divine Right of Kings to the meddlesome Barons at Runnymede in 1215 - not a quarter past twelve, as the Americans might think, but just short of 800 years ago.
Henry VII ended the war of the Roses when Richard III, not for want of asking, wasn’t leant a horse. With the skill of a Rothschild or a Rockefeller, he cemented his Tudor dynasty’s rule with rigour, marriages, a navy and pretty brutal taxes.
His son, Henry VIII, created a Church, set a new record for marriages and executions, and shop-lifted the Monasteries out of existence to secure, and pay for, the continuity of the line.
When his only son died without an heir, England welcomed a Queen - our current Monarch’s namesake. When she died, without acknowledged ‘issue’, England turned to a dribbling Scot named James Stuart. Blood line sound - brain, questionable.
A hundred or so years later, Parliament wanted to finish off what remained of the Divine Right of Kings, so precious to the Stuarts; it fought one, arrested him, tried him and chopped off his head.
England didn’t like that and, lo and behold, back the institution, and the Stuarts, came.
When the Catholics rose from their slumbers and sought to put one of their’s back on the throne, Parliament found a Protestant Dutchman, who was of the blood-line, to take over.When the Orange-Stuarts finally ran out, England turned to a blood line link in Germany, or Hanover, to be more precise.
The great Victoria, the only other Monarch to celebrate 60 glorious years, was the daughter of George III’s fifth son - but, in the absence of any closer claimant, that was alright. So ‘alright’ that she seemed to go on and on.Elizabeth II is the sixth monarch since Victoria, via that unpleasantness with Mrs Simpson.The Divine Right’s all but gone; they pay their taxes; women and Catholics are soon to have equality in succession; the fabulous state wealth of the Crown has long since been swapped for the Civil List.So through wars, religious disputes, power struggles with democracy, fiscal acrobatics and more besides, this odd institution has survived because it has evolved. It has heeded the wishes and ambitions of the people it ‘rules’.
If a majority, one day, decides it no longer makes sense, it might go. Or, as I suspect, it will find another twist in a millennium of evolution, to hang on.
We may, one day, prefer the obscene costs of a Presidential election, as in the USA - once a domain of the Crown, of course.
We may decide one of the former greats of the ‘common people’ would make a better fist of it ; President Paddy? President Dr David Owen? President Hezza? Some less crazy than others but it doesn’t cut it, yet.
So, I think Darwin would reflect that the ‘survival of the fittest’ applied to the office of Monarch as much as any other species- the titular head of state survives, shorn of real power yet still overwhelmed with the affection of most of her subjects.
I’ll be at Westminster Hall on Tuesday - four walls and a roof that have seen a lot of this story: from a Monarch’s trial for his life to the lying in State of our current Monarch’s dear mother and father.
I couldn’t think of a better place to be. And, by the way, it is still referred to, even by Parliamentarians, as her Palace of Westminster. There’s supposed to be a tennis ball of Henry VIII’s in the rafters.So, game, set and match - for now - to the Crown.