O.H.M.S. Monday to Friday

Farewell Elizabeth II, our Queen and Sovereign.

I like to use it now and then, I stick it in the subject field on my email sometimes to lighten the atmosphere. I tell my son Bryce I’m On Her Majesty’s Service, me and James Bond. It’s only a generation or so ago public servants stopped using the acronym O.H.M.S.  Only by convention though – nothing’s actually changed in the position, role and purpose of the British monarch in Australia since Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne in 1952. I just skimmed the constitution and can confirm it is indeed a fact that Monday to Friday I am in the service of the Queen.

“Ascended” is a definitive word here. The Queen’s legal status in Australia is ‘monarch’ or ‘sovereign’. Check the words out in the dictionary and you’ll find that Queen Elizabeth II is in fact the person who has supreme rank, power and authority, she is above all others in character, importance and excellence, she is independent of outside authority, the supreme ruler, greatest in degree, superior to all others. The legal dictionary in fact says the sovereign is “possessed of supreme power”.

That is a pretty extraordinary position to be in you’d have to say. In fact in literal terms there is no greater honour. There are many out there who would even say it’s a bit extreme. So it is worthwhile taking a few moments to consider how it is the sovereign came to be the sovereign.

Most obviously the Queen is the Queen because her dad was King George VI. George VI became King because his elder brother Edward VIII was forced to abdicate when he decided to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. It was the doctrine of the Church of England that once divorced a person could not remarry, and the Monarch is also sovereign over the Church of England. It was seen to contravene the laws of succession and therefore by the terms of the Statute of Westminster (1931) required the assent of the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliaments of the Dominions including Australia. When Australia’s Prime Minister along with those of Great Britain, Canada and South Africa opposed a change to the law of succession (the Irish Prime Minister was indifferent and the New Zealand Prime Minister had never heard of Wallis Simpson) Edward VIII rightly pointed out that there were “not many people in Australia” and their opinion didn’t matter.

Deeming such a marriage to be in contravention of the laws of succession was stretching a long bow. What was left unsaid, at least publicly, is that Edward VIII had been bonking Mrs Wallis since long before she became a divorcee and that’s where the real moral imperative had been breached. Also she was an American – simply not of sufficient stock. Edward VIII had no chance.

Both George VI and Edward VIII became King because their dad was King George V. During World War I George V was forced to drop the royal house’s German name ‘House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha’ in favour of a newly invented English name ‘House of Windsor’, and also to drop his German titles – partly to distance Britain’s very German royal family from the wartime enemy but also in an endeavour to closer affiliate himself with the British people after his first cousin Tsar Nicholas II of Russia had been overthrown. For this reason he was also unable to offer sanctuary to his first cousin Nicholas II, who less than a year after being forced to abdicate was taken into a basement and summarily executed along with his wife and three daughters, having been separated from his remaining two children whose bodies were only recently identified in the Ural Mountains.

George V became King because his dad was King Edward VII. Edward VII became King because his elder brother Albert Victor died of penumonia in 1892, and also because he himself escaped an assassination attempt in Belgium in 1900 (in protest against the Boer War), and also because his mum was Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria became Queen because her grandfather was King George III, because her dad’s three older brothers all died without legitimate sons, and because her dad Prince Edward died in 1820 when she was an infant also leaving no sons. The term ‘legitimate’ is interesting here. Victoria’s uncle, King William IV had a loving partner Dorothea Bland with whom he had ten children. She was an Irish actress however, and before William IV a single mother. The consummation could never be married.

Queen Victoria survived a number of assassination scares and also a growing Republican movement. She blamed the death of her beloved husband Albert on the burden of worry he carried over her son Prince Edward’s philandering, a conflict which interestingly precipitated over yet another Irish actress.

Queen Victoria was the last British Monarch of the House of Hanover. Hanoverian sovereignty began with King George I upon the death of his second cousin Queen Anne in 1714. Queen Anne had more than 50 closer male relatives who were prohibited from taking the Crown because they were Catholic. Queen Anne was the last sovereign in the line of the House of Stuart. The House of Stuart, initially the royal house of Scotland, took sovereignty over a newly ‘United Kingdom’ in 1603 when James VI (James I of England) succeeded his 3rd cousin Queen Eilizabeth I. Queen Elizabeth had imprisoned James’s mother, Mary Queen of Scots, and had her beheaded in 1587.

Queens Elizabeth I and II, Victoria, Anne and a handful of others all became sovereign because they had no surviving brother to become King. Since 1980 a number of European royal houses have dropped male primogeniture – the preferential succession of the eldest male over all other siblings, and it appears we’ve decided the British monarchy should get with the times. No issue got more media coverage in relation to last month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting than discussion surrounding the laws of succession. Everyone appears to be in agreement – preferential male succession is outdated, unfair and it’s time for it to change. It excludes half the population of the world after all.  Um… er… hang on a second…

Yes it is unfair when somebody is excluded from something because of their gender. However to hail this as some sort of ‘moment’ in the cause of equality is hollow when by definition monarchy means the rest of us are un-equal. It is not as though half the population of the world are being excluded from becoming the sovereign. Unless you can call the current sovereign your mother or grandmother – everyone is excluded. As a concept ‘monarchy’ on its own is much more exclusive than male promogeniture. What is the point in doing away with the preference for male heirs when monarchy itself is a much more unfair institution? It is a barren conversation and when enacted the gesture will be meaningless for everyone but the Windsors.

We’re not talking about somebody’s life savings or personal property to pass onto our kids when we die. We are talking about sovereignty over you and I, where nothing qualifies the person other than that a succession of distant ancestors raped, pillaged and murdered their way to the top, followed by a further succession of ancestors who continued to intrigue and murder over several hundred years to maintain privilege which had initially been taken by fear and force, followed by a further succession who maintain their position of privilege through no means other than celebrity hysteria. Literally the British Monarch is the assertion that one individual is superior to all others (you and I) because a distant ancestor murdered an Anglo-Saxon king 945 years ago. It’s preposterous in the true sense of the word. It would be laughable if it weren’t so real. Monarchy is a concept thats days have been numbered since the 18th Century and it is a measure of mass simple-mindedness that celebrity hysteria has sustained this institution into the 21st Century.

Edward I is credited with inventing the ritual “hanged, drawn and quartered”. Edward’s treatment of his kin Simon de Montfort in 1265 is depicted here. But they were different times you say? Exactly.