“But now I’ll rise to how things have to be.
The Queen is dead; Long live the King — that’s me.”
|Tim Piggot-Smith as King Charles, BBC|
"Mike Bartlett's play is a reminder that, even for Republicans, the Queen's death will loom large." This was the Guardian's comment on Bartlett's 'foreboding' play King Charles III, screened just a few days after a twitter melt-down over a Buckingham Palace press-statement so shrouded in anticipation that the Sun 'newspaper's' website pre-empted the news of Prince Philip's retirement with the announcement of his death. Sometimes you can't help but long for the days when even discussing a royal demise was treason and punished as such.
If you haven't had a chance to see the play (airing on the BBC in the UK and Masterpiece in the US), it is a remarkable thing. Written in blank verse to deliberately underline its Shakespearean-style machinations and betrayals, the play concerns the accession of Prince Charles and the consequent constitutional crisis which develops as he tries to find more meaning than mummery in his role. It is plausibly-played and, since it was written in 2014, seems to have found new layers of meaning as revelations have broken over the 'black-spider memos' and the two princes have spoken publicly about the toll their mother's death has taken.
|The House comes tumbling down, BBC|
Without giving too much away, the plot hinges on the United Kingdom's lack of a constitution and the ramifications of that
if a monarch decides not to play ball. The moment when the Commons realises how powerless they really are against the heavy knock on the chamber door is chilling and was not helped for me by my American husband's response to my horrified outrage: 'that's what you get if you base your country on a gentlemen's agreement.' Given the amount of stick he's taken over Trump and the idiocy of our failure to actually enshrine the "set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed [which] make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is” in writing, I had to suck it up.
|Sophia of Hanover|
Napoleon Bonaparte is considered as the first constitutional monarch as he proclaimed himself as an embodiment of the nation, rather than as a divinely-appointed ruler in contrast to the Divine Right following French Kings before him. The role of the British monarch is understood as a ceremonial and politically neutral one: the current Queen holds weekly (closed and undocumented) meetings with the Prime Minister and can suggest/advise on policy matters and she gives the royal assent to bills and to the appointing of prime ministers but, since the passing of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act in 2011, she can no longer use the royal prerogative to dissolve parliament.
Ah, the royal prerogative - a strange and wonderful beast sometimes exercised by ministers (it was used by Margaret Thatcher to go war over the Falklands) and still available to the monarch (although, obviously, we can trust them not to do anything silly with it). The royal prerogative has been described as a notoriously difficult concept to define adequately (Select Committee on Public Administration, 16 March 2004) and originates in the time of King Alfred as the personal power of the monarch as gifted by God. Curbing the extent of this prerogative in favour of a democratic voice has been a central theme throughout British history and tracing the efforts to stop the monarch dissolving the parliaments trying to stop the monarch is like watching a wonderful game of historical cat and mouse.
|Political Cartoon 1832|