‘Enough to kill any man’: the trials of serving Queen Victoria

Monarchy was as characteristic of the 19th century as nationalism and revolution. The Almanach de Gotha was a better guide to power than the Communist Manifesto. Constitutional monarchy, in particular, was considered the panacea of the age. On the first morning of her reign, Queen Victoria announced: ‘I have promised to respect and love the constitution of my native country.’ The Times declared her ‘steeped in the spirit of the constitution’. Gladstone said: ‘All the principles of the constitution have been observed by the Queen… in a manner more perfect than has ever been known.’ In reality, as Anne Somerset’s magnificent, disturbing and innovative history of Queen Victoria and her

Why we need an Elizabeth and Philip museum

Driving up Royal Deeside last weekend, I spotted a harvest under way on that magical Hobbit-esque green/gold/purple hillscape. It all came flooding back. One year on from the death of Elizabeth II, it’s the sight of the tractors lined up next to the A93 which remains among the most enduring images. It wasn’t just that they all had their shovels dipped in tribute, like the dockers’ cranes saluting the Havengore as it carried Churchill down the Thames in 1965. It was the fact that they were all spotless. At the busiest time of the year in this lush agricultural belt of Aberdeenshire, farmers had paused their harvesting, taken their machines

The wisdom of Rod Liddle

New York At a chic dinner party for some very beautiful women, your correspondent shocked the attendees by quoting an even greater writer than the greatest Greek writer since Homer – Rod Liddle – and his definition of why royalty matters: because it is ‘anachronistic and undemocratic’. Hear, Hear! A particularly attractive guest, Alissa – on a par with Lily James – took me aside and asked me if I really believed what the greatest writer ever, Rod Liddle, had written and I had just quoted. She also asked whom I had in mind as the greatest Greek writer since Homer, and I answered: ‘Moi.’ I then sat down and

Crowning moments: coronations in the movies

Before Westminster Abbey opens its doors on Saturday, what better way to get in the spirit than to explore the storied history of coronations in the movies? The sheer spectacle of a monarch’s formal coronation has an inherently cinematic aspect – and it’s one that motion pictures have long exploited. Here are ten films to savour before the event: The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King (2003) – NOW, Amazon Rent/Buy Impressive as King Charles III’s coronation is sure to be, it’s unlikely to match the crowning of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) as King Elessar in the final instalment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. After

In defence of privilege

Privilege at birth displeases wannabe types, and the subject came up rather a lot last week, especially in the Land of the Depraved, where the Bagel Times regards monarchy as anti-democratic and the cause of most human ills, including the common cold, cancer, pimples, varicose veins and even athlete’s foot. In my own alma mater, the University of Virginia, founded by the greatest of all Americans, Thomas Jefferson, some physically repellent creeps have demanded his name be taken off the beautiful neoclassical buildings he designed. The trouble is that Tom, as we called him in my college fraternity, was a bit anti-monarchical himself, having sided with and advised certain colonists

The monarchy will survive Diana’s death (1997)

Today marks 25 years since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Andrew Roberts wrote The Spectator’s cover story that week, republished below and available at our digitised archive. The story that ended so horribly in that functional concrete Parisian tunnel early on Sunday had begun with a television show in 1969, when the victim was seven years old. In contradiction of Walter Bagehot’s advice, daylight was let in on the magic of the monarchy. Before 1969, all had been deliberately obscure. Who now remembers Commander Colville? For over two decades, Commander Richard Colville DSC was press secretary, first to George VI and then to the present Queen. In Ben

Nationalise the royal collection!

The royal collection consists of millions of objects whose purpose and ownership are sometimes obscure. Does the collection serve the monarchy, and if so how? Or is the care of the collection, and of the palaces that contain it, the sacred duty of the Queen? Housed throughout the royal palaces, it includes works held by the Queen in trust for the public as well as those owned personally by Elizabeth Windsor, such as valuable paintings by Monet and Paul Nash that were bought by the late Queen Mother and not taxed as part of her estate. This is the sort of confusion that needs to be cleared up to prevent

70 years on: the making of Queen Elizabeth II

Princess Elizabeth was 25 when her father died. She was on the first leg of a Commonwealth tour and she spent the night of 5 February 1952 at Treetops Hotel, set in the branches of a large fig tree in Aberdare National Park in Kenya. ‘For the first time in the history of the world,’ wrote the British naturalist Jim Corbett, who was a guest at the hotel at the same time, ‘a young girl climbed into a tree one day a princess and, after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen.’ As interest in Queen Elizabeth II

The delicate business of monitoring the monarchy

This very readable account of relations between the British intelligence services and the Crown does more than it says on the tin. Although subtitled ‘Spying and the Crown, from Victoria to Diana’, it quite properly begins with Queen Elizabeth I and the intelligence network masterminded by Francis Walsingham, whom MI6 regard as their historical progenitor. It also quite properly makes the point that ‘spies and royal statecraft were episodic and opportunistic partners’. Unlike other major powers, Britain had no permanent intelligence services until 1909. There weren’t even any permanent military intelligence organisations until the late 19th century. Such networks as there were came and went with war, or its threat,

The enduring power of the monarchy

Fourteen prime ministers; 18 general elections; seven changes of government. Even in a stable country like Britain it is remarkable how much political water has flowed under the bridge in the 69 years since the late Duke of Edinburgh became consort to Elizabeth II. Britain has gone from a country of outside lavatories to one of conspicuous wealth, from an independent nation to a member of the EU and back again, from an empire to a champion of global trade. Some see the past seven decades as a period of national decline, yet the quality of life has improved hugely. In 1952, life expectancy at birth for Britons was 69;

War of the Worlds is as bad as Doctor Who

Edwardian England deserved everything it got from those killer Martian invaders. Or so I learned from the BBC’s latest adaptation of The War of the Worlds (Sundays). Everything about that era, apparently, was hateful, backward and ripe for destruction: regressive attitudes to women and homosexuality; exultant white supremacy (cue, a speech from a government minister on the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race); a general prevailing bone-headedness and stuck-upness; stiff, stuffy, relentlessly brown clothing with superfluous belts; and as for those ridiculous bristling moustaches… Still, I don’t think H.G. Wells would have been totally appalled by this travesty of his 1898 potboiler. Wells was, after all, a man of the left

The truth about the Cambridges’ anniversary video

In celebration of their tenth wedding anniversary, the Cambridges have released a 40 second vignette of their painfully British existence. It’s all Barbour jackets, laughing children and windswept beaches. It is, in other words, a John Lewis nightmare. But who wants an aspirational royal family? That’s kind of the point isn’t it, that they’re not like us? No, apparently the focus groups have spoken and Britain wants a set of Boden models to represent the nation. The Cambridges’ performance is arguably just as confected as anything Harry and Meghan said on Oprah’s sofa Why can’t we just have a nice formal photo of the family together with the Queen? I want

The madness of Charles III

Republicans hate to admit it, but the stability brought by the long reign of that most careful of monarchs Elizabeth II has helped Britain manage the decline from empire to middle-ranking power surprisingly well. As the Treason Act of 1351 is no longer in force, and to ‘compass or imagine’ the death of the sovereign no longer carries the death penalty, I can state the obvious. Her Majesty is 92. She is entering her last days as Brexit threatens the peace in Ireland and the union with Scotland, and divides England and Wales into hostile camps. A vigorous PR campaign is underway to persuade us that now is not the

The Spectator Podcast: plots, politics, and the pains of leadership

This week, Tory in-fighting comes to the fore, but could the party be even more divided than we thought? Meanwhile, across the Pond, Donald Trump continues to cause backlash. Is he to blame for an ideological shift to the left in the country? Thankfully, our own Head of State isn’t on Twitter, though that doesn’t stop people speculating about her Majesty’s personal opinions. Is the Queen a Eurosceptic? First, the Conservative Party is taking up arms against each other. This week, back room plotting came to the fore with the Brexiteer group the ERG openly discussing Mrs May’s demise and Boris Johnson dominating headlines. But James Forsyth reveals in this

The Spectator Podcast: Bluffers and Royals

We often complain that our politicians are all bluffers who know very little about a lot. But is the very structure of our political institutions at fault? And speaking of bluffers, Theresa May is so far successfully fudging her way through the Brexit negotiations, but can she survive after March 2019? And last, maybe all this politics has made you long for the good old days of monarchy. With Prince Charles’s art collection on exhibit, we talk about how it reflects Charles’s One Nation Toryism. PPE – that notorious Oxford degree that ostensibly teaches its students Philosophy, Politics, and Economics – and apparently, how to govern a country. Or at

The genius of constitutional monarchy

George Orwell famously wrote that an English intellectual would rather be caught stealing from the poorbox than be seen standing to attention for God Save the King. Such intellectuals must have had a terrible time last weekend when much of the nation’s gaze was fixed on the wedding of two young people who are part of an institution we think of as quintessentially British. The newlyweds have shown early commitment to those qualities we celebrate as particularly British: duty, charity and the service of others. Whether it is the two tours in Afghanistan served by Prince Harry, or the charity work that the couple has embraced, the hallmarks of the

The Spectator Podcast: The New Arrival

In this week’s podcast, we discuss Meghan and the monarchy – is Meghan Markle good news for the Establishment? And what are we to make of her anyway? We also discuss the potential for Tory rebellion on the customs union, and ask, does economic research back up higher government spending? As the royal baby is born earlier this week, all eyes are on the monarchy. But he’s not the only new arrival to the family in recent times – Meghan Markle will be formally joining the monarchy in less than a month’s time. So what are we to make of the new Princess? For this week’s cover, Jenny McCartney thanks

Drama queen | 7 December 2017

If cinema is propaganda, Elizabeth II can be grateful to it. Film is a conservative art form, and almost nothing has attempted to thwart or mock her. (The Daily Star once printed that Princess Margaret would appear in Crossroads, but Crossroads was not cinema, and it was not true. Instead the award for tabloid lie of the year was named the Princess Margaret Award.) I could not find an art film with the Queen weeping under a table in her nightgown, although she did appear in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988), and was mounted by Leslie Nielsen. She also appeared in the disaster film 2012

Out of sorts at the RSC

The RSC’s summer blockbuster is about Queen Anne. It’s called Queen Anne. It opens at the Inns of Court where drunken wags are satirising the royals with a naughty sketch about boobs and beer guts. Everyone on stage pretended this was hilarious. A few audience members did too, out of politeness. The principal characters arrive with their dramatic goals on display. Queen Anne wants to rule wisely. Her general, Marlborough, wants to conquer widely. His wife, Sarah, wants to help her monarch to rule wisely and her husband to conquer widely. And Sarah’s scheming cousin, Abigail, wants to befriend the Queen so that she can marry a steady salary. These

Prince William is just a chip off the Charles block

Generally, I am the last person to advocate modesty, sobriety or duty. But then, I have been supporting myself financially, with no assistance from any other source – spouse or State or taxpayer – since I was seventeen years old, and am free to do as I please. The same, sadly, cannot be said of Prince William, who swerved this year’s Commonwealth Day service in favour of dad-dancing, Jägerbombing and high-fiving party-girls on a four-day jolly with his mates in Verbier. And this after spending a surprisingly modest thirteen days performing his official duties this year.  It’s no secret that I was one of the late Princess of Wales’ most