The real George III

Before he died aged 44 (probably of a pulmonary embolism, poor chap), Frederick, Prince of Wales, compiled a list of precepts for his son, the future George III. ‘Employ all your hands, all your power, to live with economy,’ was one. ‘If you can be without war, let not your ambition draw you into it,’ was another. The result of such sensible parentage is that today, about the only things we know about our third-longest-reigning monarch are that his nickname was ‘Farmer George’, that he lost America, and that he went bonkers, providing a lucrative franchise for the significantly more famous playwright Alan Bennett. This — as Robert Hardman’s charming,

Drama queen

God, what a dusty old chatterbox Schiller is. Like Bernard Shaw, he can’t put a character on stage without churning out endless screeds of cerebral rhetoric. But unlike Shaw, he has no sense of humour, nor any instinct for the quirks and grace notes that create a personality. Mary Stuart is a psychological drama with a single issue. How soon, and with what political consequences, can Elizabeth execute her treacherous cousin Mary? Schiller’s characters sound and feel identical: super-brainy, highly confident know-alls who treat each problem like a gang of Chancery briefs discussing a particularly knotty insolvency case. Director Robert Icke’s regimented production imposes high-street fashions on England in the

Put out more flags

Did you know that 190 out of 200 nations in the world have either red or blue on their flags? (The wheel in the middle of India’s flag is blue, for example, and the Vatican flag has a red cord hanging from the keys.) Did you know that four of those 190 — Andorra, Chad, Moldova and Romania — have pretty much the same blue-yellow-red tricolour? Or that the stripes of the French flag are not of even width, but are proportioned 30-34-37? It’s an optical illusion: if the red, white and blue are of equal breadth, the flag looks curiously unbalanced. These are among the facts that you won’t

Long life | 17 November 2016

I started watching The Crown, the £100-million television series on the early years of the Queen’s reign, on Netflix but turned it off during the second episode because I couldn’t bear the endless coughing by her father, George VI, as he died of lung cancer. The coughing, performed with eager realism by the actor Jared Harris, who played the king, was made harder to bear by the fact that he kept on smoking at the same time. The link between cancer and smoking may not then have been established, but it is well known now; and exposure to both at the same time is not for the squeamish. For me,


At the Queen’s Coronation, the Duke of Northumberland carried the Sword of Mercy called Cortana. I mention this for three reasons: by way of a holiday, since it is as far from the American elections as we can get; because I am worried that the sword might not be carried at the next Coronation; and because I was surprised to find the word cortana in the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary. The OED does not include proper names, so in 1893, when it reached the letter C, it pretended that cortana was a common noun. It notes that the sword has no point and that its name comes simply from Latin

Introducing Jeremy Corbyn’s new spokesman: the ex-Labour aide who called the Queen a ‘scrounger’

Although Jeremy Corbyn managed to survive the Queen’s Speech relatively unscathed last week, his republican beliefs are likely to be called into question once again thanks to a new appointment to his press team. Steerpike understands that Matt Zarb-Cousin has been chosen as the winning candidate to fill the ‘leader’s office media spokesperson’ vacancy first advertised last month. Cousin — who currently works as a consultant for the Campaign for Fairer Gambling — is an interesting choice given that he is already a familiar name in Labour circles thanks to an incident that occurred when he worked as a staffer for Andy Slaughter. In 2012, to mark the Queen’s 60 years on the

How to save the monarchy

On 21 April Queen Elizabeth II marks her 90th birthday, the first of our reigning monarchs ever to do so, and it will be a very happy occasion, just as her Diamond Jubilee was in 2012. Five years ago there had been a more sombre milestone for the queen’s eldest son, Charles, Prince of Wales. He passed the mark of 59 years spent as heir to the throne set by his great-great-grandfather, Victoria’s eldest son, the Prince of Wales who became King Edward VII in 1901. The prince will be celebrating his mother’s birthday as enthusiastically as anyone, while oppressed by unmistakable frustration. He’s now 67; the Queen’s mother, the

Spectator books of the year: Richard Davenport-Hines on a real flirt of a book

Laurence Scott’s The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World (Heinemann, £20) is the year’s most surprising book. I expected a dour, lumbering tract about the dehumanising influence of new technologies, social media and information overload. Instead, I found a real flirt of a book. It’s full of impish gaiety, elegant and lithe in its language, providing intellectual ambushes and startling connections. It examines our evolving notions of publicity, privacy, time-wasting, frivolity, friendship, allegiances, denial, escapism and squalor in the internet age. The teasing, wary optimism is bewitching as well as informative. The little volumes of the ‘Penguin Monarchs’ series (£10.99 each) will be a matchless collection when

Will the free speech lobby accept Jeremy Corbyn’s right to be a republican?

On Wednesday night, Jeremy Corbyn brought to an end one of the most undignified sagas in recent politics, cobbling together a shuffled compromise on his induction into the Privy Council. The Privy Council, as we’ve been told so often now, is the body of senior politicians that is allowed to receive security briefings. Membership would have required Corbyn – the life-long republican –  to vow ‘not to know or understand of any manner of thing to be attempted, done, or spoken against Her Majesty’s person, honour, crown, or dignity royal’. Did he kneel, bob, or grab the royal paw in an firm egalitarian handshake? Does it matter? Meanwhile, America’s college campuses remain

The royal road to peace

Watch the videos of 1950s Iraq on YouTube and you glimpse something close to an idyll. It’s true that Pathé News was not big on gritty realism, but history relates that here it was not using a heavily rose-tinted lens; Hugh Trevor-Roper even went so far as to describe Iraq at the time as a Levantine Switzerland. Or you can go to Google Images, tap in ‘1960s Afghan women’ and be offered photographs of a mixed university biology class, and others of young women with short skirts, long hair and smiling faces. This was life under the kings, and knowing what followed is enough to make a grown man weep.

Long life | 23 April 2015

There are already people camping outside St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, to await the birth shortly of another royal baby, the second child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It is hardly a very exciting event. Babies are born all the time, and there are already quite enough descendants of the Queen to ensure the survival of the Windsor dynasty on the throne of the United Kingdom for a long time to come. Yet there are many people in this country for whom this commonplace event will be more thrilling than the forthcoming general election, even though it could presage the dismemberment of the country itself. The British monarchy continues

Pure word music

Since his debut with the Booker-nominated The Restraint of Beasts in 1999, Magnus Mills has delighted and occasionally confounded his loyal readers with a series of novels and short stories about projects, schemes and expeditions that never quite seem to pan out. In these situations, his characters tend to dither politely between cautious enthusiasm and mild exasperation. It’s the deadpan comedy of thwarted logistics. Similarly, a person could drive him or herself slightly mad trying to puzzle out exactly what Mills’s books are about. Do they have a hidden meaning? Are they parables, allegories, fables? One often has the sense that the author knows but enjoys not telling. What matters

As a republican, I used to look forward to Charles III. Now I’m scared

When republicans meet, we console ourselves with the thought that our apparently doomed cause will revive. The hereditary principle guarantees that eventually a dangerous fool will accede to a position he could never have attained by merit, we chortle. With Charles III, we have just the fool we need. I don’t laugh any more. Britain faces massive difficulties. It can do without an unnecessary crisis brought by a superstitious and vindictive princeling who is too vain to accept the limits of constitutional monarchy. If you want a true measure of the man, buy Edzard Ernst’s memoir A Scientist in Wonderland, which the Imprint Academic press have just released. It would

Elizabeth is about to become Britain’s longest-reigning queen. Here’s how she’s changed monarchy

On 24 September 1896 Queen Victoria was given a present of a paper knife, and expressed herself ‘much delighted’. The handle was set with overlapping gold coins each bearing the portrait of a British monarch. The uppermost coin bore an image of Victoria herself; the one beneath it, that of her grandfather George III. As Victoria recorded in her journal, 23 September 1896 was ‘the day on which I have reigned longer, by a day, than any English sovereign’. She had exceeded George III’s record of 21,644 days on the throne and, unlike her grandfather, remained of sound mind (if you overlook her taste in interior decoration and her views

The Queen’s achievement

There will be much reason to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen becoming the longest-reigning monarch in British history. Although it has been well over a century since monarchs have had regular, direct, significant influence on political decision-making in Britain, the influence the Queen has on the tone, values and sense of identity of the nation is still profound. And even politically she can make subterranean waves if she wants; her enjoining of the Scots to ‘think very carefully’ before casting their ballots in the independence referendum was taken as implying that she was opposed to it. (Rightly, it seemed, when David Cameron’s remark about her ‘purring’ with satisfaction at the

Palace intrigue – is Her Majesty’s press corps on the verge of revolt?

Her Majesty’s Loyal Press Corps are on the verge of revolt. Minutes of a recent meeting of the Press Gallery Committee – seen by The Spectator – show that a Republican motion to ditch the Loyal Toast (in which Westminster hacks and assembled guests, from the PM down, raise a glass to the British sovereign) is being considered. Minutes from the July meeting of the Committee state: (ii) Loyal Toast: the committee considered the proposal to discontinue the loyal toast at Press Gallery lunches which had been deferred from a previous meeting. After discussion it was agreed that the chairman should take soundings amongst colleagues and report back to the

My ghosts of Athens; a shooting and a royal wedding

Athens This grimy semi-Levantine ancient city has its beauty spots, with childhood memories indelibly attached. There is a turn-of-the-century apartment building across the street from my house where in 1942 or ’43 I watched a daughter and wife scream in horror from their balcony as three nondescript assassins executed a man as he bent over to get into his chauffeur-driven car. His name was Kalyvas and he was a minister in the Vichy-like Greek government of the time. He was bald and from my vantage point I saw the three red spots as the bullets entered his skull. His wife and daughter wore black from that day onwards. The daughter

What about August 1714? 300 years since the Hanoverian accession

The centenary of the start of the first world war is getting much more attention than the tricentenary of the accession of George I, which also falls this week. As far as I can tell, no new biographies of the first Hanoverian king are imminent, whereas books on the great war are pouring forth. You can see why. The replacement of a plump, if benign, queen by an ‘obstinate and humdrum German martinet with dull brains and coarse tastes’ (Winston Churchill’s words), who presided over a huge financial scandal and died unlamented after a short reign, need hardly detain us. But forget the royals and focus on what we might

Queen refuses to play Game of Thrones

The Queen has visited the set of Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland. Frankly, she did not look that enamoured with the Iron Throne. Much to the disappointment of the gathered media, she did not sit down. In fact, she seemed indifferent to the hype…

The Middleton double standard

I imagine there are very few people who haven’t heard about the Duchess of Cambridge’s clothing catastrophe in Australia. And, of course, this isn’t the first time that the duchess has had clothing issues. The wind has caused her to come a cropper at a variety of events – and who could forget the furore when the French edition of Closer ran pictures of her walking around topless while on holiday in the South of France. But can you imagine what people (and the press) would be saying if, rather than it being Kate, it was her sister, Pippa, whose pants (or lack thereof) had been on show for the