Crown Imperial

As I write, the Firm has summoned its senior members to an Extraordinary General Meeting at Sandringham, to discuss the disposition of the Dumbartons.

Of the disposition of the Dumbartons, I have no opinion. In, out, half-in, half-out – personally I don’t mind. I flatter myself that, if I found myself in Prince Harry’s shoes, I’d get out and go to Medical School. (Saying that, I doubt if I’d get in now. I’d fail the UCAT –the University Clinical Aptitude Test – and botch my “personal statement”.) Then again, maybe this pious, smug and self-satisfied devotion to sack-cloth and ashes is entirely misguided. If you are born into a position of privilege, perhaps you should accept it and use the power and influence bestowed upon you for the greater good. Perhaps you should do precisely what the royals do, and give your support, and a voice, to charitable institutions.

But this is less about the Dumbartons than the furore that surrounds them. Their announcement that they planned to withdraw from royal duties happened to coincide with the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani, followed in short order by an Iranian attack on a US base in Iraq. The Iranians thought the US were retaliating, and tragically shot down in error a passenger airliner coming out of Tehran, with the loss of 147 lives. A cynic might suggest that all this constituted “a good day for burying bad news”. But far from being buried, the decision of the Dumbartons ran at the top of the news bulletins. The Extraordinary General Meeting was convened pronto, because the disposition of the Dumbartons must be sorted out, not over a period of years, or months, or even weeks, but within days.

Why? Why is this so critical? Why is this an emergency? That is the intriguing question.

I have a special interest in emergencies. In emergency medicine, I and my colleagues were trained to recognise them at the hospital’s front door. We triaged them according to need, in Australia and New Zealand, as follows:

Triage category 1: patient to be seen immediately.

Triage category 2: patient to be seen within 10 minutes.

Triage category 3: patient to be seen within 30 minutes.

Triage category 4: patient to be seen within one hour.

Triage category 5: patient to be seen within two hours.

You may imagine that a cardiac arrest is category 1, and an ingrowing toenail is category 5. In other words, category 5 is not an emergency at all, so that all emergencies need to be attended to within the so-called “golden hour”. Why? Because delay causes harm. The emergency physician works in an environment of deteriorating circumstances. His whole effort is put into reversing, or at least attenuating, deterioration. If he doesn’t start this effort within the golden hour, it may be too late.

You may well imagine that, from the perspective of the emergency physician, the activities of Her Majesty’s Government of late have been completely incomprehensible. It has taken, for example, just over 3 years to restore power-sharing to Stormont. Clearly the collapse of devolved government in Northern Ireland in early 2017 was not an emergency. Again, it took HMG three and a half years from the 2016 referendum to conjure a withdrawal agreement with the EU that could be passed in the House of Commons. No sign of urgency there.

Not that the Ship of State is incapable of moving quickly, when she has a mind. I remember when Mrs Thatcher’s government made a decision to go to war in 1982, the SS Uganda was on a cruise in the Mediterranean with 315 cabin passengers and 940 school children. They were hastily disembarked at Naples and the SS Uganda was commandeered, diverted to Gibraltar, and converted to a hospital ship within the course of a single weekend. The summons to Sandringham conveys a similar sense of urgency. This is a constitutional crisis, just as the relationship between Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson constituted a constitutional crisis in 1936. Churchill supported the king and tried to find an accommodation for his heart’s desire. It would be untrue to say that in this he mistook the public mood. Doubtless he would have followed his lights, regardless. But as Lord Moran, his personal physician told him, he had no antennae. It was Mr Baldwin who realised that the king either had to give up Mrs Simpson, or abdicate. He couldn’t have his cake and eat it. Churchill’s loyalty to the king brought down upon himself much political damage. The Conservative Association at Epping wanted to deselect him. And all the while, Herr Hitler was gearing up for war.

Prince Harry’s namesake, Henry V, mused on the idea of relinquishing kingship. The night before Agincourt:

What infinite heartsease

Must kings neglect that private men enjoy?

And what have kings that privates have not too,

Save ceremony, save general ceremony?

And what art thou, thou idol ceremony?

What kind of god art thou, that suffer’st more

Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?

…’Tis not the balm, the sceptre and the ball,

The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,

The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,

The farcèd title running fore the king,

The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp

That beats upon the high shore of this world –

No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony,

Not all these, laid in bed majestical,

Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave

Who with a body filled and vacant mind

Gets him to rest…

So maybe Prince Harry, like King Hal, is wondering whether it’s all worth the candle. Clearly, judging from the furore, Her Majesty’s subjects think it is. And as with Wallis Simpson, and as with the royal reaction to the death of Princess Diana, it is public reaction that drives the matter. The Firm realises it is under threat. That is why the SS Uganda is en route, full steam ahead, to Gibraltar.

But this is not solely a matter of the Firm’s wish for self-preservation. We need to realise, as the Firm realises, just how critical they are to the continuance of the United Kingdom. It doesn’t matter whether you are, on either side of the Irish Sea, a Nationalist or a Unionist, and it does not even matter whether you are a Royalist or a Republican; the fact is that the Monarchy is the only thing that keeps the whole rickety shebang of the United Kingdom on the road and in one piece. That is why the role of Prince Harry has become such a critical emergency. Monarchy is either magical, or it is emperor’s clothes. What is on the agenda of the Extraordinary General Meeting of the Firm?

One item of business:

What exactly constitutes…

A little touch of Harry in the night.


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