WHY do we need a King? Why does he want so many castles? Why do we have all these ostentatious ceremonial occasions? This is the 21st century, after all, and many of the rituals date back hundreds of years. Isn’t it time to move on?
My answer to that question starts with my grandfather, who was 19 when Queen Victoria died. At that time there were horse-drawn trams in a few streets of his town. He was 30 before his shop had a telephone. At 32 he saw friends go to fight the Great War, and many did not return.
My father gave him his first ride in a car in 1932. He never had one himself. He would have been around 44 when he heard his first radio broadcast from the BBC. At 54 he lived through the year of the three kings: George V, Edward VIII and George VI (1936).
As a 57-year-old half of his employees went off to fight in the Second World War. Some were killed, two on the Arctic convoys.
It wasn’t until he was 67 that he was able to watch his first TV programme when it arrived in the Midlands in 1949. He lived just long enough to see the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.
They were the major events of his life: a slow crawl from 19th century drudgery and basic living towards a more civilised life with electric fire, radio, single-channel TV, and a tiny fridge.
Since then the pace of life has increased exponentially. I have a choice of 500 TV channels and hundreds of radio broadcasts. My phone has long since lost its wires and dial, and I can summon up the world on its miniature screen. My laptop computer can carry out complex tasks in fractions of a second.
(Two personal examples of the way our lives are both more complex and more irritating: my computer software instructions, when they were still in printed form, ran to more than 1,000 pages. My gadget-laden car, new in 2015, came with a 500-page handbook which on its first page says you must read it all before driving.)
Refrigerators are now ‘intelligent’. New models of everything come out every week. We are urged to update, upgrade, pre-order. Cheques are vanishing, credit cards going the same way. Our phones are taking over running our lives, monitoring our health, checking our bank balance, counting our steps, and holding more data about us than our brain.
This is why we need a King. This is why we keep, for example, the Royal Company of Archers, the sovereign’s bodyguard in Scotland, formed in 1676, and the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London, installed by Henry VIII. This is why we need an Earl Marshal, a title that has been in use since 1386, and a Lord Great Chamberlain, dating from William the Conqueror’s time. The Garter King of Arms proclaimed our new King in a ceremony going back to 1415. (He is paid £49.07 a year for his trouble.)
This is why we faithfully preserve our ancient buildings such as Holyrood Abbey (1128), St Giles’ Cathedral (1124), Westminster Hall (1097), and Westminster Abbey (1065).
Our country, if it is to survive, must be anachronistic. The world is changing too quickly. We must stay true to a core that is immutable, unalterable, safely anchored in a thousand years of history.
We need the ceremonies, the castles, the processions, the Foot Guards of the Household Division in their scarlet tunics and bearskins, the Gold State Coach, and (next year) the coronation of King Charles III.
Long live the King.