10 MAY 1935, Page 7


By LORD EUSTACE PERCY ADISPASSIONATE observer of European politics in 1835 would have estimated without hesitation that, at least on "personal form," monarchy in Great Britain had less chance of survival than . in any other country except ,Spain. In 1900, he would have predicted with equal certainty that monarchy in Great Britain after Queen Victoria must be an anti-climax. Both judgements would have been wrong. In each case, why ?

A partial answer to the first question is to be found in one neglected aspect of English history. (Yes, English. is the right word here.) England sowed her wild oats in her youth. As we have often been told, because, between 1649 and 1714, we killed a king, deposed a king and elected a king, we were spared the revolutionary era of 1789 to 1815. But the story goes further back than that. Eng- land had her period of aggressive nationalism in the Hundred Years War, before there was any other nation in Europe. She had her period of monarchical centraliza- tion under the first Tudors, a century before France, two centuries before Prussia. Because she destroyed her feudal nobility in the Wars of the Roses, she escaped the Wars of Religion until the Thirty Years War was nearly over—and then (here we become British again) the Puritan and Presbyterian rebellions, from Edgehill to Bothwell Brig, were but a flash in the pan compared with the furnace that had consumed Europe. In that flurry of sectarian bitterness, we made our pioneering experiments in popular dictatorship and the rule of the saints ; later, under the Georges, we tried the milder variants of a party oligarchy and a Patriot King. Thus, in matters of statecraft, we cooled our hot blood in our youth, we learnt in early manhood to distrust counsels of perfection, and on the threshold of middle age we were ready to be content with the familiar.

And the familiar to us was monarchy. Because we had matured early, our captains and our counsellors had been our kings. It was our king who had gone forth to Normandy, not a du Guesclin or a Turenne—our king who had given us our national administration, not a Richelieu or a Colbert. When we rebelled, it was not against ,a system, but against a king ; Charles Stuart stood alone on his scaffold, while Louis Capet died in a crowd, an incident in a class massacre. We had little Jove for the first two Georges, but it was for the House of Hanover that we fought the two Pretenders ; we had no love at all for the fourth George, .but. it was still his government that Wellington felt bound to carry on. Other nations had been, as it were, begotten by their kings, but none had been so nurtured by them ; Frederick the Great was succeeded by no Hohenzollern, but by Stein and Bismarck; even Holland owed as much to her Grand Pensionaries as to the House of Orange. Thus nurtured, it was natural that, having outgrown parental rule, we should choose to settle down under the old roof, finding in our kings at best an elder brother, at worst a name in which to administer the household. In 1835, two genera- tions had hardly passed since George III, with all his faults, had proved that this domesticated kingship was something more than a symbol. If he had been the active focus of reconciliation for Hanoverian and Jacobite, a new sovereign might yet heal the feuds of the Reform Bill. Our experience of queens was not such as to make us despise a girl heiress to the throne.

But, after all, this is no more than a partial answer to the first question, and none at all to the second. It explains Queen Victoria's opportunity, but not her achievement—still less the achievement of her successors. The reigns of Elizabeth and Anne were each a patch of glory between two shadows ; they held irrepressible conflict in suspense long enough to revivify the nation, but they left the conflict to their successors. Great Britain in 1835 was more fundamentally disunited than in 1555 or 1700, yet in 1900 Victoria left to her successors (save only in Ireland) a nation not merely united, but fused, and a Crown which had acquired a wholly new significance as the bond of union between a family of English-speaking nations, between the races of India, and between East and West. Thus her death was followed by no anti-climax, but by a positive renaissance of royalty. Yet, even so, this renaissance is not to be accounted for merely by the splendour of her legacy ; the loyalty of today is not the reflected glamour of yesterday, nor is it a fire artificially replenished to attract the larger household of the Empire round the home hearth. It is a political reality, as vivid as any national uprising that history records, more solid than any contemporary dictatorship. Has it any rational explanation ?

None, unless reason is content to accept the elemental fact of personality. In these hundred years we have had three great sovereigns. But for their greatness, no con- currence of historical causes could have produced the result. The uninterrupted succession of three such generations is without parallel in history. It has just happened.

All the same, if greatness cannot be accounted for, it can to some extent be defined. It would be difficult to imagine any stronger contrast of personality than between these three sovereigns. None had extraordinary mental gifts ; only one the natural magic of "charm." But each exactly fitted a well-marked phase of national development. In the nineteenth century, when "two nations," divorced by the processes of industry and commerce, were struggling towards reunion through the processes of politics, Queen Victoria had precisely that. political sense, that capacity for political business, required by a people seeking its focus in parliament. At the turn of the century, when the focus had to adjust itself to a wider international field, when a re-united nation was being forced to re-enter the Europe from which it had held aloof, it found in King Edward the most European of its sovereigns. And then the focus shifted. Political unity had been achieved and had proved its power in the extremities of danger, but it had ceased to satisfy. Today men are looking, vaguely' enough but perhaps more realistically than their fathers, for a deeper social synthesis, as remote from the elaborations of politics, parliamentary or diplomatic, as the life of the trenches was remote from the preoccupations of the "brass-hats." It has been King George's achievement exactly to represent that mood, to impress himself on the mind of millions as the head, not Of a political system, but of a social commonwealth.

• The third achievement is the most difficult to analyse, but it is the most unmistakeable and has been by far the most successful. Love is a word too lightly bandied about by loyalists. Queen Victoria was revered, King Edward was popular ; but today, in a sense unknown to earlier history, intimate personal affection has reached up to touch a throne,