Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ireland and the Monarchy: Two New Books

Flying to and from Indianapolis for Christmas this weekend I had plenty of time to read. My two choices (one a Christmas gift), though quite different, fit well together as they both dealt with the complex relationship between Ireland and the British royal family. From a Clear Blue Sky: Surviving the Mountbatten Bomb by Timothy Knatchbull is a poignantly personal account of trying to come to terms with the trauma of the IRA bomb that on August 27, 1979 in Mullaghmore, Ireland killed his twin brother Nicholas (14), grandfather Lord Louis Mountbatten (79), grandmother Doreen Lady Brabourne (83) and friend Paul Maxwell (15). Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate between Ireland and the British Monarchy by Mary Kenny (see other posts labeled "Ireland" for previous links to her articles on this blog) outlines (superficially from the Middle Ages and then substantially from Queen Victoria to the present) the historical background against which the particular outrage that bereaved Knatchbull transpired.

This cannot be not a conventional review, for I am still not sure exactly what I think of Timothy Knatchbull's book. I am glad I bought and read it and would certainly encourage all readers interested in its subject to do so. Certainly it is moving and beautifully written. As Nicholas Knatchbull became a real person and not just a name on a family tree, I occasionally found it necessary to put the book down and gaze out the airplane window for awhile, appropriately enough at plenty of clear blue sky, away from other passengers. Particularly important and effective is the emphasis on how the bond between identical twins is such that for one of them to lose the other is to lose part of himself. "We never doubted that our relationship was for life," writes the author in a heartrending photo caption. This is not a comfortable book to read, not only because the subject matter (despite uplifting elements) is so inherently tragic, but also because the reader is liable to wonder if he is being made privy to emotions and details so private and sensitive that he is intruding. (Reportedly that was the view of the author's older brother Norton, Lord Brabourne.)

Clearly Timothy Knatchbull, a survivor of one of the most heinous crimes of a conflict that produced many, has found a sort of peace, and that is to his credit and benefit. What can a reader, remote from the horror of terrorism, who has never known the pain he has, say other than to admire his resilience and eloquence and wish him well? But I am still not sure that "Peace" and "Forgiveness," however fashionable since the Good Friday Agreement, should be the only permissible reactions to the legacy of IRA terror. The Knatchbulls (who continue to love Ireland and its people) are remarkable for their lack of bitterness, but if other victims' families do not feel that way, are they wrong? Even if an individual can "forgive," should the State? Is it right that the man convicted of murdering those four people (two of them teenagers) in 1979, released as a result of that Agreement in 1998 and never publicly repentant, is able to live out his latter years in obscure quiet freedom with his wife, while Nicholas Knatchbull will never spend time with a wife or anyone else because that man murdered him? I tend to think not, but intend no criticism of the author, who is probably a better man than many, by raising these questions. I do wonder though if a general problem with aristocrats and royalty in the modern era has been that they are basically Nice People who perhaps do not fully grasp how evil their enemies are, at a time when Niceness is not enough and will not save their civilization.

Mary Kenny's book, though not without its personal touches in the form of first-person recollections of the author, is a more straightforward and comprehensive history. Conventional wisdom on both sides of Irish conflicts has tended to paint a picture of Irish Catholics being unanimously resentful of the British monarchy as a symbol of "oppression." (I don't think any reasonable Protestant, Unionist, or monarchist would deny that British policy in Ireland was not always particularly benevolent, as Kenny though not a propagandist does not let the reader forget.) Kenny paints a more nuanced picture in which Irish nationalism and Catholicism coexisted with affection for members of the royal family, sometimes even in the same households, with King Edward VII being particularly well regarded of the six monarchs discussed in depth. There were, of course, those in the Catholic/Nationalist camp who really did hate the royal family, in some cases combining strict Catholic morality with Puritanical disdain for the "flummery" of monarchy--exactly the same attitude I used to encounter among Catholic republicans, particularly those of Irish descent, when I used to try to promote monarchism in traditional Roman Catholic forums.

Altogether Crown and Shamrock, whose narrative is too complex to adequately summarize further here, makes for intriguing reading. However, I wish it had been better edited: its pages are marred by needless mistakes such as "Haakon I" for Haakon VII of Norway, "1995" for the 1997 death of Princess Diana, and "opionion" for "opinion," as well as a more serious type of error in which the facts of the Eulenberg scandal in Imperial Germany are completely jumbled. Hopefully subsequent editions will correct these lapses. Kenny concludes by eloquently hoping that the Republic of Ireland will finally invite Queen Elizabeth II for an official visit.

Ireland is, frankly, a difficult topic for English-speaking monarchists, especially those who are either Roman Catholic or who (like myself) are not but generally respect the role the Roman Catholic Church has played in history and like to think of it as a traditional bulwark of "Altar and Throne" monarchism. Unlike most of Europe's other Catholic nations, Ireland never developed an enduring unified monarchy of its own (surely a factor in its subjugation by England). While (as Kenny points out) many early nationalists were monarchists, the Irish national cause became increasingly identified and equated with militant republicanism, perhaps especially among its diaspora sympathizers in the United States. When considering Continental topics such as the French Revolution or the Spanish Civil War, my sympathies are every bit as pro-Catholic as those of my militant traditionalist Latin-mass-attending friends, but when it comes to the British Isles, it's just not that simple. These two books don't pretend that anything about modern Irish history is simple, but taken together, From a Clear Blue Sky and Crown and Shamrock will do much to enrich the reader's understanding of the painful background their subjects share.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Awaiting a [Legitimist] Dauphin

"Tiberge" of GalliaWatch, a useful right-wing, monarchist-friendly blog intended for those interested in French history and politics who do not understand French, helpfully translates some recent royalist discussion about the pregnancy of Margarita Duchess of Anjou, wife of Legitimist claimant to the French throne Louis "XX," who is expecting twins (they already have a daughter), and the implications of the dispute between "Legitimists" and "Orleanists."

It is my position that since the extinction of the senior Bourbon line in 1883, it is possible to be a truly traditional monarchist, not desiring any ideological compromise with the principles of the French Revolution, and still regard the head of the House of Orléans, currently Henri "VII," as rightful King of France and heir not only to Louis Philippe but also to Henri V. The purely genealogical angle, focusing on whether the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht truly and validly excludes the Spanish Bourbons from the French throne (if so, Henri should be King; if not, Louis), tends to get overshadowed in these discussions by ideological, religious, and historical baggage. Henri's devoutly Catholic son Jean would certainly appear to be closer to the values of Louis XVI than to those of the despicable Philippe "Egalite." However, the perception that Henri "VII" necessarily stands for a modern secular constitutional monarchy like that of Spain's Juan Carlos, and only Louis "XX" can stand for the ancien regime and a thorough repudiation 0f the Revolution remains an influential one in French royalist circles and cannot be casually dismissed.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Young Victoria: A Royalist Review

Monarchists and Anglophiles living in the United States certainly had to wait awhile for our latest dose of sumptuous royal period drama. The Young Victoria (previously mentioned on this blog here and here) was released in the UK on March 6 but did not appear in the US until today, and then only with a very limited release. Fortunately one of the theatres showing it is not far from me, so I was able to attend the first public showing this morning, and am happy to report that the film was worth the wait.

As Andrew Roberts observed, despite a couple minor inventions (Prince Albert did not attend his future wife's Coronation, and was never wounded shielding her from an assassination attempt), this is a film admirable for its historical fidelity. Director Jean-Marc Vallée is clearly not interested in sensationalism, nor is his creation aimed at those who demand action-packed plots or smoldering love scenes. I am not sure how broad the movie's appeal will be for those not interested in 19th century British royal history, but then I am, and I loved it. Like all good period movies, The Young Victoria completely engrosses the audience in its beautiful world, allowing viewers a two-hour escape from our relatively dreary contemporary lives.

Emily Blunt portrays Victoria (1819-1901) in her last years as a princess and first years as a queen, an important time in any sovereign's life but a particularly interesting one in this case given the dramatic contrast between the suffocating imprisonment she endured under her mother the Duchess of Kent (1786-1861) (Miranda Richardson) and the confident authority she quickly demonstrated as Queen upon her accession in 1837 at the age of 18. Miss Blunt is probably prettier than the real Victoria was, but admirably captures her dutiful yet stubborn, refined yet passionate nature. Mark Strong as the Duchess's unpopular adviser Sir John Conroy (1786-1854) is the perfect villain; the viewer is likely to resent him as much as Victoria did. Some might find Jim Broadbent's exuberant performance as King William IV (1765-1837) a bit over-the-top, but I had no trouble being convinced by the intensity of his dislike of his sister-in-law. Thomas Kretschmann's portrayal of Victoria's uncle King Leopold I of the Belgians (1790-1865) is the only one I thought unfair; all he is allowed to do is scheme and vent, and I think there was probably more to Leopold (and more genuine affection for his niece and nephew) than that. But Rupert Friend's performance as Prince Albert (1819-1861), devoted to Victoria but firmly intent on using his gifts to play the substantial political and cultural role she is at first reluctant to grant him, is exquisite, and moviegoers watching him and Blunt together are likely to have no trouble understanding why the real Victoria would be so devastated by Albert's death two decades later. As a classical musician I was particularly pleased that the movie found time to demonstrate Albert's enthusiasm for the great composers of his time.

Films depicting royal courts, with their potentially bewildering array of personalities, tend to flesh out only the major roles. It is to this film's credit that relatively minor characters, including Jesper Christensen as Baron Stockmar (1787-1863), Harriet Walker as Queen Adelaide (1792-1849), and Jeannette Hain as Baroness Louise Lehzen (1784-1870), are also given their chance to make an impression. Paul Bettany, 38, was perhaps an odd choice to play Lord Melbourne (1779-1848), who was already 58 when Victoria came to the throne; he does his best with the role but an older actor might have been better able to convey the nature of their relationship which though vaguely romantic was more grandfatherly than anything else. The "Bedchamber Crisis" of 1839 with Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) (Michael Maloney) is the perfect sort of constitutional crisis for this sort of movie, as it really was a political standoff about nothing more than whether the Queen's attendants should be wives of members of the ruling party. This is not an ideological film and anyone expecting more political substance than that will be disappointed, though Victoria and Albert both indicate their commitment to social reform.

Some reviewers have apparently found The Young Victoria insufficiently gripping, but they must look for different things in a film, since when it ended I was surprised that two hours had gone by, generally a sign that a movie has done its job. The Young Victoria is not about political intrigue or fast-paced action; it is about the beauty of 19th-century England, the grandeur of monarchy, and the forceful personality of a charming girl who would become one of history's most enduring and revered monarchs. No lover of ecclesiastical and royal ceremony will fail to be moved by the splendid recreation of Victoria's 1838 Coronation, which we get to see twice, once as a sort of introduction and again when it actually occurs in the plot, complete with Handel's incomparable anthem "Zadok the Priest," which composer Ilan Eshkeri skillfully weaves into the score. Be sure to catch the real Victoria's great-great-great-great-granddaughter Princess Beatrice in a cameo as a lady-in-waiting in the coronation procession, an intriguing touch that to my knowledge is without parallel in the history of movies about royalty. She and her mother, producer Sarah Ferguson, can be proud of having been associated with a film that is a credit to its genre and its subject. I encourage all readers of this blog to go see it if they have not already.

Listen to Prince Charles

Country Life editor Clive Aslet eloquently argues that Prince Charles has every right to express himself to ministers, and they would do well to listen to him. Like Mr Aslet I cannot claim to agree with every one of HRH's opinions, but as he says, that is beside the point. The Prince of Wales is a thoughtful and dedicated man whose wide range of experiences have given him appreciation of perspectives likely to be ignored by the contemporary political class, and modern Britain needs his insights more than ever.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

I don't often link to specific posts on blogs that are already included in my links anyway, but this discussion, primarily between two correspondents of mine both of whom I like and respect despite their rather different perspectives, on the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in the context of a review of Alison Weir's new book The Lady in the Tower is worth a look. As one of those high church Anglicans never able to quite sort out exactly where I stand on the English Reformation, I am open to various points of view on Henry's wives, though it seems clear that for all his gifts Henry himself (at least in his last two decades) is pretty hard to defend, no matter where one is coming from.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Empress Zita's Cause

The New Liturgical Movement reports (with lovely photos and video), as does Andrew Cusack, that the Roman Catholic Church has opened the cause for beatification of Empress Zita (1892-1989), wife of Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary (1887-1922) who was himself beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004. Naturally I am in favor of such a process, but I am also anxious that appreciation of the Habsburgs not be confined to the past. Austrian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, Slovene, and Croatian Catholics should be praying and working not only for her beatification but for the demise of the illegitimate republics that have dared in their arrogance to claim to replace one of history's greatest dynasties, and the restoration of her son Otto to the thrones of his ancestors! Yes, by all means honor Empress Zita, but not as the "last" Empress; the tragedy of 1918 must never be accepted as permanent, as the efforts of organizations such as the Black-Yellow Alliance and the Czech Crown remind us, no matter how formidable the odds.

Here is a beautiful video of Karl and Zita's wedding in 1911.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Obama snubs King Harald

I defended President Obama when neocon Americanists attacked him for bowing to the Emperor of Japan. But that doesn't make this a pro-Obama blog. Norwegians are apparently miffed that he has declined an invitation to lunch from King Harald V (which Nobel laureates have traditionally accepted) as well as other opportunities to cultivate goodwill in Norway. This is inexcusable. While Obama has expressed his admiration for Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, he did not bow to her as he did to the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Japan, leaving one to wonder if it is only non-Western monarchies towards whom Obama feels inclined to demonstrate humility. Obama's insensitivity to Norwegians suggests that American arrogance and unilateralism did not disappear when George W. Bush left the White House, as Europeans are learning.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Young Victoria

Back in March I mentioned my anticipation of the film The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt, produced by the Duchess of York and with a cameo by Princess Beatrice as one of her great-great-great-great-grandmother's ladies-in-waiting. One of my royalist friends fortunate enough to live in the UK described the movie as "fabulous," so I am very much looking forward to it finally being released in the US in select cities on December 18. Hopefully this movie, which from the trailer promises to be visually stunning, will help to counter the image of Queen Victoria (who ascended the throne at 18, and actually wasn't all that stuffy even when she was old) as a stuffy old lady.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Always Have, Always Will

Kudos to Australia's new opposition leader Tony Abbott, who in an article that must have been painful for the Sydney Morning Herald to publish, has dashed the hopes of republicans who acknowledge that any renewed republican effort must have bipartisan support. ''I support the monarchy, always have, always will, not because I'm a royal groupie,'' he said. ''It's a terrific system of government and I challenge anyone to come up with a better one.''