British Royals Break a Cardinal Rule of Disraeli
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
“Never complain and never explain.” An axiom made famous by Benjamin Disraeli. And advice the Royal Family makes its own. Until now. In response to the infamous interview between Oprah Winfrey and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that aired in American Sunday evening and in the United Kingdom tonight. Buckingham Palace broke news (and precedent) in its own right and issued a statement.
“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning.” Thus the Palace acknowledges allegations by the couple, in respect of their protection detail and concern over their first born’s skin color, and Meghan’s admission she thought of suicide. We may never know the truth of these allegations, although Archie’s royal status is settled by long-standing practice, not Palace petulance.
Yet ascertaining the truth is the Palace’s objective. And it doesn’t pull its punches, as far as royal etiquette goes. “While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.” Almost as an afterthought, looking toward the past and not the future, its statement concludes: “Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”
The interview itself was less than classical journalism. We hear from only Harry and Meghan — principally the duchess. They are sympathetically queried and cajoled by Ms. Winfrey. Were this a court of law, instead of public opinion, the plaintiffs would face examination by the counsel for the defense. The accused themselves would have an opportunity to take the stand, plead their case, and offer opposing testimony. And be questioned in turn. But this is not a law court, and public opinion can be rash and wrong.
Hence this unprecedented statement from the Palace. In the weeks leading up to the interview, various leaks have sprung from the normally tight-lipped Establishment, highlighting Meghan’s behavior, whether with respect to red blankets or blood diamonds, or temper tantrums from Harry. None of which, arguably, does either party any credit.
The popular response is as expected. The interview was still airing in America when the Twitter hashtag “AbolishTheMonarchy” began trending. The fact that pro-monarchist reaction was equally immediate speaks of the esteem in which the Royal Family is held. And gives us a glimpse of the likelihood that both the Palace and monarchists are cognisant of the perils that lie in wait from “woke” activists in this season of “cancel” culture.
No less a relief to the Royal Family is the fact that much of the anti-monarchist sentiment emanates from America. Even then, the Yanks have shown their share of support, never mind that Americans voted for a republic in 1776.
The interview can only be intended to have broken, as it did, Walter Bagehot’s cardinal rule of monarchy: “We must not let in daylight upon magic.” The Crown itself may not be free from opprobrium, but hurling abuse at the Royal Family is no less damaging.
Which focuses attention on the Queen’s role as constitutional monarch and Head of State. In post-Brexit Britain, monarchists may take some heart that this tempest is taking place while she still reigns. Elizabeth II enjoys a reservoir of respect and good faith not equalled by her heir, Prince Charles. The question of whether her successors could have weathered the storm, especially when Harry freely opines that both his father and brother are “trapped” in the institution, lies open.
Nor can the current health crisis of the Royal Consort, Prince Philip, be ignored. To hurl aspersions while a senior member is in poor health is an act of, if not lèse-majesté, at least less majesty, and more so when entertained by members of his own grandson.
In times of distress, families rally round their own. It remains to be seen, but my bet is Britons will rally round the Royal Family as if one of their own were threatened.
BrexitDiarist@gmail.com. Photo from Benjamin Disraeli CDV, by Cornelius Jabez Hughes, 1878. Via Wikipedia.