I just finished watching The Young Victoria, which, aside from being a smorgasbord of extravagant costumes and stunning architecture, was a really fascinating story about what it means to assume the throne as Sovereign of England as an eighteen-year-old girl. Intense stuff. One scene I found incredibly evocative was when the former Queen is advising the new Queen, Victoria, against politicians who will try to take advantage of her youth and inexperience: the former Queen tells Victoria, in essence, that politicians always resent the monarchy because politicians come and go, but the monarchy is always there.
So naturally, I started thinking about the pros and cons of a monarchy, and how strange the monarchy is in theory. On the pro side, monarchies are something that can always be counted on; there’s never any question about who will ascend the throne once the current Sovereign is no longer. On the con side, the monarchy is always there and the population can’t choose a new one, no matter how much they may want to. I suppose that’s what the Prime Minister is for, to make the people feel like they have some choice in the matter. But what I have to wonder about a monarchy is, who decided that one particular family should be the rulers of all of England for the rest of time? I suppose it was waaaaaay back in time when governments were just being born; I can just imagine someone saying “This family has wealth and power and a good reputation, so naturally, they should be in charge,” but when exactly was it decided that they would be the rulers forever? I guess I don’t have an answer. And perhaps it’s simply my uncultured American mind, but the thing that gets me about monarchies is that they thrust people who may be incredibly ill-suited to run a country into the highest position of power. Just because Elizabeth was a great Queen doesn’t mean that her progeny will be great as well; the heirs may very well be slackers. And it seems, from what I’ve seen/read of royalty, that many monarchs assume the throne not with great confidence or conviction, but with a resigned sense of duty. It’s a big job, and I suspect it appears even bigger when you don’t possess the freedom to pursue it voluntarily.
Sometimes I think how lucky it would be to be born into a royal family, but a lot of the time I just feel sorry for royals because they probably just want to have a normal life and be able to have a job that they want and to marry a commoner if they want to. Which I suppose is another downside of being a monarch: arranged marriages. I’ve heard it said that royals are told that they marry who they have to, and sleep with who they want to; again, maybe the concept is just foreign to my American mind, but it seems so sad to have to lump marriage into the category of “duty,” or at the very least something that is advantageous for all parties involved even if it’s devoid of love. Like poor Charles and Diana. And I say, good for Charles that after years and years of loving a woman that he wasn’t supposed to love, that he was finally able to marry her. Sadly, I’m sure the Queen was not pleased in the slightest.
But a marriage built on real love is possible in a monarchy, even if it’s rare. Victoria and Prince Albert, I would argue, had one of the greatest love stories of all time. She married him by choice, and they understood each other and were completely devoted to each other. Their relationship was a true partnership, and it showed in the way they shared the Queen’s work. When Prince Albert died in his early forties, Victoria never remarried, but she continued to lay out his clothes each day and wore black mourning clothes until she died at the age of 81. What love! What devotion! Seriously, theirs is the kind of love story that I hope for.