July 25, 2013
About a hundred and fifty-five years ago, Walter Bagehot wrote in his The English Constitution that royalty was “the brilliant edition of a universal fact.”
He wrote in the first half of the reign of Queen Victoria (r. 1837-1901) reflecting on what was then a relatively novel notion: “a FAMILY upon the Throne.” Hitherto British monarchs had reigned and been viewed as individuals, with their families being at best of mild interest, and at worst, a positive millstone to use the Duke of Wellington’s description of the sons of George III.
However, Bagehot saw that while Kings and Queens no longer actually ruled, they most definitely reigned. In a era of mass newspapers and cheaply mass-produced prints and photographs it was no longer the merely legal or constitutional functions of a Sovereign that interested people, but their human lives, their children, their home life, etc. He called it the “representational” side of monarchy: that the people wished to see their own real (or imagined) virtues and habits in the Royal Family. Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert with their very large family of nine children seemed to recreate an image of stable and respectable family life. This is an expectation that has survived, not without some recent “knocks”, until today.
Bagehot saw that in the cycles of royal births, marriages, anniversaries, and deaths people saw reflected their own lives and their own cycle of life in a “brilliant edition”.
A few days ago, as we all know, a Prince in direct line of succession to the British and Commonwealth Thrones was born. Not only the people of the sixteen countries still linked formally to the Crown watched, but it seems the whole world was fascinated. So, at last, a boy was born, the Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge. So, guns thundered in salute, and church bells pealed. Why?
I think, to take up Bagehot’s theme, that the birth of this infant boy is both “brilliant” and “universal”. In the celebration and joy of this one birth, we acknowledge the wonder of all births.
ALL infants born to a happy family are causes of profound and joyful emotions. We cannot fire cannon salutes and ring bells for every baby; so we do it for onebaby, and thereby remind ourselves of the “brilliance” of ALL births and the miraculous and “universal” fact of the birth of a child, princes AND paupers.
A line from the Holy Gospel also comes to mind. It was spoken by those who witnessed the unusual and miraculous events surrounding the birth of Saint John the Baptist: What will this child be?
For this infant boy, it seems he is destined to one day reign as a future King George VII; after the putative reigns of a King Charles III, and a King William V. If normal longevity and actuarial factors prevail, I won’t live to see his reign.
However, of every infant baptized, I think of that question: What will this child be?
Will he/she be a saint, a sinner, faithful, apostate, wise, foolish, noble in the moral sense, or ignominious?
Every day babies are born. Most of whom will pass through life known only to their families and friends; some will become known and recognized.
Some for good, some for evil.
What will this child be?