If I am not careful, some of my readers might think that my occasional expressions of derision and ridicule of royalties everywhere betray deeper antipathies born out of a commoner’s resentment. But as I have frequently said, one is better off getting rid of bile than preserving it. Today’s post is merely one more example of that.
The Guardian reports that William, the Duke of Cambridge and second in line to the British throne, is 10 million pounds richer as he turned 30 yesterday. He is now entitled to a substantial part of his mother, the late Diana, Princess of Wales’s estate. The newspaper’s quick calculation puts that fortune at about 10 million pounds or about 15 million dollars. William and his younger brother Harry were left an equal amount in Diana’s will. Harry will get his in September, 2014 when he turns 30.
William’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, has already gifted him the ‘Order of the Thistle’, Scotland’s highest honor as part of her birthday gift. It is the conferment of these completely arbitrary titles that cause a chuckle or two in me. How are these titles arrived at? And who designs insignias to illustrate such titles? These are the questions that trouble me.
I have this vision of the queen sitting by the window of her private quarter early morning, spending half an hour every week to make up these titles. Once a title is arrived at, she then summons the chief of the royal foundry to get a new insignia designed and its master version forged. Remember that none of this is true. I am making it all up, quite like these orders and titles and honors.
When I read about William’s “Order of the Thistle” I was reminded of an exchange between King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) and Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) from one of my all time favorite movies ‘Becket’. This is how the exchange goes:
King Henry II: Have you any idea how much trouble I took to make you noble?
Thomas Becket: I think so; I recall, you pointed a finger and said, "Thomas Becket, you are noble." The Queen and your mother became very agitated.
That’s how royalties everywhere do things. They just point a finger and say whatever it is that they want done. However, the prestige, the pomp, the circumstance that follow the conferment are all real. So is the fortune that he William stands to inherit. Royalty is a neat little scheme out of which most of the world is cleverly excluded.
I remember a distant grand uncle was given a title that the British Raj invented just to make the natives feel important. He was given the title of ‘Rai Bahadur’. ‘Bahadur’ means brave and someone of strong character and integrity. Rai is just an honorific. As a child I thought Rai Bahadur was that uncle’s real name. It turned out he had a different real name which I will not mention here because he is no longer around to answer me.
With that I have taken care of my bile.
P.S.: It is not just that these royal titles are made up. We do live in a made up world.