Tag Archives: constitutional monarchy

BINGE WATCHING RECOMMENDATIONS

war-and-peace

Diane and I spent Saturday night and too much of Sunday afternoon watching “War and Peace”, the BBC adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel that has been described as the greatest novel ever written.

It’s set during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, concentrating on the years between 1805 and 1812 when France turned its attentions to Russia, arguably Napoleon’s biggest mistake.

It isn’t just about the military and endless battles.   There’s the usual romantic entanglements that make a good novel, which keep you enthralled until the end.

The television series lasts eight hours.  According to a website I checked, it takes 32 hours and 40 minutes for the average person to read the book.   So you can save yourselves almost 25 hours by watching the series, even if you do feel guilty about “wasting” a Sunday afternoon binge watching.

Warning:  once you start, you won’t want to stop!!!

(It’s even led to me starting to read the 3 volume set that has been on my bookshelf for fifty years.)

NETFLIX:  THE CROWN

the-crown

We also binge-watched “The Crown” over Thanksgiving when our eldest daughter, her husband and children were with us.  This is the most expensive online production ever, showing on Netflix.  They reportedly spent over 100 million pounds on it (approx. $125 million).  As it’s the first of four seasons, they will be spending a good $500 million before it’s over.   One newspaper said that Netflix is hoping to bury cable with this and other upcoming productions.

“The Crown” tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II, from her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947, up till the present time.  As flashbacks go back to the Abdication in 1936, it effectively covers her life from the moment she learned she would become Queen when her uncle abdicated, until the present day.   The first series ends in 1955, when Sir Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister.    Coincidentally, with the recent deaths of the King of Thailand and Fidel Castro, she is now the only political figure who was around in the 1950’s.

Although many of the conversations that take place in the series are pure conjecture, the production is remarkably accurate in its portrayal of the 1940’s and 50’s and its attention to detail.   The deep spiritual and historical meaning of the coronation is brilliantly conveyed to audiences that are unfamiliar with the biblical significance of the ceremony, which has its origins in the coronation of Israel’s King Solomon and his anointing by Zadok, the priest.

Politically, the series will help people to understand constitutional monarchy.   43 countries around the world are monarchies, not all of them constitutional.   Queen Elizabeth II is Head of State of 16 of those countries.  Each country chose to remain a constitutional monarchy at the time of independence.

All four of us recommend the series and look forward to the following three seasons.

Footnotes:  In one scene Prince Philip says something negative about visiting Australia; in a later episode, he is asked to go there alone for the opening of the Olympic Games in 1956 and, again, expresses a complaint.  I question the series’ interpretation of events here.   Mark Steyn, a Canadian of decidedly conservative views who now lives in New Hampshire, wrote an article some years ago about a dinner he had with others at Buckingham Palace, where he was hosted by the Queen and Prince Philip.  In the article he recounted a private conversation with the Prince in which they both compared and discussed the Canadian and Australian constitutions.   It didn’t seem as if the Prince was not interested in the two countries.  The trips were undoubtedly a challenge as they went by sea and were away from their children for months at a time.    This fact is alluded to in the later episode.

Personal footnote:  Our son was helping his eldest daughter, Paris, prepping her for a test on Canada the following day in her fifth grade exam.   One question was “What kind of government does Canada have?”  Kurt told her Canada is a constitutional monarchy.  It turned out to be the wrong answer.  What the teacher wanted was:  “Canada has its own government.”   Even teachers don’t seem to understand “constitutional monarchy,” which has a very good track record of preserving democracy.

ANTENNA

the-hollow-crown

A third series we’ve started binge-watching (well, every Sunday evening for a couple of hours) is “The Hollow Crown,” adaptations of Shakespeare’s historical plays.  The series is showing in the Sunday night “Masterpiece Theater” slot on PBS.  It stars some of the world’s greatest actors. Somehow, we missed the first series, which we’ve now requested through our public library system.   But we’ve started the second series, which begins in 1422 with the death of Henry V and the ascension to power of his son, Henry VI.   Actually, it was not that simple – the new king was only nine months old, the youngest monarch in English history.  In view of his age, there had to be a regency – and that was the start of his problems.   Out of this came the War of the Roses, a civil war that lasted over thirty years.

SERIOUSLY

“Britain’s oldest manufacturing firm put its business up for sale.  Based in East London, Whitechapel Bell Foundry was established in 1570 and cast the original Liberty Bell in Philadelphia as well as Big Ben and bells for St Paul’s Cathedral.  Fewer churches mean fewer orders for large bells.  But the success of “Downton Abbey” has wrought a new market:  for handbells to ring for tea.”  (The Economist, December 10th.)

 

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GRANDCHILDREN, THE DEBATE AND THE CANADIAN CROWN

Evan very upset he couldn't have that "juice."
Evan very upset he couldn’t have that juice.

We’re visiting our daughter, Alix, her husband, Mike, and their family in Indianapolis.   Seven of our grandchildren are with us in the house. Our son’s two girls had to stay behind for basketball try-outs on Sunday.

The 5-hour drive south was stressful, to put it mildly.   Not only did we have to contend with road construction that seriously impacted our speed but we had three young children in the van, one of whom hates traveling and kept asking to go home.   Even after we arrived, he still wanted to go home, asking Grandpa if we could leave late at night just to get away from it all. He must have sensed my stress!

It’s now Friday lunchtime.   Just as I sat down to write, Evan, one of Alix’s twins, rode in a laundry basket down the steep stairs and crashed into the front door.   He’s ok – I’m not sure about the door and the laundry basket has definitely seen better days!  (Not to mention Alix’s heart failure!)

A few moments earlier, our autistic grandson who has a tendency to run away and get lost, knocked on the front door.   We’ve no idea how he got out but at least he came back.   He’s 4.   He’s a late developer – I ran away when I was 3.

Evan is clearly a troublemaker.   I have been sipping whisky in an attempt to kill a sore throat, though it doubles as a coping mechanism with all the activity around me.   I just looked up to find Evan took my whisky bottle over to his mom and asked her to pour him some “juice.”

In spite of the occasional stress of sheer numbers, I still think that the opportunity to have time with grandchildren is a tremendous blessing and we truly enjoy every minute of it.

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We are, of course, in Mike Pence territory. He’s been Governor of Indiana for four years and is highly spoken of by, seemingly, everybody.   He’s done a good job governing the state, which has a financial surplus.

I thought he was treated badly on Monday by his opponent Tim Kaine in the Vice Presidential debate.   Mr. Kaine kept on interrupting Mr. Pence so that he could not get his points across.   Kaine was rude while Pence responded like a gentleman.

Another difference between them was over the issue of abortion. Kaine squirmed and waffled while trying to explain how he supports abortion when his own church, the Church of Rome, is against it.   He said he felt it would be wrong of him to force his own view on women who want abortions.   Mr. Pence, a Protestant and regular church-goer, reaffirmed his total opposition to abortion and said that, as Governor of Indiana, he has been promoting adoption as a means of encouraging women to give birth, rather than have their unborn child murdered.   He reminded viewers that Mrs. Clinton supports partial-birth abortions, allowing women to abort babies when they are close to delivery.   He even quoted Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”

Mrs. Clinton supposedly takes her Christianity seriously – she’s a Methodist, a church now opposed to abortion.

Kaine and Clinton can only be described as hypocrites, supporting the murder of innocent children, while claiming to both be people of faith.

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This year’s US presidential election cannot be encouraging any country to adopt the American system of government.   Comments heard overseas are along the lines of:   “Out of 330 million people, this is the best you can come up with?”

The ignorance of the rest of the world shown by Gary (“What’s Aleppo?”) Johnson, who is now claiming that knowledge of world affairs is “over-rated,” must be another influencing factor.

So, it’s not surprising that Canadians welcomed Prince William, his wife and two children, to British Columbia and Yukon.   The future King and Queen of Canada, with their son, Prince George, who will succeed his father on the throne 40 or 50 years from now, ensure that Canada’s current system of government will endure for the rest of this century.

Canada is a constitutional monarchy, just like the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.   There are also 13 other Commonwealth Realms over which the Queen reigns.   In addition, she is Head of the 53-nation Commonwealth of former British colonies.   The British government has no authority over any of these countries.

Although many people think the 90-year-old Queen doesn’t do anything, the left-wing Independent newspaper in Britain wrote the following on her responsibilities:

“Her schedule is incredibly regimented, with multiple formal proceedings, events and processes she has to adhere to every day.

Meetings with ministers and officials take up a large portion of her day and, like most of us, she spends a big chunk of her time at work.

Morning

The Queen’s working day begins at her desk scanning the daily newspapers.   She then proceeds to go through some of the 300 letters she receives from the general public every day.   Some of these letters the Queen reads and replies to herself, while with others she tells members of her staff how she would like them to be answered.

Her Majesty will then see two of her private secretaries with the daily quota of official papers and documents.   She receives a huge number of correspondences from Government ministers and her representatives in the Commonwealth and foreign countries.   All of these have to be read and, where necessary, approved and signed.

A series of official meetings or ‘audiences’ will often follow.   Each meeting usually lasting 10 to 20 minutes.

If there is an Investiture, a ceremony for the presentation of honors and decorations, it begins at 11.00am and lasts just over an hour.

The Queen will then lunch privately although every couple of months, she and The Duke of Edinburgh will invite a dozen guests from a wide variety of backgrounds to an informal lunch.

If Her Majesty is spending the morning on engagements away from her desk and other commitments, she will visit up to three venues before lunch, either alone or jointly with The Duke of Edinburgh.

Afternoon

In the afternoons, the Queen often goes out on public engagements and prepares for each visit by briefing herself on who she will be meeting and what she will be seeing and doing.   Her Majesty carries out around 430 engagements (including audiences) a year and will regularly go out for the whole day to a particular region or city.

The afternoon draws to an end with a meeting of the Privy Council with several government ministers.

Evening

Early evening can involve the weekly meeting with the Prime Minister, which usually takes place on Wednesdays at 6.30pm.” (Independent, 9/9/15)

She is also available to all Commonwealth leaders.

Prince Charles will inherit the same responsibilities, as will Prince William, then George, in turn.

In contrast to the US, where party politics has seriously damaged the unity of the country, the Queen brings people together in a non-political way.

Western democracies, in the main, have one of three distinctly different forms of democracy.

The US presidential system is one.

The “Westminster” (British system) is another.   This is just as democratic.   People elect their representatives to parliament.   The dominant party’s leader becomes the prime minister.   The Queen remains outside of politics, but contributes greatly to political stability and national unity.

The third option is a mix of the two, with a parliamentary form of government and a prime minister but, instead of a monarch, there is an appointed figurehead president, with similar powers to the British monarch.   The Germans, Italians and Irish have this form of government.   A serious weakness was shown with this system in 1934, when the German president died suddenly and the new Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, simply abolished the office and had himself proclaimed “Fuhrer.”   This could not happen in a constitutional monarchy – when the Queen dies, automatically Charles becomes King.

Although some people in Canada would like to see the tie with the Crown abolished when the Queen dies, Canadian John Fraser summed up their arguments this way:   “Queen Elizabeth has done a great job for Canada; therefore let’s make sure there is no monarchy when she dies.”  (“The Secret of the Crown,” John Fraser, 2012)   The reasoning really doesn’t make sense.

Fraser points out that Canada is one of the most successful countries in the world, thanks partly to its political system, which includes a major role for the Crown.   The country’s birth owes its origin to the Crown and the people’s allegiance to it. Even the current Liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is committed to maintaining the tie with the Crown – indeed, he invited William and Kate to Canada, along with their two children.   Next year, Prince Charles and his wife will be in Canada to join in celebrations for the 150th anniversary of confederation.

 

QUEEN ELIZABETH LONGEST REIGNING MONARCH

Westminster Abbey's bells will peal, a flotilla will sail down the River Thames and a gun salute will ring out on Wednesday as Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest-serving monarch in British history.
Westminster Abbey’s bells will peal, a flotilla will sail down the River Thames and a gun salute will ring out on Wednesday as Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest-serving monarch in British history.

Today at 5.30pm British Summer Time, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in British history, overtaking the record set by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria.

She still has some way to go to pass the longest reigning European monarchs,   Austrian Emperor Franz Josef (1848-1916) and France’s Louis XIV (1643-1715).   However, the latter doesn’t really count as he was only five when he became “king,” meaning that his mother and Cardinal Mazarin ruled in his place.

Thailand’s current king was crowned in May 1950 so he’s been around even longer than the British monarch.

A PBS documentary on the queen aired last week.   The one-hour documentary is available on DVD.   It’s part of the “In their own words” occasional series.   There was one mistake in the program when a BBC broadcast announcing that “the king’s life draws peacefully to a close” was applied to her father, King George VI, who died in 1952.   The recording dates to January 1936 when his father, George V, was dying.   The queen’s father was found dead in bed on February 6th, 1952.   He had been out hunting the previous day. Elizabeth and her husband were in Kenya, on a tour of the empire, when he died.

The monarchy goes back over one thousand years.  It has evolved through the centuries into today’s constitutional monarchy.   The system has worked very well, giving Britain and the other Commonwealth realms (which include Canada, Australia and New Zealand) an unparalleled period of political stability, without which economic progress is difficult to achieve.

The very complimentary documentary highlighted Elizabeth’s role as constitutional monarch, using her influence rather than authority in chaperoning the country for over sixty years.   It’s been a time of unprecedented change, as was Victoria’s in the nineteenth century.

The program began with then Princess Elizabeth’s 21st birthday broadcast from Cape Town, South Africa.   In her own words she pledged herself to serve “the great imperial family to which we all belong,” a reference to the Empire and Commonwealth, which included South Africa.

Immediately after these words were shown on the documentary, a royal expert then added a comment about her lifelong service to Britain.

There’s a blind spot here, which obscures Britain’s incredible decline during her reign.   As she is a constitutional monarch, the blame for this decline rests with the politicians, especially the twelve British prime ministers who have served under her.   Her Canadian, Australian and New Zealand prime ministers can also share some of that responsibility.

The fact is that the British Empire has gone and its successor, the Commonwealth (the “British” was dropped 50 years ago) is no more than a shadow of what it was.   It may not even survive the queen’s passing.   The queen remains Head of State of 16 countries and has 138 million subjects.   She is also titular Head of the Commonwealth, an organization of 54 former colonies.   It remains to be seen if Prince Charles will be able to hold it all together after he succeeds his mother.

Sir John Major, her ninth British prime minister, said in the documentary that throughout all the changes of the last six decades, the queen has been the one “constant” in the country, giving a sense of continuity and stability during monumental and significant changes.   This is true, but it hides some painful realities.

The loss of empire saw a rapid decline in global power.   The country’s military capability is about one-twelfth of what it was at the beginning of her reign – and continues to decline even under a Conservative administration.   The queen’s international role remains at the core of British “soft power,” along with the BBC World Service and British aid.   This soft power has replaced the strong military power it used to have.

With the empire gone, Britain entered the European Common Market (now the European Union), which has progressively taken away the UK’s independence.   Under the EU’s freedom of movement rules, millions of people from other European countries have been able to move to Britain, changing the composition of the nation’s population.

Added to this has been mass immigration from Commonwealth countries like India and Pakistan.

The changes are so significant, it’s fair to say that the Great Britain she inherited in 1952 and the Great Britain of today are two very different countries.   It’s amusing to remember that in 1949, when she was Princess Elizabeth, she spoke out against the evils of divorce.   The nation would not take kindly to such comments today and the queen would not be qualified to speak on the subject anyway as her own family has seen a few divorces.

None of this detracts from the great accomplishments of Elizabeth II.   She has set an incredible example of service.   Her sense of duty is unsurpassed by anybody in any field.   In her own personal private life she has set a fine example, never putting a foot wrong.

In many ways, the world was a better place when the Queen ascended the throne on February 6th, 1952 (the Coronation was in June the following year).   At that time, she presided over the greatest empire in history.   As countries were given independence, all too often they were taken over by self-serving bad leaders who destroyed much of what Britain had accomplished, enriching themselves by stealing from their own people.   They were often from the lowest echelons of society, suddenly receiving absolute power, which they abused in every way.

I remember an incident 35 years ago at a time when Ghana, in West Africa, was going through a long period of political instability and economic chaos, I stopped to buy some food at the side of the road. When I opened my wallet, the lady who was selling me the items, saw a British bank note with the portrait of the queen on it.   The lady sighed and said:   “Ah, Queen Elizabeth.   She used to be our queen.   Now we have so many presidents, we cannot count them all. And we are in such a mess.   And England still has the queen.”   Stability is so important.

Two verses in the Book of Ecclesiastes illustrate this so well:

“Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child,
And your princes feast in the morning!
Blessed are you, O land, when your king is the son of nobles,
And your princes feast at the proper time —
For strength and not for drunkenness!”   (Eccl. 10:16-17.)

Britain has been greatly blessed with Elizabeth II as Queen.

As many are saying today:    “Long may she reign!”