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The British Succession

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The British Succession

Post by Karen on Sat 27 Feb 2010 - 18:44


American readers who pay any attention at all to the gossip that is cabled from London are aware that the Duke of CLARENCE, whose illness is now acknowledged to be critical, if not desperate, is not of himself by any means an important person. Indeed, the recent illness of his younger brother was regarded, if one may say so, with resentment, inasmuch as in his personal qualities Prince GEORGE of Wales promised to be much more capable than his elder of occupying the throne without discredit. It seems rather hard to say of a man that he is not fit to be a constitutional monarch in a country like Great Britain, where the constitutionality has been carried so far as to leave him no direct and substantial power. Hard as it may be, it seems to be true of Prince ALBERT VICTOR. The last King of England who could be called a "bright man" was CHARLES II., who would have shown to much better advantage in a private station. The last who was an able man and a statesman was WILLIAM III. Yet there have been a good many monarchs since the Revolution of 1688 who have cut a far from discreditable figure on the throne, and to say that an heir is unfit for the succession is to impute to him actual mental deficiency, and this, in effect, the imputation that is currently respecting the Prince of WALES'S eldest son.
In these circumstances it seems a little strange that the illness of Prince ALBERT VICTOR should have so agitating an effect as it is reported to be having upon all ranks of British society. This agitation certainly does not proceed from any personal admiration for the patient, who does not seem to have excited that sentiment even among his acquaintances. The feeling is purely public and political, and seems to have no ground. The heir apparent is not the Duke of CLARENCE, but his father, a middle-aged man now in good health. When the Prince of WALES himself was desperately ill, some twenty years ago, the popular feeling upon the subject was quite intelligible, for the Prince was then very popular, and he was the heir apparent of a sovereign then older than he himself is now. But now the succession to the British throne is provided for even superabundantly, as the British taxpayer is occasionally heard to complain, and among all the possible successors the Prince who is now ill has been regarded as the least eligible. The flagrant incompetency of an actual sovereign, as was shown during the insanity of GEORGE III., is an extremely troublesome thing, considering the relations between the theories and fictions and the facts of the British Constitution. The incompetency of a prospective sovereign ought to be less troublesome, since it is a much simpler matter to divert the succession than to transfer the actual attributes and functions of royalty. As our London correspondent informed our readers some time ago, the engagement of the Prince was generally opposed, both by the intelligent public and by the majority of the royal family, which is extensive enough to constitute a considerable public by itself. That he should not only succeed to the throne but should possibly raise up other successors to it was a grievance even to those Englishmen who expect but a very moderate capacity in their hereditary rulers.
Nevertheless, the serious illness of this Prince seems to be received as a politically disquieting circumstance. It is impossible that any result of it should have any great political significance. Not only is the supply of heirs to the throne ample, but the order of succession is clear and undisputed, and nothing short of a pestilence could make the succession to the throne a burning question. The continued existence of the throne is, indeed, more doubtful than the succession to it. In order to insure that existence, the only thing that "royalty" can do is to take care not to convert the throne into an important political power, into a scandal, or into a laughing stock. No possible heir to the throne has shown enough interest in politics, or in any other form of intellectual activity, to endanger the monarchy on that account. The disclosure in court of the convivial habits of the Prince of WALES goes much too near making royalty a scandal, and the accession of the Duke of CLARENCE might very possibly convert it into a laughing stock. While the educated Englishmen, however, find the illness of the Duke exciting, it is reported that uneducated Englishmen find it afflicting. This is mainly due, doubtless, to the announced engagement of the Duke to his cousin. "All the world loves a lover," and the marryings and givings in marriage of the royal family have always been matters of deep and sympathetic interest to the English populace. Gloomy as the prospect opened by the engagement of a weak Prince to his cousin appeared to people whose interest in royalty was merely political, the sentimental populace declined to look beyond the fact of the betrothal, and it is in his character of lover that Prince ALBERT VICTOR receives demonstrations of popular sympathy.

Source: The New York Times, January 14, 1892

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