A Very British Scandal
It’s the storming of the Bastille all over again! After a years long court battle, the British media has finally managed to make public the notorious “Black Spider Memos”. Named after His Royal Highness Prince Charles’ somewhat scrawled handwriting, the memos are in fact several years worth of correspondence between the Prince and various cabinet ministers in the British
government. Rumor and allegation have swirled around them ever since the issue first reared its ugly head a few years ago. Some visibly drooling republicans even alleged the scandalous contents of the letters would be the beginning of the end of the British Monarchy.
The reality must have been something of a let down for them. The picture the Black Spider memos paint of Prince Charles is that of a thoughtful, polite, somewhat eccentric man rather devoted to such causes as species preservation and organic farming and other various ecological causes. In one letter His Royal Highness expresses concern on the issue of the over-harvesting of some rare breed of fish. In another he suggests consideration of a badger cull due to overpopulation. Weighty topics indeed.
Far from being proof of unlawful lobbying of government policy (which creates the image of the Prince slipping envelopes stuffed with money under bathroom stalls on the secret bequest of the fossil fuel industry or some other fiend), the letters are more mild statements of opinion and requests for information, littered with profuse apologies should the intended reader misconstrue them as overbearing or intrusive in any way. There is certainly nothing improper about them. While there is an fair expectation that the Monarch will remain above the fray of politics, to expect the members of the Royal Family to never express an opinion of any kind about anything is absurd. In fact, it is a long standing practice for the Prime Minister of the day to meet regularly with the sitting Monarch and discuss the governing agenda. That is not that far removed from what we see here. The great strength of monarchy is continuity, and Prince Charles has been in his position for a very long time. His Royal Highness has seen Prime Ministers come and go, including great ones like Churchill and Thatcher and poor ones like Heath and Blair, and witnessed triumphs and trials of the realm from the fall of the Berlin Wall to most perilous days of the IRA’s reign of terror. It is not the greatest stretch of the imagination to suppose that the Prince might have gleaned the occasional piece of insight over those many years worth sharing.
The closest thing to controversy there is here is one letter touching on the subject of Iraq, where Prince Charles dared to raise the possibility that Her Majesty’s Armed Forces might not be suitably equipped for such a deployment. Despite being a correct observation, as hindsight has shown us, is this really such an improper breach of protocol? Given that the Prince has served in the British forces himself, and has two sons that have also served in that role (one of which actually saw combat in Afghanistan), should it be so surprising that His Royal Highness might feel the need to privately express his concern on such a topic. In fact, given that he still holds honorary rank with certain British regiments one might argue he is obliged to speak on their behalf.
The very fact that these are letters, obviously intended for private viewing only, are the greatest counter argument to the fantasy that the Prince was somehow improperly prying into the political affairs of the nation. Did Prince Charles take to the airwaves demanding more be done for the plight of his dear endangered fishies? Did he seek to mobilize public opinion in favor of a mass cull of badgers? Did he publicly speak out against the war in Iraq (as history has proven perhaps we all should have)? No. He quietly and politely shared his thoughts on these matters with various cabinet minister, who I might add all profess to govern in the name of and at the pleasure of the Royal Family itself. Nowhere is there any evidence that the Prince at any time sought to coerce action of any kind, or leverage the power of his office in any way.
The simple truth of the matter is that the only people who could be scandalized by these letters are diehard republican activists who would find a way to be outraged at anything Prince Charles chose to say. The only way they would be happy would be if His Royal Highness chose to refrain from speaking at all and simply dedicated himself to the occasional bought of public hand-waving (and they would likely do without that if they could as well). It’s not the fact that the Prince of Wales chose to share his mind that they are upset about, but the very idea that there is a Prince of Wales at all.
His Royal Highness Prince Charles has gotten a very unfair hand over the years. He was given near total blame following the end of his marriage with Princess Diana (partially due to the near deification the Princess received following her untimely death) . He has lived in the shadow of both his universally revered mother and wildly popular elder son for practically his entire public life. Under the circumstances, one could completely forgive Prince Charles if he had chosen to become a bitter and resentful fellow about the whole situation. Instead he has dutifully fulfilled his role as heir to the throne without the slightest hint reproach, while also serving in the uniform of his country and raising two fine sons. The worst that can be said of the Prince is that he is a bit eccentric on the subject of ecology and architecture and had a bad first marriage. On the former I think we can all agree that we are entitled to our hobbies, and on the latter there is an old saying about glass houses and stones that we should all keep in mind.
It is my great hope that this entirely empty scandal will finally lay to rest this infernal hounding of the Prince of Wales. His Royal Highness has been a perfectly human but also perfectly suitable Prince for his entire life. On the day that we finally bid goodbye to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, he will doubtlessly make a perfectly human and perfectly suitable King in his own right. The sky will not fall and sun will rise again in the morning. Let us please stop pretending otherwise.