Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Kingdom come, kingdom go

Well, I’m in Ireland, where some claim that everyone’s descended from kings.

I’m a bit dubious.

Personally, I think that, if I went poking around the bogs, I’d find that my ancestors were sitting around in a dirt-floored hovel, staying warm by huddling with their pigs and tossing an occasional clump of turf, with clay pipes clamped in their toothless mouths.

Of course, back in the day, this may have been how Irish royalty lived, so maybe there is something to be said that we’re all of royal blood.

But Ireland pretty much ran out of royals quite a while back. (The flight of earls in the early 1600’s?) Any kings or queens after that were Brits and, let’s face it, who wants to be descended from them?

And who wants to be a monarch in this era of 24/7 “news”, insanely aggressive paparazzi, and the generally celebrity-besotted culture we live in, in which the average gawker feels entitled to see and hear everything – right down to the thong-clad posterior of Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton – that has anything to do with the royals (by blood or marriage or dating)?

But, let’s face it, at least in the English-speaking world, most of our interest is focused on the British royals which is no doubt a function of the British royals being English-speaking – hey, they’re just like us – and the fact that they actually attend to a lot of (however unnecessary) royal duties, like cutting ribbons at pre-schools and patting the knees of soldiers in infirmaries, and having fancy-schmancy weddings that get televised.

So we don’t tend to know a lot about lesser royals in other countries, other than to laugh up our sleeves at titled poseurs who occasionally make some sort of a news splash. (Ho, ho. Prince Von Sturm und Drang dropped trow in Gstaad in front of Lady Gaga.)

Thus it’s a nice change of pace to hear a bit about other royals, what with the news that Spain’s King Juan Carlos is calling it quits after a 39 year reign.

“A new generation deserves to come to the front line,” the 76-year-old king, who has suffered from health problems, said in a televised statement from his palace near Madrid. “My son Felipe, the heir to the crown, embodies the stability which is the monarchy’s identity.” (Source: Business Week)

Juan Carlos was born while his family was in exile following the Spanish upheavals of the 1930’s that resulted in the long and brutal dictatorship of Francisco Franco. And speaking of Franco, Juan Carlos has the dubious distinction of having been anointed by Franco, who named him his successor as head of state in the late 1960’s – that old softie.This resulted in JC’s getting enthroned a couple of days after Franco passed on, putting the Spanish royals back in business. (On the plus side, Juan Carlos does get some credit for helping Spain make the transition from Franco-rule to democracy. Having spent a couple of weeks in Franco’s Spain, I can affirm that this can only be seen as a good thing.)

Anyway, Juan Carlos, at 76, is hanging up his crown in favor of his son, Crown Prince Felipe.

It’s not clear what exactly the King of Spain does, other than function as the titular head of state. Maybe if you’re on the ground in Spain, you have a better perspective on what he does, other than swan around representing tradition and stability, and inciting the ire of anti-royalists.

By the way, Juan Carlos is not the first Euro-royal to give way to the younger generation in the past couple of years. Queen Beatrix of Netherlands and King Albert II of Belgium both retired last year. And while he didn’t give us his throne for a son or daughter, I guess you could say that Pope Benedict XVI abdicated, as well.

Just don’t expect to see any torch-passing among the only royals who really matter, i.e., the Brits.

Next year, knock on ermine cape and diamond tiara, The Queen will pass Queen Victoria’s tenure as the longest reigning monarch in British (and modern European) history. Even if she did feel like giving it up to Charles and Camille, or asking Charlie to step aside in favor of Wills and Kate, she’s not likely to do so until she’s eclipsed Victoria’s record.

Me, I’m just as happy to be sitting here in the land of saints and scholars, rather than the domain of kings and queens.

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