A 73-year-old man becomes King of England and the occasion prompts a contemporary — me — to wonder what might be included in having such a global rank. Big scissors for ribbon-cutting ceremonies? That cool sword for knighting people? All the fish and chips you can eat?
There may not be a more recognizable office on earth. The British monarchy traces back 1,100 years and technically establishes the king as ruler over the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth realms. He’s still recognized as the head of state in Canada, Australia, Jamaica, New Zealand, Belize, the Solomon Islands and on and on. Real clout, culturally if not politically.
If I were now King, rather than that fellow Chuck the Third, I could get my photo on the currency in multiple nations and have my portrait hung on the wall in pubs from Liverpool to Oxford. I could live in several castles and palaces, play polo, regularly wave to the peasants from balconies. On special occasions, I could wear that big hat with 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, 269 pearls and four rubies. (Aided by a strong neck brace, no doubt.)
Silly to consider such a possibility, no? In the line of succession, I suspect I would come in much closer to Adam and Eve than the several who had been waiting in line for 70 years before Elizabeth died on Sept. 8. The odds are better for me to become Burger King. Or Old King Cole. Or King Kong.
Yet I am not completely out of touch with Britain’s royal matters, having been to the UK several times. Once shopped with my wife at Harrods (as the Queen had done years ago). Got in the door at Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace (as a tourist). Dipped into the Wales countryside long ago (where I briefly, unthinkingly, drove on the wrong side of road). Recently spent time in Scotland, my son-in-law’s birthplace, not too far from Balmoral Castle. Witnessed the changing of the guard inside the gates at Buckingham Palace (thanks to my daughter, who now lives in London and whose friend’s husband had a connection).
In 1986, on assignment to cover Wimbledon tennis for Newsday, I was among the press contingent seated about 25 feet from the Royal Box, where sat Princess Di. (Like any lowly commoner, I took a snapshot.)
I like soccer. I watch British police procedurals (Vera. Midsomer Murders, Endeavour, Grantchester, Father Brown, Bletchley Circle.) I have walked the zebra pedestrian crossing outside the Beatles’ Abbey Road studio.
OK. Back to the idea of being king, and what it means to theoretically rule over a world of vassals. First, a joke:
Colleagues of a particularly talented court jester, intent on getting that jester in deep trouble with the all-powerful sovereign, challenged him thusly: “You say you are capable of making a pun about any subject? Well, then, make a pun about the king.”
Whereupon the jester slyly pronounced, “The king is not a subject.”
These days, though, the king is a topic of conversation. Should he, and the British monarchy which has reigned over more territories and people than any other in history, continue to exist? What about imperial Britain’s violent narrative of colonialism and slavery?
Beyond those significant headaches, is being a member of the royal family worth the treatment it gets from the British tabloids? Charles, as Prince of Wales, was a frequent target, at turns cast as a fuddy duddy and a cheating husband during his marriage to Diana. Harry and Meghan haven’t cut him any slack in the ravenous media, either.
To be king promises to be subjected to double entendre references about “sitting on the throne,” to be reminded how unnecessary the monarchy has become to much of the younger generation, to hear how the royal family’s lavish lifestyle is financed by millions in public taxes. What, of substance, do they do with the dough?
Also, weren’t Shakespeare’s tragedies routinely about kings and would-be kings? I’ll abdicate in advance. Banquo’s ghost may still be out there.