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British Heritage: May 1998 Letters

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: September 23, 1998 
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SOCIAL DEGRADATION

Your letter from the editor (December/ January 1997/1998, page 7) left me with a feeling of deep disappointment. For a tabloid, to support social degradation is the norm. From British Heritage, I expected more. To say that the monarchy is too expensive, stifled by unnecessary protocol, out of touch, that it should become popular, bend to the people's will, etc., is precisely the road to further degradation.

To stand up to the crowd, one must have the strength of Socrates, Galileo, Luther, or Sakharov. However, titans are not produced on demand. The next best thing is an institution able to be unbending and unpopular, such as monarchy. But any institution is comprised of regular people, not titans, and therefore needs a backbone. This is what protocol is for. Correctly or not, it assures society that the occupant of the throne can be executed but not bribed; loved or hated but not ignored; can commit a crime but cannot lie; in short, the monarch differs from ordinary people. This difference is the only reason why the views of an otherwise powerless monarch carry any weight at all. If it is eliminated, as you are proposing, what will be left? A republic with an expensive puppet ready to bow to the popular views? To retain a de jure monarchy that obediently follows the crowd would be like placing David outside museum walls to bring the masterpiece in touch with the people. Very shortly, there will be a lot of touch but no masterpiece.

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Edward Tessler, Ph.D.
Buffalo Grove, Illinois

THE MONARCHY FOREVER

I would like to talk about a movement in England that threatens to eliminate its oldest and most cherished institution. The monarchy of England has existed for more than 1,000 years and is the last great dynasty of Europe. Through the centuries it has consisted of many a family whose problems were not much different from most other folks. However, the marital conflicts of Henry VIII started a fascination with the personal lives of the royal family that has endured to the present day. Unfortunately, this curiosity has produced several problems for some of its members, including relentless efforts to intrude in their private affairs and ongoing criticism of certain individuals.

The current dissatisfaction with the monarchy began with King Edward VIII, a Nazi sympathizer who had affairs with several married women and abdicated the throne in 1936 after a reign of just ten months. The next sequence of major disappointments resulted from the broken marriages and extra-marital affairs of the current Royal Family. Also, in 1992, as the result of both public and political attacks on the Queen's tax exempt status, Elizabeth volunteered to pay taxes on her private income.

At the close of the year, the monarchy had been shaken more than at any time since Elizabeth's uncle abdicated the throne. Several journalists and politicians responded by recommending the monarchy be disbanded. A column in the conservative Daily Telegraph called for Elizabeth's resignation. An article in the Independent suggested that the monarchy be replaced by a republic. The Australian Prime Minister vowed to remove the Union Jack from his country's national flag. The Labour Party introduced a bill for the abolition of the monarchy, but it was not debated.

The opponents of the monarchy are not working on developing practical solutions for resolving their issues. Instead, they are inaccurately venting their frustrations by trying to abolish the very symbol of England's history and constitution.

Regardless of the troubles facing the Royal Family, Elizabeth has maintained her strength of character, objectivity, and continuity of care for her people. In addition, it is inappropriate for the Queen to have to pay any taxes and the Government should take responsibility for maintaining her castles. They are remarkable artefacts of England's heritage and represent the many hardships its people have overcome.

The monarchy today is providing a variety of invaluable services by preserving the customs and traditions of English heritage, using its position as a platform to speak about issues facing the Government and world by organizing and supporting several social projects. It is essential that the monarchy continue, and no one has better expressed this perspective than Lord Charteris, Assistant Private Secretary to the Queen, who said: 'Simply for the sake of the monarchy, it is my firm view that the Queen should live forever.'

Lewis Hales,
Milner, Georgia

Editor's Note: We received many interesting letters about Princess Diana and the future of the monarchy. Let me emphasize that my letter in December/January's issue in no way advocated the abolition or the degradation of the monarchy, which is an integral part of British life and heritage. When I grew up in England, the Royal Family was revered and admired, particularly because of their actions during the War. Two readers took issue with my interpretation of the rule that when eating with the Queen no one is supposed to leave the table until she does. Again, no disrespect was meant. I based my comment upon a real-life situation when a gentleman, who suffered from a medical condition, had to leave the table several times, with great embarrassment. In certain circumstances, there is room for unbending, and I do believe that the Queen understands that a constitutional monarchy must bend with the times but still play a part in the country's heritage.

The more important functions of the monarchy are those that have a popular appeal. Many British people, even ardent monarchists such as Lord Howe of Aberavonthe and Lord Hurd of Westwell and the leading constitutional historian, Lord Blake, feel that changes need to be made at Buckingham Palace to strengthen the present monarchy. Recently, in her golden wedding anniversary speech at Westminster Abbey, the Queen acknowledged the need for the monarchy to adjust to the changing mood of the public. She spoke of the difference between a hereditary monarchy and an elected government; 'They are complementary institutions, each with its own role to play. And each in its different way, exists only with the support and consent of the people.'–G.H.

A STAMP OF APPROVAL

Deborah Pulliam's article describing Florence Nightingale's remarkable career was well-done and most interesting.

Your readers may be amused at this little story. On All Saints' Sunday, 12th November, our rector, the Rev. Harold T. Lewis, was contrasting the Episcopal Church's current practice of designating certain historic leaders as being worthy of thankful remembrance and prayerful commemoration, as contrasted with the Roman Catholic process of 'canonization'. It seems that at the 1994 General Convention the Episcopal Church was all set to 'commemorate' Florence Nightingale, but then heard a rumour that she had died of syphilis and quickly withdrew her name.

However, by this summer's convention, Dr. Lewis said, word had been received that she had actually died from drinking rancid goat's milk, so, her honour having been restored, she will now be thankfully remembered and prayerfully commemorated in proper liturgical fashion!

I had been wondering how that strange rumour of her dying of syphilis had gotten started. Ms. Pulliam's article provides the clue: Many of the women she put to work caring for the wounded and sick soldiers in the Crimea were camp followers or prostitutes, and despite the acclaim she won as the 'Lady with the Lamp', she was evidently tarred as being 'guilty by association'.

(The Rev.) Robert M. Baur
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

BRITISH FILM ON VIDEO

The number of people who write to your magazine in search of old British movies convinces me that there are many out there who despair, as I do, at the large backlog of fine British films from the 1930s to the 1960s that have never been released on home video. True, some classic films such as Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob, and The Ladykillers are available, but there are literally hundreds of wonderful comedies, dramas, thrillers, and wartime films that now sit locked up in British film vaults.

The enormous popularity of Masterpiece Theatre and recent British films shows that there is definitely an audience for British productions on this side of the Atlantic and converting these old films to video is not an extremely costly proposition. If you or any of your readers have any ideas how we might get some of these classic British films released on home video, I would be most happy to hear them.

Michael Oldfield
Vancouver, British Columbia

Editor's Note: Several companies have responded to the public's overwhelming desire for video releases of vintage British films. One such company, Kino Video, has recently released a number of 1930s and '40s British classics, including On Approval, Jamaica Inn, St. Martin's Lane, and Night Train to Munich. For further details, contact Kino at 333 West 39th Street, Suite 503, New York, NY 10018. Tel: 212-629-6880/800-562-3330. www.kino.com.

A PICTURE OF LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL VILLAGE

I have been interested in British history for many years, and am an avid reader of your magazine. So it was with delight recently that I chanced upon a novel that I think you and your readers may enjoy. Its American title is Down the Common. It is the story of Marion, wife of Peter, a carpenter in a remote English village. The book is the result of a lifetime of research into the nature of medieval village life. Ann Baer, the author, was aware that most history has been written by, for, and about men, and that very little has been said about women, particularly ordinary village women.

This story covers one year in Marion's life and I can think of no aspect of daily life that is not described. I've been recommending it to everyone. The characterizations are utterly real, but the life they led is so completely different from ours that every page is full of revelation.

Ann Baer had a career in publishing art books, and raised a family, but spent much of her spare time gathering the information that eventually went into this book. It was published in 1996 when the author was 82 years old. Its English title, which she prefers, is Medieval Woman: Village Life in the Middle Ages.

If I seem to know more about the book and its author than can be gleaned from the dust jacket, it is because I wrote Mrs. Baer an unabashed fan letter, and we have been corresponding since.

Kenneth E. Miller
Rochester, Minnesota

 

Editor's Note: We have not read this book ourselves, and so cannot comment on Mr. Miller's recommendation. Readers who are interested in the book, however, may obtain a copy from the publisher, M. Evans & Co., 216 East 49th St., New York, NY 10017. Tel: 212-688-2810.

 

CORRECTIONS

The toll-free number for Sterling Publishing Co., included with the review of Kid's London: The Best of the Capital's Activities for Children (December/January 1997/1998, page 59) was incorrect. The correct number is: 800-542-7567.

A number of our readers have pointed out that the cars pictured on the opening spread of our story on Cecil Kimber and the MG Car Company (February 1998, page 54) were not, in fact, MGs, but rather Triumph Roadsters. We apologize for these errors.



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