Wow, the queen died. Who could’ve seen that one coming? Aside from everyone, of course.
It’s like that extra verse of Alanis Morisette’s song. A ninety-six year old woman died. Isn’t it ironic? Dontcha think?
I know I’m not the only person shocked by the news. I don’t know how many times I heard, and remarked myself, over the initial weekend, “Wow, I can’t believe the queen died.”
Maybe shocked isn’t the right word. We’ve known it’s bound to happen. We tracked her reign against Queen Victoria, against Francis Joseph, against Rama IX. In the end she fell short of only King Louis XIV, the French besting the British in another round of a century-old rivalry. Then again, Louis was underage when his reign began. Sorry Frogs, regencies don’t count. Or I guess they do, according to Wikipedia. Maybe I should make one of those signs: Louis XIV is not MY longest-reigning European monarch.
And yet… We all thought she was going to hang around long enough to deliver the monarchy straight to William, didn’t we?
In our brains, we knew she couldn’t live forever, but she’s ALWAYS been queen. Sure, it’s called the United Kingdom, but it’s been a Queendom pretty much forever. Hell, if you add up Elizabeth’s and Victoria’s reigns, Britain’s had a queen at the head for 134 of the last 185 years. Not bad for a country that spent the entire sixteenth century obsessed with producing male heirs. Of course, they’ve updated their succession laws to allow female heirs. Right in time for a line of succession with three males at the top. Unless Princess Charlotte goes medieval, we probably just witnessed the last reigning queen of our lifetimes.
More on that later. Trust me, if you’ve read my blog at all, you should know I’ll have some thoughts on Queen Elizabeth’s progeny.
Now that she’s gone, I have questions. Major, world-deciding questions:
1. Is the national anthem changing to “God Save the King?” Or are they now hoping He only protects Camilla? (Note: At the funeral today, I saw they did in fact change the lyrics. Not sure if Bernie Taupin was consulted)
2. Same question, but with James Bond. Is he now on His Majesty’s Secret Service? This feels even more sacrilegious than a minor thing like the national anthem.
I thought maybe I could go back to the source to see if the James Bond’s work pronouns changed, but it was no use. Casino Royale, the first James Bond book, was published in 1953, one year after Elizabeth took the throne. Perhaps a first draft might provide an answer, but I found no reference. Did they have to change it after the book had been sent to editors?
Let’s dwell on that: Ian Fleming created the character based on his service in World War II. Fleming died in 1964, three years after a suave thirty-year-old, relatively unknown actor took over the role on the screen. That unknown actor went on to become a cultural icon, dubbed the “Sexiest Man Alive,” and was even knighted by the queen. He retired from acting twenty years ago and died in 2020.
My brother-in-law is British, so I thought maybe I could ask him what’s going to happen to the national anthem and James Bond, but he’s the same age as me, so it’s not like he’s ever learned a different set of lyrics. His mother was born in 1948, so she might not know either.
That’s the weird thing about this one. When Pope John Paul II died, it was new and exciting for me, having been born in the mid-1970s, but older people had been through quite a few papal conclaves. John Paul I only lasted a few months, so they got to experience two in the same calendar year. Sure, they didn’t have 24-hour news networks with cameras trained on the smokestack in 1978, but the whole idea of a new pope was only shocking to those of us thirty and under. By contrast, nobody under the age of 75 remembers a different monarch.
By the way, electing a new pope is way better than ascending a new king. I was able to run a gambling pool on the new pope. Charles’s odds are at something like -1000000000.
But I’m not talking about Charles yet.
Americans allegedly were shocked when FDR died, wondering how anybody else could possibly run the country, and that dude had only been president for thirteen years. Soviets had a similar reaction when Stalin died after 25-30 years, depending on one’s definition of when Stalin was actually in charge. Then again, Stalin had systematically murdered most of the people who remembered life before he was around. He couldn’t quite master that whole “living to be almost 100” thing.
Add together Stalin and FDR’s reigns and you’d still be missing almost half of Elizabeth’s reign. When people say they don’t remember any other ruler, they’re being literal. There aren’t a lot of people over the age of 75, American politics notwithstanding. Unlike Stalin, Elizabeth didn’t murder all the eighty-year-olds. That was Covid’s doing. Although if I’m to believe all the tweets about how genocidal she was, perhaps she’s the one who leaked the virus from the lab. Unfortunately, her primary target, a certain British noble born in 1948 named Charles, mustered up every ounce of his reptilian blood to avoid the virus.
There are plenty of tropes I’ve had in my back pocket for years that are now gone. Like why the hell does Canada have the queen on their money. Or pointing out the young Elizabeth when showing The King’s Speech. When teaching about James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England, it’s helpful to point out Prince Harry being farther down the line than his snot-nosed nephews.
And now there are two strikes against Naked Gun. O.J’s still alive, but the queen is dead. If you haven’t seen Reggie Jackson’s tweet, go look it up. Classic. Now if only they can solve the mystery of why the Angels were playing a game at Dodger Stadium in that movie.
While we’re mentioning former colonies, why the hell are we running the flags at half-staff in the United States? Didn’t we fight a little thing called the Revolution to avoid having to lower our flag when a monarch dies? Yeah, I’m writing a few thousand words about my shock, but that’s not the same as a directive from the government. Did we lower the flag when Betty White died? Because the two women occupied similar places in our zeitgeist, but last time I checked, Queen Elizabeth never made tawdry double entendres on the Match Game. Point: Betty White
Sure, some tropes still work. I can still put the side-by-side of Prince Harry and James Hewitt to discuss who the real father is. Speaking of Harry, how the hell did he become the beleaguered hero in this whole thing? Just because he married a woman who made him disown his family? That’s heroic these days? It seems nobody remembers him dressing up as a Nazi. That used to be my intro to The King’s Speech. When you’re the second son, nobody gives a shit about you. Some react with a deep-seeded inferiority complex. Others dress up as Nazis.
Okay fine, we’re talking about the family. I can’t believe the fucker went with King Charles III. For years, I was told he wouldn’t take that name. The first Charles was beheaded and the second was damn near run out of town because everybody hated his wife, who he cheated on incessantly. A little too on the nose, huh? The difference was that, after Oliver Cromwell, the people liked Charles II, so a little closet Catholicism wasn’t enough to change the king. They waited till his brother took over.
A beefeater at the Tower of London once told me the British people’s real fear about Charles becoming king. Since he’d (allegedly) ruled out Charles, he could use any of his other names. He’s Charles Philip Arthur George, for those keeping track. Meaning he’ could ‘d likely go with George VII or Philip I, although they technically had a Philip when the Spanish king was married to Bloody Mary. He considered himself king on England, but the English didn’t.
Or he could’ve gone with that… other… name. For the past hundred years, they’ve given a lot of the royal princes the middle name of Arthur as an homage to that mythical leader, with the understanding that nobody would be obtuse enough to name themselves King Arthur. Then again, have you ever heard Prince (shit, King, I mean) Charles referred to as anything other than obtuse? Hell, he might as well have gone with his most well-known moniker and become King Tampon.
Which brings up another question. If a king eventually opts to take the reginal name King Arthur, would they be King Arthur I or King Arthur II? Technically there is no English monarch named Arthur on the historical register.
Fortunately, Elizabeth lasted long enough to make it a complete joke for Charles to pick any name other than Charles. You can’t be Prince Charles for seventy fucking years just to be all, “LOL guys, call me Arthur now.” Hell, William’s only 40, but even if he became king tomorrow, could he really go with one of his other names? One of which is Louis, by the way. How would you like that, Mr. Sun King?
I wonder if we’re beyond the time when princes could take a new name when they become king. The last two new kings changed their names, but that was almost a century ago. I don’t know how “call me George now” would fly these days. Sure, they’ve always been celebrities, but we don’t interact with our celebrities the same way these days. The old kings didn’t have Twitter accounts. They were celebrities in the vein of Frank Sinatra, aloof and afar, not Miley Cyrus showing off her junk. The paparazzi didn’t follow Queen Victoria around, filling tabloids with pictures of her in a Nazi outfit.
Shit, George I didn’t even know a lick of English. Times have changed. The only people who want their figurative leaders incapable of communicating in the vernacular are Americans, who elected Bush, Trump, and (in California), Schwarzenegger.
Hopefully we’ll get these answers soon enough. I don’t think Charles is up for a seventy-year reign of his own. I also don’t think the transition to William will be quite as somber. We might’ve just witnessed the end of an era in more ways than one. Not even sure the English people will care.
And I’m damn sure not gonna lower my American flag next time.