"Dr" Morrissey accuses Kate Middleton of faking her illness

The former Smiths frontman doesn't like the Royals, does like conspiracy theories.

In an interview with New Zealand’s 3 News, Morrissey has accused Kate Middleton of feeling "no shame" about the suspected suicide of Jacintha Saldanha, and described the British monarchy as a dictatorship, encapsulated by a history riddled with "murder… mayhem and slaughter."

In what was a wide-ranging interview that will no doubt capture the public’s attention, Morrissey also suggested that the British press and Clarence House put severe pressure on Saldanha, something which he believes ultimately led to her death.

Asked if he felt there should have been a counter-culture reaction to the Diamond Jubilee earlier this year, like there was during the Silver Jubilee in 1977, Morrissey said:

Yes, I think there should be but I think things are different now. There’s a more firm grip on the press. The print media has more of a stranglehold and it’s very difficult for anything to slip through, whereas back in the days you just mentioned, they weren’t quite prepared for that. It’d never really happened before, so they weren’t expecting it, but now they’re going to great lengths to keep anybody with an oppositional voice at bay and that’s how dictatorships work.

When pressed on why he deemed the Royal Family a dictatorship, he said:

Well, it’s difficult not see them as a dictatorship. What else are they? A self-elected monarchy. If you study the history of the monarchy it’s murder and mayhem and slaughter, so what is there to celebrate? And certainly in England, I don’t know about the rest of the world, but one cannot say anything against them. And even with the recent story about the nurse killing herself at King Edward Hospital, there is no blame placed on Kate Middleton, who was in the hospital, as far as I can see, for absolutely no reason. She feels no shame about the death of this woman, and she’s saying nothing about the death of this poor woman. The arrogance of the British Royals is staggering, absolutely staggering. And why it’s allowed to be I really don’t know.

Does she [Middleton] have a health condition? Is it anorexia or is it pregnancy? … I mean morning sickness already? So much hoo haw and then suddenly as bright as a button as soon as this poor woman dies she's out of hospital? It doesn't ring true. And I’m sure the Palace and Clarence House put maximum pressure on this poor nurse and of course that’s kept away from the press. I’m sure the British press hounded this poor woman to her death. That’s kept away [from the public] and by this time next week she’ll be forgotten, and that’s how the British Royals work.

He added that the two Australian DJs, who have been roundly blamed in the British press, were actually not the main causes of the tragedy:

It was a prank call and they probably didn’t ever think they’d ever get as far as they did. And I’m sure thousands of prank calls are made to Buckingham Palace everyday - people probably do it all the time. The fact that they got so far probably astonished them beyond belief, but the pressure put on the woman who connected the callers was probably so enormous that she took her own life. It wasn’t because of two DJs in Australia that this woman took her own life, it was the pressure around her. And, of course, the Royals are exonerated as always, they’re just so wonderful and we focus on something else, two DJs in Australia, and it’s not how it should be.

The interviewer then suggested that the Royal family had "refashioned itself," to which Morrissey retorted:

They had to do that because they were losing their grip. So they put themselves forward as the Topshop royals, and drag in Kate Middleton as the voice of youth, and therefore with the Olympics, or anything else that’s happened in recent years, they hijack every event to make sure any celebration of England is really a celebration of the Royal Family, which of course it isn’t, but the Royal Family believe they are England and nothing else is England. And if you live outside London it’s not England anyway. But the way they hijack everything and shove their face in is extraordinary because what do they say? Please tell me one thing the Queen has ever said, or William and Kate. I mean, they are zombies but they are a business and it works. 

They are not [tourist attractions] because tourists don’t come to sit down with William and Kate and have tea with the Queen. They go to see Buckingham Palace, and so forth, which will always be there, and that’s why tourists go. They don’t come to meet any member of the extended Royal Family. They are not a tourist attraction. The history of England is a tourist attraction. We don’t need the flesh and blood Royals now. They should retire and resign.

Morrissey’s questionable insinuation that Kate Middleton was in hospital for spurious reasons will no doubt grab the headlines, but in a world where most musicians and pop stars are now bereft of opinion, it’s nothing if not interesting to hear somebody so forceful in theirs. I’m sure it’s times like these, however, that David Cameron maybe wishes he hadn’t pursued his association with Morrissey so aggressively, since their opinions differ so greatly. 

Rob Pollard is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @_robpollard

SAMUEL COURTAULD TRUST
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The monochrome set

In Pieter Bruegel’s hands, even black and white paintings can be full of colour.

Grisailles – monochrome images usually painted in shades of grey and white – have a long tradition. Early examples appeared in the 14th century as miniatures or manuscript illuminations and then later on the outside of the folding panels of altarpieces, where they imitated sepulchre statues and offered a stark contrast to the bright colour of the paintings inside. With their minimal palette, grisailles also offered painters a chance both to show off their skill and to add their bit to the age-old artistic debate about paragone: which was superior – sculpture, with its ability to show a figure in three dimensions, or painting, with its powers of illusion? By pretending to be sculpture, grisailles could better it.

The first artist to paint grisailles as independent works for private enjoyment and contemplation was the Netherlander Pieter Bruegel the Elder (circa 1525-69), whose folk scenes of peasants carousing or of hunters in a snowy landscape have long been staples of art’s quotidian, earthy strand. Only about 40 works by him are now known and of those, just three are grisailles (not a term he would have recognised; he referred to the pictures simply as “painted in black and white”). This trio of survivors has been reunited for the first time, at the Courtauld Gallery, with an accompanying selection of copies and engravings – a mere ten pictures in all – for a fascinating one-room exhibition.

The grisailles show a deeper and more intellectual artist than the sometimes slapstick figure who would dress as a peasant in order to gatecrash weddings in the Brabant countryside and record the drunken and playful goings-on in his pictures. They reflect the position of the Low Countries in Bruegel’s time, caught between the Catholicism of their Spanish overlords and the emerging Protestantism that had been sparked by Martin Luther only eight years before Bruegel’s birth. These tensions soon erupted in the Eighty Years War.

Of the three paintings, two show religious subjects – The Death of the Virgin (1562-65) and Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1565) – and one is a scene that would have been familiar in the streets around him, Three Soldiers (1568). This last, lent by the Frick Collection in New York, shows a drummer, a piper and a standard-bearer in the elaborately slashed uniforms of German Landsknechte mercenaries. Such groupings featured often in German prints and Bruegel’s small picture is a clever visual game: painting could imitate not only sculpture, but prints, too. What’s more, the gorgeously coloured uniforms (mercenaries were exempt from the sumptuary laws that restricted clothing to sedate colours) could be shown to be just as arresting even in black and white.

If this is a painting about painting, the ­religious works have, it seems, added layers of meaning – although it is always difficult with Bruegel to work out what that meaning is and how personal it might be. The Courtauld’s Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery shows Jesus stooping in front of the Pharisees and saving the accused woman from stoning by writing in the dust, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” That he spells out the words in Dutch rather than Hebrew, which was more usual in other images of the scene (and which he uses on the tunic of one of the learned men observing the mute play), suggests that this picture – a plea for clemency – was intended to serve as a call for religious tolerance amid mounting sectarian antagonism. While the gaping faces of the onlookers recall those of Hieronymus Bosch, the flickering calligraphic touches and passages of great delicacy are all his own.

The picture stayed with Bruegel until his death, so it had a personal meaning for him; more than 20 copies were subsequently made. Included in the exhibition are the copies painted by his sons, Jan and Pieter the Younger (a coloured version), as well as the earliest known print after it, from 1579, by Pieter Perret, which shows some of the detail in the crowd around the central figures that has been lost in the discoloured panel.

If the sombre tones of grisaille are suited to the pared-down faith advocated by Luther, the death of the Virgin was a familiar topic in Catholic and Orthodox iconography. Bruegel’s picture, from Upton House in Warwickshire, depicts an episode that doesn’t actually appear in the Bible. A group of Apostles and mourners has gathered around the Virgin’s bed, the scene lit by the heavenly light emanating from the dying woman and the five flames from the candles and the hearth that correspond to the five wounds suffered by her son on the cross. Domestic items litter the room – a slice of orange, slippers, a dozing cat – and there is a sleeping attendant, unaware of the miracle of Assumption that will shortly unfold. Here is a moving nocturne in which the mysteries of religion emerge from and disappear back into the shadows.

While Bruegel’s peasant works display a delight in physical pleasure, these three bravura works, painted for humanist connoisseurs and for himself, portray the sober, spiritual concerns that come to the fore once the last drop has been drunk. 

The exhibition runs until 8 May. For more details, go to: courtauld.ac.uk

Michael Prodger is an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman. He is an art historian, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham, and a former literary editor.

This article first appeared in the 11 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle