Long live our bourgeois queen

When I visited Osborne House on the Isle of Wight a few years ago, instead of being overawed, I felt a certain familiarity. For Queen Victoria had much the same taste in furniture and baubles as my grandmother - the wife of an Afrikaner railwayman living in the northern Transvaal. It struck me then that the monarchy was occupied by a family of decidedly lower-middle-class taste, sentiment and moral outlook. Being Queen (and rich) magnified those tastes, rather than changed them. I thought it a mark of peculiarly British genius to place such a family at the head of state and apex of the class system as it then was.

A family of limited ambition and outlook would not be tempted to expand its power or interfere with the democratic process, and would be willing to exercise tedious duties and obligations in a way that some foppish aristocrat would not. In addition, having such a royal family would keep the aristocracy in its place. No matter how rich or powerful, they would have to bend the knee to a lower-middle-class family.

Now that the class system has crumbled, one could argue, as the 7 August New Statesman did, that the monarchy is un-necessary, an anachronism, contrary to "democratic principles". I disagree.

The Queen continues to fulfil her historical function of keeping the elite in its place. The monarchy teaches politicians humility. No matter how powerful or popular, they will always be number two. When the military parades, it parades for a little old lady, not some ambitious, power-hungry politician.

James Myburgh
Cape Town, South Africa

This article first appeared in the 21 August 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - What are we doing to our children?