100 good reasons to be a republican

Long live the republic

Certainly that people needs be mad or strangely infatuated that build the chief hope of their common happiness or safety on a single person; who, if he happen to be good, can do no more than another man; if he happen to be bad, hath in his hands to do more evil without check than millions of other men. John Milton, 1660

Class! Yes, it is still here. Terrific staying power, and against the historical odds. What is it with that old, old crap? The class system just doesn't know when to call it a day. Martin Amis, London Fields, 1989

To inherit a government is to inherit the people. Tom Paine, 1791

The insuperable objection to monarchy is that the king or queen is elevated, and respect is accorded, for no reason other than birth . . . No one who believes either in the claims of merit or in the pursuit of equality can defend the system. Mervyn Jones, 1977

It has been said, not truly, but with a possible approximation to truth, that in 1802 every hereditary monarch was insane. Walter Bagehot, 1867

[Monarchy] is as absurd as an hereditary mathematician. Tom Paine, 1791

It is in principle wrong and absurd that people should wield power on the basis of birth, not merit or election . . . There are no conceivable grounds for maintaining this system. Tony Blair, 1996

You should study the peerage, Gerald . . . It is the best thing in fiction the English have ever done. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

The old elites, establishments that have run our professions and our country for too long. Who have kept women and black and Asian talent out of our top jobs and senior parts of government and the services. Who keep our bright inner-city kids from our best universities. And who still think the House of Lords should be run by hereditary peers in the interests of the Tory party. Tony Blair, 1999 Labour Party conference

She holds a unique place in the heart of the nation and many people across the world. Tony Blair at a service for the Queen Mother, 13 July 2000

This romancing about the royal family is, I fear, only a minor symptom of the softening of the brain of socialists enervated by affluence, social prestige and political power.

Beatrice Webb on the 1929 Labour government

One of the most depressing experiences of my life was to hear the propagandised uniformity of the responses from people who were ordinarily cheerful, decent, democratic and rather subversive in some of their manners . . . "I wouldn't have her job." Well, I wanted to say, no one is going to ask you. And if they did, you could not say yes, because you were not born in the right place. Christopher Hitchens, 1994

I wish men to be free
As much from mobs as kings -
From you as me.
Lord Byron (1788-1824)

An islander from Tuvalu or Kiribati coming to Britain, especially if he was a Polynesian anthropologist, would think: What gives here? What is the extraordinary credulity and deference of these people? What will they not believe? Christopher Hitchens, 1994

The metaphor of the king as the shepherd of his people goes back to ancient Egypt. Perhaps the use of this particular convention is due to the fact that, being stupid, affectionate, gregarious and easily stampeded, the societies formed by sheep are most like human ones.
Northrop Frye, Canadian literary critic, 1957

When it is said that our royal family is the envy of foreigners, I have always noticed that what foreigners particularly like is that it is ours and not theirs. David Hare, 1994

Of course they should keep it - for our entertainment. Editorial in the New York Times, 1996

Strip your Louis XIV of his king-gear, and there is nothing left but a poor forked radish with a head fantastically carved. Thomas Carlyle, 1840

It's a sign of the tragic immaturity of Britain as a nation that we should be obsessed in the year 2000 with a reactionary old woman who has never done anything except act as a parasite on the body politic.
Piers Brendon, 2000

We must call up battles and banners and many ghosts and glories before we see whatever it is that we do see in the picture of a princess feeding a bear with a bun. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

If Britain has become a quaint spectacle, a licensed and pensioned relief from the modern world, a Ruritania for condescending delectation, the monarchy is the special article for the customers with Diners cards. Mervyn Jones, 1977

[Monarchy is like] something kept behind a curtain, about which there is a great deal of bustle and fuss . . . but when, by any accident, the curtain happens to be open, and the company see what it is, they burst into laughter. Tom Paine, 1791

How is it that the British, the first modern industrial society, should have such a blatant anachronism at their centre? Isn't this a huge example of a failure of self-analysis? An inability to see ourselves as others see us?
Republican Alliance, 2000

People with an over-abundance of dignity and an oversupply of power have always in the end been targets for laughter.
Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)

Made you a moron. Sex Pistols, 1977

I have often thought that the case against retaining the monarchy, which I usually construct in terms of the way it institutionalises deference, can be expressed much more simply: it rots the brain. Joan Smith, 2000

Crown: A headgear that makes the head superfluous.
Gabriel Laub
, Polish author, b 1928

Once you touch the trappings of monarchy, like opening an Egyptian tomb, the inside is liable to crumble. Anthony Sampson, 1965

Of the various forms of government that have prevailed in the world, a hereditary monarchy seems to present the fairest scope for ridicule. Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, (1776-1788)

All monarchy rests upon deference, the instinct to cringe. Its opposite is the association of free autonomous citizens thinking for themselves. Monarchy, once despotism, has dwindled by way of crowd control into a sickly cult of the hereditary celeb. Edward Pearce, 2000

Royalty is but a feather in a man's cap; let children enjoy their rattle.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)

I think the royal family in great danger of reinventing themselves out of existence and boring the nation to death. Paul Flynn MP, 2000

Kings are not born; they are made by universal hallucination.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

A modern monarchy is possible - just as it is possible to buy alcohol-free lager or vegetarian sausages that look and smell vaguely like pork. But what's the point? Francis Wheen, 1998

A state can only survive as a true republic or a true monarchy.

Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 1532

We assert that no nation can long endure half republic and half empire.
Democratic National Platform, 1900

The brood of that dutiful and pleasant gentlewoman Elizabeth II and her immediate connections is now distending the country with a brand new and brazen aristocracy; a nouveau ancien regime.
New Statesman, 1986

Whereas Charles Stuart, King of England, is standeth convicted, attainted and condemned of high treason and other high crimes; and sentence upon Saturday last was pronounced against him by this court, to be put to death by the severing of his head from his body; of which sentence execution yet remaineth to be done. These are therefore to will and require you to see the said sentence executed, in the open street before Whitehall, upon the morrow . . . And these are to require all officers and soldiers, and others of the good people of this nation of England, to be assisting unto you in this service.
High Court of Justice, January 1649

Free not to have to puff some prince's wedding,
free to say up yours to Tony Blair,
to write an ode on Charles I's beheading
and regret the restoration of his heir . . .
. . . 30th January, 1649,
though it's hard to use the date for self-promotion
the anniversary's gone with not a line
from toadies like Di-deifying Motion.
Tony Harrison's reaction to rumours that he would entertain an offer to become Poet Laureate in 1999 (Andrew Motion accepted)

Accountability of the executive is fundamental to any democracy. Where power is based not upon statute but upon the royal prerogative, it is this accountability which suffers. Jack Straw, 1994

A Parliament of knaves and sots,
Members by name you must not mention,
He keeps in pay, and buys their votes,
Here with a place, there with a pension:
When to give money he can't cologue 'em,
He doth with scorn porogue, porogue 'em.

New upstarts, pimps, bastards, whores,
That locust-like devour the land,
By shutting up the Exchequer doors
(When thither our money was trepanned)
Have rendered Charles his Restoration
But a small blessing for the nation.
John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, on Charles II, 1672

The royal refugee our breed restores
With foreign courtiers and with foreign whores,
And carefully repeopled us again
Throughout his lazy, long, lascivious reign.
Daniel Defoe on the restoration of Charles II, 1701

When Charles duly betrayed her best friend's granddaughter, continuing his affair with a fellow officer's wife before, during and after their marriage, the Queen Mother betrayed all her apparent principles by condoning her grandson's adultery and taking his side against the girl she had trapped into marrying him.
Anthony Holden, 1997

Our first-born is the greatest ass, the greatest liar, the greatest canaille and the greatest beast in the whole world, and we heartily wish he was out of it. George II on his son Frederick, Prince of Wales

The family who were once icons of cleanliness in a dirty world have turned out to be the most single-minded bunch of shaggers in Christendom. Julie Burchill, 1999

An obstinate, self-indulgent, miserly martinet with an insatiable sexual appetite. Frederick, Prince of Wales on his father George II

I hope the best for Wills but, because that's the maddest family since the Munsters, we wouldn't be shocked if he turned out to be a cross-dresser who wanted to marry a corgi.
Julie Burchill, 1999

Here lies Fred,
Who was alive and is dead.
Had it been his father,
I had much rather.
Had it been his brother,
Still better than another.
Had it been his sister,
No one would have missed her.
Had it been the whole generation,
The better for the nation.
But since 'tis only Fred,
Who was alive, and is dead,
There's no more to be said.
Anonymous lines on the death of Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1751

An old, mad, blind, despised and dying king. Shelley on George III

Nor should Prince Charles succeed our present queen,
and spare us some toad's ode on coronation.
I'd like all suchlike odes there have ever been
Binned by a truly democratic nation.
Tony Harrison, "Laureate's Block", 1999

Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn - mud from a muddy spring -
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling.
Shelley, 1819

It is this basic turn of mind - the country is theirs not in trust, but by right - which has lately given the monarchy its peculiarly sullen character. The House of Windsor has not bothered to be generous because, literally, it does not see why it needs to be. David Hare, 1994

And when the gorgeous coffin was laid low,
It seem'd the mockery of hell to fold
The rottenness of eighty years in gold.
Byron on the funeral of George III

Those in the cheaper seats clap. The rest of you rattle your jewellery. John Lennon, 1963 Royal Variety Performance

Most gracious Queen, we thee implore
To go away and sin no more,
But if that effort prove too great,
To go away at any rate.
Anonymous epigram on Queen Caroline, 1820

I believe, in a case like yours, the man should sow his wild oats and have as many affairs as he can before settling down. Lord Mountbatten (1900-79) to Prince Charles

A libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of demi-reps, a man who has just closed half a century without a single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity. Leigh Hunt on the 50th birthday of the future King George IV, 1812

[Then] choose a sweet-charactered girl before she meets anyone else she might fall for. Lord Mountbatten to Prince Charles

There have been good and wise kings, but not many of them. Take them one with another, they are of an inferior character, and this I believe to be one of the worst of the kind. The littleness of his character prevents his displaying the dangerous faults that belong to great minds, but with vices and weaknesses of the lowest and most contemptible order it would be difficult to find a disposition more abundantly furnished.
Charles Cavendish Greville on George IV

Two-thirds of our government is unelected. The head of state enjoys power, wealth and status due solely to an accident of birth. Isn't it time to think again? South London Republican Forum, 2000

Though useless, kings are very expensive. Richard Carlile, 1820

Things get harder when the distance that lends enchantment cedes to the contempt bred of familiarity . . . The dominant impression the Windsors convey - by design rather than by accident - is of a clan of stolid zombies, barren of feeling and clenched of brain. Glen Newey, 1998

There never was an individual less regretted by his fellow creatures than this deceased King. What eye has wept for him? What heart has heaved one sob of unmercenary sorrow? The Times on the death of George IV, 1830

Royalty is a neurosis.
Get well soon.
Adrian Mitchell to Charles Windsor

His late Majesty, though at times a jovial and, for a king, an honest man, was a weak, ignorant, commonplace sort of person.
The Spectator on the death of William IV, 1837

No glass of ours was ever raised
To toast the Queen.
Seamus Heaney, who also had no intention of becoming Poet Laureate in 1999

These commanding premises to be let or sold, in consequence of the late inhabitant's declining business.
Notice pinned to the railings of Buckingham Palace after Queen Victoria's withdrawal to Windsor, 1864

While the castle stands it is theirs, but when it burns down it is ours. Janet Daley, 1992, when the public was told to pay for the cost of the Windsor Castle fire

If you can show me a fair chance that a republic here will be free from the political corruption that hangs about monarchy, I say, for my part - and I believe the middle classes in general will say - let it come!
Sir Charles Dilke, 1871

This boy [the future Edward VIII] will be surrounded by sycophants and flatterers by the score and will be taught to believe himself as of a superior creation. A line will be drawn between him and the people whom he is to be called upon some day to reign over. Keir Hardie, 28 June 1894

She does not belong to us, she belongs to them. She is not Queen of England. She is Queen of the Establishment." Billy Bragg on Elizabeth II, 1994

I am going to see that well-known opera "The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha". Kaiser Wilhelm II on hearing that his cousin, George V, had changed the family name to Windsor during the First World War

All the monarchical governments are military. War is their trade.
Tom Paine, 1791

He, too, is going the dictator way, and is pro-German, against Russia, and against too much slipshod democracy. I shouldn't be surprised if he aimed at making himself a mild dictator. Chips Channon on Edward VIII, 1936

It would be a tragic thing for the world if Hitler was overthrown. Edward VIII as Duke of Windsor to Liberty magazine, 1941

She would have made a good Queen. Adolf Hitler on the Duchess of Windsor, September 1939

The strongest poison ever known
Came from Caesar's laurel crown.
William Blake (1757-1827)

When Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich on 30 September 1938, he was driven straight from Heston aerodrome to Buckingham Palace - where, by royal invitation, he stood alongside the King and Queen on the balcony to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd. John Grigg once described this photo opportunity, which took place before parliament could debate or vote on the Munich agreement, as "the most unconstitutional act by a British sovereign in the present century".
Francis Wheen on the Queen Mother, 2000

[The royal family] often drink a toast at the end of the dinner to Mrs Thatcher. She [the Queen Mother] adores Mrs Thatcher.
Woodrow Wyatt Diaries, 1986

She [the Queen Mother] thinks that it is awful how the BBC and media misrepresent everything that Botha is trying to do.
Woodrow Wyatt Diaries, 1986

When wilt thou save the people Oh God of Mercy? When? The people, Lord, the people! Not thrones and crowns, but men!
Ebenezer Eliott, "The People's Anthem", (1781-1849)

The president this country needs would have no executive authority . . . Ideally, it should be somebody of whom we have never heard. I challenge you to tell me the name of the president of Germany. Perhaps more important, in the summer of 2000, we can be absolutely sure that his mother is not exalted above all others or that, when he dies, his widow will not be elevated to the status of saint and martyr. Nor will his son automatically succeed him in the presidency. If that seems a reasonable state of affairs, whether you know it or not, you are a republican.
Roy Hattersley, 2000

We have explored the temple of royalty, and have found that the idol we have bowed down to has eyes that see not, ears that hear not our prayers, and a heart like the nethermillstone.
Samuel Adams, speech in Philadelphia, 1776

The Queen's relationship to God changes as she moves over the Scottish border. She becomes less important.
Andrew Duncan, The Reality of Monarchy, 1970

The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that!
Robert Burns (1759-1796)

As children we learned how to do without the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. Now we're grown-ups, shouldn't we learn how to do without the monarchy? Claire Rayner, 2000

Republics in which high birth gives no right to the government of the state are, in that respect, the most happy; for the people have less reason to envy an authority. Montesquieu, Causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur decadence

It's odd - being the 21st century, at a time of fundamental constitutional reform, to be saddled with a 19th-century monarchy. The waves of reform need to lap a bit further up the beach. Norman Baker MP, 2000

Our first concern as lovers of our country must be to enlighten it. Why are the nations of the world so patient under despotism? . . . Show them they are men, and they will act like men. Reverend Richard Price, On the Love of Our Country, 1789

I was much an enemy to monarchy before I came to Europe. I am ten thousand times more so since I have seen what they are. There is scarcely an evil known in these countries which may not be traced to their king as its source, nor a good which is not derived from the small fibers of republicanism existing among them.
Thomas Jefferson in a letter to George Washington, 1788

Democracies are commonly more quiet and less subject to sedition than where there are stirps of nobles.
Francis Bacon, Essays, 1625

Real democracy will exist only when "every man is, in his own proper self a king" - when the ordinary has become extraordinary.
Tom Nairn, 1988

Put not your trust in
Psalm 146

I believe that it's Elizabeth the Last. Stephen Haseler, chairman of the Republican Society, 2000

It's curtains for you, Elizabeth my dear. Stone Roses, 1989

We know in our hearts that the monarchy is a historical absurdity. But because we lack the courage to abolish it (as indeed we lack the courage for any radical undertaking), we are taking out our anger at our own bad faith and torturing the individuals involved. David Hare, 1994

One is the objection that a king, once in office, can't be got rid of. The answer is that kings are got rid of very often, and usually very easily. H L Mencken, 1933

All republicans have to do is keep their nerve. The old bullfrog is puffing itself up for its last croak. Tom Nairn, 2000

He deign'd not to belie his soul in songs,
Nor turn his very talent to a crime;
He did not loathe the Sire to laud the Son,
But closed the tyrant-hater he begun.
Byron on Milton's republicanism, 1818

What I have spoken is the language of that which is not called amiss "The Good Old Cause". John Milton, 1660

Compiled by Nick Cohen, Francis Wheen, Steve Richards, Tessa Bold, Julius Walker, Caroline Iggulden