Looking back, looking ahead. The British monarchy: Queen Elizabeth and beyond

Letters / Opinions

She was always there. But now, suddenly, she has gone. Subhuti comments on the transition from Queen Elizabeth to King Charles.

Heirs to the British throne

Looking back, I can congratulate my mother, Betty, on the timing of her 100th birthday.

She reached it while Queen Elizabeth was still alive and so could receive the Royal message of congratulations from the monarch whom she admired for all her life.

I don’t think Betty would have been so impressed by a similar message from King Charles III, the Queen’s successor.

And my mother’s attitude may well reflect the general mood of the British people and influence the future of the monarchy.

There is nothing wrong with Charles as a regular human being. He is intelligent, sensitive and was championing the protection of the environment and organic farming long before these ideas gained popular support.

But it will be difficult for him to sustain the illusion of national greatness and glory that his mother somehow managed to carry on her shoulders, in a long, lingering, hangover from the last days of the British Empire.

My mother was born in May, 1922, over a century ago, and the Queen four years later.

The Empire was still intact: India, Australia, Canada, great swathes of Africa… the sun never set on British-dominated territory.

And although the United States was now the most powerful nation on Earth, it was, after all, our closest ally and they did speak the English language – after a fashion, anyway.

A short while later, the Queen, at 19, was just old enough to serve briefly in the Armed Services, towards the end of the war, learning to drive and repair trucks.

Likewise, my mother would have entered “the Wrens”, as the Women’s Royal Naval Service was called, but instead encountered the Navy in a different way: in a whirlwind wartime romance, she met and married my father, a handsome British Naval officer, and soon gave birth to a couple of babies.

My brother came first, then, in 1945, just as the war ended, came me.

Victory over Germany seemed a testimony to British power, and it was quietly forgotten that Adolf Hitler’s defeat was due mainly to the combined might of America and Russia.

I can vaguely remember the Queen’s Coronation, in 1953, when I was eight years old and Elizabeth was 27.

The line of golden coaches and dazzling costumes and uniforms seemed to go on forever.

And it was claimed that God himself had anointed the young Queen to rule for life, albeit through his mortal deputy, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in Westminster Abbey.

By that time, the Empire was crumbling. India, the fabled jewel in the monarch’s crown, had already gone and many more countries were soon to follow.

But shrewd British politicians quickly invented the “Commonwealth of Nations,” a sort of post-Empire club of former colonies, with the Queen as its head.

The power may have ebbed away, but the illusion of greatness carried on.

In 1966, when our national team won the soccer World Cup, it was a kind of symbolic re-enactment of World War II, with England beating Germany 4-2.

The nation was ecstatic, not least because of an underlying attitude that England should win, deserved to win, and had the moral right to win.

The fact that, since then, the men’s team has lost most of their games with Germany has been a minor inconvenience to this myth of national supremacy.

As the Queen’s four children grew up, a slow-motion disaster hit the monarchy: one by one, their marriages fell apart: Charles and Diana, Andrew and Fergie, Anne and Mark… only the last-born and late-marrying Prince Edward avoided a break-up.

This highlighted a paradox: the function of the Royals was to be figureheads, people for the public to look up to and admire, far removed from ordinary human failings.

Yet now, under the magnifying glass of Britain’s relentlessly invasive tabloid newspapers, they were exposed as stumbling, fumbling folks like you and me.

Only the Queen remained above it all.

Her consort, Prince Philip, had reportedly indulged in numerous love affairs over many years, but, by some miracle, had never been caught.

Perhaps God had, indeed, saved the Queen, sparing her humiliation.

Now it’s the turn of the Queen’s grandchildren to be scrutinized by the mass media, with Harry and his American wife Meghan catching negative headlines for leaving the Windsor fold and telling tales in Hollywood.

William and Kate, meanwhile, have emphasized that their own kids will be allowed to “have feelings,” a pointed jab at the Royal tradition of “keeping a stiff upper lip” and burying emotions.

So, for the younger generations of Windsors, a less stiff, more human, more feeling lifestyle seems guaranteed.

But, as Hamlet would say, “Aye, there’s the rub.”

Why? Because the more human the Royal Family members become, the less capable they are of carrying the golden, glittering burden of the past on their shoulders.

They become too down-to-earth, too ordinary, for people to project the illusion of greatness on their fragile frames.

This, together with today’s challenging economic times, may well prompt the British public and its politicians to want to down-size the monarchy, cutting its massive budget of over £100 million a year, selling off little-used stately homes, reducing the number of helicopter rides and so on.

But this is the paradox: the more the Royal budget is slashed, and the less pomp and pageantry that is allowed, the greater will be the difficulty in maintaining a sense of Britain’s greatness, symbolized by these figureheads.

So, the impulse to down-size the Royals is natural, but would invite a kind of unintended national suicide, destroying the nation’s collective, grandiose, self-image.

It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out in the years ahead.

For sure, King Charles will preside over a very different kingdom than the one his mother inherited, 70 years earlier, and in a different way.

He won’t be able to imitate her comforting image as a smiling, lovable old lady, regarded by her loyal subjects as “everybody’s second mum.” Charles will have to find his own way.

Meanwhile, sound the trumpets, roll the drums, and stand by for a massive state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II, televised around the world, watched by millions.

The last monarch of any real stature is about to be sent off in Royal style.

Historical footnote:

By the way, when Prince Charles visited India, in 1980, he met his cousin, Prince Welf of Hanover, who by that time had become a disciple of Osho and was called Swami Vimalkirti. Dressed in an orange robe, with a mala around his neck, Vimalkirti told Charles about Osho, and the British prince said he would have liked to join his cousin and meet the mystic, but it would damage his reputation and endanger his future as a Royal. “I want to be king,” Charles told his cousin. Forty-two years later, all one can say is, “Charles, good luck, I hope the wait was worth it!”

Osho says:

“…Prince Charles is deeply interested in meditation. He is also interested in exploring the inner world. But in the West, unfortunately, such people are thought to be a little crazy – a little loony.

His statements – that he talks to his plants to help them grow – have created almost a scandal all over England. They don’t think that their future king should talk such nonsense – although it is not nonsense. But from a man from the royal family, and particularly the man who is going to be the king, England must be feeling very insecure. His going alone in the desert or to small villages to find peace of mind is very disturbing to the British traditional, orthodox Christian; it is disturbing to his family, to the queen and to his father, Prince Philip.

When he was in India, he had specially called Vimalkirti and his wife, Turiya – they both were my sannyasins. Vimalkirti was one of his cousins. Vimalkirti was the great-grandson of the German emperor, and he was directly connected to Prince Philip; Prince Philip was his mother’s brother.

He talked for hours about me, about meditation, about what is happening here. Vimalkirti and Turiya both invited him to come; he was very interested, but very afraid of the royal family. He was specially told by Queen Elizabeth not to go to Poona. He went to see the shankaracharya, he went to see Mother Teresa, but Queen Elizabeth was more afraid of Poona than anything.

In the East, kings were sent – particularly future kings – to the great seers and mystics to learn the ways of inner life, because a king is not of any worth if he has no contact with himself. If he is just an extrovert, he cannot be a blessing to his people. For years in the East the princes used to sit at the feet of the masters to learn silence, to learn compassion, to learn meditation, to become aware of the mysteries of existence. The king should not only be aware of the mundane world, he should also have his roots in the sacred — only then is he a complete man. And only then can he look after his people in all aspects of life. But in the West, it is totally a different thing.

Prince Charles is being thought of as if he is a little crazy, and England is worried because he is going to be the king. He has already started throwing his weight; he insists on his way of life…”

Osho, The Golden Future, Ch 35 (29 May 1987 am in Chuang Tzu Auditorium)


Subhuti is author of Wild Wild Guru, an account of his life with Osho, published by Hodder & Stoughton in London. Italian translation by Spazio Interiore. subhutianand.com

Comments are closed.