Now, after a torrid summer marred by natural tragedies, needless death, and devastating destruction, comes undiluted happy news. Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, has given birth to a prince. So, the first child of a commoner to be welcomed into the British royal family in modern times (Wallis Simpson tried to gatecrash in 1936 and was promptly asked to leave) has delivered an heir to extend the Windsors’ influence into the next generation.
The birth has set off genuine rejoicing around the world as a harmless piece of fun that only a humbug could find offensive. And the impeccably authentic upstairs/downstairs soap opera that makes “Downtown Downton Abbey” look like “The Days of Our Lives” has provided another romantic twist in an endlessly colorful plotline that began nearly two thousand years ago with the Kings of the Angles.
There has been many a slip in succession between the Mercia kings and the new prince. There were pretenders to the throne, including Mary Queen of Scots, Lady Jane Grey, and the Old Pretender, known as the “Warming Pan Baby.” There was a beheading, too, when Charles I fell foul of the parliamentarians, who were every bit as opposed to high taxation and the encroachment of the executive branch as the Tea Party today. But since William and Mary were imported from Holland in the 1688 Glorious Revolution and given the British crown on condition they didn’t interfere with parliament, the British monarchy has been secure.
The new baby will not just accede to the British throne. He will also eventually be crowned king of 15 other countries, including Australia, Canada, Jamaica, and New Zealand. His influence will stretch far wider. As the world has shrunk, so the British royal family has become a free source of pageant-filled entertainment, as well as a guide to how to behave — and how not to behave.
When Franklin Roosevelt was edging America into World War Two in 1939, he had King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to stay at Hyde Park where, over a hot dog picnic, many Americans became re-engaged with the monarchy they rejected in 1776. That unlikely love affair has continued ever since, with American TV networks satisfying their audience’s ready appetite for pomp and circumstance by sending reporting teams to each successive royal wedding and funeral.