Headmaster’s Thoughts — March 2015

I want to say at the outset that I am sure all the current “Royals” in Britain are very nice people. I have not met them, and almost certainly never will, but I have absolutely no reason to think that they are not delightful. Having said that, I cannot cease to wonder why Americans make such a fuss about them? When Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (a university neither of them attended as students) visited New York, one might have thought that it was the second coming of the Messiah for all the adulation given them.

So let us be realistic; they are the descendants of a warlord. That is their sole claim to fame. Nothing else! Their grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, is a direct descendant of King Henry VII, formerly Henry Tudor. And he was a warlord. He had no strong claim to the throne and there were many others who had a far greater claim than he. But he had an army and he won the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, defeating (and killing) the rightful King, Richard III. “Rightful” only in the sense that Richard was the legitimate heir of another warlord, William the Conqueror. Henry Tudor then had the good sense to marry Elizabeth of York who had a far better claim to the throne than he did.

Henry’s army was a result of what has become known as “bastard feudalism.” Basically this meant that a powerful nobleman had indentured servants who, in effect, were mercenary soldiers. Together, noblemen would pool these mini armies to fight the mini armies of other nobles, and, at Bosworth Field, Henry’s mercenaries and those of his allied nobles defeated the King’s army (Richard III) and the mercenaries of his allied nobles-much like what is going on in Libya, Syria, or Yemen today. If that is not “warlordism,” then what is?

I am not saying that Henry was a bad warlord. He seems to have been a highly intelligent and prudent monarch. One of the first things he did was to get rid of “bastard feudalism.” He did not want to face another mercenary army in the future. He also was lucky because his granddaughter (Queen Elizabeth I) had one of the greatest public relations artists in the world who, to help her Tudor cause, wrote about the battle in which her grandfather won the kingdom. The P.R. man was, of course, William Shakespeare, and his play “Richard III” has shaped our view of the struggle between Henry Tudor (good) versus Richard (evil) ever since. Josphine Tey’s wonderful book “Daughter of Time” is worth reading to get a different perspective. But I digress (as I always do).

Warlords give themselves very elaborate titles to ensure that they get some respect, and less carping, about the fact that they are monarchs only because they were successful in battle. In Britain, the title is “Your Majesty” or “Your Royal Highness.” Think about that one carefully. Why high? Do they float?

A more recent warlord was Reza Pahlavi who started off as a gunnery sergeant and rose to be a brigadier in the Cossack Army. With his Cossack brigade he seized power from the last Shah of Persia and called himself the new Shah of Iran. “Shah” means “King of Kings.” He was forced to abdicate by the British in 1941 in favor of his son Mohammad-Ali who ascended to the “Peacock Throne”, and who was ultimately deposed by the Iranian Revolution of 1979. At that time he (Shah II, so to speak) was the richest man in Iran worth several billions. All of his children were called prince or princess and, if you met him, you had to call him “Your Highness” or “Your Majesty.” Sound familiar?

Napoleon, that extremely competent warlord from Corsica, called himself Emperor. Well, why not? If you win at warlording, you can call yourself anything you want; and your children, if you are lucky enough to have heirs that keep reproducing and hanging on to the “empire,” can call themselves anything they want, or, alternatively, have others not call themselves the name those heirs were given. In this way they further distinguish their royal lineage.

In 1948, a communist guerrilla named Kim Song-ju seized power in a Northern part of Korea and renamed himself “Kim ll-sung” which translates to “Became the Sun.” His grandson is the present Supreme Leader of “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (North Korea for the rest of us). By edict of this Supreme Leader in 2014, anyone else in North Korea who had the same name as him (Kim Jong-un) was required to change their name. How many generations before we call his descendants “Your Imperial Majesty” or “Your Highness?”

So I have no illusions about the British Royal Family or how they got to their present position. They are, I repeat, the descendants of warlords. They can give out titles (which require that you swear allegiance to them), they are the wealthiest family in Britain by total assets, and their business does not involve actually doing anything. Yes, they are good ambassadors for the country (but for the perks, would you not be too?). Yes, they do help the economy by contributing to the “theme park” nature of Great Britain. But then, so does Cinderella when she sits on her float every afternoon in the grand parade at the Disneyland theme park. Unfortunately for her, the palace she comes out from is not real.

Hillary Mantel, the brilliant author of Wolf Hall, was widely criticized for her speech earlier last year when she described Kate Middleton as “basically breeding stock.” Perhaps this is why I love Ms. Mantel’s historical novels. She has captured the very essence of the British Royal Family business: keep the gains of their warlord predecessor intact for the next generation.

But, as I said at the beginning, I am sure they are all very nice people.

Ronald P. Stewart
Headmaster
York Prep