1688 and all that

20 Jan 2013

Nick Clegg’s quest for a Britain acceptable to the great gods of equality and human rights continues. Having been frustrated in his efforts to scupper first past the post and the House of Lords, he now lifts his sights to the throne itself. “The cold queen of England is looking in the glass,” wrote G. K. Chesterton of the Protestant Elizabeth I’s refusal to take part in the Holy League’s expedition against the Turk at Lepanto in 1571. Her successor Elizabeth II will now have to look a little less coldly at the tumult and turmoil raging across the Channel: she may even feel her own position as Head of State and Supreme Governor of the Church of England has become a little less secure: for the long established prohibition against members of the Royal Family marrying Catholics is to end, at the precise moment that Mr Clegg (the Lord President of the Council) says it will. When Caesar says “do this”, it is performed.


One might invoke Edmund Burke on the Queen of France during the French Revolution (“I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult”) but the occasion might be felt not to warrant such grandeur. All the same one feels some sort of protest, however mealy-mouthed, should be recorded. Allow me to draw some reasons why Mr Clegg’s insult to the monarchy is yet further proof, if further proof were needed, that the age of chivalry is gone and the age of sophisters, economists and calculators (do we see our own Messrs Clegg and Cameron?) has succeeded.

The present laws governing succession date from 1702, after the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 when the previous Catholic possessor of the throne, James II, was driven out, King Lear-style, by an alliance of his own daughters, the eldest of whom, Mary, had married William of Orange, the Protestant Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, with the Whigs – a sort of antique version of the Liberal Democrats – in Parliament. The last battle to take place on English soil was at Clifton in 1745 when James’s grandson Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland from France to lead an ill-fated rebellion of the Highland clans in support of the exiled House of Stuart. Is this the future that Nick Clegg sees before us? I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.

No, I sense that some more persuasion is still needed before members of the Youth Parliament chain themselves to that gates at Buckingham Palace and throw rotten eggs and tomatoes at Lord President Mr Clegg when he makes his next visit to his Sovereign. The controversy in 1688 of course originally arose from a disputed succession – James’s second wife Mary of Modena – also a Catholic – had recently given birth to a son, meaning the heir to the throne was now a Catholic rather than James’s Protestant daughters from his first marriage. Now we may be getting nearer the iniquity of Mr Clegg’s Popish tricks. For he also plots to abolish the male succession: “In terram Salicam mulieres ne succedant”. In an echo of the warming pan trick – the lie that was put about by Protestants in Parliament that James’s son was not his own but had been smuggled into the bedchamber in a warming pan – if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s firstborn is a girl then she will succeed over a later born brother.

Now there are not many Catholic European states that are still monarchies, but Spain – the homeland of Mr Clegg’s beguiling, bewitching wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, and of his three sons Alberto, Alfonso and Pablo – is one of them. Rebuffed by the cold Queen of England’s armada of 1588, we at last can see Spain’s revenge forming. Well, I am going to Spain next month to teach English and I will tell King Juan Carlos to keep his filthy hands well away from the Duchess of Cambridge’s daughter.

By Samuel Johnson

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