As lawyers examine Catherine Mayer’s new “unhelpful” biography of Prince Charles, with its talk of Wolf Hall-style staff infighting - and the legal wrangling over the “Black Spider Memos” continues - I do not think it churlish of me to say that if Charles had been successor to the throne during the Plantagenet or Tudor eras, he’d have been dispensed with long ago.
I’ve watched enough David Starkey: I know what went on. Back then, the future King - meddlesome, tricky, unpopular - would have been, at the earliest chance, locked in an attic and declared “too poorly to rule”. Or married off - as an annexing device - to an obscure inbred Castilian Princess, then found dead on a skewer following some random pointless war. “Alas, poor Charles,” supporters of William V’s succession would say, feigning regret.
But the fact is that, until recent times, the British monarchy has survived via its internal ruthless ability to rid itself of weaklings, wallies and damn liablilities. More important, however, it has survived via its own healthy respect for what a stupid concept monarchy is. The very notion of one person seated on a gold-embossed chair, wearing a diamond hat, claiming God wants them to be Head of Everything: now that takes guts, wile and considerable skulduggery to enforce.
If the House of Windsor had existed centuries ago, shadowy figures would have quashed any chance of the Charles III succession precisely around the time Lugs messed up his marriage to that very pretty and very popular-with-the-peasants “People’s Princess”. The one who then died in an accident.
As the bouquets, the weeping serfs and the seething scribes multiplied around Kensington Palace, shadowy figures inside would have been plotting Charles’s sudden, tragic death from “sweating sickness”. “This man,” the establishment would have probably have mused, “is a sodding liability, not just to the House of Windsor, but to constitutional order itself! If Liz can keep the seat warm for 15 more years we can pass straight to King William V. We’ve much more chance of moulding that one into a crowd-pleasing puppet.”
In pictures: Prince Charles's most controversial moments
In pictures: Prince Charles's most controversial moments
1/10 Princely influence
The Prince of Wales tried to influence Tony Blair’s government on issues such as grammar schools, alternative medicine and GM food, a BBC radio programme revealed.
2/10 Charles and grammar schools
David Blunkett, right, was among those who disclosed they had been contacted by the Prince of Wales. The former Education Secretary spoke about Prince Charles’ attempts to expand grammar schools, and how he 'didn’t like' it when his suggestion was refused.
3/10 Ignoring austerity
The cost of the monarchy to the taxpayer rose by nearly six per cent last year - more than double the rate of inflation. Travel costs incurred by the Prince of Wales, who has recently begun to take over official duties previously undertaken by his mother, included a £434,000 visit to India with the Duchess of Cornwall, and a charter flight to attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela which cost £246,160
4/10 The 'withered' Prince
Spain’s King Juan Carlos reportedly said the aging Prince Charles was partly his inspiration for abdicating in favour of Crown Prince Felipe (left). He was reported to have said: 'I do not want my son to wither waiting like Prince Charles'
JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images
5/10 Reforming capitalism
In May, the Prince of Wales spoke at a major conference about reforming capitalism - despite being advised not to speak on matters of public controversy. Charles' comments over the course of the month had reignited debate about the British monarchy
6/10 Putin 'acting like Hitler'
Prince Charles was claimed to have compared the actions of Russian leader Vladimir Putin to those of Adolf Hitler during a private conversation with a woman who had fled the Nazis
7/10 Australia? Take it or leave it
In April the veteran Australian journalist David Marr said the Prince of Wales once privately expressed his belief that if Australia became a republic it would be 'no skin off anyone's nose'
8/10 Satanic Verses
Prince Charles turned his back on Sir Salman Rushdie during his fatwa over publication of The Satanic Verses because he thought the book was offensive to Muslims, it was reported earlier this year. The claims were made by Martin Amis, who said Charles told him that he would not offer support 'if someone insults someone else’s deepest convictions'
Prince Charles has reportedly pushed for further research on the NHS about homeopathic remedies for a number of years. Labour MPs reacted with fury at the revelation in July 2013 that the heir to the throne had met Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, with NHS support for homeopathy believed to be on the agenda
10/10 The 'black spider letters'
The Guardian has been trying for years to secure the release of a series of 'particularly frank' letters written by Prince Charles to senior Government figures. In October 2012, the attorney-general Dominic Grieve overruled a court's decision to allow access but now, barring a successful appeal to the Supreme Court, Charles's correspondence will be revealed at last
But as we live in more civilised, transparent times, Charles, regardless of anyone’s migivings about him, is our next, rightful King. Whether he will be our last ever King is growingly debatable. To my mind, he is a republican’s dream candidate. I must stress, I have nothing against Charles personally; by many accounts he is a pampered rather hippy-dippy individual, brimful of opinions - sometimes wrong, sometimes right, but always certain - and with a great capacity for silliness too.
I think we’d probably get along swimmingly, bonding over our shared love of labradors and our mutual loathing of the “monstrous carbuncles” littering the London skyline.
But as an average commoner, do I think Charles is my superior? Do I think he is my intellectual better? Do I think he’s chosen by God to be financially assisted via my tax contributions, and, ergo, someone who should be granted power of veto over democratic decisions if he happens to be in arm’s reach of a felt-tip pen and a pad of Basildon Bond when he’s feeling a bit tricksy? Frankly, no.
Maintaining a monarchy is a fine art of smoke and mirrors. Especially over the past two decades as the public’s natural deference to power has reached rock bottom, replaced by a thriving love of the politics of envy. In the midst of this social flux Elizabeth II and her advisers have made a startlingly good fist of emitting the vibe that she is neither lofty, rattleable, cossetted, grabby, eccentric, irrelevent or a downright nuisance.
The future King Charles, on the other hand, who can emit all of these ill-winds with one misjudged waggle of an untamed eye-brow, is in peril of making the entire Windsor clan look like parsley on the nation’s dinner. Pretty to look at, but who would care really if you whisked them away?
Personally I am rather proud of our monarchy and our high-days and holidays titivated by Horse Guards parades, pomp, ceremony, balcony-waving, Red Arrow fly-pasts, state visits and silly egg-shape gold carriages brought out for royal weddings. They help make Britain Great. But with Charles – even if his thoughts on grammar schools or modern architecture bear scrutiny - I fret that that the national mood may grow bitter and the monarchy’s raison d’etre rather risible.
As my colleague Mark Steel has pointed out, with regards to the monarchy’s supposed role as tourist magnets, “No one ever stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower and said, ‘Hmm, well it's quite a nice view, but the lack of a monarch seems to spoil it’.”
In more cut-throat days, the shadowy powers-that-be would have spied the true value of Prince William and his commoner wife Kate, their Disney style courtship and their relatively normal home. Courtiers would have thrilled at Will and Kate’s adorable pudgy baby and the new one on the way, and their utter non-interest in foreign affairs, architecture or in employing a visible cast of hangers on. There is power and longevity in their innate ability, so far, not to piss anyone off. Sadly, we’re taking a punt on Charlie. I know that I, for one, am looking forward to our eventual UK republican president overlord. I know Tony Blair, or Katie Hopkins, will jump at this exciting opportunity.
Just when you thought it was safe to watch the Super Bowl...
Shark on the left - Katy Perry’s less co-ordinated Superbowl backing dancer – became a “Break the internet” sensation this weekend. It’s not easy at the best of times for a grown man to stay dignified dancing to “Teenage Dream”, but Bryan Gaw, the dancer in question, had only one minute to change into an all-in-one sponge shark suit, before being flung on to the stage in front of 110m viewers.
With arms, legs and vision heavily restricted, Gaw really gave his all to the cause, hitting most of the right moves, just none of them in the correct order.
Keeping in mind that approximately 2 per cent of the UK audience understand anything about football, and are only there for the pop-stars and the midnight snack opportunity, Bryan Gaw should receive some sort of award for entertainment. He made more people happy than anyone up for an Oscar.