Leading Article: Rites and wrongs

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The Independent Online
A Lord Chamberlain who walks backwards; a Chairman of the Board of Green Cloth who licenses pubs in parts of the capital city; a Silver Stick who once squabbled with a Field Officer in Brigade Waiting over who rode on which side of the Royal carriage; a Chief Butler who cannot recall his duties and a Captain, Gentlemen at Arms, who will not reveal them; men carrying banners, sticks, wands, swords and rods of precise specifications. Lewis Carroll never imagined anything quite as bizarre as the British Royal Court, dissected by Richard Tomlinson on pages 14-15.

The case for the defence should be heard. History and tradition help to give a sense of continuity, stability and identity, discouraging political and social extremes. Even 'modern' countries retain historical rituals, such as the electoral college that meets to choose the president of the United States (after the people have already chosen him) next month.

The Queen's Household, however, represents something larger and more important than ritual. First, the courtiers are drawn almost exclusively from a narrow social group: if the positions are not actually hereditary (and, in Scotland, even the act of carving Her Majesty's meat is, in theory, passed from father to son), many are held by members of the peerage. Second, the Court remains exclusively white and Anglo-Saxon. Third, though royalty is supposed to be above politics, the Court overlaps with the upper echelons of the Conservative Party - not just through the positions traditionally held by MPs or peers of the governing party, but through the remarkable number of the Queen's personal appointments who have Tory husbands, fathers or other relatives.

The monarchy, its defenders say, is 'living history'. But some may think that parts of this history live a little too vigorously.