Monday, March 19, 2007

Come Again, Your Majesty?

It's been about 2 weeks since I saw The Queen, and I'm still stewing over one throwaway line. In Scotland, Elizabeth II is wringing her hands about the impossible demands of those pesky commoners and wondering if it's time she stepped aside in favor of Charles. Her indomitable mother rears back in horror and says she can't do that because she's part of "an unbroken line going back a thousand years."

I can't figure out whether that line represents the royal family's view of itself or the filmmakers'. But either way, it's patent nonsense.

When historians talk about "an unbroken line" of descent, they mean from parent (generally father) to child (generally son) through the generations. Sometimes they may even count such things as passing the title from brother to brother or uncle to nephew. They don't mean an illegitimately descended cousin killing the king and taking the throne for himself; deposing a king whose religion you don't like; or disinheriting the legitimate son of that king and passing the crown to a cousin who is 52nd in line for the throne. (I think there's probably still a few Scots around who'd give you an argument about that.)

Even if the Queen Mum is just saying that, unlike other European royalty, the English monarchy has existed since the time of William the Conqueror, that too is less than factual. Or maybe she just forgot about Oliver Cromwell and that whole pesky Interregnum thing.

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