Recently I watched "King Charles III," a TV version of the play which opened in London in 2014, and also on Broadway in 2015. The play begins with the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II and the accession of her son, the Prince of Wales, to the throne. The TV version is intentionally Shakespearean and, I think, well done.
King Charles is presented with a Parliamentary enactment limiting freedom of the press. Astoundingly, he refuses on principle to sign it into law. His refusal is astounding because for 200 years it has been assumed that the British monarch cannot refuse to sign. As Walter Bagehot said of Queen Victoria in his 1867 classic, "The English Constitution," "She must sign her own death-warrant if the two Houses unanimously send it up to her."
The Prime Minister then threatens King Charles that Parliament will enact a law formally taking away his power to withhold consent, and neither the script writers nor Charles notice that a king who could veto the first bill could also veto the one depriving him of the veto power.
Instead, Charles ups the ante by dissolving the House of Commons and calling for new elections, setting the scene for the political and family dramas that ensue. I will not spoil the story for future viewers by giving further details, but I was upset by it. I knew that it is just a work of fiction, and that resemblance to actual people was totally coincidental, but I had long had a soft spot in my heart for Prince Charles.
In the late 1960s, just beginning my 36 years at Adrian College, I tried to get Adrian's administration to approach the British royal family and convince them that we would be the ideal place for Prince Charles to go to college. To get the Prince for the next freshman class would really put us on the map, attracting increased applications from American students, perhaps especially from coeds interested in becoming the next Queen of England. I noted that research for my doctoral dissertation, "The Monarchical Institution in Constitutional Democracy," could make me an ideal tutor for the future King of England.
Perhaps the Adrian administration lacked a little in the way of imagination, or in a sense of humor, but for whatever reason it did not take my proposal seriously. I can't help thinking, though, that if Charles had studied at Adrian College he might have married a nice intelligent midwestern woman with whom he had really fallen in love, avoiding the unpleasantness of his actual marriage to Diana.
The play "King Charles III" reminds us that not all democracies are republics and that democratic leaders can sometimes undermine the conditions — such as freedom of speech and press — that are necessary for democracies to function. Ironically, the play finds a leader who has not been elected trying to prevent elected politicians from destroying the press freedom necessary for democracy.
Once in a while a monarch may be able to do something that people find astounding. Just recently, for example, it transpired that the Dutch king, Willem-Alexander, has secretly been working part-time as a KLM pilot for the last 21 years. But the play reminds us that royal families are made up of human being whose economic and social privileges may not always compensate for their inability to lead normal private lives.
As I explained in the Adrian alumni magazine in 1966, my research concluded that constitutional monarchy has some advantages over republics and that monarchies are compatible with democracy.
However I did not accept the suggestion of Gottfried Dietze, my faculty adviser, to advocate converting the U.S. into a constitutional monarchy! Although countries that already have monarchs would do well to keep them, I felt, the advantages of monarchy would not outweigh the costs of changing to one in the U.S.
If works of fiction in which monarchs are portrayed can help us understand the world better, that is all to the good. For me, "King Charles III" joins plays like George Bernard Shaw's "The Apple Cart," and novels like Nevil Shute's "In The Wet," and also Robert A. Heinlein's "Double Star" (which inspired my doctoral dissertation) as entertainment which is also educational.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published 1981 and his most recent book is "The Case of the Racist Choir Conductor: Struggling With America's Original Sin." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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