A Stuart Restoration, albeit in very oblique form, is now once more in the offing. Lady Diana is descended no less than five times over from Charles I and has closer links than almost any living person with 'James III' — the old Pretender — and his son Bonnie Prince Charlie. Gerard Noel looks at some of the strange genealogical quirks of next week's royal wedding.
THE CHRISTIAN Church was originally a humble community of believers the earthly mother of whose divine founder was associated with the dethroning of monarchical idols. For the great figures of the Old Law were not the Kings but the Prophets. Some centuries later, however, a prouder and more worldly Church usurped the symbols and possessions of earthly kingdoms and itself became "royal."
In the middle ages this usurpation was. reversed and kings wrenched back their regal trappings from the princes and ford bishops of the church. But by this time the sceptres and crowns they won back had acquired an aura of spurious divinity. Thus arose, quite Fortuitously. the great myth of the so-called "divine right of kings."
It is a cosy myth and, like most myths, it is both popular and useful. It elevates royalty besodd normal reach and makes veneration for it an undemanding substitute for the rigours of actual religion. But what has all this to do with the forthcoming marriage of the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer?
Quite a lot actually. not least because of the Prince's Christian name. For Prince Charles, if he ascends the throne with that name. will take U.S back at one long jump to the 1.Me of the .Stuarta. And it was during the time of the only two Charles's so far to grace our throne that the "divine right of kings" underwent crucial development. Under the weak and unfortunate Charles I the myth was largely shattered: under his son. the second Charles. it was partially recovered but in circumstances that made ultimately possible the constitutional monarchy of later years.
At this point, however, your well-informed genealogist will leap up and point out something surprising about the lineage of our present Prince of Wales. He is descended from every single English monarch who left legitimate offspring with certain very notable exceptions. He is not descended from either Charles l or Charles II. How then can his coming to the throne represent any real link with the main Stuart line of the seventeenth century?
The answer is: through his wife-to-be, Lady Diana. She is descended no less than five times over from Charles 1. through his eldest son Charles II. Admittedly the descent is entirely by way of various illegitimate children of the 'Merry Monarch." But the descent is there all the same and the children of the future Prince and Princess of Wales will have more genuine Stuart blood in their veins than any members of our royal family for three centuries.
Lady Diana, moreover, is directly descended not only from Charles 11 but also from James II and thus has closer living links than almost any other living person with "James 111" — the Old Pretender — and his son Bonnie Prince Charlie. The royal Stuart line as such then died out, its last representative being Bonnie Prince Charlie's brother Henry, the Cardinal Duke of York. But a "Stuart Restoration", albeit in very oblique form, is now once more in the offing.
All this conjures up a vision of excitement spiced not only with glamour but also with possible danger: the kind of danger that can bring out the best in human nature in general and in monarchy in particular. For the first Caroline age was one of revolution. We too are living in an age of revolution. The recent riots may only be an early warning of far greater bitterness ahead.
Almost certainly, therefore, we are entering the most radically revolutionary period in our history since the civil war and the Commonwealth. But the same basic elements seem to be present now as then. For as Christopher Hill. the tinguished former Master of Balliol demonstrated so clearly. the first revolution had all the elements later delineated by K al Marx; and the people's enemy was that same sort of elitist oligarchy who, having come back with the Restoration. still monopolises, but with greater camouflage, the main sources of real power in the country.
Could the monarchy be the people's truest friend in the years ahead when the choice might seem, as in Spain today where a hard-pressed King gallantly holds a precarious balance, to lie between two extremes? A swing to the true left some time after 1984 could be followed by a swing to the extreme right ten years later. An undeclared civil war? Some say it could amount to that.
But the future Charles 111 is easily as physically brave as Charles I ultimately proved himself to be, while fortunately lacking the latter's fatal weaknesses. Paradoxically, therefore, we could find the challenges of civil unrest being met by a new golden age of popular monarchy. For Charles the New would surely be as near to his own people as Charles I was ever at a distance from his.
If ever confronted with a genuinely revolutionary situation. moreover, Charles III would have everything to learn from Charles 1: mostly what not to do to be a successful monarch in times of national division. For poor Charles I was a disastrously unmasculine character, bereft of the common touch which came so naturally to his father and son — and is of course possessed by our very own Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mark 1981. Our Charles is an optimist. That Charles was a pessimist. This very fact, admittedly. gave him a certain appealing tristesse, a sort of "pre-Raphaelite droop" as someone once called it — which has always endeared him to old ladies with AngloCatholic leanings. But he gave himself away when writing to his already disillusioned wife "I put little or no difference between setting up the presbyterian government or submitting to the Church of Rome". And his own Archbishop, the mighty William Laud, called him a "mild and gracious prince who knew not how to be. or be made, great." He even signed away the life of his would be friend Lord Strafford. But for all his sins he paid the price of martyrdom with such incredible physical courage that he has rightly been deemed by some as worthy of canonisation by Rome as an Anglican saint!
If Charles II was the cleverest and most resourceful monarch to sit on our thorne, then the husband of the direct descendant of these two Charles's has only to combine the courage of the one with the mental agility of the other to prove, in the next century, to be the ideal popular monarch: masculine but gracious; intelligent without being too intellectual; approachable without being commonplace; a man who may or may not have "divine rights" but has certainly inherited from an exemplary Queen a lively sense of "divine duty.For duty can surely be "divine'. in the sense, as with the "theological virtues,— of being infused by God Himself for the perfection of the individual in a context of brotherhood.
Charles I on the scaffold proclaimed his belief in his people's liberty. But he still believed that such people had no right to any share in their own government. For this mistake he paid the supreme penalty.
But when the Prince of Wales marries the descendant of the martyred King he will do so to the cheers of a people who, if by no means free of cares and grievances, have, as he knows so well, a "divine rightto their full share of "self-governmentin the true sense. His is the divine duty to protect their right and theirs a duty not to abuse it.
If such thoughts seem somewhat sombre during the run-up to so joyous an occasion, let's remember how the bride's other royal ancestor, Charles II, was the man who enabled his country to laugh again. A few hours before he died he said "Let not poor Nelly starve-. The remark was not merely frivolous, or suggestive of lustful memories about his favourite mistress. He was at peace at last and about to be received into the Catholic Church.
It was in fact those same oack stairs to the palace so often used by the merry monarch's fair friends that were now used by his last secret visitor — Father Huddleston. Charles did not wish to die in any kind of darkness. "Open the curtains," he commanded on the last morning of his life, "that I might see the day."