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All things fall and are built again

And those that build them again are gay.

From “Lapis Lazuli,” by William Butler Yeats

In the first months after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, in 2020, more than 130 Confederate statues were pulled down by protesters, removed by government decree or toppled and vandalized.

Not long after King Charles the First was beheaded in London, in 1649, the “coronation regalia” were brought to the Tower of London and destroyed by order of Parliament. Diamonds and other precious stones were pried from crowns and sold. The gold was melted down and shaped into coins stamped not with a monarch but “Commonwealth of England.”

In 2001 the Taliban blew up two huge and priceless statues of Buddha carved into the cliffs of Bamiyan, in Afghanistan. The buddhas dated back to the 6th century.

And on we go. Fast forward a thousand years from the sixth century to Oliver Cromwell’s times, to a statue of Charles the First astride his horse. You can see it today at Trafalgar Square near Nelson’s Column in London. Here it is:

After the English Civil Wars of the 1640’s and 50’s, Parliament sold the bronze of Charles and his horse to a local metalsmith with orders to destroy it. Instead, he hid the statue and sold brass-handled cutlery supposedly made from the statue to both Royalists and Parliamentarians. It wasn’t until 1675, fifteen years after Charles the Second was brought back from exile in France and crowned king, that the statue was placed in its present location.

Intent on restoring the glitter of majesty, Charles II also had the crown jewels made again, at a cost of about 13,000 pounds. These have survived better than their predecessors. Queen Elizabeth wore them at her coronation in 1953. Perhaps they will soon adorn another Charles.

Why do so many of us so love monarchy, even or perhaps especially in the United States? In my childhood, my favorite cookie tin pictured all the queens of England:

In the 1950’s my older sister had paper dolls of the Royal Family and because little Prince Charles was about her age, we were sure they’d get married one day.

A new book, Crown and Sceptre, recently reviewed in the Wall Street Journal, makes the case for why the monarchy, with its wildly expensive upkeep, still stirs up such passionate loyalty. The book’s author, Tracy Borman, who is joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces and Chief Executive of the Heritage Trust, “believes the very ‘toys and trifles’ so disdained by Cromwell’s republicans, “may be the key to its continuity, its longevity and, ultimately, its survival.” (Stephen Brumwell’s review in The Wall Street Journal online, 16 Feb 2022).

Ms. Borman chose to marry her husband at the Tower of London.

Posted on: Feb. 28, 2022

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