OK, I’ll confess.  British history, and in particular the thousand-plus year tapestry of England’s kings and queens, is kind of my thing—although for no good reason.  I’m one of the few Americans who can recite, from memory, the sequence of sovereigns from the time of William the Conqueror to the present.  If that’s not a wasted use of memory, what is?  Actually, I can go earlier than that.   Before William I we had King Harald, and before him there was Edward the Confessor (who built Westminster Abbey), and his predecessor was King Canute (who failed to hold back the tides), and at that point you’re in Viking times. 

Yes, Vikings and their descendants ruled England for more than half a millennium, pretty much up until the Windsors arrived although most historians don’t see it that way.  It kind of depends on how you define Vikings.  Common wisdom has it that after the Norman Conquest, England turned French. 

Oh really?  Sure, the ruling class spoke French, but who were those Normans exactly?  They were Vikings.  Don’t believe me?  Well, where do you think the name “Norman” comes from?  It’s a derivative of “Norseman,” at the time a synonym for Vikings.  Yep, William’s great grandfather was a Viking from Norway who came down and conquered that section of France that is today called Normandy.  Get it?  So all those kings and queens who descended from William the Conquerer were themselves Vikings—at least by ancestry:  Edward 1 (who Mel Gibson fought in Braveheart), Henry VIII of the six wives, the bloody Queen Mary who bequeathed to the world a famous alcoholic drink, her half-sister Queen Elizabeth 1 after whom the state of Virginia is named (QE1 was a virgin, get it?), King James (of Bible fame), etc.  All descendants of  Vikings. 

Americans, perhaps as a result of their own polyglot ancestry, have mixed feelings about the British Royals.   Every American has their personal heritage-track, but the United States itself clearly descends from Great Britain.  We were a British colony until—like a petulant teenager—we broke off and declared ourselves a constitutional republic.

By the early 20th century we’d sort of kissed-and-made-up with our ancient ancestor on the other side of the pond, and we’ve been firm allies ever since.  How firm?  England can’t stand Prince Harry and his bitter American wife, and Americans can’t stand them either.  That’s called solidarity. 

But how do Americans feel about the British monarchy itself, as an institution?  Well, having grown up in a literary and film culture that makes much of kings and queens and princesses-locked-in-tall-towers, we’re kind of into that stuff, even if we don’t understand it, really.  And we see it through a fairy-tale lens.  What girl doesn’t want to be a princess?  What guy doesn’t want to be a knight in shining armor, or at least a frog that a princess will kiss and thus be turned into a prince.  Or however that works.  One of America’s most popular tourist attractions, Disneyland, features a medieval European castle as its emblem. 

But the trajectory of the British monarchy has been a bit strange.  Most countries, for most of their history, had powerful despotic rulers who often bore noble titles.  And most of them eventually got overthrown in bloody revolutions.  Because how much “…then let them eat cake…” royal indifference to the common people’s suffering can one bear? 

The English monarchy avoided that fate, by—over hundreds of years—slowly and not particularly willingly ceding power to Parliament and Government. 

The entire feudal system imposed on England by William the Conqueror (in which the King owned all the land of England), is almost entirely gone, with the exception that the British Monarchy today still owns quite a bit of land.  That’s why the royals are rich.  (Why, thank you William!) 

But other than having gotten rich on real estate, and today owning some pretty impressive palaces (most of the castles are long gone), England’s royal family is kind of a Petrie-dish  time machine that lets us glimpse a bygone era of privilege, wealth, and deliberate inequality. 

Americans see all that and swoon.  Why? Because it reminds us of those fairy-tales we grew up with.  We love the idea that all that still exists somewhere, across the ocean.  Wouldn’t want it here, of course, but we’re thrilled it hasn’t vanished.  And those enchanted stories from our childhood seem to—in a weird way—keep playing out before our eyes, in London.  Princess Di was Cinderella come to life. In Prince Harry we see kind of a bitter and aggrieved Mordred type, determined to ruin his betters.  And Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, is cast as a kind of evil-stepmother, hating everyone. 

Well, you can’t have great literature without conflict, and today’s Royal Family provides it, to the vast entertainment of us commoners.  OK, maybe today’s battles aren’t the Agincourts and Trafalgars of old.  But what American isn’t secretly transfixed with the question of whether Harry and Meghan will or will not lose their royal titles, now that a new King has come to the throne?  And how will King Charles III fare himself, compared to his earlier namesakes?  Charles I had his head cut off, and Charles II was arguably murdered by poison. 

If Shakespeare were still with us, he’d turn it all into into a new play.  Given that the Bard was a committed Tudor propogandist (think: evil, hunch-backed Richard III), we know how he’d cast Meghan and Harry. 

Say what you want about the British Monarchy and the lavish spectacle of Charles the Third’s coronation, it’s a heck of a lot more entertaining than anything going on right now at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

There will be plenty of “Long Live The King!” toasts in the pubs and clubs of London this weekend, but on this side of the pond nothing remotely similar will be occurring.  We gave all that up ages ago, and aren’t we glad we did?  Well, I guess so. 

But watching the coronation on television, even Americans can be forgiven for still fantasizing about gold-plated carriages, coats-of-arms, princesses-in-towers, magical frogs, and what humanity has always thirsted for: a truly good King. 

Thank you, England, for keeping it all very much alive.   

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