Monday, May 21, 2018

The English Are In The News Again

Another marriage between an officially-in-line-to-the-throne Royal Prince of England and an American divorcee is in the news this week. It won't be quite the splash that his uncle the Crown Prince Edward and the American divorcee Wallis Simpson made back in the 1930s, but splash it will. Why this should be true is a question for the ages.

The English hold a dark fascination for some Americans, and probably for many of their former colonials in far flung Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well. Not to mention the various coffee-colored former English colonials all around the world. I say that with love and a touch of sarcasm, directed at the English, and not my fellow ex-colonials. Some of them are probably fascinated as well. “The English,” I hesitate even to even type the word anymore, because the line between the English and the British and mere “citizens of the United Kingdom” is so nebulous these days, important, evidently, only to fans of Brexit and football. Who were the English anyway, and are there any left in the world at this point?

They were the big show there for a while. It's quite an interesting story, because upon examination it turns out that the English came on the scene fairly late in “British” history, and left fairly early. The Romans quietly took over the more accessible parts of the British Isles in the first century, A.D., and what they found there was a variety of waring Celtic tribes. Didn't they call it, “Britannia?” The parts that the Romans took over look suspiciously like “England” when drawn on a map. The parts that the Romans didn't bother with remained in the hands of some of the Celtic peoples, the Welsh, the Scots, and the Irish. The Romans left their Brits speaking a very Latinized version of whatever they had been speaking before the Romans arrived.

The Romans finally abandoned the place at some point, and the void was quickly filed by some Germans. The Angles and the Saxons, two big tribes who had somehow discovered that the weather was slightly better on the largest British Isle. They brought their language and grafted it onto the existing Latinized mess, and the result was Olde English, which you and I would be hard pressed to make heads or tails of. This was in the days of King Arthur and the Round Table, a semi-mythical time that is also known as the “Dark Ages.”

This went on for only a few hundred years before another group of continentals became covetous of the English weather and farmland. That was the Normans, who were, first and foremost, French, but had originally been some kind of Vikings, “Northmen.” Europe was in a state of some flux there for one or two thousand years.

That was 1066 A.D., the title of a great book by W.C. Seller and R.J. Yeatman, “1066 and All That.” Look it up! It's still on Amazon. The Normans took over all of the Anglo-Saxon parts of the island, and Celtic Wales as well, and even some parts of Ireland, and they stayed for a long time. In fact, they're still there. The Normans spoke French, and that turns out to have been a great bit of luck for the entire world. With the Normans firmly in charge, all governing and record keeping was done in French, and over time the French language crowded out most of the Olde English. This is why we still refer to many legal documents with two words, like, “Final Will and Testament.” The “will” part is the Germanic word; the “testament” part is the French word.

In 1066, if you had landed somehow anywhere in England, you wouldn't have understood a word that anyone said to you, and you would hardly have been able to read a word that anyone wrote down. By 1600 A.D., you would be able to converse with anyone and we had the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare, which most people can still read. Go ahead and take a moment, you can thanks the French for that.

So really, the English themselves only came to the island in about the year 500 A.D., and they had been thoroughly taken over and supplanted by about 1100 A.D. They still get an awful lot of credit for what followed, and I'm not sure that they deserve much of that credit at all.

Now our Prince Harry is married to the American divorcee, Meghan Markle, and I certainly wish them the best of luck. The family as a whole seem like a bunch of cold fish, including big brother William, who is, after all, being groomed for the throne. One day he'll be the owner and keeper of all of the swans on the upper Thames and all of the sturgeon in the English Channel! And, lest we forget, the magisterial ruler of the Isles of Mann and White. Responsibility like that sobers a person. Harry, to his credit, actually seems to have some blood running in his veins, and red blood at that. He seems to have a human personality, God bless him. If this were a fairy tale, and I were the aging king, I might give our Harry the golden ring and hand him the crown. He seems to have the common touch; he gets along with the full range of income demographics; and he certainly didn't shirk his nobless oblige duty to do military service at the tip of the spear. Good for Harry! Yeah, I'd hand him the prize.

But let's just say “good luck! Pip-pip! Cheerio! Long life and happiness!” Harry and Meghan, go forth and multiply! I'll bet that our Harry is quite happy to be as removed from the throne as he is.

It's a lot of work, after all, being the king, or even being close to the job, so his life will be much easier at some remove from the throne. And the Royal Family has enough income to go around, so Harry's yearly share of the take will still be a prince's ransom. (Yes, I just said that.) His children will have titles and incomes of their own. This could be a story with a very happy ending.

Or he could end up disgraced somehow like his uncle Edward, making appearances on the modern equivalent of the Merv Griffin Show, wearing the most beautiful custom made suits in the world and being the first person in fashion-conscious New York City to wear tinted aviator glasses while not flying an airplane. That's not Harry's style, though. He'd more likely show up getting high with snowboarders in Aspen. We'll have to wait and see how that all turns out.

Honestly, the entire race rose and fell without my input, so I expect that they will continue to do fine without my help. Or not, upon reflection, since the entire enterprise seems to be on the verge of falling apart. I suppose that I do wish them well, because there are many people in the English part of the British Isles with whom I could trace back common ancestors very easily. Hail and fair well, Ceely cousins! As comedic as your situation often strikes me, it's nothing personal. May you be among the lucky ones in this time of trouble.

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