July 26, 2013
The audience was all agog when the stern visage of the British Army colonel leaned over the podium on Tuesday this week. In that short interregnum between the birth of the royal heir and the naming of the same, there was a buzz of anticipation in Washington. In Washington, no less. The last time we had British Army colonels running about, they were torching the place. That was two hundred years ago, however.
Col. Richard Kemp solemnly addressed the mostly Christian audience, saying: “The Palace has authorized me to say that the first name of the royal baby will be—Prince.” The audience howled.
It was not long before the world knew the eight pound-six ounce baby boy’s name—George Alexander Louis Mountbatten-Windsor. That’s quite a moniker, even for a little monarch-er. And the 101-gun salute that was fired in London to celebrate the arrival of the heir to the throne reminds us all that England is still a very special place.
There was plenty of speculation about the child’s name. Americans really don’t have a stake in that game, since we happily sundered all ties with the British royal family on July 4, 1776. King George III was somewhat forgiving—of John Adams. When the great Founding Father served as our first Minister to the Court of St. James’s (as Britain’s diplomatic capital is officially known), the King welcomed him with about as much grace as one could expect.
But when John Adams made bold to bring his young red-headed friend, Thomas Jefferson, to meet King George, the miffed monarch coldly turned his back on the Virginian. He was unwilling to forget how Mr. Jefferson had labeled him a tyrant in the Declaration of Independence.
Not all Britons have been entranced by the Royal Georges, either. Here’s a bit of nineteenth century doggerel that made the rounds after George IV departed this earth.
George the First was always reckoned
Vile, Viler still was George the Second
And what mortal ever heard
Any good of George the Third?
When from the earth the Fourth descended
God be praised the reign of Georges ended!
The author, Walter Savage Landor, was happy to see them depart. George IV, the end of the line, so to speak, was notorious for his philandering ways. When Napoleon expired in exile, courtiers brought the news to the King. “Sire, your worst enemy has died.” “Has she, by God?” He was speaking of his estranged wife. The people sided with the Queen.
It took some 73 years before England had another George—George V. This time, however, the King was a model of public probity. He and his formidable wife, Queen Mary of Teck, reigned for a quarter century (1910-1936). Through World War I, the the General Strike, the Depression, and the Rise of the Dictators, King George V represented an island of stability in a world of dizzying change.
Near the end of his life, George V glumly predicted his airhead son and heir would not last a year on the throne. As King, Edward VIII didn’t. He jumped at the chance to run off with the exquisitely thin American, Wallis Warfield Simpson.
That brought to the throne his younger brother, the Duke of York. He was known as “Bertie” to his family, but he assumed the name of George VI, as King and Emperor. He was to be the last Emperor of India, too.
George VI was supported by his gracious, warm, and devoted wife, Queen Elizabeth. With their two young daughters—the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret—they made their family the center of their lives. (The famous British luxury liners of the last century—Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth—were named for these great queens.)
The recent Oscar-winning film, The King’s Speech, tells the story of George VI’s heroic efforts to overcome a severe stammer. His speech coach—Sir Lionel Logue—also helped my great college professor of Diplomatic History, Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, to overcome his childhood stammer. Sir John was the official biographer of King George VI. The movie earns its “R” rating by its inclusion of all the “sailor words” used to treat the King’s speech impediment. Sadly, the movie doesn’t hint at George VI’s strong Christian faith.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were heroes of World War II. When Buckingham Palace was hit, Queen Elizabeth defiantly said: “Now we can look the East End in the face.” London’s East End, where there were many slums, had been hardest hit by Nazi bombs. As the Blitz intensified, reporters asked the Queen if the young princesses would be sent to safety in Canada. “They will never leave without me. I will never leave without the King. And the King will never leave.”
What magnificent courage! What a heritage for this newborn Prince George of Cambridge. We can be as Yankee Doodle as ever and as republican as our own great George (Washington) wanted us ever to be. Still, we can welcome this child.
As American poet Carl Sandburg wrote: “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” We believe every one deserves a birth day. And we ask God’s blessing on this child—and all the children.