In truth, we French can’t get enough of your Royals
A handful of Left-wing mayors make an unconvincing exception
A 1957 photograph of Fourth Republic Socialist president René Coty shows him in white tie and tails, trailing a youthful Queen Elizabeth II at a glittering Opéra de Paris gala evening, wearing the red sash of Grand Maître de la Légion d’Honneur and a zelous expression. No one criticised him for it, nor were (in no particular order) Nicolas Sarkozy, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, François Mitterrand, or François Hollande, when they paid fulsome homages to her Maj, riding starry-eyed next to her in the Gold State Coach, or letting their wives politely curtsey (Carla Bruni, acquitting herself impeccably and reminding us all that before her career as a top model, she was a Turin heiress).
No wonder then that the refusal of half a dozen Left-wing mayors, out of 34,955 in the entire country, to lower the tricolour at half-mast in front of each City Hall in the country, has annoyed most French people. You can quote our Jacobin heritage all you want, like Patrick Proisy, France Unbowed mayor of Faches-Thumesnil (yes, I had to look it up: it’s a suburb of Lille, pop. 18,191), who ranted on Twitter that “our Republic” had no business “marking a preference for a monarch, or worse, the head of a Church” — it still looks a bit, well, churlish.
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Yann Galut, the Socialist mayor of Bourges, also took to Twitter, calling the Prime Minister’s demand to lower the flag “incredible”. Considering King Charles VII was first dismissively called “the small King of Bourges”, where he was born and lived before Joan of Arc’s armies won him a proper coronation as King of France in 1429, Galut could have quoted well-founded historical animus against England in his city. Regrettably, he chose to virtue-signal on France’s republicanism, squealing that our nation’s identity was based on “fighting monarchies”. Naming no names, he complained in interviews that many French politicians felt an “inexplicable attraction” for the British monarchy.
It was obvious they were after attention. An immense majority of the French, while uninterested in reviving the system here (it helps that all the pretenders, from the Bourbon, Orléans or Napoleonic branches, are decidedly uninspiring), have for decades admired the British Royal Family. Before the war, there was a general feeling that British pomp was proper pomp. The Windsors did castles, horses, ship-launching, red uniforms, strange bearskin-hatted guards parades, Empire, and arcane traditions in ways that we approved of. No touch of the Ruritanian about you; nothing soft either. It wasn’t us, but it was undeniably impressive. If you couldn’t do Versailles, well, that was pretty good all the same.
This solidified with the Blitz, with the King and Queen staying on in bombed Buck House, and Elizabeth II, an extraordinary woman with a seemingly ordinary life; a gruff but devoted husband, apparently eternal mother, and occasionally difficult children, straddling the decades from the days of rationing and pea-soup fogs to Cool Britannia and the 2012 Olympics. Through Six Nation losses and Brexit negotiations, our sympathy always remained. (Regularly, French retailers revive all this in “Le Style British” fortnights, with the wrong tartans, the right teabags, beers and fruitcakes; and enough Sloaney clichés to make your teeth clench. Everything sells out in a week.) When the Queen died last week, France’s emotion was palpable — and real.
The likelihood is that the mayors (their number is uncertain, because none other besides MM. Proisy and Galut have come forward to defend their rebellion) simply wanted to look socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the eyes. Himself unelected to any office, he controls his party with an iron fist and purposely encourages confrontation “inside and outside Parliament”, sometimes to the point of fisticuffs. Asked by the Communist daily L’Humanité how the French reacted to the Queen’s death, this former Classics professor growled: “They don’t give a toss. The media are pathetic. We’ll have nothing to chow but Queen news for ten days.”
Elected leaders don’t necessarily do pomp well or even with enthusiasm. It is much better to have a neutral family to do the unifying representative pomp stuff that they have a lifetime to practice to get right. A historic royal house is a sensible division of labour leaving the politicians to get on doing the practical stuff of running the country in the interests of its population.
The only problem is that the politicians in fact fail to do their job of representing what the people want and are becoming increasingly a pantomime part of the constitution where the real decisions are taken by the entrenched interests represented by the civil service and the quangocrats.
Yes; and those civil servants and quangocrats are, like the politicians, working in the interest of the Ruling Caste in the western world now: the malign alliance of Big Money with the Political Hard Left (allied because in the short and middle terms they share big strategic objectives [from different motives]).
Watching the Bastille Day défilé it’s clear French presidents enjoy “pomp” and do it with panache. The ‘people’ expects nothing less of them. Hollande was a notable exception, and look where that landed him.
Same affection in lots of countries, including Ireland. A constitutional monarchy actually assists democracy and public unity in ways that increasingly-fractured political parties cannot.
The affection in Ireland is perhaps more patchy, but it’s there. For a slighly incoherent analysis of the “anti-Queen” sentiments, try a YouTube channel called Diane Jennings.
Yes, she drags up the Great Famine.
It’s at times like this that the extreme left, the rabid socialists, do their cause no favours.
I can offer an anecdote, given I was holidaying in France when the news of the Queen’s death broke.
We spend a week in France every year and have done for the last twenty years or so. A group of seven friends, we were renting a small manor house in the middle of nowhere – in the most beautiful and peaceful French countryside, the Calvados region, lower Normandy. The internet/wifi was dodgy to say the least. We could use our phones if we stood in the hall, near the router, but otherwise, forget it.
So, given we drove off everyday to explore the region, we tended to neglect current affairs. It was good to have a break from social media.
Early Thursday evening we had booked a table at a lovely (very rural) restaurant – our holiday treat. It was quite exclusive, not many tables, but obviously popular with locals. It really was remote but conveniently only up the road from our abode, so we could stagger back down the lane after enjoying our libations.
We dressed up, this was our traditional ‘big night out in France’ after all and were shown to our large table at the back of the restaurant. We enjoyed our wine and the entrees; our first course was very tasty and interesting – strong, runny cheese wrapped in the crispest pastry and served with a massive – a mound -of the most unusual, delicious sweet and sour salad, others with huge bowls of whelks in shells and langoustines, a messy, exercise in extracting the fishy goods, so much laughter and chatter ensued.
Our second course had just arrived when I noticed a man at an adjacent table look very startled, and show his partner his phone. He stood up and turned to our table, proffering his phone, a pained expression on his face.
“Excuse me,” he said in perfect English, “but your Queen has died.”
Instantly, we all put our hands to our mouths in shock. “Oh no!” was our chorus, then silence.
The restaurant fell silent. Our faces crumpled, our eyes watered, and then the tears fell. Seven grown ups, men included, bowed their heads and cried. The handkerchiefs came out as the tears rolled silently down our cheeks. Being British, we didn’t want to make a scene but this was, and will be for all of us, and our fellow French diners, one of those “Where were you when you heard the Queen had died?” moments. They’ll remember our grief – English people in their 60s and 70s crying on hearing the death of a beloved monarch.
No one spoke but one by one soft expressions of condolence we spoken by our fellow diners.
“We are very sorry” said one and the others murmured similar words, in English.
We dried our tears and then with heavy hearts raised our glasses to respect the late Queen – and to toast our new King.
I can remember what we ate that night but really, we had lost our appetites.
The French like their churches, most with rich histories, and they are left open, so the next day we lit a candle for our Queen and left it glowing softly in the silence as we sat and tried to come to terms with a loss we felt very deeply.
Oh, and on Friday, all the Mairies we passed had their flags flying at half mast, even the tiny ones in the middle of nowhere. Macron’s tribute to the Queen was also very touching. It was such a comfort – so thank you.
An entente cordiale, a friendly understanding, certainly existed in that remote, rural part of northern France, and we weren’t aware of the protestations elsewhere of the extreme left minority.
Thats a great experience Delia, thanks for retelling it.
Lovely story, Delia.
What those tub-thumping Presidents (no I don’t mean those few shrivelled-hearted mayors) who extol the “Glory” of the French Republic and its essential “French values” deliberately forget is that France limped and whimpered its way to the current regime. They kept having revolutions, overshooting in their excessive zeal, thinking better of it, pulling back to some monarchy or another, then having another revolution, then pulling back, rinse and repeat for about a century (no, I’m not making a mistake. I’m including the period from 1789, after which France stayed a monarchy for a few years, until 1883, when the Comte de Chambord died and the ambivalent Third Republic decided to have a go at being “permanent” rather then “temporary”).
Basically the French have stuck to a system until it hits a major crisis or just grinds to a stop, and then they have to start again from scratch. Hardly a ringing endorsement of eternal values.
I’m a “ianque” (Yankee in português) living in Brasil (português for Brazil) originally from Chicago. I learned about the Queen’s death from on of my (brasileira) wife’s sister. People deeply mourned the passing of “the Queen” here in Southern Brazil, just as my friends and family in the States. It was the passing of the venerated Queen, not the coming of Charles the lifelong plonker, that inspired this sense of loss.
But it was the presence (and then passing) of “the Queen” that inspired the respect. She was the Aristotelian Good Leader – “aristocratic” in Aristotle’s sense – ruling because they were morally virtuous – serving the interests of the Polis, not self-serving (like oligarchs, the “people” and Tyrants) that inspired a natural sense of reverence in all who beheld her.
As with the French, só with the Brazilians (who had the Português King, Dom Pedro, in Rio) when he fled Napoleão, who declared independence from Portugal (and became Emperor) then the Kings son, Dom Pedro II, who was still living when he was deposed and slavery was ended (sorry, run-on sentence), and so with all men of good will: “the Queen” is dead, may Charles liberate himself from plonkerhood!!
Fascinating, but does need one minor correction: “Dom Pedro II, who was still living when he was deposed and slavery was ended” should read the other way round: he ended slavery in 1888 and was then deposed by a group of disgruntled slave-owning gentry in cahoots with the military in 1889.
The monarchy in Brazil was deposed for its humanity, not its tyranny.
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