Prince Charles
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  • Prince Charles

It’s amazing how simple punditry becomes when conducted in blithe disregard of facts or common sense.

I just opened the April 8 New Republic to an essay on Prince Charles by the novelist Thomas Mallon. “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Windsor: Sympathy for the forever prince” is the title of the piece, but it offers more condescension than sympathy.

Charles has been waiting half his life to be crowned king, says Mallon, who has a marvelous idea about what the prince should do when the time comes: “Why not take the crown from the archbishop’s hands—not to set it on your own head, a la Napoleon—but merely to set it aside, a simple and grand refusal? And why not do some advance colluding with your eldest son, who by all accounts quite genuinely loves you, so that, when everyone’s eyes turn in his direction, he simply shakes his head and refuses it, too? At that point, the whole flyblown confection of monarchy will collapse.”

Yes, says Mallon, if Charles is up to it, “he could smash the strongest pillar of his people’s magical thinking and subconscious self-hatred.”

I wonder if this subconscious self-hatred comes as news to the English, though I suppose they’d be the last to know. They tend to mistake themselves for a droll, worldly, and self-delighted lot.

Anyway, it’s a lovely idea Mallon has. And the loveliest thing about it is the notion that if princes Charles and William just say no, the monarchy will be wafted away in a million shiny pieces, like sugar cast to the breeze. What troubles me, just a little bit, is the thought that it might not be so simple. What if some surly and ungrateful republican—or monarchist, for that matter—chooses to argue that Charles and William have been sponging off Britain their entire lives, on the understanding each would serve as king one day, and if they say no they’re at the very least in breach of contract and arguably open to charges of conspiracy to commit fraud—or is it high treason?

England expects every man to do his duty. I’m not sure many of his late mother’s subjects would take kindly to Charles deciding that at the age of 70 his duty is to declare a republic and go back to being an organic gardener. But that possibility is beyond the scope of Mallon’s think piece.