Dan Nichols reviews The Monarchy, Channel Four
David Starkey’s history of kings and queens of the British Isles has been built up as a TV “event”. The story will unfold over the a four year period. Wow! It’s certainly an ambitious piece of programming — but will Monarchy tell us anything that we don’t already know about this assorted bunch of tyrants, cowards and neurotics?
The first episode outlines how the Anglo-Saxons built the first nation state in Europe before and during their struggle with the Vikings. The first Saxon “kings” were in fact more like warrior chiefs who emerged as leaders with the consent of the rest of their community. This system then evolved along more regal lines. But that was due to the links between the Saxon kings and the Holy Roman Empire.
After an abortive attempt by one of the Kings of Mercia to establish an England-wide kingdom, Alfred the Great eventually established a framework for an English kingdom during his war against the Vikings. He did this by mixing the consultative Saxon system of government with Roman religion and rituals. He also popularised written English and boosted prosperity with a system of fortified towns.
So that was all very interesting. Particularly interesting is the idea that democracy and dissent and are deeply imbedded in Anglo-Saxon culture.
But Starkey is nothing if not a right-wing commentator. He insulted the entire Scottish nation before the series even started with his views in that country’s role in British history (negligible). And, right from the start, Monarchy starts with the reactionary concept — that the only desirable system of government is one based on a powerful, charismatic leader.
One can’t help thinking that Starkey will just wind up telling us all how wonderful Britain’s monarchy is and how much the rest of the world love it and emulate it. View with scepticism.