It would be difficult to imagine a family more conservative than my own. Generation upon generation of small farmers in a small rural parish, they were not people given to radicalism. Farming life allowed little leisure, the sheer physical effort demanded by the daily work meant people slept well, too tired for the business of politics.
It was odd, then, when a local man told me that his family and my own had been on opposing sides in the Civil War. It seems his family had supported the Crown, whilst our family were Commonwealth people. Cavaliers versus Roundheads: ours had not seemed the sort of family who would have opposed the king, but which family did?
An uncle confirmed the tradition of the two families having stood on opposite sides at the Battle of Langport in 1645, “but we would have been the sort of people who carried the pikes,” he added.
Pike carriers or not, they had been there when seventeen thousand men had gathered on damp, marshy Somerset farmland to fight a battle, which, following on from the Battle of Naseby, destroyed the Royalist army. Cromwell referred to the victory as the “Long Sutton mercy.”
It is hard to know what might have passed through the minds of those forebears as they stood at Wagg rhyne, facing the forces of the Crown. There must have been a deep sense of anger at the King for these quiet farming people to take up arms against him. Perhaps they were early antecedents of Chesterton’s people of England who had not spoken yet.
What seems reasonable to assume was that they had become angry not necessarily with the idea of the Crown, but with the high-handed and arrogant Charles Stuart who had come to represent it. If this was what monarchy meant, then they wanted nothing of it. They perhaps opposed the Crown not because they were radical, but because they were conservative. They had expectations of the institution which it was failing to fulfil.
Since Charles Stuart’s son became king when the monarchy was restored in 1660 there has been a tacit agreement between Crown and people that the people would show the Crown appropriate respect if the Crown behaved with appropriate dignity. When such dignity was not evident, the people would make their displeasure clear, as happened with the death of Diana in 1997.
The behaviour of Harry in these past days is the antithesis of the extraordinary dignity of his grandmother. Traditional, conservative people who have expectations shaped by centuries of history are unlikely to be impressed.