ON BEING QUEEN

ON BEING QUEEN

 

Our Book Group met recently to discuss Solar by Ian McEwan.    We had a lively discussion, noting his humour, his virtuoso skills, but reflected that in the end, in spite of the book being extremely funny, he was still the same old Ian McEwan, too interested in impressing the reader with his superlative cleverness.   (Well, that was my view anyway.)

Being also a group of old friends we then pass on to more general discussion and I was struck by a remark by one friend who recounted how she had told her family she wanted to be a princess when she grew up, and a relative  told her this was impossible, because you had to be a member of the royal family in order to qualify as one.

I don’t agree with these remarks at all.   There is no divine right of kings.   The monarch has a legal right to occupy her position only for so long as we accept her in that role (which I am quite sure, in the case of the present incumbent, will be for all her days.)   Kings are kings because they successfully fought off competitors for the title, and their heirs have succeeded in holding on to these advantages ever since.   The present kings of England are descended from William the Conqueror, whose claim was by right of conquest, and who in addition was a Bastard and therefore (according to the mores of those times) had no legitimacy whatsoever.

Obviously in my comments below I am not talking about ‘queen’ in the sense of occupying the position of Queen of the British Isles and the Commonwealth, for which post there can only be one incumbent at any given time.   I am referring to the archetypal female role of ‘queen’.   We are not contemplating scenarios as depicted by C S Lewis, where the Queen of Narnia stood on the top of a carriage, looked at the royal palace and declared of the occupant, ‘She can be overthrown’.    And I think one of the strengths of the present British Queen is that she gives a very good demonstration of how to enact the archetypal role of queen.    In any public situation, you can think, how would the Queen behave, and be sure of a model of public behaviour of a very high standard, and her ability to hold to this ideal for so many years is part of the reason why, I believe, the British would countenance no challenge to her, while she lives.    Even republicans, such as myself, hold the present Queen in high regard.  

However when in the fullness of time – and as the psalm goes, may the king live forever – the Queen leaves us, I think we should bury her with all honours – and the republican case should then be argued, not on personal issues – would this one be better than that – but on matters of principle.   I don’t personally believe we any longer require someone to carry the archetype of king for us.   We can do this for ourselves.   We should vote on this issue – a plebiscite, as Ann Widdecombe sneered – and accept the democratic outcome country by country, whatever it is.   I am not certain that, at the present time, the republicans would win the day.    But time is on our side.   After all, we can continue to ask the question, until eventually we get the ‘right’ answer.

Returning to the archetype, I see no reason why a little girl should not aspire to be a princess, and in her maturity, queen.   It doesn’t mean, as my friend’s relative probably feared, to be indulged and petted – that’s a ‘little princess’;  a spoilt princess.    Princess develops from Prince, and it means the first, pre-eminent or chief.   In the Celtic society from which I (and also my friend) descend, there was no one heir to succeed as king, chieftain, leader.     There were various candidates and from those a pre-eminent one emerged.    Interestingly, the candidate had to be physically perfect, so to maim a rival was to eliminate him.    In ancient times also, the king could be sacrificed on behalf of the kingdom, though I think to be effective he had to be a willing participant.   To follow the archetype ‘queen’ therefore for me means to strive for the highest standard of behaviour, and I see nothing wrong in encouraging one’s child, should she wish to take this route.   Of course you would impress upon her that it is not an exclusive role: there can be many queens each with her own kingdom.   It’s nothing to do with getting your own way;  being treated as important;  lording it over others.    Quite the opposite in fact.   It’s about having the courage to behave in ways you know to be right but which are not popular.   It’s standing up for the bullied.   It’s refusing to bear false witness although it would be to your advantage.   It’s about being gracious when other people aren’t.   It’s about giving a fair judgement and a generous credit to someone you know wouldn’t do the same for you.    It’s striving after excellence, and being big enough to admit it when (invariably) you don’t always achieve it.

Not every child or woman wishes to carry this archetype.   There are many roles to choose from.   Mother; matriarch; teacher; wise woman; healer; lover…   there are many possibilities.   We are not always aware of how we make our choices.   I think that the attributes ascribed to ancient goddesses comprise archetypes.   I have on my notice board a photograph John took at the Park of Statuary in Hakone, Japan, in 1997.   It shows a bare breasted woman with a beautiful, calm but distant face.   One arm rests on a great two handled sword struck into the ground at her feet.   The other is holding a shield.   I also have an embroidered panel given me by my mother, of owls, on my notice board.   It was only when Elisabeth looked at my board one day and said to me, I’m for the goddess Athene as well, that I realised these were all representations of her (Minerva in Roman mythology.)   She was the goddess of war, wisdom, architecture, weaving, strategy, crafts, justice – every single one of which are interests of mine.   Clearly, I was for the Goddess Athene and didn’t know it…

I don’t think that my friend with the discouraging relative would actually describe herself as carrying the archetype ‘queen’, although she is certainly a prominent and formidable woman.    I think of her as a kind of Celtic sister;  we are both Sagittarian though she is much younger than I am; at our best, women of wisdom and warmth, and at our worst, celtic viragos.      We are also both well defended citadels – it is far from easy to storm our defences and be admitted to our private gardens.     I think she would probably see herself more as under the Matriarchal umbrella than I see myself.   But who am I to say, every woman can follow whatever archetype she chooses.

So to any of you out there who fancy being queen?    It’s very simple.   You just get up, go out, and BE one.

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