As an Irish American and supporter of an independent, united and socialist Ireland, I’m ashamed to say I never took a critical look at the House of Windsor. I had delved into British policies in its colonization countries but hadn’t really looked at the role the monarchs themselves played, until now. Despite the PR image as figureheads, celebrities or tourist attractions, they continue to cause misery today.
So here are a few ruminations on the special relationship the British rulers have enjoyed with capitalism. And why every royal title, along with capitalism, should end up in the rubbish heap.
A brief history. The immense wealth produced through the slave trade and the colonization of the Americas gave birth to a new social class and the beginning of the capitalist economic system. Merchants became richer than their noble patrons. Capitalism replaced feudalism. And the divine right of monarchs became an obstacle in the way of the early capitalists trying to make a buck.
Anything that got in the way of the almighty profit got beaten into submission or was annihilated. The English rulers have mad King George III to thank that they didn’t end up with their heads in baskets like Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI of France. George III, crazy like a fox, gave the income from the Crown lands over to Parliament in exchange for annual payments to cover the royal lifestyle and the upkeep of his many castles and palaces.
Crown lands are defined as parcels belonging to the current British monarch. They are not government property and they are not the sovereign’s private estates. They cover urban areas, like central London. They can be farmland, forests, and sea beds in England, Scotland and Wales including mineral rights (think off-shore oil). Their current estimated value is £14.1 billion.
The ruling queen or king cannot sell them, but who would be daft enough to sell the golden goose? Queen Elizabeth II, at the time of her death, received 25% of the Crown lands income annually. This is money that could be used to fund social services, health care and more. Instead, Elizabeth lived and died as one of the richest women in the world.
Her massive private fortune included income passed down through her family from the slave trade. Her namesake Elizabeth I found human trafficking so lucrative that she personally financed slave ships. Sir John Hawkins, whose coat of arms had a bound slave on it, is credited with designing the infamous triangular trade. England’s army and navy swarmed across the world raping, pillaging, enslaving and colonizing. An ocean of blood and suffering was all sanctified in the name of their majesties.
It is not surprising that Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, and Mauritius dropped the monarchy decades ago. Barbados removed the queen as their head of state in 2021 and Jamaica is working to follow suit.
Capitalism is a thief; it has few new ideas of its own and those are nauseating, like the invention of white supremacy. What monarchies bring to the table is the idea that some people are just born better than others. That royalty deserve to own several palaces while others sleep in tents on the side of the road. That such grotesque inequality is normal and natural. And that ideology ties in nicely with capitalism.
Queen Marie Antoinette may not have said “Let them eat cake” when she was told that the French peasants had no bread. But Jeff Bezos definitely did thank the workers in his sweatshops and his price-gouged customers for making possible his “best day ever” after he landed from his 4-minute, $5.5 billion joy ride in space. Where’s a guillotine when you really need one?
When Elizabeth II died she had seen many changes, but for her, fundamentally, everything was the same. The majority of people in the world continued to labor for the comfort of a very few.
The queen is dead. Let us all dedicate ourselves to burying both of the systems she dutifully upheld for her very long life.
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