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Things that donors know: what is the origin of the ceremonies of the British royal house

The article was originally published on April 21, 2021.

In honor of Prince Philip's funeral, the section will deal with the British Royal House and Regina's question: What's the deal with the Queen's Guard? Where did it even start? And most importantly - what are these hats that took 10 jamos to make?

Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and her husband Prince Philip who died this week, the photo was taken in 2015. Image:
Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and her husband Prince Philip who died this week, the photo was taken in 2015. Image:

Let's start from the end, we don't slaughter jamos to make the hats. The hat, which stars in countless tourist postcards, is made of Canadian brown bear fur dyed black. In order to please both the lovers of tradition and the animal lovers and opponents of fur (yes, of course there was a demonstration by opponents of naked fur regarding the hats) the British Ministry of Defense insists on reporting that the fur is taken from the carcasses of bears that have fallen victim to car accidents. The hats, about half a meter tall and almost a kilogram in weight, are a remnant of colorful military uniforms that were popular until World War I forced the armies to switch to camouflage colors.

The Queen's Guard consists of a company of soldiers assigned by the British Army to ceremonial guard duties in the royal palaces. The royal house ceremonies in which those soldiers star are an important tourist attraction in London, thousands of tourists crowd every day in front of Buckingham Palace, feverishly photographing the changing of the guard ceremony and listening to the tour guides glorifying the ancient tradition of the British monarchy. Although the Buckingham Palace ensigns have never been able to walk in the shape of a vaccine syringe, nevertheless wedding ceremonies, coronations, the awarding of honorary titles and funerals of the members of the royal family are always organized in an exemplary manner and are incredibly photogenic. It is hard not to complain about the rudeness of our politicians in the face of British splendor.

The natural assumption of those watching the ceremonies about their archaic costumes, complicated manners and elegant carriages is that it is a tradition preserved from the heyday of the English monarchy. So it's not. The ceremonies are quite new and originate precisely from the period when the British royal house lost its real powers at the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. As long as the kings of Britain were real rulers, the royal ceremonies were not such a spectacular spectacle. The one who preceded Queen Victoria on the throne was King William IV who ruled in the years 1830-1837, who, unlike the kings of Britain nowadays, did not hesitate to use his political powers. In the seven years of his reign, he dissolved the parliament twice, initiated the establishment of 3 governments, dismissed ministers and interfered in the decisions of the House of Lords. The king who preceded him, his brother George IV, was also an active ruler who, contrary to the opinion of Parliament, intervened in the interest of the Catholics in his country and worked openly for the benefit of his preferred party.

A fairly new custom

If these rulers and their predecessors through the generations could witness today's ceremonies they would probably have difficulty identifying them with anything they encountered during their tenure. The royal ceremonies in the 18th century and throughout most of the 19th century were sloppy and messy and in many cases downright shameful. Thus, for example, the funeral of Princess Charlotte, the daughter of the heir to the throne in 1807 is remembered, where the undertakers arrived drunk as a lot. At the coronation of her father, King George IV, the guards had to separate guests who quarreled during the ceremony. The funeral of that ruler was not much more dignified mainly because his brother, Crown Prince William, chose to chat during the ceremony and when the event was too long for his taste, he simply left in the middle. 

The Times newspaper summarized the behavior of the aristocracy in a manner reminiscent of reports on the behavior of Israeli tourists in hotels "we have never seen such a mocking, rude and impolite audience". William himself abhorred ceremonies and asked to give up his own coronation ceremony, and when he was forced to hold it anyway, the event was so fragmented and scattered that it was nicknamed the "half-coronation". The funeral of that king was so tedious that the attendants passed the time by gossiping, joking and grinning while standing around the coffin. And here we have finally arrived at Queen Baha the news: Victoria the Great who ruled for about 64 years and won that not only her time but also her style and worldview will bear her name. Victoria's coronation in 1837 did not foreshadow the rest of the road: the clergy did not memorize their roles well and got confused and the choir faked. The coronation ceremony includes a symbolic marriage between the ruler and the people, but the ring that was prepared was too narrow for Victoria's finger and if that wasn't enough, the trail bearers of the new queen's dress relieved their boredom with a fluid conversation throughout the ceremony.

Becoming a symbolic institution

But in the second half of the 19th century things began to change: Britain became more democratic, the right to vote was expanded and with it the powers of the House of Representatives grew at the expense of the House of Lords and the monarchy. The Queen's ability to influence decision-making became weaker and weaker until the Prime Minister's consultation with her became a purely formal matter. Strangely, the ceremonial aura surrounded the queen and her family and increased as her powers declined. In 1877, Benjamin Disraeli added the title "Empress of India" to Victoria's name and the monarchy definitively and completely became a symbolic institution. Since the monarchy's influence on politics ceased, the way was paved for its acceptance as a unifying symbol and the ceremonies finally received the essential ingredient for their success: a sympathetic audience. Then, and only then, the people of the royal court began to design the spectacular ceremonies that are now familiar to tourists and television viewers. This process of building the rules, symbols and manners continued roughly until the beginning of the twentieth century. In August 1902, the coronation of Edward VII took place, Victoria's son and the first of the British kings who was only a symbolic ruler throughout his reign. Here, at last, a meticulous and impressive royal ceremony takes place as maharajas, kings and representatives from all the countries controlled by Britain turn the event into a show of the empire itself. The ceremonies emphasize Edward's being not only the Queen of Great Britain but also the Emperor of India, the dress of his wife, Queen Alexandra, is sewn with calculated symbolism from Indian fabric (the dress received great interest after 4 decades in which Queen Victoria appeared only in black mourning clothes) and she wears the Kohinoor diamond It was received by Queen Victoria about half a century earlier to mark the annexation of the Punjab to the Empire.

An illustration of the power of the British Empire

For three short decades: from the end of the First World War in 1918 until the dissolution of the empire in the XNUMXs, the royal ceremonies serve as an illustration to every visitor to England of the ability and power of the power on whose flag the sun never sets. The absence of other European royal houses such as those of Austria-Hungary and Russia made them unique and therefore also desirable tourist attractions. From the XNUMXs to the present day (more than half of their existence) the ceremonies are no longer an illustration of power but an expression of nostalgia for an imagined heyday of a royal empire. The rule is simple, a place where real decisions are made and real power is concentrated is a busy workplace that has difficulty finding time and resources for ceremonies. A ceremonial tradition is formed in a place where not much happens except ceremonies. There is no need to go far to England to illustrate this: it is enough to glance at the abundance of ceremonies, parades and waving flags in Jerusalem against the gray traffic jams of Tel Aviv to know where the State of Israel is headed.

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One response

  1. The process described here is familiar from all areas of human activity, the spectacular coating getting stronger as the essential core weakens, which can also be seen in the excessive polishing of the meticulous eloquence of the national ceremonies in Israel. Starting with the lighting of the beacons and ending with the consultations at the President's house, everything became much more "labored" and much less "real". The only ones who benefit from the financial investment in spectacular ceremonies are the television broadcasters, who get the opportunity to spout clichés for two hours straight without saying anything important or original.

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