Almost too much printer’s ink and telecaster’s saliva has already been spent on this subject. A few days ago Juan-Carlos I, a Spanish Borbón to his fingertips, left the hospital where surgeons had replaced half of his hip. He looked tired, much older than his seventy-four years, more than a bit depressed. He also looked like a guilty schoolboy owning up to some frightful misdeed at his Prep School. He said he was sorry and that it would not happen again.
What had don Juan-Carlos I done to merit a King’s apology to the people, if such a thing exists? He had gone off to Africa to shoot elephants while his wife the Queen was in Greece with her family, his grandson Froilán was surrounded by anxious doctors trying to mend a foot he had shot almost off with his divorced father’s shotgun. ‘It was an accident’ the boy told newspapermen.
The King had accepted an invitation to kill animals while his new President of the Government Rajoy and his team are attempting to fill economic holes in the economy left as an inheritance by the previous government. There are more than five million unemployed in Spain. The press has had a field day insinuating that the King was not unaccompanied on his jaunt. Mentions have been made of a lady with Austrian connections. A Borbón and a Hapsburg in Botswana. Could be a comic opera, except that the King said how sorry he is on television, a scene to be remembered by all Spaniards, especially those (there are many) who anyway want a Republic in Spain. One presumes they have short memories. Has there not always been a refrain in Spain that says: Monarquia, Republica ¡Guerra! Monarquia, Republica ¡Guerra!
I have been seaching through my library to find an instance of a reigning monarch who as Head of State has said sorry to the people for something he or she has said or done. I have failed. Plenty of elected presidents of states have done it: Eisenhower semi-did it when he apologised to America for waiting so long before ordering the 1944 invasion of Normandy. Nixon and Clinton apologised for being found out. Mitterand once gave the impression that a glimmer of an apology might be on the way. George VI never apologised for not being able (at first) to speak in public. Helped by his superb wife he knuckled down and learnt how to speak, pushed and prodded by a speech therapist. After that he was blameless.
Searching the archives for evidence of monarchical apologia has been made impossible these days because modern education, especially in Britain, has decided that ‘Kings and Queens’ are not interesting enough to be used as the subject in school history lessons. One has to rely on older books and reports. Queen Elizabeth II never ‘apologised’ for the cock-up of her son’s marriage or ‘failing’ to fly the royal standard at half-mast when a tragedy intervened. Richard I never said sorry to the Moslems after he had done away with ten thousand of them after Acre.
Charles II wasn’t publicly sorry when he had no children with his Queen, and nineteen bastards with his mistresses. Louis XIV never abjected himself before the French for having been the main cause of an impending revolution. Louis XVI failed to ask forgiveness before having his head chopped off. For that matter so did Charles I. The Austrian Emperor of Mexico never apologised for having to be shot by Suárez. Felipe II did not apologise for building the Escorial, a monument to himself. Peter the Great did not apologise for beating his eldest son to death. Cleopatra did not apologise for ruinng Mark Antony’s career and life. Harold did not say sorry to the Saxons for losing to the Normans and making England French (for a while). Edward VIII never humiliated himself for abdicating. He said he couldn’t avoid it. Richard III did not apologise for losing Bosworth Field (1485 q.v.) thus saddling the English with the Tudors.
A healthy chunk of the Spanish population asks, ‘But what do kings do?’ Their favourite TV gurus tell them kings strut about looking important, attend military academies, open charity functions that need opening, encourage politicians to be honest with the people and themselves, preserve (if they can) as much royal mystique as possible, though royal divorce and misdeeds make this task difficult. Occasionally kings try to live a normal life – more difficult than any of Hercules’ labours.
Kings and Queens must expose themselves, ‘show-off’ if you like; impress their subjects and their rivals, but know that they must fill the Sunday papers and supplements with plenty of ardently-consumed royal goings-on. The way modern education is going in Europe they may not have to worry much about this soon enough, because the ability to read and write is vanishing fast. Above all modern monarchs need to fight not necessarily in armour. It is easy to claim that don Juan-Carlos might better have winged off to Argentina to smack that nasty little over-made-up girl’s bottom for stealing Repsol. Juan-Carlos is good at administering correction. He did it once to the ghastly uniformed (and currently dying) ape at present in charge of Venezuela. And he did it on television too. Tradition has it that he alone saved Democracy and the Constitution on the night of 23 February, 1981 by appearing on television to knock the rebellious generals’ head together.*
Kings and queens personify – or should personify – a healthy continuity of institutions. But they should not be tearfully apologising and promising it will not happen again, paretly because it will happen again. Juan-Carlos de Borbón is a Borbón and he will put the monarchy at risk again. It is to be prayed for that he will not say sorry afterwoods. That is not the way of kings.
So now the media chants the same old song; let’s have a Republic! Let the king abdicate but not in favour of his son or eldest daughter. For weeks the press has been given bones to worry happily. They have had an ex-handballing royal consort to tease because he might have been guilty of robbing Peter to pay himself. The press found Urdangarín guilty on the first day. Guilty he might be but one must, in a civilised country, wait for a judge to confirm it. Now they have another royal consort to thrash, Marichalar. In this case the circumstances are odd, but no odder than any other upper-class traditions. They have always (perhaps thoughtlessly) allowed their underage children near guns. Even odder is the fact that young Froilán admits to carrying a loaded shotgun with the safety catch off upside down on a strap – something hunters only do if it is raining, but not with the shotgun unbroken, insecure and with a cartridge up the breech. It is clear that Marichalar was no-where near the boy when the accident happened. If he had been, he would have instructed his son not to do it. Thus the press is leaping about like a gazelle on coke. What a wheeze!
And if the King should abdicate as well as say sorry without succession because ‘the people want a Republic’? Who in modern Spain could possibly become Head of State? Are there candidates? Has anyone the ‘aura’ required? Who could rustle up enough votes? Pedro Piqueras, Pablo Castellano, Felipe González, Esperanza Aguirre, Pilar Bardém? Think about it, Spanish people. In the conservative Spanish mind (about half Spain’s population has a conservative mind) the Prince of Asturias put himself out of the race by his determined marriage with the divorced woman he loves. No Edward the Eighting about Felipe. But he forfeits the throne just as the ex-Prince of Wales did with his twice-divorced American lady.
* Someone must explain to me how exactly the King spoke on TV when the rebels had the TV studios in their military grip.