Friday, 22 January 2010

Bonnie King Billy

Sucession Planning: Skipping a generation and proclaiming Prince William the next King of New Zealand is the Kiwi monarchists' best bet when it comes to preserving the institution in this country. Can't be done? Of course it can! Just take a look at English history.

WHY NOT KING BILLY? Seriously. It would make the monarchy interesting again – and God knows it needs it!

The alternative is Keith Locke’s worthy (but dull) Head-of-State Referenda Bill, which, if it becomes law, will almost certainly deliver some worthy (but dull) former judge or prime minister (Dame Sylvia Cartwright. Jim Bolger? Helen Clark!) as New Zealand’s first president.

No, if the monarchists are serious about preserving our current constitutional monarchy, HRH Prince William is their best bet.

Now before you all object that we have to endure King Charles III before we can enjoy King William V, let me just say this: Bollocks!

Strict succession has never been the English way. In fact it’s probably not drawing too long a bow (as the popular British historian, David Starkey, has done already) to suggest that the kings and queens of England have always governed by the consent of the English people.

It is certainly true that those who have attempted to rule the English without first obtaining their assent have not had an easy time of it. Duke William of Normandy (not unreasonably known as "The Bastard") was shrewd enough to realise that, his victory over King Harold at Hastings notwithstanding, he wouldn’t be able to govern England effectively without first getting the thumbs up from the English themselves. This they duly gave (no doubt with one eye on those sharp Norman spears).

King William I’s grand-daughter, Matilda, on the other hand, tried to assume the throne without the people’s assent, and learned the hard way that it’s always polite to ask first. Her cousin, Stephen, did just that – and became King.

England’s disdain for the strict rules of succession were again on display with the accession of King William III – who was a Dutchman. The "rightful" monarch of England was the Scotsman, James Stuart – younger brother of the late King Charles II.

Now, given the fate of James’s dad (whose failure to properly grasp this popular consent business left him shorter by a head) and the political caution of his brother, one might have expected James to pull his head in a bit. When he failed to do so, the English staged what they called "The Glorious Revolution of 1688" and called in James’s sister Mary, and her husband, William of Orange – the original King Billy, saviour of Protestant Ireland – to fill the vacancy.

The truth of the matter is that the English have never been content to suffer bad kings either gracefully, or for long. King Edward II, for example, who struck both the nobility of England (and his randy French wife, Isabella) as having a personality that was (how to put this delicately?) a little too – artistic – was forced (mostly by Isabella’s ambitious boyfriend, Mortimer) to abdicate in favour of his son.

Poor old Richard II (another "artistic" king) was deposed by his cousin, the rip-snorting Henry Bolingbroke. A similar fate overtook Henry VI, Edward V and, of course, the horse-less Richard III.

The last king called William (known by one and all as "Silly Billy") very nearly brought the English monarchy to an end. Had it not been for the star quality of his niece , Victoria, and the political savvy of her German husband, Albert, Great Britain might well have become a republic about the same time New Zealand became a colony.

So, you see, there is really no reason why, in the Realm of New Zealand, we shouldn’t take a leaf out of the Realm of England’s historical play-book and simply inform Prince Charles that his services here, as King, will not be required, and that, upon the death of his dear old Mum, he must relinquish his New Zealand throne in favour of his son, William. In fact, if the English themselves have got any sense (and we’ve seen that they do) that’s exactly what they will demand.

Flipping steaks on the barbie, and sucking down a few cool ones under Godzone’s searing summer skies, sounds lots more fun than enduring forty more dreary English winters waiting for Daddy to pop his clogs.

So come on Prime Minister, introduce your own "Royal Succession Bill" and turn HRH Prince William into our very own "King Billy".

If he refuses his antipodean subjects, he’ll be effectively declaring the New Zealand Republic.

President Helen Clark – anyone?

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 22 January 2010.


mike said...


You foretell a grim picture of the likely future presidents of NZ. No thanks indeed.

(Certainly I imagine none of Keith Locke's preferred candidates would get near the job).

Give me the mingled threads of English monarchism, pakeha politics, and Maori traditions to the "purity" of republicanism any day.

Cheers for the column.

Anonymous said...


Forgive me if I don my pedant's hat.

William III's wife, Mary II , was James II's daughter, not his sister.

However, William's mother (also a Mary) was indeed James II's sister.

William's supporters could, and did, claim, that, apart from his marriage to Mary, he was, in his own right, the most direct, legitimate, male, Protestant heir to the thrown.

By the way, although you are right in asserting that the English have a long tradition of getting rid of or by-passing unsuitable monarchs, the decision was normally taken not by 'the people' but by a few dozen super-rich, landed families.

Ironically, the current reigning dynasty originally owed their crown to the machinations of, amongst others, the Spencers.

If my memory serves me right, George Ist was 58th in line for the thrown when the Whig oligarchy catapulted him onto it in 1714.

Of course, most of the other 57 were Catholics, which would have ruled them out of consideration after 1688.


Anonymous said...

My apologies

'Throne' not 'Thrown', of course

At least my typos are consistent


Anonymous said...

An elected Head of State is sounds like a fair system given that not everyone wants the British Monarchy to supply our Head of State. The Royal Family could put forward a candidate at each election.
A neutral constitutional leader who can keep parliament in line and act if there is ever a serious constitutional dipsute sounds like a very good idea to me. Then again Switizerland has seven heads of state. They rotate the position among each person I think. A kind of constitutional council. There are plenty of possibilities.
Lets not get hung up on traditions so much. A system that will be effective as the 21st century progresses is sensible and good planning.
We are a seperate relam from the UK so its possible for Charles to take the UK throne and for William to take the throne of New Zealand and Australia when Her Majesty dies. Perhaps Canada can have Harry. I am not sure anyone wants Harry...

Anonymous said...

Another boring pedantic notes:

If Charles does take the throne, it will be as King George VII, not Charles III. Chas has already indicated that George will be his regnal name, mainly in honour of his grandfather (Charles is far too Stuartish)

Billy boy could in turn take William as a regnal, but may be considered too Protestant in this new shiny era of tolerance (Will III) and the last William (IV) was no great shakes - possibly as George VIII -
the other Windsor standby of Edward has been rather mucked up by Edward VIII.

Chris Trotter said...

To Victor:

You are quite correct re: Mary Stuart.

I sent the draft of this essay to my wife, Francesca, to be sure that I had my facts straight. Sadly, in this instance, her encyclopaedic knowledge of the British monarchy proved unavailing - she looked only at the medieval kings and queens and skipped over the Restoration material.

My humble apologies.

However, she has asked me to draw your attention to the role of the people in cementing the rule of both Mary Tudor and Charles II - both of whom were acclaimed by their subjects. In Mary's case, this popular support so unnerved the Royal Council that they abandoned their plans to install Lady Jane Grey as Edward VI's successor. Good news for Mary - not so good for Jane.

Anonymous said...

The Royal Family have only used the name Windsor since 1917 when it was a bit embarrasing to be called Saxe-Coburg and be at war with Germany.

Edward is not a traditional name of the Hanoverian monarchs - Edward I ,II, III, IV and V were all medieval Plantaganet monarchs and Edward VI, born in 1537, was named after them.

There was no other Edward until Edward VII. The Hanoverians favoured the name George and gave us the glorious parade of German numbskulls named George. The only reason there was a William after George IV was because there were no other legitimate heirs apart from his younger brothers.

This is not due to a lack of progeny of George III's sons - problem was their huge families were all illegitimate. Their stories should be required reading for people who think that an accident of birth qualifies someone to be a head of state.



Anonymous said...

Francesca is, of course, correct about both Mary Tudor and Charles II.

In the case of William III, it helped that he was a wily politician and a succesful general, with a bodyguard of loyal Dutch currassiers and Swedish mercenaries

By the way, he was also probably gay but, unlike in the case of Edward II, this didn't seem to affect his reputation or his grip on power.

If William and Mary had produced progeny, the fates of the British and Dutch empires would have been intertwined for the next three centuries. An interesting topic for fans of counter-factual history, perhaps.


Anonymous said...


You are also, equally obviously, correct in thinking that accident of birth is not in itself a good qualification for becoming a head of state.

But wanting to be elected suggests a weakness of character that should disqualify anyone from anything.


Olwyn said...

They are constitutional heads of state these days - they can no longer order beheadings. I do not think this is a good time for NZ to become a republic - it would take us about 6 months to devolve into a corporate feifdom, with people like Paul Holmes, John Banks and Michale Laws staining at the bit to be president, and a constitution written by Crosby and Textor, or Kevin Roberts.

Anonymous said...

Olwyn, I disagree with your pessimistic view of what a republic might be. I understand that parliamentary politics is a frustrating process with lots of silly rhetoric and spin doctors all over the show and people like Michael Laws who lower the quality of every debate they are in but that is all the more resaon why it is time for a republic. The office of head of state/ constitutional leader who sets out a far more objective and principled example of what politics should be like. They would have enough powers to keep government functioning properly and probably spend a lot of time doing ceremonial things like opening court buildings and awarding people honours. I think we can trust NZers (and a good electoral system) to elect a suitable person. Sir Geoffrey Palmer seems an obvious choice even if he doesn't quite have the common touch. Alec from Auckland.

mike said...

Hasn't Palmer spent the last 30 years silently wishing himself into such a role?

Next somebody will be suggesting Lockwood Smith for President!

NZers are a more communal lot who like committees and sharing of power, notwithstanding the odd populist individual (Seddon, Savage, Muldoon). They prefer constitutional heads of state with no effective power and a faint halo of monarchical magic.

Olwyn said...

I did not say we should never be a Republic, only that now is not a good time for such a move. While I agree that I did put things in bleak terms, at present we have a society that is sharply divided into haves and have-nots, with all the social ills that follow from this, a status quo which I would not like to see get any more deeply entrenched. If we were to become a Republic under such conditions I think they would become more deeply entrenched.