Countessing Your Blessings

Recently I was browsing the Straight Dope Message Board and found a thread entitled Wait… ______ is still alive? As you’d expect, it’s about people one could reasonably assume to have died a long time ago who are actually still living. The one that caught my eye was post #40, mentioning that Clarissa Eden “died only last week”.

Having maintained the Wikipedia pages of British political figures past and present for the last few years, I was intensely aware of the curiosity of Clarissa’s continued existence. One of my earliest posts was on the centenary of Harold Wilson, but his wife had already passed that marker two months earlier. Whereas he died in 1995 at age seventy-nine, Mary finally passed in 2018, aged one hundred and two. Clarissa falls a little short of her record at one hundred and one. By comparison, Lady Dorothy Macmillan died in 1966 (aged sixty-five), the Lady Home of the Hirsel in 1990 (aged eighty), Sir Denis Thatcher in 2003 (aged eighty-eight) and the Lady Callaghan of Cardiff in 2005 (aged eighty-nine).

Still, it is interesting that so little media coverage was given to her death. In most newspapers that mentioned her at all it was as a minor footnote. Perhaps that is the ultimate tragedy – to outlive your fame by so long that nobody even remembers you. Indeed, her title itself would not be recognised – her three stepsons all predeceased her with no offspring of their own so the peerages are long extinct. Clarissa is so far the last premier’s spouse to be a countess*. There may never be another.

Clarissa’s heraldic achievement – the arms of Eden impaling Spencer-Churchill

EXTERNAL LINKS

*Eden’s immediate successor Macmillan was the last prime minister to receive an earldom, but that was long after his wife had died. Douglas-Home was of course a countess before her husband’s tenure but died a mere baroness. The title refers to the River Avon in Warwickshire. A county called Avon (referring to a different Avon river in Bristol) was created by Heath’s reforms in 1974 then abolished by Major’s reforms in 1996.

Another Day, Another Death

James Brokenshire was not the most high-profile of British politicians. Overall he spent sixteen years in the House of Commons, including seven years as a junior minister in a senior department and three as the senior minister in two junior departments, twice having to resign from the government due to the lung cancer which ultimately ended his life earlier this month. Even so, the fact that he had been a cabinet minister, the relatively low age at which he passed and the level of public fear surrounding cancer, one would reasonably have thought it unlikely that his demise could be outdone in the eleven days before the house was to meet again. Then, to the shock of the nation and world, Sir David Amess was stabbed to death. MPs were already due to return from the conference recess today, but scheduled business in both chambers was abandoned in favour of tributes to Amess, with a service following in St Margaret’s Church. Brokenshire’s tributes have been postponed to Wednesday.

Something similar happened during the Easter recess – the death of Dame Cheryl Gillan on 4th April and of the Baroness Williams of Crosby* on 11th would have been the principal concern of their respective houses, had not the Duke of Edinburgh died on 9th. In that instance it was the social and constitutional rank of the departed that determined priority of mourning rather than the manner of death.

The most obvious comparison, made frequently by those who have spoken publicly in the last few days, is to the murder of Jo Cox a week before the EU referendum. There has even been a move to design a shield of arms for Sir David and place it on the chamber wall next to hers. Of course, the two victims had very different profiles – Cox was a Labour woman who supported remaining in the EU, Amess a Conservative man who favoured leaving. This is reflected in the different profiles of their killers – Thomas Mair was a white supremacist with links to the English Defence League, Ali Hari Ali is said to be of Somalian heritage and a suspected Islamist.**

Also distinguishing the two victims is the time they had spent in politics. As I mentioned before, Jo Cox was not well-known to the general public, having only begun her tenure in the House of Commons thirteen months prior. She could well have joined the shadow cabinet in the mass reshuffle later that month, and by this point she might even have been a contender for the party leadership, but back then she was a much a footnote as most of the other MPs from the 2015 intake. Part of what made her death so tragic was precisely that she died so young and so early in her political career, with so much potential thereby wasted. Amess, by contrast, had been an MP for almost long as the average Brit has been alive. Though never a minister, he was a creature of the house, serving on many important if low-profile committees as well as being involved in numerous campaigns and publications. Most in the political sphere knew his reputation, in contrast to Cox who was something of a cipher.

More broadly, the country must acknowledge the worrying frequency with which politicians and their entourages have been attacked (whether or not the attack succeeded in killing the victim) in recent decades, and consider how this can be rectified, both in terms of personal security to defend from those with evil motivations, and in the public attitude to politics that would encourage such evil in the first place. As the pandemic has shown this year and last, the kind of openness and accessibility required of parliamentarians can also be very dangerous to them in person, yet to abandon it can be very damaging to democracy as a whole.

EXTERNAL LINKS

*The speaker mentioned on 13th April that four other former MPs had died during the recess – Peter Ainsworth, Ian Gibson, Robert Howarth, Paul Marland.

**Almost immediately upon the announcement of the attack and the description of the attacker as a “British national” there were people denouncing immigration policy and calling for border closure.

Ever to Succeed

News has broken that two days ago Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice, Mrs Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, gave birth for the first time. Her yet-unnamed daughter is eleventh in line to the throne. I wished to edit the relevant Wikipedia article accordingly, but that proved difficult as the list had multiple levels of indentation to reflect the generations and all the numbers had to be changed manually.

There is a challenge in deciding just how many names to include on the page. The legitimate non-Papist descendants of George I’s mother number well into the thousands nowadays and the vast majority of them are non-notable. The editors have here decided to limit the display to the descendants of the sons of George V. In practice this just means Bertie, Harry and Georgie, since David and John both died without issue. Even that restricted selection comprises sixty-three living people, of whom thirty-two have no pages of their own.

The clumsiness of editing this list brought up an idea I had some years ago for giving each member of the diaspora a numerical code to indicate their position within the succession. The electress herself, being the origin of the succession, would be 0. Her eldest son Georg Ludwig would be 1, her next son Frederick Augustus 2, Maximilian William 3 and so on. For each generation a digit is added, so Georg’s offspring George Augustus and Sophia Dorothea would be 1.1 and 1.2, while George Augustus’s children would be 1.11, 1.12, 1.13 and so forth. Under this system Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent & Strathearn would be 1.11141 while Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York would be 1.111411221. Prince Philip of Greece & Denmark would, I think, be 1.111416331. The beauty of this system is that the crown always goes to the living person with the lowest number, rather than each new birth or death close to the throne forcing everyone downstream to be renumbered.

There are downsides, of course. First, there is always the danger of one day discovering a missing sibling who died young and was forgotten to history. Second, until the commencement of the Perth Agreement the crown followed male-preference primogeniture, so any girl’s code was liable to change upon the arrival of a brother. Third, if any person in the line has more than nine legitimate children then the numerals would be inadequate (as in George III’s case, though perhaps there one could only number his nine sons and omit his nine daughters, none of whom had surviving children of her own), and an alphabetical system might be needed instead – Elizabeth II would be AAAADAABBA and the late Prince Philip AAAADAFCCA.

On a related note, I have been keeping tabs on Judiciary UK for some months looking at new judgements as they come out. My main interest was Bell v Tavistock, but the day before that was resolved my eye was caught by the decision of Sir Andrew McFarlane (President of the Family Division) not to publish the Duke of Edinburgh’s will. Sir Andrew spoke at length about official etiquette regarding the royal family, and shed some light on that term’s definition. For Wikipedians, academics, press and others, there has always been a little confusion as to when membership of the family ends**. Is it the top X in line to the throne? Everyone descended from the current monarch? All descendants in the male line from George V? From Victoria? Everyone styled Royal Highness? Everyone on the balcony at Trooping the Colour? Then there are the gradations – often the headlines talk of “minor royals”, usually meaning the Dukes of Gloucester and Kent but sometimes including the Prince of Wales’s siblings and niblings, while mentions of “senior royals” are even more nebulous. One reason for this difficulty is that there are really three separate types of rank within group – precedence is determined by one’s relationship to the incumbent monarch, style and title by generations’ removal from any monarch and succession by primogeniture of descent from Sophia. McFarlane, in his judgement, may have given some more substance on which to build at least the latter’s definition.

From paragraph 15: This Court has been informed that in recent times the definition of the members of the Royal Family whose executors might,as a matter of course,apply to have the will sealed up has been limited to the children of the Sovereign or a former Sovereign, the Consort of the Sovereign or former Sovereign, and a member of the Royal Family who at the time of death was first or second in line of succession to the throne or the child of such a person. In addition, the wills of other, less senior, members of the Royal Family may have been sealed for specific reasons, or, as the list of names suggests, a wider definition of “Royal Family” may have been applied in this context in earlier times.

From paragraph 23: The confidential note that was disclosed and is attached to Charles J’s judgment contains an interesting account of the development of the practice of sealing Royal wills during the last century. That note provided that, in particular,the practice of applying to the Family Division applied, as a matter of course,to ‘senior members of the Royal Family’ who were defined as:

•The Consort of a Sovereign or former Sovereign;

•The child of a Sovereign or former Sovereign;and

•A member of the Royal Family who, at the time of His/or Her death, is first or second in line of succession to the throne or the child of such a person.

This means that, for judges’ purposes “senior royal” essentially means monarchs themselves, their consorts and their children (not necessarily children-in-law), as well as the first two in line to the throne and their children. Monarchs’ children are easy enough to spot from the rest, with the definitive article in their princely styles and their coronets of crosses interspersed with fleur-de-lys, but the latter category could be unstable – Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret of York would have been senior by this definition during their grandfather’s reign but would have lost that status had Edward VIII sired children of his own.

Applying it to the current situation, then, we can see that the seniors of the present royal family are:

  • HM The Queen
  • HRH The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales
  • HRH The Prince Andrew, Duke of York
  • HRH The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
  • HRH The Princess Anne, Princess Royal
  • HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge
  • HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Sussex
  • HRH Prince George of Cambridge
  • HRH Princess Charlotte of Cambridge
  • HRH Prince Louis of Cambridge

There is one part of the judgement with which I take issue – paragraph 13 says It is understood that the first member of the Royal Family whose will was sealed on the direction of the President of the Probate, Admiralty and Divorce Division was His Serene Highness Prince Francis of Teck. Prince Francis was the younger brother of Princess Mary of Teck who, upon her marriage to King George V, became Queen Mary in 1910. Later that same year, at the age of 40 years, Prince Francis died. An application was made for the will to be sealed and not published. The application was granted. This is a little misleading, as Mary married Prince George, Duke of York in 1893 and became Queen on his accession in 1910. The judge’s text implies that she didn’t marry him until he was already King.

*Some in the press have claimed that as her father is an Italian count, the baby will be a countess, but the title is not recognised by the Italian republic or by the United Kingdom. Most likely she will be Miss [[Firstname]] Mapelli Mozzi.
**Of course, any family can present this difficulty as few are consciously defined by any formal rules.

UPDATE (1st October)

Princess Beatrice’s baby is named Sienna Elizabeth Mapelli Mozzi.

And Ever Shall Be

It was always difficult to work out the exact year in which a given episode of Victoria was taking place, given the series’ sloppiness with chronology. Series 2 ended with “Luxury & Conscience” in which Sir Robert Peel resigns as prime minister following the murder of his personal secretary Edward Drummond – events which actually took place three years apart. Series 3 picks up with “Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears the Crown”, which covers the revolutions of 1848 and features Lord John Russell in charge. Dialogue indicates that the return of the Whigs to government is a recent development. In between these installments is the 2017 Christmas special “Comfort & Joy”, set in 1846 and showing, among other things, the adoption of Sarah Forbes Bonetta (which happened in 1850). The curious thing about the Christmas special is the absence of the political side of things. In real life Russell’s ministry had already been in place for six months but, in the series’ uncertain timeline, the political situation is simply ignored. This is almost certainly deliberate, as the intention is for the holiday special to be a purely family affair. Plus, with more than a year’s gap between the series it’s entirely possible that the later story arcs hadn’t yet been planned out, nor the relevant characters cast.

Flash forward to 2021: The Duke of Edinburgh had wished for a low-key funeral (well, by royal standards at any rate), and the pandemic meant that something on the scale of the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002 or even Lady Thatcher’s in 2013 would not be possible. Instead Philip’s coffin was driven a short distance within the bounds of Windsor Castle and then lowered into the vault. Hundreds of soldiers were still present outside, but COVID regulations forbade more than thirty attendees. Ordinarily it would be expected that prime ministers and other senior officials would attend, but Boris Johnson (and, presumably, any others concerned) relinquished his place to make room for more of the deceased’s family. The resulting guest list included eighteen descendants of King George V, eight spouses thereof, three other descendants of Queen Victoria and one spouse thereof. I had wondered if the family or the press would have sought to orchestrate a photograph of Prince George of Cambridge saluting the coffin à la John Kennedy, but it was decided that the great-grandchildren were too young to be involved.

While the masks and social distancing ought to be obvious giveaways, I actually found that the reduced attendance gave the ceremony a strangely timeless quality – it was effectively a bottle show. Other than Mssrs Mozzia and Brooksbank all the people there were the same people one would have expected to see there at had this happened at any point in the last ten years – admittedly Viscount Severn and Lady Louise would have been smaller. Justin Welby might be considered a semi-political figure and he took office in 2013, but as St George’s Chapel is a royal peculiar he played a minor role compared to David Conner, who has been Dean since 1998. Thomas Woodcock as Garter King of Arms could also be considered vaguely political given his role introducing new members of the House of Lords, with that office the public tend to remember the uniform rather than the face. The sounds of the past week, too, were those you’d expect to hear: steady footsteps, military orders, cannon blasts, church bells, and, from the studio, the interminable wittering of Gyles Brandreth. Now the burbling of a Land Rover TD5 has been added to the mix. Even that adds to the timeless effect, since the Defender was in production for a third of a century and without a number plate even I – a subscriber to Land Rover Enthusiast for a few years – could not guess at a glance the decade in which this one was constructed.

Those who have studied British political history know that long ago the House of Commons met in St Stephen’s Chapel, with the Speaker’s chair on the altar steps and the members facing each other in the choir stalls – an arrangement which has been maintained in subsequent legislative chambers in Britain and around the world. As a consequence today’s proceedings – with only a few dozen people carefully spaced apart – resembled a session of the hybrid house, or perhaps even the failed 1am prorogation in 2019. Hopefully on this occasion the ceremony won’t have to be repeated a month later.

Having already done a piece about television scheduling in light of COVID, it would be pertinent to review it in relation to the royal death. Of course major newspapers and broadcasters have documentaries and obituaries prepared years in advance of the event – not just for the Duke of Edinburgh but for a wide range of prominent public figures. Eye 1545 page 18 notes how, in the build up to his centenary on 10th June, contributors often had to do each interview twice – the first speaking in present tense wearing light suits, the second in past tense wearing black ones. It was also noted that, in addition to different networks’ documentaries often – and unavoidably – using the same stock footage and delivering the same story as each other, there were some instances of companies recycling interview footage from their own documentaries in 2011 or even 2007, with talking heads who nowadays are visibly much older or even who themselves have died in the intervening years.

On other occasions this temporal tangle would be cause for disdain, but to commemorate a man who has been “a constant” for longer than most of the world can remember, somehow it feels oddly appropriate.

UPDATE (20th April)

The video I originally embedded (from the firm’s own YouTube channel) has now been set to private. The BBC’s has also disappeared. I have replaced it with the Teletrece version.

UPDATE (1st May)

That one has gone as well. I’m now using the one from 6abc Philadelphia.

The Late Duke

His Royal Highness Prince Philip of Greece & Denmark was born on 10th June 1921. He was the only son of His Royal Highness Prince Andrew of Greece & Denmark, who in turn was a younger son of His Majesty King George I of the Hellenes. Through his agnatic line he was a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, while his mother Princess Alice was from the House of Battenberg. Queen Victoria was his enatic great-great grandmother.

Philip’s titles have an interesting history, in that he was born a prince of Greece and of Denmark but later renounced these titles to obtain British citizenship. This move later turned out to be unnecessary as the Sophia Naturalization Act 1705 meant he had British citizenship already. He adopted the surname Mountbatten, which was used by his maternal uncle Louis (later Earl Mountbatten of Burma) and represented an Anglicised version of Battenberg. The subsequent controversy over whether his descendants should be the House of Windsor or Mountbatten-Windsor is a little ironic given that Philip himself was already effectively going by his mother’s maiden name rather than his father’s.

The marriage certificate says Philip Mountbatten.

New titles were bestowed rapidly in advance of his wedding: On 19th November George VI appointed him a Royal Knight of the Garter (one day after The Princess Elizabeth, to maintain her seniority) and granted him the style of Royal Highness (on British authority this time), then on 20th raised him to the peerage of the United Kingdom as Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich – all of which now belong to his eldest son. The lack of simultaneity between these events means that for a single day he was styled “Lieutenant His Royal Highness Sir Philip Mountbatten”. On the 21st his title was inserted into the Book of Common Prayer. He was ceremonially introduced to the House of Lords on 21st July 1948. For a while there was some controversy over whether or not he was a prince. This was resolved on 22nd February 1957 when his wife, now sovereign, made him a Prince of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, which put him level with her sons and uncles. There were some suggestions of making him “Prince Consort” like Albert or “Prince of the Commonwealth” to reflect the monarchy’s larger purview but these were ultimately turned down.

His precedence at this time is unclear, though obviously the lowest he could have ranked was as the newest ordinary duke. A royal warrant on 26th September 1952 declared his should “upon all occasions and in all Meetings except where otherwise provided by Act of Parliament have, hold and enjoy Place, Pre-eminence and Precedence next to Her Majesty”, which again followed the example set by Victoria with Albert. This technically made him second man in the land, for the monarch is always first man even when female, and is the reason he was often seen walking two paces behind his wife on formal occasions.

Heraldic banner at St Giles’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, 2010

Philip’s heraldic status in his youth is not clear to me, but as a British adult he was – rather unconventionally – given two grants of arms. In 1947 his armorial achievement showed the arms of Greece surmounted by those of Denmark, which in turn were surmounted by those of his great-grandmother Alice (albeit omitting the Saxe-Coburg inescutcheon she used, which the British royals had abandoned in 1917). For reasons difficult to uncover these were deemed “unsatisfactory” so in 1949 the shield was replaced by a new quarterly version. The first quarter showed the lesser arms of the Kingdom of Denmark, the second quarter the white cross of Greece, the third the black and white stripes of Battenberg and the fourth a castle on a rock for Edinburgh. That last part is especially unusual as peers’ shields do not normally incorporate the municipal insignia of their nominal territories. These arms were of course rendered as a rectangular flag (confusingly called a royal standard, even though “standard” refers to a very different style of flag) and a square banner above his Garter stall at Windsor. In composing this article I also discovered that he had a badge, showing the castle surmounted by a princely coronet and encircled by the Garter, though I do not recall ever seeing it in use. Livery colours are not so prominent in modern times, and those of the royal family no longer change with the dynasty. Philip had his own personal livery of “Edinburgh Green”, used for his personal cars and the uniforms of his staff.

New badge illustration, published mere minutes ago.

Sodacan has of course illustrated all of these for Wikimedia Commons, and already I have spotted several instances of his illustrations being used in television coverage of his death as well as in reports online.

EXTERNAL LINKS

The Bus Law of By-Elections

Portraits by Richard Townshend, 12th January 2020 (CC-BY-3.0)

It has been nearly two years since the last by-election to the UK House of Commons – in Brecon & Radfordshire, where Jane Dodds unseated Chris Davies. This is said to be the longest gap since the end of World War Two, though I suspect you could look a lot further back than that and not find one. It is quite remarkable that over the course of 2020 no MPs died despite several testing positive and one having to be put on a ventilator.*

Things got moving again on 16th March when Mike Hill, facing an employment tribunal, took the Chiltern Hundreds. A by-election for his constituency of Hartlepool is scheduled to take place on 6th May, alongside the many local elections across the country. Already eleven candidates have been put forward. The list is rather fascinating in that three former Labour MPs will be competing against each other for different parties: Paul Williams (Stockton South 2017-19) is still fighting for the red rose but Hilton Dawson (Lancaster & Wyre 1997-2005) is now secretary of the North East Party which seeks a devolved parliament for the region similar to those in Scotland and Wales and Thelma Walker (Colne Valley, 2017-19) has defected to the Northern Independence Party which seeks to revive the ancient kingdom of Northumbria as a democratic socialist republic. The Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer is a farmer and Hambleton (North Yorkshire) District Councillor. Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party) is putting forward businessman John Prescott (not the former Labour MP) and the Liberal Democrats have chosen Andy Hagon, a teacher who also stood there in 2017 and 2019. It has cause some controversy (and mirth) to note that so few of the candidates are actually from Hartlepool. Once the domain of Peter Mandelson, this constituency is part of the so-called “Red Wall” of traditional Labour seats that has swung towards the Conservatives after voting to leave the European Union. You might reasonably think that any seat which stayed red in 2019 couldn’t possibly go blue now, but a recent Survation poll gave the Conservatives a seven-point lead. Obviously it’s too early to call at this stage, but the prospect of the government gaining a seat from the opposition again in just over four years would be seriously humiliating for the latter, although we can hope that on this occasion the prime minister will not be tempted to go for a snap general election as a consequence.

On 23rd March Neil Gray took the Manor of Northstead, vacating the constituency of Airdrie & Shotts in order to contest the same seat for the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood**. In this instance the returning officer has decided that it would be safer not to have the two polls on one day, so instead the by-election will take place a week later on 13th May. The candidate list for this election is not yet as long, nor as amusing. Notable here is that there has not been a Commons by-election in Scotland since Inverclyde in 2011 and never at all where the National Party was defending.

On 4th April Dame Cheryl Gillan died at the age of 68 following “a long illness“. She had been MP for Chesham & Amersham since 1992 and was the twenty-fourth most senior by continuous service. No candidates have yet been announced for this by-election and neither has the writ been moved when the others were. Partly this is because she died when the Commons had already risen for the Easter recess, and partly it is because of the convention to delay political machinations until after the late member’s funeral.

*The other place was less lucky, with Lord Gordon of Strathblane succumbing to COVID on 31st of last March. A few hereditary peers have retired or died of other causes in that time but their by-elections have been repeatedly postponed.

**This is required by the party’s rules, rather than those of either legislature.

Lament for Monty

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His temperament was steady, manner mild,
A marvel to all strangers who came by,
He warmly welcomed each approaching child,
Befriended anyone who caught his eye.

A dozen and two years he saw go past,
Entrenched he was in the roll of our kin.
So many of the clan did he outlast,
And many new offspring he welcomed in.

Towards the end of his long life we saw
His limbs were withered, his black fur turned grey.
It pains to grasp that one you so adore
Will in mere months decline and fade away.

Now snow falls thick above his once-warm head.
Here not forgotten, though forever dead.

UPDATE (21st February)

I have updated Homework Direct for the first time in well over four years to include the process by which Monty on the Green came about.

A Temp’s Lament

An old woman with thick white hair sits in a sunny garden with a cup of tea.
I am a temp,
I’ve no desk of my own.
When you’re on holiday
I answer your phone.
If I am lucky
You’ve left me your key,
But many a time
You couldn’t forsee
You wouldn’t be there
And they’d phone to Charlotte;
Help! we need a temp,
Please you have you got?
I’m having a bath
Or cleaning a floor,
But I drop everything
And I dash out the door.
I arrive at your desk
But can’t open the drawers.
With what do they think
I can do all my chores?
But I am a temp
And I have a large bag.
Its certainly heavy
And that is the snag
But in it I keep
All the tools of my trade,
Pens, pencils and rulers,
No typewriter I’m afraid.
For that is one thing
I’d love of my own.
Two months on a QWERTY
Now AZERTY – don’t moan.
For I am a temp
With you only a while
And whatever the problem
It’s done with a smile.
Written 15th June 1982
by Pauline Taylor (1927-2018)