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Along These Lines: King Charles primer

  • Thursday, April 26, 2012

By Nick Thomas

Anglophiles and Windsor watchers are celebrating this month, as they remember when the world stopped briefly last April to witness the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. After all, who wouldn’t be fascinated by a clan that traces its lineage back to the 8th Century and a guy called King Offa?

But on another April day, back in 2005, the public wasn’t quite so gripped with enthusiasm when William’s father, bonnie Prince Charlie, tied the knot with Camilla Parker Bowles, his long-time behind-the-scenes between-the-sheets sweetheart.

Many Brits did not have the same fondness for Camilla as they did for their darling Diana or, it appears, Kate. Furthermore, Charles’ not-so-secretive Camilla canoodling exploits led many to question the Prince’s suitability as future King.

But they can rest easy. Prince Charles won’t become a pain in the aristocracy when he eventually takes the throne, unlike his two disastrous former namesakes,

To begin with, King Charles I (1600-1649) liked wearing frilly laces. It’s hard to see how he could have commanded much respect from his subjects when so attired. Sure, Prince Charles has been spotted in the traditional family kilt on occasion, but that appears to be the limit of his cross-dressing.

Charles I also ticked off the country after his 1625 marriage — his bride was just 15 years-old, a Catholic, and French. So by contrast, Queen Liz probably considered Camilla a real catch.

Charlie No. 1 always had money problems, too, and didn’t endear himself to the country when he tried to pawn the Crown Jewels.

Things got really nasty when civil war broke out and Oliver Cromwell chased the king from England. Charles and his mob were no match for Cromwell’s parliamentary troops, and Charlie threw in the towel in 1642.

Cromwell was determined to get ahead, and did just that. Poor Chuck was beheaded on a scaffold outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London — no doubt a pretty sight for those banqueting at the time.

But Cromwell wasn’t without heart. He allowed the king’s head to be sewn back on to the body so Charlie’s family could pay their respects. What a guy!

Thereafter, Cromwell more or less ran things for the next few years until Charles — the sequel —  appeared on the royal stage. True to the family name, Charles II (1630-1685) was hardly an improvement.

While in exile for a decade waiting for Cromie to croak, Charles had vented his frustrations by touring the comedy clubs of 17th Century Europe doing political jokes: "Cromwell is so stupid, he thinks the Merchant of Venice is an Italian shopkeeper."

When Cromwell finally cashed in his fish ’n chips in 1658, Charles II returned to England in triumph.

But telling the country that life would be better under Charlie No. 2 made about as much sense as Noah advising his neighbors to go buy umbrellas. The reign of Charles II was just one calamity after another.

In 1665, shortly after Charles II returned from a trip to disease-ridden France, the Great Plague hit England. Charlie refused to accept any responsibility claiming his fever and jaundice complexion on return was merely due to a bad batch of Foie gras. Charles was livid.

Then, a year later, when much of London burned in the Great Fire, Charlie denied he had been smoking in bed.

Along these lines, war broke out with the Dutch the following year, and this did not go well either. The Dutch sunk five English battleships and towed the Royal Charles (the ship, regrettably, not the king) back to Holland.

The news wasn’t all bad for Charles II, however. He did, after all, have a spaniel named after him.

As for the future reign of Charles III, he could hardly do worse than his predecessors. Interestingly, however, Charles has publicly suggested that when he inherits the throne, he may take the name of George VII in honor of his grandfather.

But I’m not sure that would be wise. Given the recent history of international leaders, is the world really ready for another George?

Nick Thomas has written features for more than 150 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. He can be reached at alongtheselines@gmx.com.

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