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Rituals of Royalty: Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Societies.

These are works that are not completely at either end of the same spectrum. In their way they are attempting to address the same questions: why have monarchies arisen, and why have certain ceremonies connected with them developed?

The death of King Baudouin of the Belgians, le roi triste, has given rise to displays of grief in a dividdd nation, evidenced by the placing of flowers both within and without the palace gates, by his subjects. Interestingly, the very question of the succession had already been addressed. Two years ago the Belgian Parliament considered the possible succession of Princess Astrid, the king's niece, thus effectively abrogating the Salic law, which has cast its spurious shadow for many centuries. At the very same time Paul Keating, the Republican-minded Prime Minister of Australia, has suggested that it may be time for Queen to retire, as she cannot represent the 'Australian-ness' of the Antipodean nation. The Kapaka of Buganda is at the same time restored a monarchy thirty years in the wilderness, and inducted into his kingdom, but in two very different ceremonies, attempting as it were to weave together two contrasting cultures, during one of which he touches the umbilical cord of his dead father, and in the other a crown made in Bombay is placed on his head by an Anglican prelate. Yet both are valid expressions of symbolic succession and continuity. Thus, even though the treatment of monarch spans many centuries and cultures, we find the same issues addressed: simbiosis, empathy, representation and succession.

The chapter in Rituals of Royalty which is perhaps nearest to our own ideas in Europe of kingship is that concerning Carolingian royal ritual examining the anointing and election of kings in the ninth century. Janet Nelson, in describing the development of Frankish royal ritual, covers the great feasts as well as the involvement of the Church, concluding that it was 'an affair of the guts and the soul'.

The Christianization of ancient ceremonies is of course almost as old as Christianity itself, and is covered by Averil Cameron in her treatment of the Byzantine Book of Ceremonies, court ritual compiled by the Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, a tenth century sovereign whose very name tells us how conscious he was that he had been born in the purple.

Strikingly, it is particularly monarchies now in Africa and in Asia, some of them naturally non-Christian, which tell us most of continuity and ceremonial and, with these things, the elusive but indelible exercise of power. Thus in the nineteeth century the King of Nepal saw himself, Richard Burghart tell us, as the divine actor in his realm. Divine he might be, but he had to share his divinity in a universe of thirty-three million gods! Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of modern Nepal is described as 'shrewd, resourceful and ambitious'; in a word, he was powerful. Yet can be exercised from less aggressive bases, especially spiritual power.

The monarchy of Madagascar which lasted 1896 revolved around the revitalising ceremony of the royal bath, repeated every year; it seems no coincidence that the idea of ritual cleansing is also found in an extant British Order of Chivalry. A king and his continuityu remind us of our own mortality and hopefully immortality, our own need to renew. Thus Michelle Gilbert, in writing on ritual and power in parts of Ghana, concludes that "the king is distinguished from ordinaryu people in many ways. One is that symbolically he does not share their limitations of times. Ordinary people die and are dead. But the king is never dead'.

If a king loses that essential association with the people then even a monarchy 3,000 years old may come to an end, as it did in Ethiopia in 1974. These remarkable essays would be complemented also by the reading of The Emperor; Fall of an Autocrat, by the Polish journalist Ryszard Kupuscinski, possibly the most compelling monograph ever writen on this enduring subject.

Lady Maclean trekked round the world in her own personal quest to see and interview all the world's surviving sovereigns. She failed to see the imperious and assertive Beatrix of the Netherlands, the self-effacing Baudouin of the Belgians, (now, alas, gone before his time and never to be interviewed) the clever and elusive Hassan wf Morocco, and the inaccessible rulers of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia; but she succeeded with all the others, no mean task. She is anecdotal and discursive, havin most of the gifts of the good journalEst and not all those of the good historian. She is sometimes inconsistent with her references and not always correct in her terminology and facts. Thus on one page Haile Selassie is Emperor of Ethiopia and on the next of Abyssinia, (where he is also consigned in the Index). The Queen Mother is referred to as a 'monarch', which she is not; neither is the ruler of Kuwait a 'King'. Philip II remained thirteen months in England on his first visit, and four months on his second. Yet these are small quibbles on an enormous and ambitious canvas.

Those keen on anecdotes will spot and take issue with her recounting of the Queen Salote and her lunch story. It is such an old chestnut, it has grown whiskers. Robert Lacey attributed it to Noel Coward, others to Winston Churchill. Lady M. rather whimsically attributes it to "the typical Londoner'. Perhaps the other attributees were both that! The intervies of the intrepid Lady M., who reminds one of the great lady Victorian and Edwardian explorers, never daunted by anything, show an amazing contrast of personalities and cultures. Perhaps the words of King Juan Carlos of Spain best sum them up: 'Each king must reign in a different way when he succeeds. Each king must do so, and a king who reigns successfully in one country would not be able to do so in another...I could not be King of Siam, (sic) but I know my own country and my own people and I show myself all the time so that they know me'. It may sound simplistic, but it is also the recipe of a successful sovereign.
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Author:Mash, Michael L.
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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