CPE :: Lesson 13



LECCION 13 - PAGINA 4   índice del curso   página anterior   página siguiente




Now read the article below. Then you will have to do two activities on the next page.


Before Victoria, British sovereigns were expected both to reign and to rule. But when political parties began to compete under rules as strict as those for cricket, the sovereign was sent off the playing field for ever. He could not take the side of any party lest he should be defeated with it.
With certain ritual functions, the sovereign's task was to act as a sort of supreme weapon, never to be used but there always as the source of order. Politicians regarded him as the ultimate and unusable weapon in the Constitution. He had to represent the authority he could not command. He was a source of caution and political sobriety for the national leaders.

But in theory at least, if Parliament had decreed that he should be executed, he would have been constitutionally bound to sign his own death warrant. King Edward VII was born while this odd but excellent system was being changed, and played the King to the hilt even though his influence was severely limited. He was born to Victoria and Albert, their first male child, on 2 December 1841.
He suffered and survived an appalling education inflicted upon him with dangerously well-meant motives by his father, the Prince Consort. It was meant to produce a human paragon who would not be a religious prig. So he was educated in isolation by tutors without any competition or companionship from other boys.
He was made to work harder than any schoolboy. He emerged trilingual. He was given to explosions of hysterical rage. He took pleasure in hurting verbally the few contemporaries he was allowed to meet. When he was, technically, an undergraduate at Oxford for four terms, even his fellow-undergraduates rose when he entered the room. It was an unnatural upbringing and it was astonishing that it produced so sturdy and popular a King.
For, despite scandals, stiff leaders in "The Times", a good deal of republicanism, his notorious infidelities to a beautiful, well-loved Queen, he was, for most of the time, more popular than any politician. This was the time when England really loved a lord and the vices of the aristocracy seemed to come full circle to meet those of the irreligious poor. He gambled; he wenched; he chose his friends because they were successful, because they entertained him.
Although he had a quick, foul temper, he radiated a sort of genial friendliness that changed the mood of crowds. He never had the slightest doubt about the privilege of his rank. Once when entering a lift - he was travelling incognito at the time - simply by forging ahead like a ship into a dock, he shouldered a prosperous American flat. The possibility of giving way - socially - never occurred to him.
He was Prince of Wales for a generation. In this time, while the Queen lived in aggressive mourning for her Consort, who had died in 1861, the Prince was recognized as the leader of society, a rather raffish society known as the Marlborough House set. The Queen and he were linked by a most real bond of love, though she thought that Edward's behaviour had hastened Albert's death. None the less she would allow the successor to the throne no real part in the business of government.
So most of his life was given up, quite literally, to a passionate pursuit of pleasure. Boredom was the enemy that lurked behind every door. His friends made parties to keep the enemy at bay. Weekend hostesses arranged the contiguity of bedrooms to suit his needs. He was not an ass. He did not read much, but he loved the theatre and opera.
Queen Victoria died at last in 1901 and the new King was already 60. However he brought a boyish energy and zest to the job. He was the most kingly of Kings, so he could do and say things no ambassador could. He helped make peace with Russia and tried without success to sober up the Kaiser, his nephew.
But he was a major influence on government rather than a ruler. He spoke well in public. His horses ran well, which greatly increased his subjects' love for him. He was in fact cautionary rather than creative and usually ready to give a Royal heave to support Ministerial policy.
Towards the end of his reign, the Prime Minister was in dispute with the House of Lords over their ability to defeat legislation. The King had to face the disagreeable possibility of creating 300 new Liberal peers so that the elected Government might get its way. It was a prospect that made him extremely unhappy. He disliked Lloyd George's remark that a fully-equipped duke was as expensive to maintain as two battleships and harder to scrap.
But his health began to fail and he left for Biarritz with the crisis unresolved. He came home and caught cold at Sandringham. He collapsed after lunch in Buckingham Palace and sat hunched in a chair, receiving relays of visitors. One of his horses won that afternoon at Kempton Park, which pleased him. He died peacefully on 6 May 1910, aged 68.


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