Tuesday, July 23, 2013
On heads of state, crowned or otherwise
Once accepted there is a need for a state, obviously someone has to be at the helm. There are some experiences of multipersonal government. In ancient Rome, during the Republic, the Senate ruled and the executive power was held by different persons but just for short periods of time, and there were several periods with triumvirates managing the political affairs. But from the creation of the Empire by the Caesars of the Julia family and practically everywhere else, on top of the power there always been a one ruler: king, Pharaoh, emperor, caliph, sultan, maharajah, dictator or whatever. More recently, in modern democracies, an elected president.
The thing is that, in Spain, except for brief periods, the head of the Spanish State has always been a king. Actually, the state is called the Kingdom of Spain. And many of our historical misfortunes have been associated precisely with the figures of the successive monarchs. The kingdom of Spain arises from the union of Castille and Aragon in the XV century, the two most powerful kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula of that age and time. The so called “Catholic Kings” have been hailed as the forgers of the Spanish unity and the root of the dynasty of Spanish kings. Well, they were not able to provide the most important thing a hereditary monarchy needs, a suitable heir to the throne. Their only surviving child was incapacitated because mental illness, known in history as “Joan the mad”.
The relaying on heredity plus the inability to give birth to proper heirs have been the curse of the Spanish dynasties for 500 years. And the main reason for consecutive wars and disasters that have plagued the history of Spain. The 18th century war is known as The War of Succession. And succession difficulties generated the episodes of the Carlist Wars in the 19th century.
The recent birth of the first son of Edward of Cambridge and Kate Middleton adds a new link in the long chain of one of the longest monarchies of the world, the British Crown. In the middle of all the troubles, the British monarchy had fared through in the past years, genetics have been favorable and they were able to provide an ample supply of consecutive heirs to last for a good century.
Almost simultaneously, the king of the Belgians Albert the Second, abdicated to his son and crown prince Philippe, unexpectedly but without much of a hassle. And that in a country known for being able to continue functioning without a proper government for many months.
Meanwhile the Spanish current head of the State, being a king and from a long dynasty, was nominated heir to the throne by a dictator who had overthrown a legitimate democratic government using force just half a century ago yesterday. No genetics involved there.
Scandals involving the Spanish king’s son in law of graft and embezzlement and the king himself, hunting elephants in the company of an alleged mistress, had brought up renewed questioning of the institution of the Spanish crown.
Overall the main problem still is linking the destiny of countries and peoples to the whim of genetics and the ability of providing successive members of families to occupy the throne.
Feelings and traditions aside, seems like the current 21rst century may put an end to hereditary monarchies for good.