Ashes to Ashes: ‘She Knows Who I Am’

On several evenings recently, my wife and I have gone around the corner to our son’s flat overlooking the harbor in our small town here on the Massachusetts coast. He had invited us to watch a television series that takes us into the day-to-day workings of Windsor Castle over the course of a year.

For monarchists like me it was all quite splendid. But I think the interest one finds in castles and monarchs—in this case, the queen—is not solely romanticism and sentimentality (though a lot of that is at work). For any Christian, there is monarchy at the back of everything. God is not the chairperson of an ad hoc caucus of the whole. In our century, and most especially in secular, pluralistic democracy, the whole panoply that hailed the human race with intimations of thunderous realities (yes, even under khans, pharaohs, and tsars, grotesque as all of that may have been) has been flattened out. The notion of majesty is impossible for democratic imagination to grasp, and this is going to be a problem when the sky is split open and the mountains flee away and the King appears “robed in dreadful majesty.”

In this series on Windsor you see the maids on their knees polishing the waxed floors in great gilded rooms of cavernous length and height. Or men in felt socks up on the banquet table set with gold service for 150. Or the upholsterers, the clockmakers (for 400 clocks), the “fender men” (for the fenders on the 80 hearths), the footmen, the chefs, the stable boys, and the game wardens. Gasps, here, of, “But that’s slavery. That’s atrocious.”

Well, perhaps so, on some hasty egalitarian and political accounting. However, every single servant, indoors or outdoors, who spoke to the camera exhibited a curious dignity, a noble sense of proud responsibility, and a disarming love (it is the only word) for “Her Majesty.” Just to be in her service was, obviously, a cockade of glory. More than one spoke of a lifetime of dreams having come true—even the ones who had worked in the castle for decades.

 

This is hell to all Marxists. But there is, apparently, another view.

Whatever one may make of all of that, I found myself brought to a halt by a remark made by the old geezer whose job is (solely, I think) to hoist the royal standard at the top of the great tower when the queen takes up residence. Since there are more than 300 servants at Windsor, obviously the sovereign can’t know each one personally. But this man, with apparent joy, finished with the remark, “But she knows who I am.”

All Catholics at this point will take off their hats and laud this old servant for having uttered a sentence that any doctor of the Church would be happy to have made. My great joy is that the Sovereign knows who I am. Readers may recall that in the Narnia chronicles, the tiresome boy Eustace Clarence Scrubb, now redeemed, when asked whether he knows Aslan, the sovereign Lion, replies, “Well—he knows me.” That is very good theology. Our Lord said to the obscure Nathaniel, “I saw you under the fig tree.”

One fine day, we hope, all of the fever that has attended our own frenzied efforts to erect a place in the sun will have been abated. Sennacherib, Cyrus, Philip of Macedon, Napoleon, Hitler, and Stalin all seemed to suppose that the abating of this fever is to be found in conquest. I (an academic) may suppose that it will be found in published articles, books, speeches, endowed chairs (or even a footnote citing my work, alas). But this is all specious coinage at the end of the day.

The servants at Windsor know something that eluded the conquerors (and too many of the rest of us, most especially us academics). What my soul most yearns for is that the Sovereign know me.

Tom Howard

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Tom Howard is retired from 40 years of teaching English in private schools, college, and seminary in England and America.

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