Transcript - The Art of Monarchy - Programme 6

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ARCHIVE: For the first time in history, through the medium of television, the ancient and noble right of a coronation service will be witnessed by millions of Her Majesty's subjects. And as we watch them here these television pictures will be relayed across the Channel to many thousands of viewers in France, Holland and Germany as well as members of Her Majesty's forces serving in those countries.

PRESENTER/WILL GOMPERTZ: When the Queen allowed the cameras to roll on her coronation day sales of television sets soared. It was the broadcast that transformed the medium. Soon millions of people were able to watch global events unfold at home in front of the telly.

ARCHIVE: From now until after five o'clock this afternoon television cameras take you into the heart of London to watch and share in each phase of this great day's events. We take you first to Buckingham Palace.

PRESENTER: The TV coverage of the nineteen fifty three ceremony showed the world the best of British, united nation and its pioneering spirit. The country was at the vanguard of broadcasting, not just embracing change but leading the way. And there at the centre of it all was the monarchy. In this programme I'll be examining how the monarchy has dealt with the nemesis of many an institution - change. Progress can be inconvenient, even dangerous, but it is inevitable. So what does a sovereign do? Fight it? Seek to influence it? Take credit for it? Or simply embrace it?

MAN: The King was on the airwaves at the British Empire Exhibition in nineteen twenty where traffic stopped. Because if you imagine this is the first time the nation have really heard the voice of their monarch. It was an extraordinary sort of revelation.

PRESENTER: I'll be selecting a handful of items from the vast Royal Collection that illustrate how kings and queens have adapted to change, responded to trends ..

RUFUS BIRD: In the late seventeen sixties and everyone's going completely bonkers for vases. And this was capitalising on vase mania.

PRESENTER: And exploited knowledge.

REBEKAH HIGGITT: Astronomy is a science that links in directly with things that are of concern to monarchs. You're also getting really practical stuff that can be useful for building your nation.

PRESENTER: In nineteen forty seven the then Princess Elizabeth was given a wedding gift which although small captured a big moment.

LADY JANE ROBERTS: This is tiny and rather modest little book.

PRESENTER: Lady Roberts, the Royal Librarian at Windsor is holding a Psalter once read Elizabeth the First and now owned by Elizabeth the Second. The Collection of Psalms written in French were much loved by the Tudor princess. So much so in fact she was inspired to add her own heartfelt contribution to the book.

LADY JANE ROBERTS: It's in English. It's written in her still fairly unformed but very elegant italic hand and it reads as follows. "No crooked leg, no blearied eye, no part deformed out of kind, nor yet so ugly half can be as is the inward suspicious mind". And then it ends "Your loving mistress Elizabeth".

ANNA WHITELOCK: As a historian her writing is brilliant because it's really, really clear, just a Godsend, so thank goodness she signed up for renaissance writing classes.

PRESENTER: Doctor Anna Whitelock from the University of London identifies a crucial clue that the Psalter gives to profound change of attitude by the monarchy, not that Elizabeth could read French - impressive but hardly earth-shattering, nor was it her poetic ability, although I rather liked her verse. No it was that she was operating under the influence of renaissance Italy.

ANNA WHITELOCK: This is how monarchy evolves over time. Whereas medieval ideal of monarchy was about being a warrior, during the renaissance period of course that is still part of it but also the idea that you need to be a well educated monarch. Now Henry wanted his children to be well educated. It was much more problematic than that. Because education was a political issue and it was a gendered issue.

PRESENTER: Previously princesses were designed to be married off and you don't need a broad education for that. Being good at dancing and not putting it about were the old prerequisites. But Elizabeth's father Henry the Eighth realised that the world was changing. The great houses of Europe were adding brains to their brawn. If his own royal lineage was to survive and compete a world class education was going to be essential for his children, male and female. Elizabeth grasped the opportunity.

LADY JANE ROBERTS: She was a very well educated young woman at a time when education was only beginning to be seen in England. It was sort of creeping up from Italy.

PRESENTER: There's a sense I'm getting from looking at this book that here is a woman who has been given an education which will enable her not only to rule her own country but to have a world view.

LADY JANE ROBERTS: I think that's absolutely right. As a daughter of Henry the Eighth she was very well educated. Education for girls had been introduced from the continent through people such as Thomas Moore whose own children apparently spoke and wrote Greek, Latin and any other tongue you required of them. Elizabeth's own education was better than previous princesses had been and she had the talent to use that and of course after she came to the throne that was particularly useful combined with her knowledge of languages and other tongues in diplomacy.

PRESENTER: The investment in Elizabeth's education paid handsome dividends for the monarchy and the country. Elizabeth was an assured, powerful and shrewd queen. Her thirst for knowledge and interest in the world helped shape the Elizabethan age, a period of artistic, scientific and mercantile progress which laid the foundations for what would become the British Empire. A little over half a century after Elizabeth died Charles the Second became King. He shared the Tudor queen's passion for science and astronomy. In sixteen seventy five he made their interest official by getting the royal seal of approval to the newly established Royal Observatory at Greenwich.

REBEKAH HIGGITT: The building here owes its existence in Greenwich Park, a royal park to the interest and patronage of Charles the Second.

PRESENTER: Doctor Rebekah Higgitt is a curator at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. She told me how the Observatory and its royal connection came about.

REBEKAH HIGGITT: The astronomers and mathematicians who were part of the Royal Society long had an interest in founding an observatory somewhere and they took their chance when Charles heard about an idea, that astronomy could help navigation, in particular finding the difficult problem of locating yourself at sea, east, west, what we call finding your longitude. He heard that astronomy might be the answer to this. And people like Christopher Wren who were part of these circles took their chance and told the King it would work but only if he would sponsor an observatory and put an astronomer in position there to make the observations that were the basis of any future plans.

JUSTIN CHAMPION: Charles the Second's patronage of the Royal Society isn't just about pushing forward the boundaries of philosophical and natural knowledge.

PRESENTER: Professor Justin Champion from London University points out that Charles the Second was not simply lending his status to the pioneering work of the country's scientists so he could be associated with progress, he also wanted to make sure he was in a position to cash in on any of their new discoveries.

JUSTIN CHAMPION: Charles the Second and all of those some two hundred members of the Royal Society see that understanding nature has absolute application to exploring the world in a commercial way. So one of the key things is the development of the science of navigation after the sixteen fifties. You remember the British navy at this point both mercantile and military is incredibly dominant and exploring the far flung reaches of the world. And the Royal Society piggy backs on that imperial project. So very often the Royal Society will issue questions to be carried by the chaplains or the captains of boats to the far corners of the world, observe how the cocoanuts are grown in x, y and z and indeed are bringing back all sorts of botanical discoveries. So we need to think of the Royal Society not just as about knowledge but about exploiting that knowledge. And this is the first real age of empire, it's the discoveries of the Americas, the discoveries in commerce with the Far East. This is an ability and a way of thinking about the world that says knowledge can be applied and we can make money out of it.

PRESENTER: The combination of the Royal Observatory and the Royal Society made London an international centre for scientific excellence, the Silicon Valley of its day. The link between the monarchy and the Royal Society has continued with every ruling monarch from Charles the Second onwards acting as patron of the society.

RUFUS BIRD: These were commissioned by George the Third and Queen Charlotte in about seventeen seventy, delivered by the entrepreneur, industrialist, all round eighteenth century genius, Matthew Boulton.

PRESENTER: I'm in the Queen's ballroom at Windsor Castle with Rufus Bird who's the Deputy Surveyor of the Queen's works of art. He's showing me two vases adorned with candelabra which were made in seventeen seventy by Matthew Boulton, the eighteenth century business man and designer. They were the height of fashion and craftsmanship and represent a different side of the royal relationship with progress. Not monarch as patron this time but monarch as punter, a discerning customer buying British which when all goes well profits both parties.

RUFUS BIRD: This was capitalising on vase mania. In the late seventeen sixties everyone's going completely bonkers for vases. And these are Roman vases. So he says right, I'm going to create a line of vases that are going to cater to the nobility's idea of Roman antiquity.

PRESENTER: Pastiche they might be but the vases are fine objects in their own right. Standing more than half a metre high they are made from the mineral Blue John, a quartz which is unique to Castleton in Derbyshire and they serve more than one purpose. A secret chamber enabled the owner to burn perfume, the sweet scent of which would have been drawn up by the heat of the flickering candles placed in the arms of the candelabra that had been set in the neck of each vase. But for all their splendour Bolton knew that the best hope he had for his designs to succeed was to gain an audience with George the Third and Queen Charlotte.

RUFUS BIRD: He had been planning some sort of assault on the palace.

PRESENTER: Commercial assault.

RUFUS BIRD: Commercial assault, or rather Buckingham House as it was called then, for some time. And in March seventeen seventy he finally got his breakthrough. He was invited to meet with George the Third and Queen Charlotte. He writes to Fothergill his business partner saying that Queen Charlottoe is a patroness of English manufactories which is quite significant in that we have the monarch and obviously his consort deliberately sitting there thinking right well we need to support British manufacture. They sat there for three hours in the Queen's drawing room and then afterwards Queen Charlotte said "Well come through to the bed chamber" which is a formal room and she pointed to the mantelpiece and said "Look I'm taking away all this porcelain. How many vases would I need to go in the place of the porcelain plates?" And Matthew Boulton later said "Well you need seven".

PRESENTER: I bet he did.

LINDA COLLEY: The last third of the eighteenth century in Britain sees some aspects of mineral based industrial revolution.

PRESENTER: Professor Linda Colley from Princeton University.

LINDA COLLEY: He's involved in the design of the currency. He's an important manufacturer. I think it's clear that George the Third would have been interested and admiring of such a man and want to associate himself with Boulton and give Boulton some encouragement. This is in some ways a traditional form of kingship, being adjusted to the industrial age. Monarchs like to associate themselves, want to associate themselves with their subjects' prosperity. They want to make the link between their reign and progress, economic progress as well as other forms of progress. And we see this with George the Third. We're going to see it in the nineteenth century too when Victoria's consort Prince Albert takes a leading role in choreographing the great exhibition of eighteen fifty one which of course is intended among other things to advance industrial design, something that Albert cares about very much.

MARTIN CLAYTON: Albert being one of the moving forces behind the Great Exhibition which was an unparalleled success. Six million visitors seeing over a hundred thousand objects over a period of five, six months. He wanted to record this for posterity quite reasonably.

PRESENTER: I'm at Windsor Castle with Martin Clayton, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings for the Royal Collection. On the table in front of us is a volume of lithographs commissioned by Prince Albert to commemorate the Great Exhibition of eighteen fifty one. The event was Prince Albert's baby. He wanted to present a World Fair in London, a place to which the public could come and bear witness to the wonders of modern manufacturing.

MARTIN CLAYTON: And he chose to record this exemplar of progress a very progressive print making technique, chromolithography, which had only been invented within the previous ten years.

PRESENTER: Well let's have a look at the colour print that you got out for us here Martin. It's not particularly heavily populated with people but it's heavily populated with kit, with machinery, with objects. Is that the artist giving Albert what he wanted?

MARTIN CLAYTON: Yes. The people are very much there as staffage. They're just simply there to populate this and also to give a sense of scale. I mean those are huge pieces of equipment that we have here.

PRESENTER: What are they?

MARTIN CLAYTON: I think what we're seeing here is Whitworth stand of engine tools. They're very beautifully milled pieces of steel. But you read in the letter press opposite the print "His peculiar genius has enabled him to effect such a convenient arrangement of the different parts that his machines are almost self-acting leaving nothing for the workman to do except to fix his work and keep his tools sharp.

ANDREW THOMPSON: Prince Albert was very keen on the idea of a Great Exhibition.

PRESENTER: Andrew Thompson, a History Fellow from Cambridge University.

ANDREW THOMPSON: In part it was a way of copying something that had happened already. There had been large industrial shows elsewhere in Europe in the eighteen forties. And although other countries were encouraged to exhibit, one of the things that Albert was keen to stress was that it would be the British exhibits that would look best, show the latest innovations and be most able to kind of demonstrate to the world Britain's technological and economic power.

HELEN RAPPAPORT: He raised royal patronage way above anything that there had been before.

PRESENTER: Helen Rappaport is an historian and author who has written extensively about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

HELEN RAPPAPORT: Right from the beginning he was there at the cutting edge of things like photography, a very early and very keen patron of photography. But it wasn't just even the arts. I mean he was involved in the rebuilding or the interior decorations of the new palace at Westminster. Things like music, art, culture, he was a member of the anti-slavery campaign. He was a supporter quietly of the Darwinians. There wasn't an aspect of British life that he didn't take a passionate interest in.

ANDREW THOMPSON: And of course the exhibitions themselves left a lasting legacy. The profits of the exhibition were used to put up the museums that we now see in the Museum Quarter of London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National History Museum and the Science Museum, all of which in their various ways contributed towards this vision of Britain being an important cultural and economic power.

PRESENTER: Prince Albert advocated progress like the leader of an exhibition. He was out in front, confident of where the country lay and made sure we had the best tools for the job. Britain was on the front foot and Albert had helped put her there. His wife Queen Victoria was supportive and played her part in creating the modern world.

KIT MAXWELL: It does look just like a coiled tape measure but it is in fact paper wound round a central wooden spine. Its name is ticker tape.

PRESENTER: Kit Maxwell is a curator at the Royal Collection whom I met on the Isle of Wight, the Royal residence of Osborne House, a place very dear to Queen Victoria and also the location of the world's first ever transatlantic cabled communication.

KIT MAXWELL: This in fact records a message that was sent by Queen Victoria to the President of the Untied States, James Buchannan in eighteen fifty eight. And it was in fact the first official transoceanic cable message.

PRESENTER: What did she want to say?

KIT MAXWELL: We could I suppose unwind the whole thing but it took ..

PRESENTER: Well maybe unwind a little bit.

KIT MAXWELL: Well it took seventeen hours for the message to transmit and you can see it's rather a large coil. If we unwind a little bit ..

PRESENTER: Is this handwritten?

KIT MAXWELL: This is handwritten. It would have been transcribed from the Morse code message that was pulsed out on the American side of the cable. The English and American ships had met in the middle of the Atlantic on the twenty ninth July, and had set out in opposite directions, one to Newfoundland in Canada and the other to the West Coast of Ireland. And they had made several attempts to lay this transoceanic cable but they had failed. So it couldn't be planned precisely. No one knew whether they were going to make it or when they would make it. But finally both ships safely reached their respective destinations on the fifth of August. And on the sixteenth of August this official message was sent.

ANDREW THOMPSON: One of the things that obviously important about Victoria being involved in new forms of communications technology is related to her role as head of state. The message she sent across the Atlantic was very simple and straightforward but there's also a sense in which she's aware that this sort of technology is likely to be transformative.

PRESENTER: Historian Andrew Thompson again.

ANDREW THOMPSON: This sort of communications technology could be important in a number of ways. Obviously it's going to help British industry but it's also going to be important for Britain more strategically to enable Britain to play its role as a global power, to be able to communicate quickly and easily with the empire which was obviously something that would be very high on Victoria and Prince Albert's agenda.

PRESENTER: So the Queen is the first person to have a go at communicating in this way, transatlantically. What does she have to say?

KIT MAXWELL: "The Queen desires to congratulate the President upon the successful completion of this great international work in which the Queen has taken the deepest interest. The Queen is convinced that the President will join her in fervently hoping that the electric cable which now connects Great Britain with the United States will prove an additional link between the nations whose friendship is founded upon their common interest and reciprocal esteem. The Queen has much pleasure in this communicating with the President and renewing to him her wishes for the prosperity of the United States." The President replied "The President cordially reciprocates the congratulations of Her Majesty the Queen on the success of the great international enterprise accomplished by the science, skill and indomitable energy of the two countries. It is a triumph more glorious because far more useful to mankind than ever was one ... shall be forever neutral. Its communications shall be held sacred in passing to their places of destination even in the midst of hostilities. James Buchanan". You can almost hear the railroads being laid and the cities expanding and the, the great ocean liners arriving bringing immigrants from Europe and so on.

PRESENTER: Queen Victoria described the electronic cable as an additional link between Britain and America. What a visionary comment to make. She didn't view this nascent technology as a means for cosy one to one conversations but as a form of mass communication. By doing so she had set the precedent for the British monarchy's approach to an ever increasingly media dominated world - understand it, be wary of it, use it.

ROBERT SEATTER: Very early on after only two years of the BBC as a company being in existence the King was on the airwaves at the British Empire exhibition in nineteen twenty four where traffic stopped.

PRESENTER: Robert Seatter is Head of History at the BBC.

ROBERT SEATTER: Because if you imagine this is the first time the nation had really heard the voice of their monarch. It was an extraordinary sort of revelation.

PRESENTER: Eight years later George the Fifth had his own microphone with which he could speak to the nation from home. He chose to broadcast a Christmas message knowing that it was a one day of the year when most people would be stuck in their own homes probably looking for some light relief from washing up and bickering relatives, a tradition had been set.

ROBERT SEATTER: Here we have the gems of the BBC collection - the royal microphones. On the left we've got the first microphone, a ribbon microphone invented by the BBC used by King George the Fifth, the first monarch to give a Christmas message. That was Christmas Day, nineteen thirty two, done from Sandringham. It was envisaged as a moment of bringing the family of nations together as the family gathers around the table for Christmas. That's a theme that goes through all the royal broadcasts, this idea of using broadcasting to bring the nation together balanced by the desire not to destroy the mystique. So there was concern with the first royal broadcasts that people might be listening to them wearing a hat, standing up, perish the thought in a pub.

ARCHIVE: Happy Christmas.

PRESENTER: And history was made once again when Queen Elizabeth broadcast her Christmas message in nineteen fifty seven on television.

ARCHIVE: I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct.

ROBERT SEATTER: There was sensitivity because it was a big transition to actually put the Queen on a visual media. So actually the year before in nineteen fifty six they had the voice of the Queen with static stills. And then so there's a gradual transition to actually having the Queen moving. But if we look at the photograph you can see it's a much, much more natural environment if a palace can be a natural environment. You know you've got the pictures of Prince Charles and Princess Anne on the table, you've got flowers on the table. You haven't got a microphone in sight. It's actually probably hidden behind the flower arrangement. And the Queen looks smiling and she looks happy. So it's a much more natural environment to be broadcasting.

ARCHIVE: It's inevitable that I should seem a rather remote figure to many of you, a successor to the kings and queens of history, someone whose face may be familiar in newspapers and films but who never really touches your personal lives. But now at least for a few minutes I welcome you to the peace of my own home. That it's possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us.

PRESENTER: They have barely slowed down since. The Queen now has a website, Facebook page and a Twitter account. She wasn't an early adopter but then nor has she been a technophobe. She's probably judged it about right which by and large can be said for the majority of our monarchs when faced with the perils of progress. Some like Queen Victoria and Charles the Second have championed change seeing it as their royal role and a opportunity to increase their own institution's standing. Nowadays in our culture of celebrity it has been through charities that the royal family has sought to influence and support causes that they feel could do with a bit of positive publicity. A modern monarchy is not so much about whether they mind change, more an issue of changing people's minds.

ARCHIVE: The Princess of Wales has opened Britain's first purpose built hospital ward for Aids and she shook hands with nine Aids patients. Doctors said it was a gesture which would explode the myth that the disease could be passed through ordinary, everyday contact. The Princess spent forty five minutes on the ward ..

PRESENTER: Back in nineteen eighty seven misunderstanding and misinformation had led people to fear those who'd contracted Aids. It was at this point that Princess Diana used her superstar royal image to change public opinion as this nurse recalls.

ARCHIVE: Well for want of a better word it's give Aids a royal approval, to break down this stigma, what's attached to it. The mere fact, the lead up in fact to Princess Diana coming was will she or won't she wear gloves. I'm pleased to say she didn't wear gloves. She shook hands with the patients. She shook hands with me and that's gone a long way and I'm sure it has for the patients.

PRESENTER: One of the golden rules of business is to keep moving forward, innovating, improving and investing. Those companies that fail to adapt and change are like sandcastles on a beach, washed away on an incoming tide of new ideas and better products and so it is in the monarchy business where there is no such thing as the status quo. A severing is either keeping up with the times or his or her time will soon be up as our Nicholas the Second and Louis the Sixteenth discovered. The British monarchy has been adept at adapting. Henry the Eighth put education on the royal curriculum. Charles the Second helped lead Britain to the Enlightenment. Queen Victoria moved into the world of global communication. History shows us that the kings and queens of this country have taken a progressive approach to progress, understanding that to do so is all part of the art of monarchy. In next week's programme I'll be putting on my safari suit to look at the monarchy and the empire, how it won it, how it lost it and what happened along the way.

PRESENTER: It looks like a bit of kindling doesn't it? It's something you'd get the fire going with.

KIT MAXWELL: Exactly that. It is a shard of wood that was taken from the wooden coffin of George Washington the first president of the United States and presented by his great, great nephew to the future Edward the Seventh when he made a tour of Canada and the United States in eighteen sixty.

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