One would not have to be too very cynical to conclude that the whole idea behind the Big Fat Royal Wedding is an attempt to shore up flagging interest in the Royal Family. There is a succession problem, after all. Prince Charles is perceived as something of a wacko, partly because he seems to have taken an odd, unhealthy interest in preserving the planet. Royals don’t do that. Their job is to consume resources on a vast scale. The castles, the clothes, the gold gilt carriage, etc. It is a all a question of entitlement, and the Brits seem to get a vicarious thrill from indulging their surrogate, royal selves.

If you want to get a sense of the scale of consumption, you could do worse than visit Hampton Court Palace. It belonged to Cardinal Wolsey before Henry VIII got his hands on it, but in just ten years Henry spent more than £62,000 rebuilding and extending the buildings and grounds. That would be approximately £18 million today. When he died in 1547 the King had more than 60 houses, but none were more sumptuously decorated than Hampton Court Palace.


Henry’s palace was one of the most modern, sophisticated and magnificent buildings in all of Europe. There were tennis courts, bowling alleys and pleasure gardens for recreation, a hunting park of more than 1,100 acres, kitchens covering 36,000 square feet, a fine chapel, a vast communal dining room (the Great Hall) and a garderobe (or lavatory) – known as the Great House of Easement – which could sit 28 people at a time. It was not quite Versailles, but not too shabby as palaces go.


In August, 1546, Henry played host to the French ambassador and his entourage of two hundred gentlemen – as well as 1,300 members of his own court – for six days. An encampment of gold and velvet tents surrounded the palace for the occasion. These sorts of feasts depleted the countryside, of course, requiring regular moves from palace to palace.


Our own invite to the wedding has not been forthcoming, but we did take advantage of a somewhat impersonal invitation (extended by way of a poster in the tube station) to view a small collection of Dutch landscapes in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. It was Easter Sunday, and serious tourists had camped out in front of the Palace to see the changing of the guard. The Queen’s Gallery is tucked in close to the Mews, where the royal horses are being groomed for the Big Event. Most of the paintings were purchased by George IV, who had a penchant for the “good” life, but was also partial to paintings of rustic, rural scenes, where peasants brought in the hay in a soft golden light. For him, it must have seemed fanciful and fun.


You might assume that time is not right to be plotting to overthrow the monarchy, but Republic, a tiny, London-based, anti-monarchist organization recently held a meeting in a pub just south of Queen Square. Forty brave souls showed up, united in a common cause. They would very much like the monarchy removed from their country’s pocketbook and constitution. Bolstered by fellow comrades in Commonwealth countries such as Canada and Australia, Republicans are hoping that when the international spotlight shines on the Royal Family during the wedding palooza, the flawed system will be laid bare.


They argue that the monarchy is unaccountable and unrepresentative, a drain on public resources and it makes a joke of democracy: Only half of Britain’s parliament is elected, and the head of state can never be. They say the Royal Family cost British taxpayers £180-million (about $285-million) through payments, deferred taxes and security costs. The Royal accountant begs to disagree. Republicans have been given the green light to hold a street party on the day of the royal wedding in Red Lion Square. A spokesman said they will celebrate “democracy and people-power, rather than inherited privilege” on April 29.


So, will it all come crashing down when the the Queen shuffles off the mortal coil? Don’t count on it. As “The King’s Speech” makes abundantly clear, the Royals may be a mediocre lot, but they are resilient. And if they have to skip a generation to keep the throne intact, it will probably be arranged. Prince William will be King before Charles has counted the royalties from his new book. The author of “Harmony” has a lot to learn about winning hearts and minds. He could have picked up a thing or two from his mother or his ex. Or the brand new daughter-in-law, the Princess Bride.