One of the mottoes I frequently heard in my youth was “handsome is as handsome does”: this is somewhat akin to the biblical words of wisdom “By their fruits ye shall know them”.
It’s not what you say that counts – it’s what you do.
The nuns were keen also on stressing that character was more important than appearance. I have respect for this viewpoint, even though it doesn’t accord with our visual culture today, where presentation and appearance have become so significant.
In the case of Harry and Meghan, it’s understandable that this young(ish) couple might want to live a life that is rather more under their own control than royal protocol has usually allowed. But the real test will be how they handle matters subsequently.
There are indeed parallels with the abdication crisis of 1936. Many younger and more “progressive” folk back in the 1930s supported Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, and thought them a modernising influence. Even Eamon de Valera, the ultra-Catholic premier of Éire (as Ireland then was), backed them and saw no reason why Edward shouldn’t continue to reign. He remarked wryly that previous English kings, such as Henry VIII, had few scruples about divorce (or, we might add, beheading).
However, time and character played their part in the drama. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, as Edward and Wallis became, went on to lead shallow lives on the international celebrity circuit. True, they were sternly treated by the royal establishment, and Edward (known as David in the family) fretted for his entire life that his wife was denied the “HRH” title which would entitle her to receive a curtsey. It seems a detail, but details sometimes matter to people.
Nevertheless, history’s judgment has been that the Windsors didn’t show much mettle or character in their post-abdication lifestyles.
And thus the test for Harry and Meghan is in the future, not in the present. If, in their new situation – partly in Canada, perhaps later in Los Angeles – will we see their characters emerge as admirable human beings? They have both shown an interest in humanitarian causes and done estimable charity work. Will that continue selflessly, or will it be overshadowed by the strong commercial pressures already evident in their scenario? The fact that Meghan and Harry have applied to trademark “hundreds” of merchandising items under the “Sussex Royal” logo indicates that a major business enterprise is already well under way.
The world follows the saga with interest. But the judgment will come with time and consequences: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
We know that women have often been treated unequally in the past, as the struggle for votes, property rights and even rights over their own children demonstrates. But it’s unfair and dishonest to claim that men have always enjoyed “white male privilege” and “the power of patriarchy”. Millions of men have endured oppression and hardship, especially in war and conflicts. Sam Mendes’s new film about the First World War, 1917, illuminates that fact – the torment, the chaos, the utter heartlessness and endless woe of front-line wartime conditions which men suffered.
Andrew Scott – renowned for playing a priest in the television series Fleabag – has a cameo role as an utterly exhausted and recklessly despairing officer in the trenches, almost beyond caring. Before two young squaddies set off on their mission across No Man’s Land to the German lines, he half-hysterically blesses them with whiskey: “May all your sins be forgiven.” And that’s as near to a spiritual note as this harrowing movie gets.
Sir Roger Scruton, who died on Sunday, was the true heir to Edmund Burke, the Anglo-Irish father of conservatism.
Sir Roger was a great man who unfashionably defended a Burkean model of conservatism – the “small battalions” of everyday life, of countryside, church, voluntary groups, a quiet and reflective patriotism – in the face of sometimes quite aggressive opposition. He was also personally brave, opening forums for freedom in Czechoslovakia and Romania when these countries were under the communist yoke.
Sir Roger addressed The Keys (the Catholic Writers’ Guild) when I was Master of that group in 2011, and it was an honour to have him as our speaker.
Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4