I really must come to England more often. The last time I was here, in mid-February, Princess Margaret gave up the ghost. And now, even as I step off the wondrous train that connects Paris to London, the flags are hauled halfway down to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, last Empress of India. This was supposed to be a Jubilee year, marking half a century of the present sovereign’s rule. But it has been a series of black-draped obsequies so far. And I plan to come back in early June…
A sycophantic American media (for which there is even less excuse than a sycophantically royalist English one) has already bombarded you with the palace spin on the old girl’s life. Amazing sprightliness into advanced old age; always a kind word and a wave for the commoners; great pluck during the Blitz; devotion to duty; a symbol of historic continuity…. This is all utter rubbish. Take only the most celebrated of the myths: the one about her stoicism during the Nazi bombardment of London. It is true that the royal family decided not to leave the capital during the war, and it is also true that a few bombs did strike Buckingham Palace. But no account of this period is complete unless one recalls the long, steady support of King George and his late wife for the Chamberlain-Halifax policy of appeasement. They did not go as far in pro-Hitler sympathy as did the disgraced Edward VIII and his famous consort, Wallis Simpson, but they did their best.
When Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich, having betrayed Czechoslovakia to Hitler, he knew that he could expect a strong attack on his shameful treaty from the Labour and Liberal benches in the House of Commons. He therefore had himself driven straight from the airport to Buckingham Palace, where the King and Queen presented him to a cheering throng from their balcony. I possess a photograph of this disgusting event. The Queen Mother looks, as people always say, "radiant." The late John Grigg, who was known as Lord Altrincham and a distinguished Tory and court historian, described this as "the most unconstitutional act by a British sovereign in the [twentieth] century." And so it was: The Munich agreement received a royal warrant and baptism before Parliament had even debated it. Other Establishment historians, such as Philip Ziegler, have revealed that the Queen was an enthusiastic supporter of her husband’s policy of backing Chamberlain and, when that administration collapsed, of pushing for the even more reactionary Lord Halifax to replace him. The hostility of the monarchy to Churchill was well-known at the time, and he could never have hoped to gain the succession without the Labour and Liberal votes that had been pre-empted and annulled, by monarchical intervention, a short time before.