God Save the Gruffalo

Glen Newey

A history of the House of Windsor

A couple of weeks in, the EU referendum campaign has already spawned material to rival the US presidentials’ fabliaux spun round General Pershing, and Donald Trump’s mythic dong. A top pick in the EU campaign so far is the Guardian’s profile of the illustrator Axel Scheffler, warning that The Gruffalo, by the British author Julia Donaldson and the German Scheffler, might not have existed had Britain Brexited. It's a clear ploy to shunt the votes of three-year-olds, if not their parents, towards Remain. ‘The Gruffalo is a British-German creative collaboration,’ Scheffler said, gesturing darkly towards the non-gruffalic nightmare that the EU has spared us.

Still, as fecund British-German collaborations go, he and Donaldson could hardly hope to improve on the House of Windsor, known until 1917 as Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, which before and since has spurted a steady stream of supernumerary royals into the lap of tax-tab luxury. The comparison once made, it’s hard not to run with it. A monstrous hybrid, insufficiently miscegenated, ponderous and above all dim, the Gruffalo might belatedly be graven into the royal armorial bearings, encapsulating the monarchy, like the unicorn, via a got-up hybrid beastie.

Now comes the shattering ‘news’ from the Sun that the queen wants to quit the EU. Thoughts turn less to the court of St James’s than to that of the Gruffalo who owns the Sun, currently wowing Jerry Hall off the Mexican coast on his 220-footer. It's conceivable that the queen may have trotted out something Europhobish after a Dubonnet or three. But does she really back Brexit? The Sun’s disclosure seems to rate as ‘news’ only in the sense that it is new, if not actually true.

Given the family history it would be unsurprising were Her Majesty not ambivalent about a Berlin-dominated organisation, even if in 1947 she married into the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderberg-Glucksberg line. In a piece on Prince Philip’s ‘bitter clashes’ with ‘the mother-in-law from hell’, the Mail noted that 'the Queen Mother didn't like the Germans, which is perhaps understandable’. What the Queen Mother would have thought is a question worth asking about the EU poll as about everything else, but may not always reliably reflect the queen's own views.

 Sun hacks may fantasise about getting the royals and the rest of us out of 'Europe', but you can't get Europe, particularly the German bit of it, out of the royals. Grumbling about EU institutions ‘during the last government’, as the queen is reported to have done, is hardly the same as being a Brexiteer avant la lettre. It may be that her views on Brexit were no more distinct at that stage than say, Trump’s views on the categorical imperative.

Nonetheless, Buckingham Palace, one of the monarchy’s talking buildings, moved fast to pooh-pooh the Sun’s shocker: ‘The queen is politically neutral, as she has been for 63 years.’ The Sun is standing its ground, suggesting that the queen regularly sounds off about the EU, and Michael Gove has been fingered as the original story's source (denied by Gove's people).

Talk of political neutrality brings us back to unicorn land. Take ‘sovereignty’, a word that, like the strains of ‘I Vow to Thee, My Country’ (another Anglo-German production), is apt to make grown killers halt of tongue and blear of vision. Howbeit, since the queen is sovereign, and sovereignty is a referendum issue, she might be thought to have skin in the game. It's rather like the fact that she can’t be all that neutral on the highly political question of whether to have a monarchy or a republic; or on hereditary wealth and influence; or on whether, as in the Scottish referendum, she wanted bits of her realm sawn off. As with Trump’s manhood, behind small myths lie much bigger ones.


  • 11 March 2016 at 8:19am
    cufflink says:
    Everytime I parry in my mind Glen's epee thrust he counters with a cutlass slash; can there be any protection from this biting yet stimulating persiflage?
    We have half lost him in Europe now and he probably keeps a bunch of tulips by his laptop on the dresser.
    The thing is does the referendum complete before footie Euro 2016? Spurs were humiliated last night and the insufferable arrogance of one or two Borussia players brought back memories of the old days when we all knew where we stood - sleeves rolled up.
    I have always been a 'Yes' man so the contest is now in-house.

  • 18 March 2016 at 4:53pm
    reporterre says:
    The illustration come straight out Maurice Sendak's Wherer the wild things are !!!