John Milton and “A Royal Issue”

As I write this, the world (or at least the 24-hour news channels) waits breathlessly for Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, to have her baby. Yesterday, I was momentarily befuddled by a headline on one of the supermarket magazines that declared she would have her baby while under hypnosis. Apparently this matters. And if it matters, John Milton should have an opinion.

John Milton thought about royal babies a bit differently. In his brave, last-minute plea for the English people to avert the Restoration, Milton was very clear that one of the evils of monarchs was exactly that they multiply. Milton begs the English people to halt the Restoration. Not just because he thought they were putting their necks voluntarily back into the yoke of monarchy, but because kings are expensive. In The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, Milton explains:

“… a king must be adored like a demigod,  with a dissolute and haughty court about him of vast expense and luxury, masks and revels, to the debauching of our prime gentry both male and female…” (1119).

Not only that… but kings inevitably marry.

“There will be a queen also of no less charge, in most likelihood outlandish and a papist, besides a queen mother such already, together with both their courts and numerous train…”

Then there will be the royal babies.

“… then a royal issue, and ere long severally their sumptuous courts, to the multiplying of a servile crew not of servants only but of nobility and gentry, bred up then to the hopes not of public, but of court offices, to be stewards, chamberlains, ushers, grooms, even of the close-stool…”

Milton suggests that once you let the King back into England, not only will he require great expense for upkeep, but royalty multiplies. Beyond the “royal issue” of princesses and princes there is also the creation of new nobility to serve the growing royal family. Milton finds the entire enterprise debasing because those who will orbit about the royals in hope of preferment will not be thinking of the common good, but instead about their own advancement. As Milton puts it, “the lower their minds debased with court opinions, contrary to all virtue and reformation, the haughtier will be their pride and profuseness.”

The Coronation Procession of Charles II

The Coronation Procession of Charles II

Royalty, Milton recognized, is an industry. It is an ever-growing concern that has the creation of new royalty as its primary goal. The newstands, magazine racks, and 24-hour “baby watch” news coverage of Kate Middleton’s pregnancy seem only to confirm that this dynamic hasn’t changed all that much.

Only now, it isn’t a new nobility that waits patiently in the wings to cash in on the latest addition to the royal family. Instead, it is an enormous and insatiable media industry.

 -David A. Harper, 22 July 13

 All references to The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth are from the Modern Library Edition edited by William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen Fallon.



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