If you stare long enough at the Queen’s face, you see that the Queen is a modernist project. To examine her we must start by divorcing the Queen from the Royal Family – most of all, from the previous Kings and Queens of England. Queen Elizabeth II, even though by her title she assumes the genealogy of her crown, the title and numeral of position, is a singular person with a conceptual quality distinct from other monarchs of the Empire. Only this Queen has been broadcast through the world at every moment of her life; only this Queen reigned through the post-war restructuring and all the events leading up to our present mode of life.
The criticisms of Elizabeth II usually run the course of exposing that she is (1) a centre of actual physical power who controls army and state, even if only in moments of ratification, for this rubber-stamping could always be rejected, and thus she acts as final arbiter; (2) a mere mirror reflecting society, the pomp and majesty the lense of a corporate elite which knows no bounds and who must be checked (3) a last remaining fragment of a feudal society which has since expired. These three interpretations can all of course be well reabsorbed by the monarchists: (1) the centre of physical power is the exact check on the rampaging bourgeois elites that we wish to stop (the Lords are our saviour); (2) the Queen is a mirror of society but in all its grubbiness as well as is pomp – only the Queen can really reflect our social history; (3) this last remaining fragment is a ship in a stormy sea, battling against the abhorrent forces of modernity; all hail Prince Charles and his alliance with the humble lordship of the fields.
What then does the Queen mean? She exists not as the representative of some aspect of a shared ideology which provides the source of power on which concept like ‘sovereign’ draw. To understand the kind of sovereignty invested in Queen Elizabeth II is not the same as asking what kind of sovereignty is exhibited in the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the World Trade Organisation. This is not a moment to reach for Hobbes and Locke. These are the explanatory notes emblems to those modes of power which we smell and feel in the batons on the street and the fences of fortress Europe. To equate the concept of the Queen to this kind of power is to delve into the minds of conspiracy theorists: the Queen simply is not an organiser of this capacity; the Royal Family in this regard is nothing but a land owner and, like all land owners, is entirely non-essential to the functioning of value and its processes.
Instead the Queen is a valoriser. She continues to do this today, despite the trappings of bourgeois government – simply because the methods by which she exerts these processes of valorisation have nothing to do with feudal power, or at least no more or less than any other aspect of contemporary bourgeois society. The Queen is a modernist project, defended by he trappings of positivism. To show this, we need only turn to the family.
Katherine Bowes-Lyon (b. 1926)
Katherine Nerissa Bowes-Lyon lives in Surrey. She was born in 1926, the daughter of John and Fenella Bowes-Lyon. John’s sister was Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, better known as the Queen Mother. This makes Katherine and Queen Elizabeth II first cousins. Katherine and her older sister Nerissa grew up with their siblings, Anne and Diana, until 1941, when they were sent to the Earlswood ‘Institution for Mental Defectives’ in Surrey (previously titled the Institute for Idiots). Katherine was 15; she has not seen her cousin the Queen since. Their mother, Fenella, visited regularly, but died in 1966. In 1963, Burke’s Peerage listed both sisters as dead. Nerissa died in 1986, and was buried in a grave marked only by a plastic tag with her serial number and name on it. Three other cousins also lived in Earlswood Hospital: Idonea, Ethelreda and Rosemary (all of whom have died, and about whom I can find little information).
How this could come to pass – that the cousins of the Queen could be essentially incarcerated due only to their mental handicap and the story make little difference to the nation’s perception of her – requires some history. In the 19th century the rise of capitalist modes of production gave rise to the institution, the parallel to the factory. While the factory housed those who could work, the institution housed those who could not. Some movements (often labelled progressive) compounded this with the working class educational movement, sometimes a hound of critique on the tailcoats of the capitalists, but more often a method by which the institution of those not in work could be turned into a factory of workers – ‘the Idiots could be trained’, pronounced the founder of Earlswood. The history weaves through a litany of laws on the Statute books the name of which we would rather forget: the Idiots Act of 1886, the Lunacy Act of 1890, the Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic Children) Act 1889. As a figure of one aspect of this movement, let’s take Sir Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s cousin and author of ‘Hereditary Genius’. In 1907, he helped found the Eugenics Society, which spurned the creation of local associations across the UK in order to encourage ‘worthy’ couples to procreate and discourage the ‘unworthy’. The fledgling science of eugenics, commanded by the moralism of the Church, showed that the with the institutionalization and stratification of species also came the institutionalization of the family itself.
In 1926, the same year that Queen Elizabeth was born and the country went on strike, the global outbreak of encephalitis lethargica (sleepy sickness) left many people with symptoms of catatonia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and speechlessness. The Mental Deficiency Act 1927 brought those affected by the disease into the doors of the Institutions, at the same time as taking the locks off those doors. Freedom, propagated as the great saviour, brought with it vastly increased numbers.
Katherine was born in the same year as Elizabeth, and seems to have grown up with the rest of the family. Ger father died of pneumonia when she was 4. Nonetheless, we do not know what brought the Bowes-Lyon family to send her to Redbridge in 1941. Perhaps it was the war-time conditions. If this was the case, then it is not unfitting that the segregation of five members of the Royal Family (by the Royal Family) occurred while the roots of the welfare state were taking hold. Through the 1930s the professionalization of mental health care was part of a general movement which progressed towards the National Health Service; Beveridge’s provisions of 1942 included full unemployment, national insurance and a health service. Mental health, according to the post-war report ‘The Future Organization of the Psychiatric Services’ was to be brought in line with any other health department. ‘Care’ was the word of the day, and institutionalisation the method of choice in the new socialism.
The socialism which built up the People’s Palace of the Southbank and which turned Katherine’s home into an NHS hospital in 1957 built itself around the Queen’s coronation in the 1950s. The hospitals were erected on the backs of a race-based labour exploitation pattern, through which the exploitation of the colonies was brought right back into the centre of things. Race-thought expands outwards as well as into the family itself.
In 1987, the story of the Katherine and Nerissa was splashed on the front pages of the tabloids. Since then, the Queen has still not visited Katherine (despite being the patron of a whole host of charities for people with disabilities). The Royal Earlswood Hospital closed in 1997 (there have been claims that there were incidents of abuse there), and Katherine was moved to Ketwin House. Here there certainly were problems: complaints of bad practice, embezzlement and invasions of privacy. Ketwin House was consequentially closed in 2001, after which point Katherine was moved again, and still lives at an undisclosed home, still in Surrey. Earlswood and its redwood lined avenues is now divided into luxury flats.
Flee the state
The institution for the mentally handicapped takes it place alongside the prison, the asylum, the school, the barracks. Repressive, but also monumental. But what happens when the monument is hidden? This is not a story about the Queen’s secret, and nor can it be of Katherine’s experience. The antinomy of the Queen’s English and Katherine’s voicelessness is pronounced. Katherine is of course still an illusion; it is quite possible that she will never have a voice. This is not part of the juridification of the Queen, but her mechanism of maintaining the sense of fleeing from the state.
For a body in the state, the greastest victory is to feel as if you have fled the state. There are a host of mechanisms for achieving this sensation. Celebrity is one of them: known by their first names, the whole point of the cinematic stars is that it’s difficult to imagine them with an ID card. Similarly the Queen. How could she even have a passport? But these sensations of having fled the state are exactly what the experience of the state has come to be. Could we suggest seriously, really, that the Queen has fled the state? With all its operations and mechanisms?
Being on the outside of the state is the paradise. But the attempts to realise this ideal of exodus also carries with it the outward expending practices of segregation. Segregational modes of care the care of others have became costly. Legislation under New Labour become focussed on rights instead of needs (Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons’ Act). The recent Sayce report announced the closing of over half of the Remploy factories, meaning compulsory redundancy for 1,518 workers with disabilities. By 2013, the introduction of Personal Independence Payments will take the place of the Disability Living Allowance, explicitly to expel a fifth of claimants from the list. These policies are the direct effects of de-institutionalisation – but they clearly maintain with them still a technique of segregation.
Historians of disability have noted this shift in the language and tactics of care from confinement to openness. We can see the outcome of this in the above policies – the Big Society, with all its thousands of laid off social workers, and its tough-love attitude. But the segregational care of the self must of course be reached at all costs.
The root of disablism is not a hatred of the other, but this love of the self. The Queen is a loved-self, cared for not only by the public ceremonies, but also by an outwards identity constructed not only through a genealogy but also the physical barring of people who might undermine that identity. The Family stands not only as a unit of bourgeois society (a constructed but nonetheless very real economic unit), but also concurrently as a foundation of racialised thought. Pure, unstained, the Royal Family provide the radiant example of the post-war economic unit par excellence: suffering but victorious, beleaguered yet fortified. The tabloid scandals only add to the multitude of modernist phantoms which attack them and, by doing so, allow the hardened response its chance to operate. The silence in the face of the on-coming peril is no more than an exempla for the citizen: batten down the hatches, my subject, the modern will prevail.