For Prince William at least it was decided on the day of his birth what he should do: Find a presentable wife, father a male heir (and preferably a male “spare” as well), and keep the show on the road. By yet another exercise of that notorious “magic,” it is now doubly and triply important that he does this simple thing right, because only his supposed charisma can save the country from what monarchists dread and republicans ought to hope for: King Charles III. (Monarchy, you see, is a hereditary disease that can only be cured by fresh outbreaks of itself.) An even longer life for the present queen is generally hoped for: failing that a palace maneuver that skips a generation and saves the British from a man who—like the fruit of the medlar—went rotten before he turned ripe.

Convinced republican that I am, and foe of the prince who talks to plants and wants to be crowned “head of all faiths” as well as the etiolated Church of England, I find myself pierced by a pang of sympathy. Not much of a life, is it, growing old and stale with no real job except waiting for the news of Mummy’s death? Some British people claim actually to “love” their rather dumpy Hanoverian ruling house. This love takes the macabre form of demanding a regular human sacrifice whereby unexceptional people are condemned to lead wholly artificial and strained existences, and then punished or humiliated when they crack up.