Before you get too excited about English royalty

Maybe royal-worshippers need to know a bit more about the ceremonial head of our government and the system from which she hails.

The continued and in my opinion undeserved fascination with the English royal family disappoints me. Scientifically, there’s no difference genetically from any member of the House of Windsor or Hanover than there is any other family in the world, despite what the bluebloods themselves might think.

So why do people worship the royal family, ruddy-cheeked babies and all? I have no idea. Celebrity worship in general stupefies me. Maybe royal-worshippers need to know a bit more about the ceremonial head of our government and the system from which she hails.

Want to know why parts of the United Kingdom hold independence votes? Well, let’s look at something that occurred in Ireland between 1845 and 1852 called the Great Potato Famine. The famine, which caused untold damage to Irish society, is commonly blamed on a simple vegetable disease called Phytophthora infestans; royal family apologists like to stop the story at this point.

However, historians who aren’t concerned with protecting the English royal family’s reputation are acutely aware of plenty of other factors which entered into the famine, including greed, landlords and English bluebloods and their attitude towards anyone they considered “common.”

Irish property was in the hands of the “ascendancy class” (wealthy Englishmen) at that time, who were the quintessential “absentee landlords.” They hired managers to collect exorbitant rent from Irish folk who were expected in many cases to raise a crop on a parcel of land less than five acres in size. The Irish farmers had to not only pay rent, they had to support their families as well. Virtually the only crop possible was potatoes.

In 1845, the incompetent government of the UK was aware of a disease appearing that held the threat of at the very least severely affecting potato harvest (The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Horticultural Gazette was reporting the news). British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, one of the bluebloods, commented to a friend, there’s “always a tendency to exaggeration in Irish news”.

The blight attacked the Irish potato crop that year and for many afterwards. Thus began the Great Potato Famine. However, the English kept exporting food from Ireland, even at the height of the famine.

Then the landlords, bluebloods and other sponges attacked. Despite the effects the potato famine was having on Irish households, landlords didn’t cut them any slack. Rent was expected to be paid, despite the Irish countryside being wracked with starvation. Then the mass evictions started in 1847 for as little as 4 pounds, about $8 today, a tactic some historians feel was the English strategy from the beginning. Clear out those Irish and we can keep their land ourselves, plant our own crops etc. pondered the bluebloods (Helen Litton’s 2006 book The Irish Famine: An Illustrated History, page 91).

The effects of the Great Potato Famine were catastrophic…for the Irish. It’s estimated about 1 to 1.5 million people died from starvation or disease within 10 years, according to a census commonly thought to have underestimated the deaths, plus the so-called Irish Diaspora that occurred during the famine. About 250,000 Irish were fleeing the country per year during the famine, many coming to North America.

Historians differ on why the famine wasn’t predicted and why so little was done to stop it. And why the “ascendancy class” exploited it for financial gain.

Think about that the next time Entertainment Tonight wants to show you what the royal family is up to.

Stu Salkeld is the new editor of The Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.