Saturday 6 May 2023

My father, the Queen of Tonga and the Young Pretender


My father stayed up all night in 1953 to see the last coronation. I didn't ask him if he slept out. He told me that it rained and all the monarchs kept the tops of their carriages closed except for the Queen of Tonga, who thought it a shame that the crowd shouldn't see anyone. 

She left hers open. Beside her in evening dress in the morning sat a small man holding a tall umbrella over the royal head.

This created huge goodwill in the UK towards Tonga which still lasts to this day.

Queen Salote of Tonga became a household name overnight. That summer baby girls were christened Charlotte (Salote is the Polynesian form), a racehorse was named after her and a song was written "Linger longer, Queen of Tonga". Of course, she received the biggest cheers of the day, except for Queen Elizabeth II and her Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill.

At a grand party given on the balcony of a house overlooking the processional route, someone asked Noel Coward 'Who is that little man sitting next to the Queen of Tonga? " He replied "Her lunch".

For some reason, the subject of the coronation came up when I was talking to the parents of a German girl who was my first love and I told them that story. They roared with laughter but the girl I loved surprised me by asking, 'Isn't that racist?'

As Graham Greene said, there is always a moment in childhood which lets the future in.

In the 1990s I was one of the small minority of people in England who sympathised with the Prince of Wales when the Princess waged her guerilla war against him. She was mad and bad. He should have married Princess Marie Astrid of Luxembourg, a pretty blonde, and thereby provided the answer to the Irish Question. (Telling Richard Overy that in my interview won me a scholarship to Cambridge). The Spencers have bad blood but nevertheless I wish Queen Diana were to be crowned today.

Is Charles my king or am I a Jacobite loyal to the Stuart Pretender, the Duke of Bavaria? I think I take the position of Dr Johnson and do not know, if I could make the Young Pretender victorious in 1745 by raising my hand whether I'd do so. I'd so so in 1745, for sure, but now? As Boswell said, there have been other usurpers besides the House of Hanover. 

Henry IV and Henry VII, for example. Stephen? William I, most undoubtedly.


  1. Canute (really his father Sveyn, but Sveyn died after just two weeks on the throne)
    William I
    Henry I (grabbed the throne while his older brother Robert wasn't around, then captured Robert and locked him up until he died)
    Isabella and Mortimer (ruled as de facto monarchs for three years after deposing Edward II and then having him murdered)
    Henry IV
    Edward IV (twice!)
    Richard III
    Henry VII
    Lady Jane Grey / Queen Mary -- they couldn't both be legitimate, so at least one of them was an usurper
    Cromwell, of course
    William III & Mary -- The Hanoverians at least were invited in before showing up with an army.

    Also, say what you like about the Hanoverians, but they were descended from Elizabeth the Winter Queen through her daughter Sophia. Elizabeth had by far the strongest character of any Stuart, and Sophia was by far the smartest. So it's not surprising that the Hanoverians turned out to be brave, stubborn, and -- at least in the first three generations -- much more clever and competent than people realized, as witness the fact that we're watching their descendants on television today.

  2. "Elizabeth II certainly remembered the best quip from the day. She only heard about it afterwards, but it made her laugh out loud. Crowned heads from around the world came to London for the event and one of them was Queen Salote of Tonga. She was a magnificent lady, aged 53 in 1953, very tall (6ft 3in) and splendidly built. She travelled to the abbey in an open carriage sitting opposite the comparatively diminutive Sultan of Kelantan. Someone asked Noël Coward: ‘Who is that with Queen Salote?’ ‘That,’ replied the playwright, ‘is her lunch.’

    "Coward’s quip went around the world and, 20 years later, when Prince Philip was on a visit to Malaysia, he met a group of VIPs at a reception and was much amused when the shortest member of the party introduced himself with a squeal of pride: ‘I’m the lunch!’ Gyles Brandreth in the latest edition of the Spectator.

  3. Wonderful post.

  4. Your uncertainty on whether you would change the outcome in 1745 encapsulates nicely the complexity of what it is to be British. Ours is a variegated psyche. The desire to be insular versus that to be European.