The Julian Calendar: Queen and Pope edition
By Julian O’Dea
One of the best things about the immensely successful TV historical fantasy series Game of Thrones is that it mixes a healthy dollop of reality with the fantasy. It is often the reality in fantasy fiction that anchors it, gives it broader meaning, and gives it verisimilitude. There is little in Game of Thrones that is literally impossible, and most of it has been seen before in the real world. (Apart from the dragon breeding, of course.)
I thought of Game of Thrones when I saw the reports of the recent meeting between the Queen and the Pope.
The Queen and the Pope are a couple of real life Game of Thrones characters, who are decent people, but both of them are longstanding and successful players of the power game. Neither is a fool, and their recent meeting, friendly though it was, contains some amusing little touches that the most jaded and cynical of watchers of the fantasy series might enjoy.
How does the Queen impress the Pope and show off her own influence and importance? She gives the Pope produce from her extensive estates and from the choicest goods of Britain. Here is just part of the list:
Behold, My estates!
From Windsor Castle (a Royal residence): Rib of beef; Haunch of venison.
From Sandringham (a Royal residence): Sandringham cider; Blackcurrant cordial; Quince jelly; Plum conserve; Sandringham handmade aromatherapy soaps.
From Balmoral Castle (the Queen’s Scottish residence): Shortbread; Balmoral whisky.
With that, the Queen sends the message to the Pope that she is a landowner and that English produce is desirable and steeped in tradition. She also arrived 20 minutes late after a “very pleasant lunch with the President [of Italy]”. The feminist Guardian newspaper apparently made much of the fact that the Queen was not dressed in black to meet the Pope, as tradition demands of women, even queens; but it was an informal meeting. When he met Obama, it was at the Apostolic Palace. He met the Queen in an “understated room known as the pope’s study”.
So, how does His Holiness respond? By playing to his strengths. (It is a noteworthy feature of the fictional Game of Thrones that almost as much time is spent on status displays and verbal jousting as on physical conflict.) So here is what he did:
Behold, My symbols!
“The Pope presented a lapis lazuli orb to the royal couple, decorated with a silver cross of Edward the Confessor, the 11th Century English King who was made a saint, as a gift for eight-month-old Prince George with the inscription on the base “Pope Francis, to His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge” … The royal couple were also presented with a reproduction of a decree by Pope Innocent XI issued in 1679 which elevated Edward the Confessor into a saint for the Catholic Church.”
What does the gift convey, besides generosity? Several possible things, some more obvious, others more fanciful. It is a reminder of the immensely rich historical artistic patronage of the Catholic Church, especially that of the papacy. The reference to Edward the Confessor is a reminder of the time when England was still Catholic. The decree of his canonisation dates from a time when England was no longer Catholic but is a reminder that the pope still claims the right to elevate an English king to sainthood. It could be read as a very subtle but firm reminder of the way things were and still are. And, to be more fanciful, what use would the young prince have for an orb? Well, he is in line for the throne, and will quite probably be crowned king one day. Every coronation of a British monarch requires an orb. It symbolises the monarch’s role as “Defender of the Faith”, a title originally conferred on Henry VIII by Pope Leo X. Is the pope hoping that the orb for the little prince might be a reminder of that curious fact of history? Is the pope gently making a point about church unity?
It is as intriguing as any plot point in Game of Thrones.