A timeline of protest, resistance and seditious comment on Royal weddings. If you know of more, please add a comment below. I’d also be interested in hearing about upheaval at Royal Weddings globally.
10 February 1840: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
It rained all day, which may have dulled the riotous foment that the occasion called for. To make amends, plans were afoot to disrupt Victoria’s funeral 61 years later:
"Meanwhile, information reached Gustav Steinhauer, a personal bodyguard to the Kaiser, of an assassination plot by three notorious anarchists. They intended to kill the Kaiser and Leopold II, King of the Belgians, during the funeral procession. Scotland Yard was informed."1
Forelock tugging patriots breathed a sigh of relief when no Royals were harmed during the funeral procession. We will probably never know if this was because of cutting edge policing, or because the entire thing was made up by the cops to justify their overtime bill.
6 July 1893: Duke of York, and Princess Mary of Teck
On 29th June 1893 anarchists Thomas Cantwell and Ernest Young were arrested for flyposting a tract about the wedding of the Duke of York:
The London Anarchists will hold an indignation meeting on Sunday July 2 at Hyde Park, at 3.30 to protest at the waste of wealth upon these royal vermin while workers are dying of hunger and overwork.
Fellow workers prepare for the revolution and that he who would be free must strike the blow.
DOWN WITH FLUNKEYISM"2
Apparently, Cantwell proposed the poster and holding meetings around the theme. Both Cantwell and Young remained in prison until the trial. Asked by the magistrate whether he wished to question the officers, Cantwell said:
"Why don't they prosecute other people for printing bills that haven't the printers name upon them? It's only because we are Anarchists, and because these bills protest against this fawning for royal vermin that we are arrested."3
The case was dismissed. The owner of the hoarding on which they'd pasted their work prosecuted and they were both fined two guineas (£300 in 2022 money).4
20 November 1947: Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten
Freedom 1st November 1947:
"Since Victoria’s time, there has been a sedulous and silent conspiracy to “endear the royal family in the hearts of the people”, as a model of simple and modest English life. It is considered a regrettable lapse of taste, “shockingly bad form” to criticize these gentry in any way, or to express one’s disgust at the fawning journalists, sycophantic politicians and platitudinous prelates who act as publicity agents for the monarchy which they describe as “our most cherished and inviolable institution”.
Is it to take our mind off the desperate future that the press is regaling us with details of the forthcoming royal wedding? Serious discussion is going on as to whether the princess should or should not promise to obey her husband in the marriage service, since he will be her subject. We are told the details of the number of clothing coupons with which she and her attendants will be issued and of the innumerable and lavish presents the lucky girl will have.
The Evening Standard has excelled itself in a journalistic scoop and has brought us the “secret picture” of the wedding dress, or rather, of the lengths of material from which it will be made, which, so important is it to this benighted nation, occupies a large part of the front page.'
29 July 1981: Prince Charles and Diana Spencer
Freedom published several pages of incomprehensible (but presumably satirical) fiction about Charles and Di by Arthur Moyse5 .
There was also a call for contributors to an anarchist fesitval which I don't think actually happened?6
3,000 people did attend a “Funk The Royal Wedding” festival in Clissold Park, Stoke Newington, North London7 :
“Organised by Rock Against Racism, the funk, rock and reggae music festival had stalls highlighting issues like racism, government cuts, unemployment and the H-Block hunger strikers, while speakers on stage “took a strong anti-monarchist stance.”8 .
Elsewhere, the recent riots across the UK meant people had other things on their minds:
"Now people were hit in the gut with a sledgehammer blow. Suddenly there was an endless amount to talk about. The baffling uniqueness of the events for a time all but stamped out prejudiced superficial reactions. The battle on the streets opened up closed, frivolous, trendy, desperate minds everywhere. Before peoples' eyes a new level of reality was being unforgettably exposed and a dream of distant Utopias became by fits and starts a real possibility. In pubs there was only one topic of conversation.
Trivia: tennis at Wimbledon, the Test Match, the coming Royal Wedding were barely mentioned as talk came to centre on the streets. Did anyone really want to watch escapist films, the lies and half-truths of TV documentaries or listen to music?
…the Queen on the eve of the Royal Wedding was all bust up inside. The Queen and other Royals were reported as far more disturbed by what was happening than even during the miners' strike of 1972, the 3-day week or The Winter of Discontent!"9
23 July 1986: Prince "Sweaty" Andrew and Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson
Whatever you think of Class War, they produced one of the most iconic, enduring and confrontational anti-monarchy images this country has seen.
Having constructed such an epic cover, the group failed to say very much about the wedding at all in the inside pages, except a terrible poem and a graphic of four year old Prince William in a noose10 . But maybe they didn't need to, as this was more than enough to engage the tabloids, who gleefully reported on "a massive anti-royal campaign":
One of our reporters was told "We want to encourage as much trouble and as much hell-raising as possible. We would be over the moon if there were riots on the day of the Royal Wedding."11
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYzobjoaWyg - link to "Better Dead Than Wed" song.
The accompanying single12 included the memorable couplet "we hear the ringing bells, we’d rather wring your necks…" and reached number 5 in the independent charts.
Class War's sloganeering was always tough to beat, but there were other contenders in 1986...
Whilst the royal family and the press geared up for the big day, squat punks God Told Me To Do It squatted the Libyan embassy13 in Knightsbridge. The band also organised a "Fuck The Royal Wedding" gig in Soho on the day itself - publicised by a "Crucifox" poster showing celebrity topless model Samantha Fox being crucified.14
At the more coherent end of the anarchist movement, the Anarchist Communist Federation’s magazine Virus included a photo of the happy couple surrounded by bullets:
“We anarchists should be proud to stand in this tradition of [republicanism] and proclaim our open hostility to the House of Windsor. The ideological battle against monarchy is still an essential part in our fight for a free society.”15
19 June 1999: Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones
Nothing doing. Everyone was still basking in the afterglow of the J18 Carnival Against Capitalism the day before.16
9 April 2005: Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles
The establishment hype machine was in full flow in the lead up to the couple's wedding in April. The Daily Telegraph screamed "RING OF STEEL to keep Charles and Camilla safe as they wed":
At least one anarchist group, Movement Against the Monarchy (Ma'm), plans to disrupt the proceedings and organisers hope that 500 protesters will descend on Windsor on April 8.17
In fact, nothing of the sort happened, although people close to Movement Against the Monarchy re-recorded Class War's "Better Dead Than Wed" anthem with new lyrics for the occasion. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0MtpQcMcpU
But only five years later, the ring of steel had melted into air. The highly competent Royal security detail somehow managed for Charlie and Camilla's Rolls Royce to come face to face with 500 protestors on Regents Street in central London. A lively demonstration about the imposition of student tuition fees was elevated to a robust debate about the monarchy, with the luxury vehicle being covered in paint and its windows cracked18 . Consort Camilla was allegedly poked with a stick19 .
29 April 2011: Prince William and Catherine “Kate” Middleton
Once again, the Telegraph was only too happy to hype up an insurgent threat:
Violent anarchists who rampaged through London during anti-cuts protests are planning to target the royal wedding, police intelligence have suggested.20
Royal wedding: Anarchists planning to mar Prince William and Kate Middleton's happy day. Anarchists are planning to hijack peaceful protests against the royal wedding to launch violent attacks in central London.21
The Evening Standard delighted in upping the ante with an unlikely claim from "a key black bloc organiser" (lol) that:
"...up to 1,500 hardcore militants plan to storm buildings around Trafalgar Square and The Mall, displaying obscene banners and obscuring the London skyline with billowing smoke as images of the wedding are beamed to millions of viewers around the world."22
Despite unprecedented media interest, the Solidarity Federation just got on with the usual:
"...we're not planning anything. Our feelings on the matter are those of indifference. Of course, in a rational society there'd be no hereditary privilege and, in fact, there would be no inequality at all. However, at this moment in history, it's capitalism, not feudalism, that is ruining the lives of working people.
With that in mind, North London SolFed will be doing what we always do: organizing democratically and non-hierarchically with our workmates, fellow tenants, and community members."23
On the other hand, the Government of the Dead grabbed some headlines with its over the top claims for street theatre:
"Breaking news: we’ll have a spanking new working guillotine, which shall be surrounded by all manner of rumpy pumpy on the duvet day of all duvet days, by order of the Government of the Dead. We’re also delighted to hear that the Hells’ Grannies will appear as tricoteuses.
Some Cuts Are Necessary! May Royal Heads Roll!
(P.S.Govt of the DEAD disclaimer: this is a totally non-terrorist event and bears absolutely no resemblance to the Jacobin Terror of 1793-94)"
Despite a spirited attempt at de-escalation in The Guardian24 , there were some fairly serious consequences to this hyperbolic climate.
The weekend before the wedding, two licensed venues in south London hosting political benefit nights were visited by police. This was followed by three properties being raided in Brighton and three squatted London social centres receiving visits by the Territorial Support Group.
68 activists were banned from London on the day of the wedding.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOli98fgBP0 -film of arrests.
The arrested included three activists associated with the Government of the Dead event - pre-emptively nicked in Brockley, South London for a suspected breach of the peace, to wit some street theatre with a guillotine - which may or may not have been a prescient mock execution of the now reviled Prince Andrew.25 26
There were, shall we say, mixed views on these flamboyant tactics27 . Two of the "guillotine three" subsequently wrote about their experiences and responded to critics.
"On the eve of the wedding, several cars and a van load of police – maybe twenty odd officers of the law – swooped on a south London street corner to round up a theatrical troupe. Suddenly I was in the midst of the most extraordinary street theatre yet; what’s so exciting is you never know who is going to turn up and take part. The police were the ones in costume, apart from the detective and shifty undercover surveillance; we were distinctly underdressed. We’d been moving theatrical props – some quite heavy."28
Some people have accused me of wanting to replace monarchist pageantry with some other self-promoting media spectacle. Actually, the project is to dissolve all such spectacle, opening the door to celebratory street parties, occupations, picket lines and, in general, popular revolution as ‘the carnival of the oppressed’. Glimpses of this have begun breaking out during moments of victory across the Arab world and more recently across Greece and Spain. Humour, dance and theatre maximise the difficulties for the media in portraying us as thugs. Anyway, liberation should be fun. As Emma Goldman said: ‘If I can’t dance in your revolution, it’s not my revolution’.29
This in turn generated further criticism in the form of the excellent "Give up making yourself look like an idiot – A critic replies to Chris Knight"30
But on the day the real carnival of the oppressed was elsewhere. Prime Minister David Cameron had recently attacked busybody local councils who put the damper on celebrations: “My message to everyone who wants to have a street party is: I'm having one and I want you to go ahead and have one too. Let people get on and have fun."
Four thousand Glasgow residents took this to heart and had a huge rave up in Kelvingrove Park, defying the city-wide ban on public drinking whilst bopping to sound systems and bands.
With typical good sense, the cops demanded that the music was turned off at 5pm (four hours earlier than the entirely reasonable curfew suggested by the organisers). The crowd expressed its reservations via some scuffles with the party poop polis, which resulted in peaceful ravers being charged by riot cops on horseback. In the running battles that followed, 11 police officers were reported injured and 22 partygoers were arrested. Two police vans were smashed and covered in graffiti.31
19 May 2018: Prince "Nazi cosplay" Harry and Meghan Markle
Windsor and Maidenhead council leader Simon Dudley had called for the town to be cleared of homeless people before the wedding. This outraged a lot of people, including Ian Bone. The Daily Express was only too happy to ampilfy the anarcho-pensioner's call to action:
Royal wedding: Anarchists plan to wreak havoc on Harry and Meghan's big day.
Class War activists are calling on followers to “wreak havoc and mayhem”.
The group’s founder Ian Bone warned on Facebook of a “Battle of Windsor” on May 19.
Mr Bone said: “Eighty of our class are murdered at Grenfell. Seven months later not one member of the council even asked about it by police. At the same time the rich flaunt their money by partying within Grenfell’s shadow.
“Now a royal wedding leads to demands for social cleansing at Windsor by the council leader – to remove the homeless from view.”
“To improve the view for the rich, like the prettification of the Grenfell cladding.”
The anarchist even compiled a poem in which he threatened: “Hark Hark! We’re all coming down to Windsor to throw some things at you, but no it ain’t confetti, so let the blood run blue. We hear the ringing bells, we’d rather wring your necks. We burned down Hampton Court, now Windsor Castle’s next.”
He later added: “Now is the time for every anarchist to get down to Eton and cause havoc and mayhem on May 19.”32
But nobody did.
TO BE CONTINUED....?
With thanks to R Totale and Steven. for corrections on my egregious chronology and identity issues.
- 2John Quail - The Slow Burning Fuse Ch7 https://libcom.org/library/07-h-b-samuels-commonweal-0
- 3"Anarchists" and the Royal Wedding
Buckinghamshire Advertiser July 1893 https://ourhistory-hayes.blogspot.com/2011/12/london-anarchists-and-royal-wedding-of.html
- 4Nick Heath - Cantwell, Thomas Edward, 1864-1906 http://libcom.org/history/cantwell-thomas-edward-1864-1906
- 5Born To Be Queen "review" in Freedom 1st August 1981 p12 https://freedomnews.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Freedom-1981-08-01.pdf
- 6Freedom 23rd May 1981 - https://freedomnews.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Freedom-1981-05-23.pdf
- 7History is Made at Night - Royal Weddings 1981 & 2011 - not to mention 1965
- 8Hackney Gazette - ‘Funk the wedding’: How royal wedding fever (and an anti-monarchy music festival) gripped Hackney in 1981 for Charles and Di’s wedding https://www.hackneygazette.co.uk/news/heritage/funk-the-wedding-how-royal-wedding-fever-and-an-anti-monarchy-music-festival-gripped-hackney-in-1981-for-charles-and-di-s-wedding-1-5523636
- 9BM Blob - Like a Summer with a Thousand Julys... and other seasons... https://libcom.org/library/summer-thousand-julys-other-seasons
- 10Class War issue 18 https://libcom.org/library/class-war-20-1986
- 11Press clipping included on an insert in the "Better Dead Than Wed" single. https://i.discogs.com/vhYqCnS0jFebpL7YcDypDN_kJ9ncgQCUWXM-vpd9qj0/rs:fit/g:sm/q:90/h:602/w:600/czM6Ly9kaXNjb2dz/LWRhdGFiYXNlLWlt/YWdlcy9SLTQ3ODUz/Ny0xNTA5MzgxNzc0/LTYxMjEuanBlZw.jpeg
- 12Class War - "Better Dead Than Wed", Mortarhate Records MORT 000 1986.https://www.discogs.com/release/478537-Class-War-Better-Dead-Than-Wed
- 15Virus #8 (1986) p5-8. https://libcom.org/files/virus%208%20full.pdf
- 18Prince Charles and Camilla caught up in London violence after student fees votehttps://www.theguardian.com/education/2010/dec/09/charles-camilla-car-attacked-fees-protest
- 19The Guardian 4 January 2011 https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/jan/04/charles-camilla-attack-footage-released
- 23Solidarity Federation - North London Statement on the Royal Wedding
- 24Anarchist threat to the royal wedding? They'd rather be down the pub -https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/apr/28/anarchist-threat-to-royal-wedding
- 25Royal wedding protest: three anti-capitalist activists arrested https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/apr/28/royal-wedding-protest-three-arrested
- 26 Five people were arrested for a possible breach of the peace while dressed as zombies in Soho Square on the day of the wedding -https://hannahchutzpah.com/2011/04/30/royalweddingzombie/
- 27For example Rob Ray's "Anarchists and the Right Royal Plot" - https://libcom.org/blog/anarchists-right-royal-plot-31012011 vs Cautiously Pessimistic's "In defence of the Royal Wedding" - https://nothingiseverlost.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/in-defence-of-the-royal-wedding/
- 28Camilla Power - Royal Wedding Arrests; "The Guillotine Three" https://libcom.org/library/royal-wedding-arrests-guillotine-three
- 29Chris Knight - Chris Knight replies to his critics https://libcom.org/library/chris-knight-replies-his-critics
- 30Cautiously Pessimistic - https://nothingiseverlost.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/give-up-making-yourself-look-like-an-idiot-a-critic-replies-to-chris-knight/
- 31BBC - Kelvingrove Park: trouble at unofficial street party https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-13241657