King George Tupou V of Tonga is a man accustomed to getting what he wants, regardless of his desire’s impact on his people or his ability to govern. So it is somewhat heartening to learn that the monocle-wearing monarch was recently pressured into dropping plans to add another seven-figure sum to his already burgeoning coffers:
The once-impressive Tongan royal residence in Auckland will be stuck in time after protesters successfully stopped moves by the King to sell it.
A New Zealand-based group opposed King George Tupou V’s plans to put the property – known as ‘Atalanga and valued at about $9 million – up for sale. They have been campaigning against the sale for about a year.
King George, known for his extravagant lifestyle, rarely visits Auckland and does not stay at the Epsom residence, preferring upmarket hotels when in town.
The dispute began because the group believed the property was not the King’s to sell as it had been bought with state money.
However, the King claimed that it was bought with the royal family’s own private funds and did indeed belong to him personally.
The last line there gets at the essence of what bugs me most about monarchies: even in constitutional settings, there is an absurd conflation between private and public wealth. Does the king honestly believe his family somehow earned that Auckland mansion due to its hard work? And beyond that, can he really expect to have it both ways—to bill his opulent habits to the Tongan treasury, but then to claim certain possessions are personal property when it suits him? He is surely not the only modern monarch who has attempted such slight of hand, thereby strengthening the (small-r) republican case.
For more on King George’s lavish spending, I suggest this 2006 piece. Terrific lede:
As the classic London taxi chauffeuring Tonga’s new King sweeps through ornate gates and turns left towards the shabbiness of Nuku’alofa, a small boy squats nearby in the roadside dust and heat, hoping to sell tendrils of slimy octopus.
The boy is too busy fanning flies with a scrappy palm leaf to notice the shiny black cab or its passenger, His Majesty King George Tupou V, reclining on cream leather upholstery behind partially drawn curtains. It is the closest the boy is likely to get to the new monarch, renowned in Tonga as much for his distance from commoners as his eccentricities and odd behaviour.
Granted, anyone who rides through squalor in a limousine makes for an easy target. But King George gives his critics additional fodder by insisting on that dang top hat.
(Image of King George’s 200 coronation via The Big Picture)